A sociologist takes to the festival stage

Zygmunt Bauman, 86, is the unexpected star of Benicàssim’s Rototom reggae event

Iker Seisdedos
Zygmunt Bauman on the beach next to the Voramar hotel in Benicàssim.
Zygmunt Bauman on the beach next to the Voramar hotel in Benicàssim.ÁNGEL SÁNCHEZ (EL PAÍS)

Zygmunt Bauman is one of those elderly thinkers whose peaceful retirement has been spoiled by the current brutal economic crisis. With its paradigms in pieces and democracy threatened by a financial dictatorship, civil society has gone back to this 86-year-old and others like him in search of answers from noted thinkers when it still isn’t too late to listen. Or at least that is what the promoters of the Rototom Sunsplash reggae and alternative culture festival, which continues until Wednesday in Benicàssim, Castellón province, want to believe.

Here, alongside Jamaican music stars and stands offering "cannabis legal advice," this emeritus professor at the University of Leeds and 2010 winner of the Prince of Asturias Prize was scheduled to appear on Monday and Tuesday in the Social Forum to speak in a 400-person-capacity tent about "the world that awaits us."

It is an idea about which the Polish-born theorist of "liquid modernity" - a fruitful metaphor that he coined to define our elusive, fragmented and deafening age - was harboring certain doubts the Saturday before in an interview on the terrace of the Voramar hotel, beside Benicàssim's stiflingly hot beach.

"We live in an age in which the old paradigms stopped working before the new world was ready," he explains. "One of the main problems of our time is that we are distancing ourselves from the past at full speed, but without being capable of defining the future."

Bauman has something to say to the over 20,000, mostly young, visitors from all over the world who attend Rototom each day. If it wasn't for their capacity to consume, the financial powers would surely have sacrificed them without batting an eyelid at this difficult juncture. "It is the first time in history, and I have had a long life, in which a whole generation is on the verge of remaining in the gutter. Young people run the risk of making themselves redundant."

This and other reflections - about the growing abyss of inequality, the mirage of democracy offered by the internet and the thinking of the late Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago - are collected in his latest book, This is Not a Diary, a compendium of fragments written between September 2010 and March 2011, inspired by his reading of the never-ending flow of news, which in itself has become one of Bauman's worries.

Now I know that the excess of information is worse than its scarcity"

"When I was young I used to long to have access to the information I have now," he explains, "but now I know the excess of it is worse than its scarcity."

The work, written following the death of Janina, his partner of over 50 years, also marks the interruption ("necessary," he says) in a series of publications in which he applied his concept of the "liquid" to almost every order of life.

The book predates by a couple of months events surrounding 15-M, a protest movement close to the spirit of the Rototom festival with which Bauman sympathizes. "Although I don't think they are capable of changing anything. But I don't blame them. The same thing happened with Wall Street; it had an enormous impact in the media... Do you know who, ironically, were the only people who didn't understand it? The big fish on Wall Street.

"They are looking for new ways of changing things, and that is commendable, but they haven't found the moment. This confusion has a lot to do with the phenomenon of the social networks. If a guy spends three hours a day devising forms of alternative communication on Facebook, it's natural that he creates the illusion of having constructed a different democratic space. When there is not one bit of evidence that it is effective."

He doesn't believe occupying the squares of big cities is the right idea. "I don't think that overcomes the main problem: power does not control the politicians and politics lacks the power to change anything," he says. And he sees even less benefit in the supermarket attacks organized by another guest at the Rototom Social Forum, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, mayor of Marinaleda in Seville province.

Sánchez Gordillo's appearance, in which he was scheduled to speak about "the utopia of a town without a crisis," has earned the festival the accusation of political opportunism from some quarters of the media.

I don't think 15-M is capable of changing anything. But I don't blame them"

"The visit had been planned since February," said event director Filippo Giunta. "We will cancel it if he continues this kind of attack, because everything that happens at Rototom has to include a non-violent message."

It is not the first time that controversy has accompanied the festival over the course of its 19 editions. The organizers have on more than one occasion had to justify the open homophobia of some of the Jamaican artists invited - to help dispel the doubts this year, associations for the defense of homosexual rights are attending the forum.

However, the biggest problem in the history of the event remains the one that led to its arrival in Spain. Previously held in Osoppo, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy, the festival was moved to the Castellón coast in 2010 due to harassment by the Italian authorities during the Berlusconi years, as a consequence of a still-to-be resolved episode. Giunta is awaiting trial in his home country for allegedly facilitating the consumption of cannabis on the festival site.

"It is not necessary to underline the absurdity of trying to make someone responsible for the behavior of thousands of people," says Alessandro Oria, head of the festival's cultural area.

Oria programs the lineup in the tent where Bauman was set to speak, at the entrance of which an improvised bookstore has been set up. Patricia Manrique of Diagonal newspaper attests to the interest in the theories of the Polish thinker, whose books are on sale on the stand she is minding. "Many of them haven't worked out the concepts, but at least they ask questions," she explains.

Bauman has no idea if his theories are of more interest now than before everything went to hell. "What I can state is that young people have lost confidence in the contract they made them sign. And that is a good start."

At night, during the concert that paid tribute to 50 years of independent Jamaican music given by Marcia Griffiths, one of Bob Marley’s backing singers and a grande dame of reggae in her own right, Andrew, son of musician Peter Tosh and Ky-Mani, son of Bob Marley, the revolutionary spirit of Jamaican music seemed to come from beyond to strengthen Bauman’s idea. It arrived when the verses of Marley’s anthem Get Up, Stand Up, inspired by Abraham Lincoln, resounded around the festival enclosure and the crowd sang along: “You can fool some people sometimes / But you can’t fool all the people all the time.”

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