„From experiment to social innovation“
The Austrotopia Community Forum 2010
This years meeting of the austrian communities network, Austrotopia, took place between Thursday 10th June and Sunday 13th June at the Friedrichshof in Burgenland, eastern Austria. It was well attended, with about 100 people being present over the weekend.
A combination of factors made this meeting especially interesting and lead to it being a success. Firstly, the lure of the Friedrichshof itself, which has a nearly 40 year history of community, first as a commune and then, since 1990, as a cooperative. Secondly, the invitation to Manitonquat and Ellika to come and hold talking circles for nearly the whole period of the community forum. Thirdly, the selection of a number of community building methods which were presented by their proponents and then practiced in an afternoon of workshops. Fourthly, the attendance of many active members of the varied austrian community scene who could present themselves and their projects to the large number of participants who are searching for intentional community. Lastly, glorious summer weather.
The choice of the Friedrichshof as the setting for this years community forum was a brave one, as it has long been outside the austrian community scene and contact was to some extent a taboo. This is because the Friedrichshof was the headquarters of the controversial, international AAO-Aktionsanalytische Organisation (AAO) commune movement in the seventies and eighties. Founded by the Vienna Actionist, Otto Muehl, it became a centralised, hierarchical organisation of communes where everything revolved around its authoritarian leader and his inner circle. It ended in scandal with Muehl imprisoned for child abuse and drug offenses. The remaining communards ended the communal economy, shared out possession of the property and started a cooperative to administer it. A few continue to live there but the majority of the 150 residents at the Friedrichshof rent apartments or have bought plots of land and built their own houses.
The whole of Friday was given over to info presentations about the Friedrichshof/AAO commune by ex-communards who still live there. There was a fish-bowl to discuss some of the topics which came up, followed by a presentation of the current cooperative. In the afternoon there was a guided tour of the property and a presentation of some of the projects there, including their plans for a new co-housing project. The Friedrichshof is an amazingly green place, with thousands of trees planted over the decades. As the meals and some other activities took place outside, this factor, in particular, lead to the good atmosphere which prevailed during the meeting. Parallel to these activities centred on the Friedrichshof, there was a large tent with talking circles under the guidance of Manitonquat which also went on the whole day.
Manitonquat (Medicine Story) has quite a following in Europe , with circle camps taking place in a number of places here this summer. Although there have been some contoversies about him over the years, he is generally well respected for the work he does, and many of the ideas that he promotes are wide spread in the community movement: the use of talking sticks, meeting in small circles (no more than 12 people was Manitonquat's recommendation), respectful and attentive listening, and Co-counselling. At the Austrotopia meeting, as well as his presentations of the circle way to the whole gathering, there was a separate tent so that the circles could run parallel to the other activities.
The community movement has, over the years, accumulated a wide range of tools and methods to help in the community building process. Those presented on Saturday morning ranged from „Dragon Dreaming“ and Manitonquat's „Circle Way“ through „Forum“ (ZEGG), to Sociocracy and „systemische Konsensieren“, a systematic method to find the most acceptable solutions to a problem. Many of these methods have shared elements, such as meeting in small circles, and they overlap with other useful tools such as NVC (Non-Violent Communication). The choice by the Austrotopia co-ordination team to have the presentation and practice of these methods as a major element of the meeting shows the maturity of the austrian community movement and that they want it to grow both quantitively and qualitatively.
At present, in Austria, there are about 20 intentional communities either existent, being started or in the planning stage. Most intentional communities are either co-housing projects or ecovillages. There are both urban and rural projects, religious, spiritual and ecological but hardly any with income-sharing or a communal economy. Not all groups are in the Austrotopia Network, but the Austrotopia coordination team make an effort to bring the communities into contact with each other. Over ten austrian projects presented themselves at the community market place on the last morning.
Last but not least, the weather played a major role in creating a great atmosphere during the three and a half days of the community forum. It remained warm and dry for the whole time, with a slight cooling on the saturday evening as a storm passed us by. (Other parts of Austria were not so lucky, and a rock festival not so many miles away from the Friedrichshof had to be interupted for some time due to the storm).
As well as the presentations and workshops, there was also a cultural programme, with an Earth-Healing concert by Vana Kuo and Gabriella Kapfer (Songbird), the showing of the new film by Stefan Wolf, „Ein Neues WIR“ about ten European communities and ecovillages, a camp fire with singing and story telling, morning sound meditations and the possibility to use the wonderful bathing lake recently redug and renewed by the Friedrichshof.
- Austrotopia German language homepage - some English content
- Friedrichshof German
- Manitonquat/The Circle Way English
- Dragon Dreaming Info English
- Forum English
- Sociocracy English
- Systemische Konsensieren German
- Songbird English - music and lyrics
- Ein neues WIR Film homepage in German, English "coming soon"