Two percent of a Source camp... interview with Patrice Riemens
"We are two percent of this camp," Patrice Riemens <firstname.lastname@example.org> whispered, almost conspiratorially, as we walked down to the beach. Patrice was referring to the Africa Source II event, we were part of on the scenic-but-isolated island of Kalangala, in the midst of Lake Victoria, Uganda.
I've known Patrice for years. Our first meeting was odd. He introduced himself at one of those annual, year-end Goanetter gettogethers. I think it was at the Taj Aguada, and around 1998.
Just another lost tourist, I thought to myself then. But Patrice was deeper than I realised. And his encounter with me wasn't based on chance, but a deeper look at the Net, who was posting often, and who was saying what.
We sat down for a chat, about FLOSSophy (a term Patrice has invented, or popularised, or both... just as he has done with the term Lusostalgia, sometimes wrongly attributed to me!). In between, on his tent called the 'bazaar' at Africa Source 2, he narrated his long story.
Patrice explains: "I got into Goanet because I decided, somewhere in the mid-nineties, that I wanted to go to India again. I had spent 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1993 -- four winters -- in Calcutta. Air India then gave you three (free flight) legs within India. As long as you flied Air India. Typically, these flights left at timings like 2 am in the morning, from Delhi to Calcutta. I was looking for a place where are social movements active. I found Goa had a very lively social movement scene."
The first address he recalls having visited was one with an "Opposite Palacio de Goa" address. Yes, it could well be Reggie Gomes, the priest-turned-NGO campaigner, who is still involved with social groups here. "They had email. I got the idea that Goa was not only nice beaches, but a lot of socially active groups too. Some other names I recall from those times are (environmentalist) Claude Alvares, (Physics professor and Goa University's Net whizzard) Gurunandan Bhat."
So Patrice, now fifty something, went to the Goa University for some "telnet tourism". Remember, these the days of very limited internet access. Getting to your mail often meant a painfully slow, dial-up access via a Telnet, non-graphical interface.
"I said, I'm from the University of Amsterdam. Can I have a Telnet session? Some kind of Telnet tourism," he recalls.
:The Goa trip was remarkably fruitful. Not very much came out of it (just then). But I also met (Fundacao Oriente's then delegate in India) Paulo Varela Gomes. He was on the lookout for a way to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama in a non-ofensive way. So we discussed the idea of a cyberconference in Goa (which was followed-up for sometime, but didn't actually happen)."
He recalls meeting up with Joseph "Boogie" Viegas, then one of the pioneers of the Net in Goa, now based in Canada. Patrice also remembers the Goanet  meeting at the Taj Aguada, Candolim. Incidentally, that was the first time a politician like Tomazinho Cardozo came in for our meeting, and stress how serious a problem malaria was in coastal Goa.
Then, he recalls the Margao-based Dr Ivo Costa, a senior citizen who got involved in the Net and whose family has been in the wine business (Vinicola). "He's a big admirer of Bill Gates," Patrice commented, in a camp meant to promote Free/Libre and Open Source Software, the very antithesis of proprietorial software, among non-profit organisations.
Q: Those were the days when you met someone via the internet and he (and less often, she) became a great friend. That's not so anymore. Would you agree?
Patrice says: "If you follow Goanet, it seems to be a Goan feature to have 10 Goans, 12 opinions, and 16 enemies."
I asked Patrice about the Dutch role in Goa's history.
Says he: "There was a next-to-no role for the Dutch in Goa's history. Maybe they came in as hipies (a few decades ago)."
But when we shifted attention to the Dutch blockade of Goa, he commented: "That's part of the Dutch (attempted) kicking the Portuguese out of Asia. The Dutch, at the apogee of their power, in the mid-17th century, wanted to have an absolute monopoly of navigation east of the Cape. I'm not really good with dates. You can check these things with (Indo-Portuguese historian Charles) Boxer."
"The Portuguese had done their thing; they were there, and stable, but not expanding. The Dutch were expanding massively. The English were not in the game at that point of time. The British sea-borne empire kicked really in in the 18th century. In the east, Empires tended to be sea-borne in the beginning. India as landmass came as a continental colony of Britain only in the 19th century. Before that, it was the control of the coast that mattered -- Madras, Bombay and Calcutta... and a little land around it."
Talking to Patrice is fascinating. While he's impatient with academic theories, his understanding of issues throws up new insights.
He added, as we sat on the sand, and both were getting groggy with sleep, specially him: "The legal theorist Grotus had two theories -- the open seas, and closed seas. Open seas were everywhere where the Dutch had no monopoly. Closed seas were areas only for the Dutch. In the East and Baltic (for its foreign trade) which were controlled by the Dutch."
"So the idea of the Dutch was to kick the Portuguese out everywhere, allegedly for religious reasons, but mostly for commercial reasons. They were quite successful, but not completely. After some time, the English came and changed the whole thing," he adds.
So does Patrice believe in the rise and fall of nations? "It's not a belief, it's a fact. Who had heard of the US in the 16th century," he laughs.
Patrice is a Dutch citizen, but a French speaker. Says he: "I have been living in Holland for the largest part of my life, which is 40 years. Always I've felt a bit of a foreigner in Holland."
He's a human geographer -- a term which not be popular in academia in Asia, but is very much part of continental Europe.
"Earlier I was much more involved in academics than I was now. First I read Latin and Greek, and dropped out of it like most people. After my BA in Georgaphy, I applied for a Government of India scholarship at the Delhi School of Echonomics. That was way back in 1980-81."
Patrice spent a little less than a year there, and "did not study very much because I could not make sense of the curricula". But he stayed on in India.
A senior Indian official he spoke of his problems to said: "We do not expect fine students to seriously study. We expect them to travel all over India, and be exposed to the country. Then when you go back home, you will become a goodwill ambassador for India." Patrice stresses the word 'goodwill ambassador', that explains his views on the subject.
He then did his M.Phil in Economics, and wrote about Indian multinationals. Published in Holland in 1989, this is one of the few texts that looks at the global operations of Third World firms.
At that time, the Amsterdam's department of geography was divided into urban geography of Western countries, and rural geography of non-Western countries. "At that time, I was perhaps the only one advocating looking at cities in the Third World. But that was not well taken at that time. The consensus of the mainstream orthodoxy was that the Third World was rural, and that cities were aberration," recalls Patrice.
"My position was that the cities are there (existing in the Third World), they are working, and we have to learn a lot... from the Third World, just as the Third World can learn from us. At some stage, after something like six years, I was more or less kicked out from the geography department," he recalls.
Patrice was then with INDRA, Institute for Development Research in Amsterdam, a rather applied research centre. It was in the university, then independent, but an inter-faculty institute.
"I was very happy there, doing serious research, and much appreciated. Also was more useful because of my internet connections. I switched form studying the squatters movement (which was then very important in Amsterdam) to looking at the hackers movement. In Amsterdam," he narrates.
"My political culture was in the squatting movement. I very naturally passed over in the hackers movement, because I was convinced the computers were the next frontier. I was right (laughs). The funny thing is that many in the squatters' movement did not see it. I've always been ahead of my time. People who say things with most people disagree with are often considered irritating and are shelved," says he.
 http://www.tacticaltech.org/africasource2  http://www.goanet.org Email contact: patrice at xs4all.nl