Confluence of European Water Bodies 2023

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From September 22 – 24, 2023, the first Confluence of European Water Bodies took take place at the Mar Menor in Murcia, Spain. During this conference, water bodies from all over Europe gathered for an intercultural exchange on the representation of water in Europe’s cultural, political and legal realm. We are currently working towards a new 2024 edition in the first week of October in Venice. More info to follow soon!

Political space for water emancipation

Today’s most pressing ecological and technological issues transcend borders and species, but we still approach them from a narrow, nation-state perspective. The largest mass extinction has been going on since 65 million years, but which country, politician or company feels responsible? Countries are only accountable to one another, politicians only to their electors, and captains of industry only to their shareholders. One of the reasons for the lack of accountability is that non human lives are insufficiently and ineffectively represented in politics, which jeopardises the lives of future humans and nonhumans alike.

To put the representation crisis in our democracy on the agenda in Europe, we are organizing the Conference of European Water Bodies. Water Bodies from all over Europe will gather to take crucial steps towards water emancipation. The conference took place at the Spanish lagoon the Mar Menor, the first European ecosystem that was granted legal personality in September 2022.

Participating water bodies

The conference was organised by the Venice Lagoon, represented by TBA21/ Ocean Space; the Mar Menor, represented by the ILP Mar Menor and the North Sea, represented by the Embassy of the North Sea.

Participating waters: Akerselva (NO), Drina (SRB), Klarälven (SE), Loire (FR), Mar Menor (ES), Mediterranean Sea, Moraca and Tara rivers (ME), North Sea (NL), Pek (SRB), Rhône (CH), Senne (BE), Spree (DE), Tejo (PRT), Venice Lagoon (IT), Vistula (PL), Reuss (CH) and Viskan & Lake Vättern (SE)

Symbolic journey

The symbolic starting point of the journey to Mar Menor was Brussels. Here, the waters together with GARN (Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature) gathered to present a collective manifesto to the European Parliament, guided by Erena Rhöse, a Māori woman native of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and living in Sweden. Erena is guardian of the tribal knowledge, a doctor of traditional Maori medicine, professor of Ecosophy at the University of Karlstad, Sweden and ambassador of Earth Rights. She has been involved in raising awareness on the value and the sacredness of water and on the reconnection with Mother Earth. She speaks about being a daughter of the Whanganui River, the first living entity with legal personhood and a tupuna (ancestor) of Māori people.

Diplomatic Suitcase

During the conference days, which took take place partly in Los Alcazares City Hall, partly in the field, the focus will be on the curation of the diplomatic suitcase, a design concept representing the waters through artefacts, documentation, images, data and stories. After the conference, the diplomatic suitcase will go on tour throughout Europe. On each location, it will be unpacked and exhibited in various scales and dimensions.

Ceremony & public finnisage

On Sunday, September 24, the conference concluded on the Plaza de Espejo of Los Alcazares with a public programme, open to all. In the morning, there was a mourning ritual led by the Natural Contract Lab, delegates from the Tejo River (Portugal), the Rhône (Switzerland) and the Senne (Belgium). In the afternoon, the Hermanamiento (sisterhood) began with a ritual by the Rivers Sisters, a collective of activists and artists representing the Vistula River in Poland.

Read further for more about the network of waters

This project could be realised thanks to the Creative Industries Fund NL. Special thanks to GARN (Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature) and Ca’ Foscari University of Venice: NICHE (THE NEW INSTITUTE Center for Environmental Humanities) and the UNESCO Chair of Water, Heritage and Sustainable Development.

Graphics: Eva van Bemmelen