Solidarity for all is a Greek project to identify and support the manyfold “social solidarity” initiatives unfolding in Greece.
In a Greece of crisis and of misery, another Greece is being created at a fast pace, one of people who get self organised for survival and also for resistance. Our experience from the multifaced solidarity structures shows us that they play a catalytic role in the increase of self-confidence of our co-citizens, assisting them at the same time to avoid total depression and collapse. At the same time, these victims of the crisis enrich their knowledge and talents and thus become able to take life in their hands. Resourcefulness of the people and the radically innovative solutions they apply, often provide a pleasant surprise.
We will cite here only three of the dozens of initiatives that are unfolding on a national level..
In Kavala, a port-city in the north of the country, they have institutionalised the “participative table”, rejecting the broadly used term “collective kitchen”. And this is because participation of everyone is not limited to bringing food, but also in bringing the plate and glass (note: they reject to use plastic, so everyone bgings one’s own utensils), one tablecloth, one flower, anything they have in their own homes… It can be easily understood that in this way they annul the distance between those who have and those who have been marginalised because they no longer have.
In North Psychiko, a northern urban suburb of Athens, three people make a photography competition on the issue of the devalued people’s open market of their area. They come into agreement with the presidents of the sales people and they will make an “advertisement” of the open market, through photography exhibition (using the closed, since many months, shops of their area) and they will be “rewarded” with the offer of vegetables and other foodstuff from the market sellers for all those in need.
In our recent meeting in Perama, the devastated ship building zone of Athens, the assembly put forward a wonderful idea: the next two months we have the crop of olives, so we can ask from oil producers to leave in the oil processing companies one bottle of oil each for the solidarity, and the oil that will be collected will be promoted to homes in the urban centres. We accepted the proposal and started to work in this direction.”
Call for Peer-to-peer “Adoptions”
The words are certainly too poor to transmit the fight given by the people in the south of Europe, but we are all proud of it, and thus we wanted to communicate it, even in fragmented form.Beyond of the humanitarian crisis and the sharp needs which we are called upon to comfort, we can slowly discern something new taking shape in our country, which even ourselves find it difficult to excactly define. We are an integral part of what is slowly being built and we ask to build it with you also.
We don’t ask for economic assistance in general, even though we are in great need of it. We ask you to “adopt” collectives, initiatives, efforts of many simple, everyday people. We want you to get to know them, to visit them and even, why not, to act at their side.
At this point we want to note something more. We know that many of you come from countries of the South or the East of Europe, and we are faced with relevant problems. Let’s face them all together and let’s build our common future on basis of solidarity and feedback.
“Solidarity for all”, despite the urgent existing needs, has concluded that we cannot follow an economic policy of benefits (e.g. by paying the rent of the social places we use), which will soon exhaust the existing resources, but that we will channel the resources to infrastructure and equipment. We urge our members to find resourceful solutions for funding of the permanent needs of our infrastructure, which they will largely do. But here we must note that self-financing (with contributions, concerts, offer of spaces by local government etc.) will soon exhaust its limits.
We therefore dare to propose the “adoption” of specific structures, which we can propose to you, by covering the permanent economic needs for a concrete time limit. Such a solution could relax the anxiety for finding the necessary resources each month, and thus channel the militancy of the people to more productive actions.
Another crucial sector is the medicines. We mentioned above that there are great shortages on the one hand, and that many of our co-citizens are unable to have access due to lack of insurance stamps that makes them non eligible. Quite a few from the solidarity social infrastructure in the country have proceeded to finding vaccines for children, whose families have no longer access to the National Health System and they do not vaccinate them. We are in communication with the social clinics and social pharmacies in the country, in order to formulate a list of the absolutely necesary medicines and vaccines, of which the purchase will be certainly cheaper in your country. We will soon be in a position to publicise this list and also the way of transport of medicines in our country.
The social solidarity structures in Greece are active in a variety of sectors, from food, health, education up to solidarity economy, culture but also legal aid of our co-citizens (extraordinary taxes, overindebted households, evictions from homes). The initiatives taken are so varied that they will certainly be other sectors but also ways that the peoples of Europe will find, in order to stand in solidarity with each other.
We mostly want to maintain our dignity and by this letter we invite you to a common experiment, to taking together a road which may take us somewhere with more light.
Part 2 of Solidarity for All in Greece: Imagining the City
Excerpted from Julia Amalia Heyer‘s report for Der Spiegel:
“For Mary Karantza, the crisis represents an opportunity for change. She and Stephania Xydia, 26, founded a non-governmental organization called “Imagine the City.” It is both a coordination office for citizens’ initiatives and a reeducation program of sorts, with the aim of improving the management of cities and villages.
The Greeks, says Xydia, have never learned to participate in and shape public life. “The government treated us like underage children, and most people were happy about it.” Xydia grew up in Luxembourg and attended university in England. She returned to Athens in 2011, after giving up her job as a management consultant in London. Her parents weren’t happy about that. “What are you going to do in Athens?” they asked? Change things, she answered.
Now she and Karantza are keeping local governments throughout Greece on their toes. With the help of Imagine the City, Greeks can exchange information more easily, including reports and statistics. As a result, it’s no longer as easy for mayors to build new town halls or village squares that no one needs — except the local officials who award the construction contracts to their friends.
Things have started changing in Greece in recent months. People are doing more than just strike, rant and throw yoghurt in protest. Triggered by the crisis, a new, unprecedented community spirit is taking shape.
There is now a civil resistance movement with different goals than simply championing a particular group’s interests.
In Thessaloniki, people aren’t just fighting the planned privatization of the city waterworks, but have formed a collective and submitted their own purchase offer. The movement is called “136,” because anyone who participates would have to pay €136 ($181) if the offer were accepted.
On the Chalkidiki Peninsula, Greeks are suddenly protesting against plans by a Canadian company and Greek construction tycoon to develop a gold mine. Protecting the environment has never been a particularly Greek virtue.
“What we have to do now is actually the government’s job,” says Roumeliotis. But the government is finished, both financially and morally. This is not necessarily bad news. But the nation is undergoing a pretty brutal awakening.
In Crete alone, there are now five alternative currencies. For some, services are replacing the euro as a form of payment, but the real currency is trust. If a carpenter needs an attorney, for example, he’ll make him a chair in return for his legal advice.
There are cafés in Athens where a guest pays for a stranger’s cappuccino, along with his own, so that people who can’t afford it can occasionally go to a café. In Thessaloniki, theatergoers can purchase tickets wth food.
If the new Greek solidarity had an icon, Giorgos Vichas would be a likely candidate. The 55-year-old cardiologist runs a clinic in a prefabricated building on the old Elleniki air base in the southern part of Athens. He works for free, as do 90 other doctors, and almost all fields of medicine are represented. Medical equipment, beds, chairs and drugs are all donated. Vichas and his colleagues do not accept money.
For almost two years now, they have served as a stand-in for the government, which can no longer guarantee basic medical care for its citizens, because they in turn can no longer afford their health insurance policies.
Up to 3,000 patients a month go through the waiting room, which looks like a makeshift bus stop, and the numbers continue to rise. At first glance, the clinic is a symbol of the hardship Greeks are going through. But it is also proof of a new communal spirit.
In the past, he didn’t know anyone who would join in a common project without being paid for it, says Giorgos Vichas. “I would never have believed that a society that was so superficial for so long could behave with such unity.”
Until the crisis, says Vichas, the only things that mattered to people were their own families and their wellbeing. And now, although they are less affluent, the Greeks are more sympathetic and compassionate. The crisis is bringing out the good in the Greeks.
Mary Karantza und Stephania Xydia, the two women behind Imagine the City, used their network to install 200 lamps on an unlit street in downtown Athens last winter. People came from all over the city to help, each bringing a lampshade. The campaign attracted so much attention that Coca-Cola offered to be its sponsor. The mayor sent the two women a thank-you card.
The city has long tried to make its downtown area, mostly home to refugees and drug addicts today, livable again. Karantza and Xydia achieved more with the new lamps than the special forces units the interior minister deploys on a regular basis. New shops have opened on the street, there are tango parties once a week and students want to live there again.
It is primarily younger people who want change and are working hard to get it. Older Greeks never learned how to do this. They became accustomed to living in a system in which connections to influential people were more important than performance. For a long time, the most fervent wish many parents throughout Greece had for their children was that they land a job in the public sector.
While the crisis may not have changed the parents much, it has clearly changed their children. “Many are still searching for a savior in politics, someone who fill feed them,” says Karantza.
She has often thought of leaving her country. Until recently, Karantza shared her office with two fashion designers. One is now living in Los Angeles and the other is in Berlin. “There are so many opportunities here to change something,” she says. “We can’t leave.”
The two women are launching their new project in the fall. This time their focus is not on cities, but on the national government. They are planning a constitution convention of sorts, which they call Politeia 2.0. They encourage anyone who wants something new for Greece to participate. Giorgos Vichas, the cardiologist, has already agreed to be part of it.
They really do want to change the rules of the game.”