Meltemi: The Jewel of the Commons

September 10, 2013

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

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Just in a reach of city bus from Athens, there is a community, which may be a living treasure of the commoning in Greece. Led by a single remark in the Internet, some aerial pictures and my intuition, I went there and found a jewel, hidden for over half a century. I have just started learning their past and present, and it may be I will get involved in their future. So this is just a brief introduction to much bigger story.

Follow the white rabbit

In my early research for the Expedition, I browsed various databases, looking for alternative communities in Greece. One of entries was particularly interesting: in 1946, a group of employees of some oil company (mostly workers) started a summer camp in one of the areas of Attica, where forest was not quite eradicated (for firewood, mostly – and deforestation is still a major problem in Greece). Over next ten or so years, the summer camp evolved into permanent dwelling, being an example of primary commoning.

Now – the note said – they are registered ecovillage entity, officially taking care of this patch of Greece.

Hide and seek game.

You can find various things in the Net. Without the verification, I wouldn’t bet even the modest money of mine on the fact that such place (after 60 years! Ha!) can still – if ever – exist. So I went into the verification mode:
– sent email to the contact address provided in the database. After a week – sent another.
– check various search engines: google logged in / logged out; samuru, 1st page etc etc.
– ask everybody in Greece, online or offline, about the place.

NO RESULT. Apparently, nobody ever heard nor seen the place called Meltemi. And of course all search for “Meltemi” was bringing so many irrelevant hits, I could not get through.

Only one light appeared in the dark: viewing the satellite pictures of the area, I saw that part of it is distinct indeed. streets going natural way, visibly curved. Buildings sparse and smaller than in the neighborhood.  No large parking places inside. Everything looked different there. So, maybe there is SOMETHING? Let’s go and see.

Magic worked again. I have left the bus in the wrong place, so I have to hitch hike. The gentleman who picked me up, not only made a research for me, asking around, but he also took me couple kilometers back, straight to the gate of Meltemi.
Private message for kyrios Kiriakos: I have probably left my wind-breaker in your car. If so, please accept it as a gift from a travelling story-teller. May it serves you well. Image Removed

Meet the Jewel

L. is a great host and companion. She is from the second generation of colonists. Businesslike looking lady (as much as you can look businesslike in a paradise – see pictures!), working in the IT industry, also serving the community as a member of the board. She invited me home, and introduced to her husband, P. – a man of numerous talent. Officially, he is a composer, but it is just a tip of iceberg, believe me. Image Removed

Over next couple days I was enjoying the place, meeting people and gradually falling in love. Not just because of great place: sea, forest, sun and wind. But mostly because of the care, love and community spirit visible everywhere. These people – now four generations living together mostly in the summer – managed to develop unique and long standing model of commoning community, preserving a patch of Greece from devastation, commercialization and selling to the global capital. And now, in rapidly changing circumstances, they have potential to become center and example to support similar initiatives all over the Greece – and beyond.

Commoning made simple

They did not own this place. They moved in and started taking care of it. They created a temporary autonomous zone, so to speak. Image Removed And this zone evolved into one of most fascinating communities I ever heard of.

The community of Meltemi has written rules, dated back to mid-1950s, defining their internal relationships and land preservation routines. They built their huts there and started developing the eco-village decades before the term even emerged. Their goal is simple: to keep the place clean, natural, non-commercial and low profile. Most of huts are assigned to specific families. And they have right to use them – nothing more. No renting, not even letting it for free. No car traffic, except between the gate and your designated parking place. No trash on the ground – waste bins are almost on every corner. Fire prevention (forest fire is a disaster in Greece) at the professional level: all population above 16 years old is trained in firefighting and water outlets with hoses are installed everywhere. There is also watchtower with a water cannon, manned 24/7 in the summer season.

Significant number of houses is not permanently assigned. As the history of Meltemi is rooted in workers’ movement, these houses are available for members of workers’ unions for their holidays. This is one of important tributes Meltemi pays to its beginnings. Solidarity goes across the time.

There is a local library, cinema, kids’ playground and even a pack of community dogs (11 of them), walking freely, under protection of the community.

And the list goes on and on.

The peer pressure

As there is no central policing institution – the board is rather technical body, more serving than ruling the community – rules are enforced by the community itself. If you live in such environment, you better follow guidelines, or you lose reputation – and support – from your neighbours. And this is quite a lot in Meltemi, where social fabric is dense. For serious rule-breakers there are also more expressive sanctions, but I haven’t met anybody who wouldn’t understand a need for them.

Past, present and future

There is an ongoing project of writing a history of Meltemi. A lot of documentation, mostly old photographs, has been gathered and digitalised. Video interviews with First Colonists are also planned. There is a need for gathering the history together, as new generations follow, not really feeling that the paradise they live in was built with the hard work and great spirit of their parents and grand-parents. The history perspective is also needed for those, who are now starting similar communities (The Red Earth Tribe for exmple). They will be able to see, that it’s possible, under some circumstances, to start from very simple beginning and to build something, which lasts beyond a perspective of single person. And – with a bit of luck – it is in the reach of most of us.

The Meltemi community is dynamic. The generation change is occuring and now, in the “interesting times” Greece is going through, there are also external changes which may threaten the community and the land under its stewardship. So, there are talks and thoughts within the community about possible strategies, as nobody wants to see the paradise turned commercial entity, or sold to a global capitalist investor. But telling about that is beyond of my story-telling role, so let’s leave it for another time.

There is, however, possibly a story about future Meltemi, which occurs in my mind. The safe, stable place, well rooted in the history of workers’ self-governance, peer-to-peer movement and commoning. The place (and community) being a hub of similar activities in Greece and beyond. Providing, on the solidarity base, knowledge, support and inspiration for everyone, who wants to make another part of the planet better place to live. And this future is something would really dream to participate in.

And the story goes on…

I promise you, this is not the last story about Meltemi. As far as I can, I will follow the plot, letting you know what is going on. And perhaps I will be able to invite you there, if you would like to co-author the success story of the oldest commoning community in Greece.

Tags: eco-villages, Greek economy, the commons