Crisis and the Emergence of Communal Experiments in Greece
- Paper: The Crisis and the Emergence of Communal Experiments in Greece. By Nicholas Anastasopoulos. ICSA2013 Conference Proceedings: Communal Pathways to Sustainable Living .
Video of conference presentation: http://youtu.be/CpENFfCHV28
"The post-Fordist era in the West signals painful and deep structural and systemic changes. It is an age of extreme privatisation, expulsion and precariousness, as well as ever-widening inequalities and deprivation of the middle class – what Marxists refer to as the creative destruction stage of late capitalism. Clearly, the Greek crisis is only a speck, albeit a pivot alone, within the current crisis that Europe and the world experiences at this critical moment in history and Athens, poorly prepared for this, has been at the epicentre of a maelstrom.Because of this particular condition, Greece is of critical significance as a subject of further study, both for itself and others, regarding social changes and trends that develop.Out of necessity at first, we observe a shift in sectors of the private sphere of society into collective forms which embody solidarity. It is at a time such as this that many re-address an entire value system and their notion of the commons. The social, political and ecological background of some of these individuals and groups thus enables them to take more radical and innovative steps. For many, resilience becomes synonymous with survival, but several collectives choose to go beyond that by adopting active, sometimes genuinely proactive ways of dealing with the situation. Through contact with people and groups, a different story unravels from the one told by the official media – which indicates the emergence of a communitarian movement in the form of various initiatives, collectives and eco-communities, a repopulation of the countryside. This paper explores the effects of the crisis on society in Greece, and more specifically therole it played in encouraging an emergence of communal ethos and a variety of communal experiments."
"A distinct and clear “communal ethos” has emerged in Greece, triggered by the current and ongoing crisis, primarily the current severe financial crisis, which has activated significant segments of the population. They are both pro-active initiatives displaying remarkable resilience and retro-active to state, and institutional (IMF, EU and Troika) assaults affecting people’s livelihood.A case is being made, distinguishing initiatives between pro-active and retro-active ones,based on the distinct differences found in these two categories:The Syntagma Square movement (2011) and the recent ERT movement (2013) are both retroactive cases of insurrections which displayed the emergence of communal practices and ideals, not only through the techniques being used in the people’s assemblies, but also in the various other practices that have taken place in the everyday life, primarily of the Syntagma Square “city-within-a city” makeshift ephemeral community. This experience gave birth to various collectivities which are active and thriving ever since."
This is a case of communal gardening and of urban farming which was indirectly triggered by the 2008 insurrections, as well as by a long-standing discontent with the poor quality of life in the center of Athens, due to the lack of open spaces and green and to high pollution levels.Over the internet, through mobile sms communication and through social media, a large number of people got mobilized over one weekend (3, 4 March 2009) to collectively transform a disused parking lot, which was under threat of development, into an open,experimental, and collectively administered green area in down town Athens. Processes that were followed for the design and production of this space were open, democratic and direct. A huge number of people showed up with donations of plants, tools, materials and offer of work,contacts and services to facilitate the job of getting rid of the asphalt, digging the ground,enriching the soil and planting. A remarkable level of horizontal self-organization and coordination was displayed in distribution of tasks, participatory design, administration and execution. Open weekly assemblies remain the governing body of this space ever since. Many difficulties (with the police, neighbors, drug addicts and other issues) have ensued, but all have been weathered well to this day. In the meantime, nature has taken its course and the park has by now developed a life of its own, plants and trees thrive attracting wildlife,children and parents, passers-by, artists and organized groups that may wish to use the versatile layout for an open air screening, a jam session or a debate.
The Embros Theater
A public theater deserted for several years, known for its experimental and avant-guard character was opened again by an artist collective, known as Kinivi Mavili since November 2011. The self-organized autonomous theater has remained open ever since, operated by a wider platform of collectivities and individuals having an open assembly which convenes weekly as its governing body. The main ideological precepts of this action were that a public theater should be understood as a common good , kept separate from the state’s whims and inabilities to maintain and upkeep it. This has served ever since as an opportunity to develop a discourse on artistic production, the commons, community and democracy. It also has served as an informal “training space” for decision making and conflict resolution. Many innovative artistic productions, performances and events have taken place, which have attracted large numbers of the public, academics, immigrants, both well known and unknown artists and others. There have been several attempts so far to undermine this form of collective organizing. On the other hand this case draws support from several other similar cases of artistic and community self-organization around empty, defunct theaters and other spaces allover Europe."
The Cooperative “Kafeneio” at Plato’s Academy
This is a highly successful initiative by a group of young people who decided in 2009 to create an ‘Open Space’ literally and metaphorically where there was none, both in this lower middle class neighborhood and in the greater central Athens area. They called it ‘Synergatiko Kafeneio’, which stands for collaborative café and functions as a non-profit entity. Several spin-offs are under way ever since, such as a Transition Initiative, various local community actions, revivals of customs long forgotten in the city and numerous social gatherings of a distinct and admirable communal nature, gradually building community.The initiative takes advantage of the adjacent Plato’s Academy public park, a rather neglected,and largely unknown and underused until recently open space. Close to the center of Athens and of immense archaeological and cultural significance, it became the locus of activities where community events began spilling over, summoned by the Kafeneio collective itself and other affiliated groups and individuals. An extraordinary variety, vitality and richness is evident from the many cultural and communal activities which have had significant impact in the greater population.
The Agrosholi Communal Gardening experiment
This is a young group which has maintained a generally low profile until now, but has ambitious goals and a broader vision for the future. It remains largely unknown to the general public, but is better known to the community it forms a part of in Vrilissia, a suburb of Athens.
The history of the collective goes back several years and is inextricably linked to another group called Vrilissos, engaging in outdoor activities such as hiking, mountaineering rock climbing, skiing, etc which has always displayed a strand of volunteerism and community participation and has served as the common ground and the test-bed for developing a set of common values currently shared by its members.The determining factor behind the group’s success has been the vision and charismatic personality of its founder, a largely coherent group of individuals, consistency and a sustained program of events and activities bringing community together and building collaborative processes.
The Telaithrion project which began by a group of a handful of young adults going by the name Free and Real, has been displaying an extraordinary vitality, clarity of vision, efficiency and determination. Its members share a common vision and resources. The Telaithrion project and the Free and Real collective which was formed in 2008 represent a truly grass-roots and authentic communal experiment in character. A wide array of workshops and events serves as a conduit for widening the pool of interested people, who are simultaneously educated and they support the gradual development of the Telaithrion vision.
Free and Real bypasses the present dysfunctional reality as its tactics and builds an alternative one instead, depending solely on their own capabilities and their supporters who share their vision. Their activities are both local and trans-local, by participating and sharing knowledge at various festivals all over Greece and by being media savvy, while at the same time in an open dialog and contact with other individuals and similar initiatives in the world elsewhere.
(Ελπιδοχώρι is a composite word, the equivalent of which in English would be Hopeland)
Extraordinary vitality, clarity of vision, efficiency and determination have been distinct characteristics of the Elpidohori experiment which was formed in 2009. The initiative begun as a relatively simple idea to provide alternative education and holidays for children and has gradually developed into a full-fledged center of experimental and alternative practices and approaches to communal living aiming to become an eco-community for interested individuals,with a small footprint in mind, being implemented with integrity and consistency. Providing education and opportunity for a retreat remains the fundamental intention. Despite its stated goals and record having been identified by a communal ethos and lifestyle, the current form of governance and management at Elpidohori remains attached to one person’s will, the power and vision of its founder, a woman of extraordinary capabilities, intentions and intuition. It hasn’t become a full-time residence for any number of people, but rather, functions as a gradual build up of momentum, dependent on open calls for a variety of educational events."