Monthly Archives: June 2013

Political Lessons From Greece; Summits, Refugees and Protest.

Political Lessons From Greece; Summits, Refugees and Protest.

Sofiane Ait Chalalet and Chris Jones

23/06/13

Between June 7th and June 9th we had 3 contrasting experiences in Athens. One was attending the European Alter Summit over 2 days; another was marching with Gay Pride on the evening of June 8th and the third was meeting with a group of Somalian refugees in their apartment of 3 rooms where 11 of them lived.

Alter Summit

at alter summit

The Alter Summit was a two-day meeting of supposed social movements from across Europe held in the Olympic stadium in the outer suburbs of Athens. United in their resistance to austerity, deeply concerned and angry about the huge damage being done to the poorest and most vulnerable, especially women, children, refugees and undocumented peoples, they all shared a common concern and a motivation against injustice. But there was something missing, and it was mostly the presence of those on whose behalf they were meeting.

Like other social summits and similar events, some of those present represented real social movement from below; a stirring of the people in one way or another. But many felt strangely disconnected from the ‘movements’ on whose behalf they worked to expose and publicise, to organise petitions and protests and to persuade those in power to do something about a rapidly deteriorating situation. They did not feel like social movements as much as campaign groups.

And these campaigns have now been going on for years, and the situation gets worse, The truth is that those with wealth and power are not going to make things better; they’re not inclined to give up what they’ve got. They don’t need more information and reports: they already know perfectly well what social and economic devastation their actions have led to, and in the end probably care only for themselves and their interests. So what is the point of all this lobbying and pushing for crumbs from the table?

Episodic Events

The sessions we went to on refugees and then on poverty were on the whole disappointing. Too much ‘ego’ around in the sense that the sessions were dominated by representatives of various groups telling us about what they do. This seemed to be the main purpose of the summit. All of the projects were deeply committed to their activity, even though it was abundantly clear for some their prospects of success were non existent. This was especially true for those projects which were trying to force EU institutions to implement or shift policy towards providing a range of basic incomes to allow people to live in dignity. Such actions by the EU would fly completely in the face of its current and sustained neo liberal assault on the well being of the people. Change will not happen in this way nor from that quarter.. But sadly, the audience was too polite to ask such basic questions which in turn acts as a kind of sanction to continue with futile initiatives.

It was also interesting for us to see that many of the groups tended to focus on organising episodic events such as a day of action, organising a rally or similar event. Great energy is expended in organising these grandstand events that mark the core political activity of the group. And from what we heard in the meetings, they were assessed primarily by the numbers of people attending the event. This was reinforced during a lunch time conversation with a revolutionary socialist who had travelled from London. In answer to my questions about what was going on in England he gave details only of recent national demonstrations and strikes and the numbers involved. These events were for him what defined political activity and even then there was little apparent concern about what happened later as it was on to the next event. In his case, he was wondering about who and how many will join with the Peoples’ Assembly which was to hold its inaugural national meeting in June.

No one questioned this common strategy. At least not when we were present.

Disconnections

We view the disconnection between these organisations and those whom they want to help as a problem. We might wish it to be otherwise. Indeed it is widely held and argued that only self-directed activity from the grass roots will secure the revolution. Yet there seems to be some distance between the rhetoric and the practice. We need to ask some hard questions.

One thing we learnt at the Summit is that many of the groups are small and simply don’t have the capacity to do very much. It doesn’t help either that some groups, as noted earlier, are simply wasting their efforts. With few resources, organising episodic events has clear attractions being more achievable than say more enduring and immediate acts of solidarity such as monitoring police stations and cells to simply being there in their neighbourhoods and having a coffee. So maybe there is a basic issue of capacity. We don’t know. But from what we heard from the refugees, one off events have virtually no lasting impact and don’t address acutely pressing survival needs.

Some of the processes which reinforce separation are more banal but no less devastating. During the session on refugees for example, we asked whether any thought had been given to locating the Summit more centrally so that it would have been possible for refugees and many of those most affected by austerity to join in the discussions. After all much was being made during this meeting of the statement of the World Assembly of Migrants…. in which it clearly stated that “we call for: a) The promotion of the migrants’ participation in social forums, especially the undocumented…….” And yet here in the Olympic velodrome there was an almost complete absence of those most hurt and abused.

The chair immediately responded by claiming that this Summit was for social movements, for their development and growth and when they were ready then that would be the right time to engage with the ‘grass roots’. This response was warmly received and suggests that the choice of location was deliberate to ensure seclusion to do their business. Should this be the case then more ferocious questions need to be asked!

When we discussed this with a small group of refugees one young guy questioned their authority to speak on his behalf but for the majority it was seen as a lost opportunity to share experiences and to build trust. Many told us that it makes them feel stronger when they feel the solidarity of others sharing their pain, their concerns and their dreams. But what many took exception to was those who spoke on their behalf but knew nothing of their lives and histories.

Prior to the Alter Summit we had been with some of the refugee communities for the past few weeks. As we described in recent articles we experienced a daily, urgent struggle to survive. A survival that was more than staying physically alive but fighting for dignity, and humanity. And the key to their survival was the range and depth of their solidarities. For a variety of reasons (poverty, police harassment most prominently) the refugees spent many hours inside their homes or visiting friends. They had time to talk. They shared experiences. Above all, they struggled to understand their treatment in Greece. For many it was a huge trauma for them to discover that Europe, and Greece in particular, the home of democracy, could be so much like the places they had sought to escape with state violence, endemic corruption and above all where they were considered as garbage. There is a great deal of learning going on amongst the refugees as they work out why they face these intolerable situations.

This is crucially important activity which helps sustain the resistance of the refugees but set against episodic events it does not seem to register. Moreover the disconnections between the activists in the social and Left movements goes even deeper. In all our discussions with the refugees we came across no examples of ongoing links between themselves and refugee aid bodies, anti-fascist groups, Left political parties and so on. As far as the refugees were concerned they were not on their radar in any shape or form. They were not part of their networks of and for survival. It seems to us that we need to ask why is this the case?

On the streets

By coincidence, in the middle of the alter summit was the Athens Gay Pride celebration and protest. For the Saturday evening the centre of the city was blocked in a riot of floats, banners, music and laughter. It was such a positive change from the usual political demonstrations here.

Athens Pride 2009 039

In the days preceding the Pride march there was much speculation that Golden Dawn would make its presence known and even attack Pride. The Somalians knew all too much about Golden Dawn and especially its presence amongst the police which made their daily routines hell. Athens Pride was resolute in its response saying that they would not be intimidated off the streets and that if Golden Dawn came then they were ready for them.

The Somalians are no less resolute although in different ways. Their lack of documentation makes them immediately vulnerable to police harassment and endless messing about in police stations, but it does not stop them from going out. It does not stop them from creating free spaces on the streets where the police and or Golden Dawn fear to enter. The Somalian men also play on the sexism of the police in that they are much less likely to be stopped when they go out with their wives and girlfriends. It is this sexism which ironically gives the Somalian women more freedom than their men to move in public without the same fear of harrassment from the police.

greece-immigrants

Solidarity

Central to the resistance in both Pride and the refugee household was solidarity. The humour, music, sense of joy, friendship and inter-action between those marching in Pride was wonderful and in marked contrast to so many Left demonstrations. Claiming the streets and taking over a plateia for dancing and great music, for standing up and saying we are not afraid, was liberating. Look what we can do! The Somalian household was no less inspiring to us, as we talked about their experiences, their survival, their struggles and their ways of living together. There was much laughter as well as deep sadness for they feel terribly trapped in Greece and could see no easy way to get out. But in the meantime they lived. Decisions were taken collectively, tasks shared, although those with particular talents say in cooking took lead roles in those areas. We wondered if the household operated along traditional gender lines. This provoked some humorous outrage amongst the men and laughter from the women. At home they told us that power in the household went to the oldest usually male member, but they didn’t follow that pattern and were much more open and democratic. Moreover, in their home, if there was any one who they looked to in the final analysis it was to H, the youngest of the women who had a four year old son with her. This was in a current household of 5 women and 6 men. All tasks, whether washing, cleaning, cooking were shared as was the responsibility for finding the rent of 600 euros each month.

Fighting for a better world demands solidarity which in turn depends so much on trust. The refugees are well aware of how they are continually demonised especially as Muslims and they know that this is not restricted to a racist minority. We told some of our friends that we had received comments on some of our recent articles about the solidarities of the refugees that sought to explain it as a special ‘Muslim’ characteristic. These kinds of comments and the endless portrayal of Muslim men as sexists and Muslim women as passive and cowed, infuriates and frustrates. Why they asked are they constantly seen through a religious filter ? Why is this is not applied equally, so we would read about the Greek Orthodox thief/ thug/ Golden Dawn or whatever?

It seems too obvious to say, but we need to hear the voices of the oppressed and victimised and to put an end to the notion that they have nothing to say.

Bottom-Up Pressures

Few of the proposals for action we heard at the Alter Summit seemed to be influenced from bottom up pressures. The time lines for action were more than enough to illustrate this absence.

The immediacy of trying to survive is overwhelming. It takes up most of your physical and emotional energy. It means daily uncertainty. Problems are acute and often demand immediate attention. It is a highly emotional experience with feelings raging from anger to despair. But these were not the sentiments that drove the initiatives we heard about. . Of course words were said about the violence of austerity on so many people now, but from the standpoint of the refugees at least, words are not enough any more. They want to see action. They want their ghettoes to be breached from the outside as people come and join them on the streets, in their cafés and in their homes. To stand with them and by them as they are rounded up by the police; to be there in the police stations. To talk with them. They no longer want to feel so alone. This would mean so much more than some periodic rally.

They want this solidarity. So many have learnt that the ‘system’ seeks to divide people and makes a lot of theatre about differences which builds hatred and confusion. Their discussions are full of reference to humanity and justice. Above all, they want to show the world that they are people, human beings, no more or less than anyone else.

But what the Alter Summit revealed to us is that the disconnect between the groups/movements and their actual bases will continue to persist unless the groups look closely at themselves. We suspect that many activists have been (understandably) influenced by the politics of expertise which was so prevalent as an instrument of social control throughout much of the capitalist world during the 20th century. It was a politics that brought with it arrogance and distance between the authorised knower and the plain ignorant. It sat easily with deeply sedimented views that saw those at the bottom of the social heap as garbage and those at the top as virtuous and talented. It also sits easily within some Left traditions where notions of vanguardism have given rise to autocratic leaderships which are disdainful of their base. Whatever their source, there is more than enough evidence to suggest that the whiff of arrogance has not yet been seen off amongst those from whom we expect more.

Embracing our sisters and brothers

Although we have focussed on the refugees, we believe that much of what we say applies to many of the most marginalised, impoverished and vulnerable. They are too often left out in practice if not by intent. Without an unconditional embrace of all those who suffer most, the tyranny of the minority will continue. We need to be unrelenting in looking at what we do and when we do it. In much of western Europe a catastrophe is engulfing ever larger numbers of people. It is a material attack on well being as lethal as any weapon. But it is made so much worse because it is accompanied by an ideological onslaught which has all but removed any voices being heard from those most affected and has explicitly encouraged the victims to be reviled as the culprits.

This needs to be stopped. For the refugees, there is a recurring observation that in Europe animals are far better protected from abuse and humiliation than they themselves. Why? they ask. Why? Is the question all of us should be asking.

The ghettoes must be breached, with humanity flowing in to embrace the refugees , the poorest, and most vulnerable as fellow human beings. We must join them in their neighbourhoods, to stand by and with them, and build up the connections of solidarity and trust. We need to understand that political activism is much more than organising some one off event no matter how well attended. We must also understand that one of the most virulent aspects of neo-liberalism has been its impact on minds as well as bodies. It has above all else massively extended and deepened individualism with all its virulent anti-social dimensions. It makes real sense therefore to recognise the importance of what the refugees are saying about the kinds of solidarities that need to be encouraged and deepened now. As they repeatedly say, all we want is to be treated as human beings, and that includes being able to dance and sing on the streets.

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Greek Lessons from Below: Learning from the Refugees and Questions for the Left

Greek Lessons From Below

Learning from the Refugees and Questions for the Left

Sofiane Ait Chalalet and Chris Jones

Axmed, a Somalian refugee, has been stuck in Athens for over six years. This is common for most of his friends, as without papers they are stuck. Getting out by themselves requires money for false papers and travel that is beyond them. Axmed told us that he had a brother in Italy waiting for him. Most of his friends had families and friends waiting for them. But not in Greece. They were stuck.

Migrant workers attacked by police in Greece

Life without papers has changed in the last five years. Earlier, before austerity and recession struck, most of the refugees could find work with wages. Without papers they were inevitably highly exploitable and many were. But now there is virtually no work with wages. On top of this terror of having no income to live, they now have to contend with the Greek state and its police force. “They are making war against us.”

The war is largely conducted in the streets and in the police stations. All are sites of sustained violence by the police against the refugees. The stories are legion. Last week for example, Toufik arrived in Athens from Crete where he had been living and working for six years. He is a skilled plumber. But for the last six months he had not been paid at all. So he robbed the house of his boss and unfortunately for Toufik he was caught on a hidden camera in the house which led to his arrest two days later. Once in the police station he was systematically beaten for five days by a group of policemen. Throughout the beatings he was made to sit in a chair and wear a police helmet to protect his head. They wanted Toufik to tell them where the money was that he had stolen. He held out for five days before he told them. Once he had yielded to their violence they let him out. No charges but with the clear instruction that he had to leave Crete immediately or they would catch him again and this time kill him. He left. The police kept the cash. It is a common place story.

Encounters with the Police

As it happens another refugee arrived from Crete just three days ago. He too is carrying serious wounds from a police beating. Walid, who is 25 years old, was caught shop lifting for food. In the police station the police took a baseball bat and smashed his testicles. He too was then released and told to leave Crete immediately or suffer more. Walid needs urgent medical care which is now being organized and paid for by the refugees in Athens.

If you fight back the consequences are dire. Axmed from Somalia told us how he was set upon by two policemen whilst he was walking home. He hit back – in boxing mode he said – and landed a punch on one of the police. For this he was charged and sentenced to 12 years and 6 months in jail. Long and punitive sentences are routinely imposed far in excess of any other groups in the population. We were told of one instance where a refugee was given 25 years for fighting back. It was extraordinary to find so many refugees in this central part of Athens who were on parole and were expected on their early release from prison to report weekly to the police. The parole lasts usually for three years. During this time they are not allowed to leave Greece.

But it is not just the physical violence that overshadows their lives. It is also the extent to which they are routinely messed around. Axmed for example is from Somalia and is black. We met him in a café about five blocks away from his home, which he shared with 14 other people including his wife whom he had married a year earlier. She was pregnant and their baby was due in five months. He told us that there was an 80 per cent chance of him being picked up by the police on his way home from our meeting. In the event he wasn’t but later that day they took him. Ironically, it was Sofiane who was picked up as we left the bar. One minute we are walking back to the hotel and the next there is a police car with two police inside demanding that Sofiane come with them. They refused to take us both. Sofiane has papers and 30 minutes later he was back. He forced them to apologize. They claimed that he looked like someone they were chasing for breaking out of the police cells. This is life on the streets for the refugees.

But back to Axmed. Being a black African means that he is an easy target for the police. The routine is well established. They are taken out of the city centre to the police station that deals with all refugees where their papers are checked. If they are in order they are then let out to make their own way back into the centre. The length of time in the station is usually about three hours but it can be for much longer. It is very common for them to be held until after midnight and to be released when there is no public transport back to the town centre, which results in a long walk back. Last week Axmed was picked up three times in one day. On his release he took the bus back to Omonia Square where he was immediately apprehended and taken back. There the police asked him what he was doing back and told him to go. And the same thing happened again. As soon as he stepped off the bus he was picked up.

For those whose papers are not in order, or who simply don’t have any, the outcome is dire for they are incarcerated in police cells – not a prison – for up to nine months. There is no court hearing or similar due process. These police cells were designed to hold people usually overnight or for two days at the most. Not only are they massively overcrowded but there are no facilities for exercize; the windows, if they exist are set high in the walls so they see nothing outside. Foam mattresses cover the floor and washing and toilet areas are wholly inadequate for the numbers detained. The food is minimal, often just one simple meal a day, with no fixed routine so it can be after midnight when they get any food at all. Health needs are completely ignored. These places are as near as you can get to hell. At the time of our meetings, there were hunger strikes in four of the main police stations where refugees are incarcerated. It is little wonder then, as one Kurdish refugee told us, that so many of his friends, without papers, spend their days in their homes, rarely going out and living “like rats in their holes.”

If you sit for any length of time in this central area you can’t fail to see the police buses carting off refugees to this police station. Just as you will see in certain streets groups of up to 30 refugees sitting on the side walk waiting for the transport. According to the refugees we met the police are paid seven euros for each refugee they bring in.

This might be good business for the police but as Axmed told us, for the refugees it means constant hassle and a deep feeling of insecurity. For him, he said, he could honestly state that he had never had one moment of relaxation in all the years he had been in Greece. He feels completely unsafe and vulnerable. Moreover, he said, like all other refugees, he lives in a state of shock as he never thought Europe would be like this; so cruel and inhumane, so full of corruption and violence, and where he can be so easily abused with impunity. He left his home and family to seek a place where he could work and breathe freely. Which would allow him to help his parents and family, who now live in very hard circumstances in Saudi Arabia. But now he rarely has contact with them for he feels ashamed to admit to them the full horror of his situation. He did not come to Europe to become rich he told us. He just wanted to get by and to be a human being.

Hustling to Survive

“You hustle to survive and you never know what each day will bring.” In the case of Axmed he could, some times, get a little money from helping other refugees find a place to stay and odd jobs helping out. As with many of the refugees we met, Axmed was fluent in many languages including English, Greek, Arabic, French and Turkish. In most of them he could write as well speak the language which has enabled him to pick up some translation work. Even though many of the refugees are confined to what can only be described as ‘shit jobs’ (when they can get them) this disguises their many skills and talents which they never get a chance to use.

Hustling to survive has many dimensions, one of which is knowing where there might be resources of support. This includes knowing of the refugee medical centres where they can receive medical attention from caring doctors and other staff; likely places where they might be lucky to find some work, get food and so on. The depth of communication between them is impressive as they tell one another what is available, where the police are congregating and hassling on the streets and generally helping one another out. These are communities with a lot of information which is vital to their survival. And much of it is shared.

It was against this background that we asked about support from NGO refugee groups, from the progressive political parties, from anti-racist/fascist groups and similar. What we wanted to know was how such organizations help them survive. “Nothing.” This was the answer we got from Axmed and his friends. It was the answer we were to hear every time. These groups were simply not part of the battleground of daily life. They had no profile. They were not thought about. They were not part of their survival.

There were very few exceptions. One Moroccan from Crete spoke of the help and the solidarity he had experienced from the anti-racist movement in Chania, especially in getting a room and some food when he first arrived. We also heard from a few others that in Patras there were anti-racist organizations that were helpful in terms of practical assistance and also in terms of Greek language classes. A high priority is given to languages by the refugees. If you can’t speak Greek, we were told repeatedly, you are even more vulnerable, especially as the police are particularly violent toward non-Greek speakers. Moreover, without Greek you have no idea what the police and other state officials are saying or writing about you. Rarely are documents and charges translated with the consequence that refugees are being forced to sign statements without knowing what it is they are signing.

So learning Greek is a high priority and the school in Exarcheia run by the Network of Social Support to Immigrants and Refugees is one of the places which is highly regarded and well known in the refugee community for its excellent work in language teaching. But the refugees themselves also spend much time passing on their language skills to one another, especially English. We had some sense of this when we left the home of three young Algerians with one of them pushing another to do his English homework and that he should be expected to be tested later that evening on what he had learnt.

But in terms of practical assistance from ‘outside’ the stories were dismal. Hama, from Iraq, told us of a food centre that he had visited but never returned to as it was too humiliating. His friends also added that some of the organizations are as bureaucratic as the state and want to see papers, or even issue papers that then needed to be stamped here and there as a condition of receiving help. But the more common response is that what little help on offer is either not appropriate or not timely. One Somalian woman, Haweeyo, told us how she was given the name of a doctor and a lawyer who could help her brother who had fallen to heroin addiction and was in a bad state. After many attempts she made contact and the doctor promised to call back and come and visit. The call never came. Neither did the visit. That her brother recovered was due to the help he received from other refugees who over a period of a month weaned him off heroin, and watched him closely even to the extent of tying him to his chair when he was at the worst point in his detoxification.

As Nasim from Syria told us, many of their needs are pressing. “We live in a big prison” where each day is about survival. Greeks, he told us, are “good at talking but this does not keep us from hunger, it does not protect us from the police. It is what you do that matters and not what you say.”

Where is the Left?

The fact that many of the NGO groups are ineffective as far as the survival of the refugees is concerned is not so surprising. There is more than enough written about the compromises that NGOs make in order to function and receive funding that tend to ally them with the power systems which are so merciless and unrelenting in scapegoating refugees.

Anti-racist rally against Golden Dawn in Thessaloniki

But the absence of the ‘Left’ in all its various guises and fragments poses more profound questions. Whilst many of the refugees we spoke with did not frame their experiences in the language of left politics and theory, it was very clear that they have a profound understanding of the barbarities of capitalism and the state. They were completely unanimous in rejecting any suggestion that they were living in a society that was remotely democratic – even though they are told endlessly that Greece is the birthplace of democracy. They were as one in rejecting a system that equated money to humanity and societies which judged you as being nothing if you had nothing. As Toufik told us, in this system if you have no money you don’t exist; if you don’t have the right papers you don’t exist; it is a society which is continuously judgemental on things that don’t matter, such as the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the phone you use. None of this matters he told us, compared to who you were, how you thought, how you were with people. His friend, Mohammed, went further saying that there are rich histories which are rarely discussed now, where societies did not function like this, which were based on humanity and solidarity and which achieved beautiful things. It does not need to be like this, he said, and repeated what we heard many times, that the system today was no more than a giant prison which tries to crush all such feelings of humanity and solidarity. This system, he concluded, was just ugly.

Most of these insights come not from studying or reading but from living, from the streets, and from each other. They are given added weight because their very survival is rooted in a quite contrary set of values and behaviour. Without mutuality, without solidarity, they could not live. Huge status is accorded to those with ‘good hearts’ and ‘clean hearts.’ These are the people you trust and to whom you turn to. Most of the refugees live collectively. They cook together, laugh together and talk. Many don’t have enough food but they survive because in the course of a week someone in the household will have something which enables them to buy and cook some food. If you have you give, knowing that this is what everyone does. Just as in the refugee camps in the West Bank the humanity amongst and within the refugee communities is both beautiful to behold and awesome. It is the bedrock of their resistance and their determination to survive as human beings.

With or without a background in Marxist and socialist theory, the lived experiences of the refugees has made many revolutionary. As they freely acknowledge, their futures will not change unless this barbarous system is destroyed and replaced by a system that places humanity and justice at its centre. For them reformism is a complete no brainer unless the system changes. This is why they are so skeptical about the current debates taking place in Greece as to the implementation of race hatred legislation. Unless that legislation eradicates the impunity of the police and the legal system to beat them up and incarcerate them without reason then it will change nothing. Are they anticipating good things should Syriza come to power at the next general election? The answer is the same. No, not unless they fundamentally break with the existing system.

It is not just that the system benefits the rich and powerful and brutalizes the weak and the poor, which is the problem. For many we talked with it is the way in which the system endlessly divides people and turns them against one another that so troubles them. They despair of the damage done to peoples’ minds by a system that poisons them with lies such as blaming refugees for the crisis in Greece and elsewhere.

These factors make the absence of the Left in these areas such a matter of concern. Do we on the Left suffer from some of the same characteristics which are so despised in the system? Do we too believe that refugees are not worthy of our solidarity and support, that they too are nothing? Why are we not standing shoulder to shoulder? Why are we not meeting them in their fought-for safe havens in the bars and cafés. Why are we not building the levels of trust together that are so vital to our struggle for justice? Why are we not taking note and learning from their survival and solidarities? Why is it we laud new forms of non-monetary exchanges and relationships when they are created from our groups but never seem to recognize that this is a deeply embedded way of life for many who live on the margins of society and have been so for years? Why are we not taking seriously their calls for a world based on humanity and exploring together what this means and how we can achieve it?

Yet for too long in Europe the Left has tended to ignore these groups believing that the road to socialism lies almost solely with an organized working-class (employed in factories!). ”

These are not simply questions for the Left in Greece but for most of the Left especially in Europe. Some of the most significant victories in the recent years have been achieved by the power of poor peoples’ mobilizations, especially in parts of Latin America and south Asia. Yet for too long in Europe the Left has tended to ignore these groups believing that the road to socialism lies almost solely with an organized working-class (employed in factories!). In a society such as Greece, where 65 per cent of young people have no job the implications of such thinking are all too evident.

The current crisis is stimulating many on the revolutionary Left to recognize that we need to rethink and to act differently. Like Panos Sotiris,[1] we talk about the necessity of building new forms of struggle from below, and forging new alliances between those who have been abandoned by global finance capital and left to the mercy of increasingly violent and vicious police forces who have been tooled up to wage war on the poorest.

But no matter what injunctions for new thinking and acting we on the Left make, we stand little chance of achieving much unless we start standing with and by the most oppressed. We must rid ourselves of our arrogance and be prepared to learn from the very people whom the capitalist system dismisses as having no worth and no humanity. From what we witness in Athens the refugees are more than prepared to wage this struggle but where are their partners? •

Sofiane Ait Chalalet was born in Algeria and came to Greece as a refugee in 2006. He has subsequently married and now has the papers he needs to live in Europe without the persecution experienced by many of his friends.

Chris Jones was born in England and worked for many years in higher education. Both Sofiane and Chris now live on the Greek island of Samos where they write and explore the impact of the crisis on the lives of the people here.

Endnotes:

1. Panagiotis Sotiris “Greek Crisis and the Left Response: Two Essays,” The Bullet No. 829 (May 28, 2013).

Prospects for 2013: A State of Shock

 

Things are getting worse. Of that there can be no doubt. At a national level we hear that over 50% of householders have reported that they will be unable to pay the property tax and be unable to meet their mortgage commitments. Another poll also published this month reveals that one third of all households are contemplating emigration, although where to and how we are not told. Supermarket chains report that income is down by billions of Euros. More dramatic are the photographs of Athens which show it to be under a pall of thick smog caused by the explosion in burning wood to keep warm. It appears that hundreds of thousands of trees have been cut from the forests on and around Mount Olympus. Friends returning to the island after Christmas away told us that the smell of wood smoke was intense on the express bus which took them from Athens airport to the port in Piraeas. They looked out of the window to see if they could see a fire. It was the Athenians on the bus who told them that this smoke was coming not from a single fire but from tens of thousands as people tried to heat their homes. And what made it worse was that most could not even afford logs but were burning any wood they could find, from abandoned homes and from the rubbish tips. Basically shit wood sometimes painted and varnished which makes for such intolerable smog.

 

On Monday we were in Samos Town and had to call at the electricity office to pay a bill. It was full of people shuffling through their bills and making payments. We hadn’t been there long when a man in his sixties began to shout whilst negotiating with the worker sitting behind her glass screen. He shouted out that it he was being robbed by the electricity company and the state and they were all thieves. There is no embarrassment at this open display of rage and many in the lines waiting called back ‘you are right!’

 

On the way back to Ambelos we stopped by the filling station where a close friend works These are interesting places that can tell you much about how the crisis is impacting. She told us that they are holding on by their finger nails and live day to day in terms of survival. Their biggest customers, lorry owners, have accounts which are invariably paid late these days which gives the garage profound cash flow problems. The fuel suppliers do not supply on credit but expect the cheque when the fuel is unloaded. The family that own the garage try and supplement their income by selling eggs, olives and oil from their own production.

 

As we were talking another friend stopped by. She works in a men’s clothes shop in Samos Town. But she told us she will finish at the end of January as the shop owners will drop her salary to 400 Euros in February down from the 560 she currently earns. This is commonplace. Salaries down, prices up. It is a lethal combination. As we have regularly reported businesses on the island continue to close. Somehow it seems more tragic than ever as these businesses have survived over 5 years of recession and decline but have now simply reached the end of the line. This is what happened to an acquaintance of ours who closed her restaurant for good in early December. She told us that on the day she closed her business another 11 did likewise. It was also a sign of the times that we met her on the way to the airport where she was leaving to join her husband who is now working in the Congo. Its all well and good people talking about emigrating in search of work, but where will they go? And how will they pay for their tickets and re-location. You need money to leave.

 

 

 

Relentlessness of Crisis

 

There is a relentlessness about this crisis. It is hard to escape from its horrors. Monday night saw us eating with friends we had not seen for some weeks. A couple in their early 30s. Good people but now utterly desperate. Anna had hurt her hand from smashing her fist into a kitchen cupboard in total frustration at their situation. Her partner told us he had now disconnected the fridge. It was completely empty. It had not helped that they had also argued with his father who was telling them that they should be making more of an effort to survive. But how? What is so disturbing here is that the Greek state and its various agencies seem intent upon making life worse in every respect. It is not only that they continue to raise taxes, cut incomes, jobs and benefits but they are now insisting on implementing EU regulations that have been systematically ignored here in the past. Anna and her husband gave us these most recent examples. A friend of theirs last week went to a farmer he had used on many occasions in the past to buy a calf. But the farmer had none to sell and even if he had he couldn’t have done so for the state is now insisting that farmers comply with EU regulations which state the minimum requirements for keeping a calf which stipulate the nature of the stall/barn, the floor, the management of waste etc. which in the case of this potential buyer would have involved an expenditure of 35,000 Euros. They also told us that restrictions on keeping any sort of livestock in the village were now being imposed and that if a neighbour complained of a smell from chickens or a goat they would be forced to move them. This is happening in villages which just forty years ago housed as many donkeys in the houses as they did people!

 

How come they asked were EU regulations which had been routinely ignored for years were now being applied and policed? Moreover, they added the underlying assumptions of so many of these regulations is utterly unacceptable. Compared with the big agri businesses which dominate global food production, small farmers, who predominate in places such as Samos are far better custodians of the land and its life stock.

 

Caring for the Land

 

This is exemplified in so many ways. Take our neighbour Dimitri. In his 80s he has been out every day weather permitting for the past 5 weeks pruning back his vines. He has a small chair and moves, slowly from vine to vine. He has about 3 acres so it is a long job. If you measured his time according to a capitalist bottom line logic, his effort makes no sense as the income from his grapes is small. It will barely cover the cost of picking the harvest in August. It will not cover the cost of all the care needed over the rest of the year. In brutal capitalistic terms his vinyard is not economic. But ask him why he is doing it, and there is no hesitation in his reply. He is caring for his vinyard. It is simple as that. Caring??? A word that is rarely part of the capitalist vocabulary.

 

And the same applies to the olives. The mountain slopes around Ambelos are covered in olive trees and the collection of olives has been in full swing since before Christmas. This is an ‘on’ year and although part of the crop was lost to the November gales and the autumn drought it has still been a good year. But it is hard work as all the olives have to be picked by hand and carried down from the trees to the roads and tracks. The terrain allows for no mechanisation. The best price you can expect for extra virgin oil from hand picked olives on an island free from pollution is 3 Euros a kilo. Basically, the entire olive oil ‘business’ on Samos is in crude capitalist terms uneconomic. We produce a small amount and only have 40 trees. But we estimated that if we had included the cost of our time in caring for and picking our olives each kilo of oil would work out at around 50 Euros!

 

But in common with the other farmers on Samos this is not what counts. What matters is that you know what you are consuming – brilliant, beautiful oil. And that you are looking after the trees and the land, just like all the farmers who came before you.

 

This just does not seem to register either in Brussels or in Athens and the regulations now being imposed with new vigour insult the majority of small farmers and confirm the view of most people here that those with power not only have no concern at all for the people but don’t seem to live in the same world.

 

Frozen by Shock

 

With all this in our mind we went off to interview Costas one of the key participants in initiating a co-operative work exchange scheme for the island and who, with others is looking to create a network of small producers to market their produce on the island and to get it to the consumers at the lowest possible cost. These are really important initiatives which in our opinion are sorely needed on the island.

 

Like us, he told us that he believed that Samos could be a paradise given its beauty and nature. He told us how many years ago Samos was a thriving agricultural centre for the region as being a green island with plenty of water it was a key supplier of fruit and vegetables to the more arid islands of the Dodecanese to the south. He did not think that these days would return but it was a valuable history lesson in that it reminded us of the island’s rich potential as a producer of wonderful fruits and vegetables.

 

As for the various initiatives he was involved in he told us that progress was slow. He was by no means downhearted and he is determined to persevere. In his opinion, the slow progress was illustrative of the fact that many on the island are simply not ready to embrace new collective and communal ways of working and thinking. He recounted that when he participated in a local radio broadcast on Samos to discuss these plans, the most common response from the callers was ‘what’s in it for me ?’ – an individualistic mind set he said that had been deliberately encouraged for the past 30 years or more. But he continued it was also more than this. He thought that most people on the island were still in a state of shock. They simply can’t believe or accept what has happened and what is continuing to happen. This economic, social and human catastrophe is not what one expects in a country that is part of a so-called civilised Western Europe in the 21st century. Thus, as far as Costas is concerned the first step in any possible constructive response is to accept what has and is happening as part of the process of moving from being frozen in shock to becoming active in working for a better future. And the second step is to realise that those with power in the world have now accumulated enough force to be able to say that we ‘don’t give a shit for your welfare or your future’.

 

Let’s hope that 2013 will see more of us taking these first 2 steps at least.

 

21.1.2013

Fighting for a Different Future: Students Against the Athena Plan

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout March 2013  students all over Greece have been demonstrating and in some cases occupying their universities and colleges in protest at the coalition government’s plans for restructuring higher education. Known as the Athena Plan, the proposals include the closing of some universities and the mergers or closure of many departments. Amongst the universities affected by these proposals is the University of the Aegean and its departments in Karlovassi, Samos where it has been proposed to merge the department of mathematics with statistics. This has provoked the students to occupy and take action and for the past few weeks they have effectively closed the university with only the department of computer science operating near normality.

 

On Friday 22nd March 2013, we went to meet with a group of the students involved in the action.

 

Not surprisingly the analysis of the students was far more informed than anything you can read in the mainstream media. From these sources you would think that the main issue of the students’ concern and anger is the closure and merger of university departments and whole institutions. This is only one part of the story however.

 

Their anger at the closure and mergers is nonetheless real and important for as they told us the Athena Plan contrary to government assurances has nothing to do with improving the quality of Greek higher education but everything to do with cutting costs in line with the Troika’s demands for solving the ‘Greek’ crisis. The government has provided no educational justification for its plans and indeed many mainstream commentators have argued that the plan has been poorly thought through and not logical. Much of what we heard from the students echoed the comments made by Nikos Xydakis in Ekathimerini (English edition, Feb 2 2013):

 

“Is there some lofty plan to boost the economy in the long run or a desire to elevate intellectual standards governing this reform, or is it solely about cost-cutting? Can the country’s secondary educational system support these changes? What will the role of technical colleges be? What kind of productive model and what standard of formal education do we envision for Greece in the future? Is there a plan for the reformation of the agricultural economy, for industry and commerce, a plan for boosting the sciences and innovation? If so, how are these strategies being aligned with the reform of the education system?

Unfortunately, we see no such strategy at play. Unfortunately, this reform, like so many others, is being dictated by nothing more than cost, the bottom line after horizontal cost-cutting measures. Sure, the cost of tertiary education to the state and the taxpayer must be reduced, but we should also calculate the cost of doing it in such a manner for the next generations.”

Where the government has provided any argument it has blamed the corrupt patronage system in which they are so deeply implicated by claiming that entire universities and departments were created at the whim of a local politicians and their favoured academics. Of course, we suspect that patronage of this sort can be detected in Greek higher education as it can be found in all aspects of the Greek state, but it is really hard to believe that this is the key factor. Furthermore, the actual locations of newly created universities and colleges are subject to many forms of political horse trading in many countries. This is not peculiar to Greece. After all the influx of students into an area has significant positive economic and social consequences. But the decisions and policy framework for funding new universities is quite a different matter.

 

In Greece, just as in much of the EU , the expansion of higher education was a policy priority for much of the past 2 decades. Across much of the political spectrum there was an agreement that it was a ‘good thing’ to have more institutions of higher education and a high percentage of each age cohort progressing to university. This we were told increases the ‘human capital’ of a society, which in turn is supposed to lead to economic prosperity. As a result the percentage of 18-21 year olds in higher education in Greece rose from 28% in 1996 to 60% in 2005 (Ekathimerini July 12th 2009). As the students asked us, are we now to ignore all these arguments from the recent past?

 

The students in Karlovassi were clear that the proposed merger of maths with statistics would worsen and not improve their situation and lead to less choice and the loss of certain important specialisms. But they also insisted that Athena was much more than this.

 

In particular, they see Athena as being a decisive step in the neo liberal transformation of Greek higher education. The Plan itself is based on research undertaken by a private educational company AKMI, for which the government paid 137,000 euros. This company stands to gain from the privatisation of education in Greece. It will be no surprise in the future, when bachelor level university education has been downgraded to more technocratic ‘certificate’ levels to see companies such as AKMI bidding to be the provider.

 

 

We were told that governments have for some years been attempting to make changes to Greek higher education. In particular they have been trying to reduce the level of student and staff involvement in the management of universities and to replace them with a business oriented management system. The Athena Plan both endorses and seeks to implement fully the laws passed in 2011 (Law 4009) and 2012 (law 4076) which were ‘postponed’ due to a wave of protests, occupations and collective disobedience. It appears to be banking on the severity of the crisis to push through what it has otherwise failed to achieve. Some parts of these Laws have been implemented. As the Karlovassi students told us, for the first time all studentsare being asked to contribute to the costs of their food which had been free in the past. Now they are expected to pay 3 euros a day which as they note is a small sum but the principal of free provision has now been broken and they expect that the cost will increase year on year. Next academic year the free provision of books to students is to be removed and the costs transferred to students. And Athena is proposing that students will need to contribute to the costs of tuition. As one of the students told us, “we and our families have paid through our taxes to create an open free university system, now this is being taken away”.

 

In the process of trying to ‘reform’ higher education, the minister of education has been given formidable powers to make changes in both the quantity and detail of higher education without having to seek full parliamentary approval. These powers are profoundly anti-democratic.

 

The Karlovassi students see the same anti-democratic impulses at work in the government’s insistence that the role of students and staff in the governance of universities be reduced. They are particularly fearful of the consequences of involving businesses in the management of universities: businesses which in many cases are deeply implicated in the crisis and responsible for the incredible rate of youth unemployment (65%) and the 50% cut in household incomes. They foresee a future in which both the amount of provision and the content of the curriculum will be determined by the needs of business and the labour market and not by the needs and priorities of the people and society more generally. It can be anticipated with some confidence, that increasing the role of business will see a weakening of provision in the social sciences and humanities which the corporate world tend to view with suspicion as being anti-corporate. Under the current Athena plans, the large social work school in the Patras TIE is slated to close as well as the only social work course in a University.

 

The Occupation

 

Although some of the activists we met looked tired, there was no denying their determination to fight Athena. They told us that generally morale amongst the student body as a whole is high. In no small degree their morale was boosted by the fact that the government has been forced to delay the implementation of Athena. The students also reported that they are being well supported by the teaching staff. With no teaching except in Computer Science, the students are facing the prospect of lost time as end of semester assessments can not take place if there has been no teaching. Although it is not clear if this will happen as the teaching staff are promising to explore ways in which students can progress despite the occupations.

 

In order to sustain morale they have held parties, concerts, film nights and so on although there has not been as yet the development of an alternative set of classes to discuss the broader political context. Those students we met were clear that Athena is about transforming Greek higher education in ways which will favour only those with sufficient income and will seek to transform universities into institutions whose prime purpose is to meet the needs of the corporate sector. Education in the true sense of the word will be destroyed. And free higher education as a right for all young Greeks will be eradicated. Whilst there was much we admired in the students’ understanding of their situation we did feel that they could be doing more during the weeks of occupation to deepen their understanding and to broaden their struggle with others on Samos. But maybe our criticism is not entirely justified as the students see the struggle against the government’s plans is going to be a long one with the current action only be one stage in the ‘war’. They were well aware that the occupation could not last for much longer and were already discussing the next steps which, they said, needed to include the development of another, alternative vision of universities. A vision which would be based on universities contributing to the social, and human needs of the whole society and not just the narrow interests of business.

 

Working against them is the practical issue that many students come from already hard pressed families who are making considerable sacrifices to keep their children in university. Hence the occupation and closing down the university was delaying their progress and placing their families under additional pressures. We were told that increasing numbers of their friends were leaving the island because they and their families could no longer the afford the costs. As there is no obligation of students to attend classes those leaving were intending to continue their studies, alone and at home but as they acknowledged this is not easy.

 

We fully support the students’ actions and proposals. The damage arising from these neo-liberal policies for universities is already clear in the societies where they are being implemented. In Britain for example, where students are now being charged up to £9,000 per year for tuition means that on completion many students are burdened with debts of up to £60,000. Debts of this magnitude mean that poorer working class students are not going to go on to university. The risk is just too great. It also means that employability rather than education increasingly determines students’ choices of courses. With this kind of debt burden it is hardly surprising that the first concern of a student is going to be what sort of job they can expect and to chose subjects which seem to guarantee a decent income rather than studying something because that is your passion or interest. This is already apparent here and we were told by some of the students in Karlovassi that up to 80% of students in their opinion, were taking subjects in which they had no interest. Their choices were informed primarily by what course they thought would give them a chance of a decent job on graduation. This is tragic both for the student and the wider society and constitutes an incredible waste and destruction of talent.

 

In a relatively small population such as Greece’s it has even further consequences. The crisis has led to a youth unemployment rate of over 60%. The government, in an attempt to alleviate this problem has determined that the wages for young people between 21 and 26 should be no higher than 400 euros a month, irrespective of talent and qualifications. This is the salary the students we met expected on graduation. No wonder then, that many students were seeing their course as a route not to a job in Greece but outside the country. Over half of those we met expected to leave the country, not because they wanted to, but because they saw no other possibility. Four days after our discussion, Ekathimerini reported on recent research undertaken at the University of Macedonia (in Thessaloniki) that discovered that “more than 150,000 Greek graduates are estimated to have moved to more than 70 countries in the past five years in order to find work….According to data drawn from a recent study by economic geography professor Lois Lambrianidis, the majority of those graduates are pursuing careers in Britain, Germany, France and the United States….Lambrianidis said that 61 percent of expat graduates did not even apply for a job in Greece after completing their studies here or abroad (Ekathimerini, March 27, 2013).

 

The Athena Plan will do nothing to stop this bleeding of young talent from a country which desperately needs these young people if it is to recover from the ongoing humanitarian crisis. It will do nothing to meet the urgent need of a society which needs critical and creative thinking if it is to have a future which is not a modern form of slavery. It is a plan and a policy which should make all of us enraged. It is wrong. Tragically wrong.

 

Since completing this article, the students in Karlovassi have voted to end the occupation and to return to their studies. But the struggle against Athena is by no means over. As to its form and vigour this has yet to be determined.

 

Samos Futures: Oil, Wine and Honey and Eco-Tourism?

The crisis has and is sharpening the thinking of many on this island and there is a growing consensus that a sustainable and meaningful future lies in the manner in which we use our greatest treasure – the island itself with its bounteous nature and outstanding beauty. But how do we get there? To provide some answers, we started by looking at wine production, as the sweet dessert wine of Samos is probably the most famous of all the island’s products.

Once we started to look at the issue of wine production and growing on Samos it became clear that many of the issues raised were not just particular to the wine industry but were evident in much of Samos’ agricultural production and organisation.

In our opinion, the most problematic factor is that most of the farmers cannot survive from farming alone. It simply does not offer sufficient income to support the farmers. This means that many have other jobs which provide the needed cash income for their household. The income they receive from their grapes and olives, the 2 main crops here, is not enough to allow them to devote all their time to their farms. This has long been the case but the current crisis has massively compounded the problem as revealed by Costa. 5 years ago, Costa’s income from his harvest of 8 to 9 tonnes of grapes came to 6,000 euros. 3 years later it had plummeted to 800 euros. Given that his rent for the vinyards was 800 euros per year and the cost of harvesting was 1,200 euros he simply could not afford to continue. Even for those who do not rent, it is not hard to see why the number of farmers involved in grape production is falling on Samos. The Union of Wine Co-operatives which control the wine industry on the island predicts that the current number of farmers will fall from around 2,800 to 2,000 over the next few years.

The most valued land for grape production is on the higher slopes of Samos’ mountains. These are time consuming to both access and maintain. Ambelos has many farmers who need 30 to 40 minutes in their pick ups to get to their lands on the mountain along hard to maintain tracks. Many have vinyards which are separated by kilometres of rough track again encouraging farmers to use sprays which can cut down on their visits.

This fundamental lack of time, has many repercussions. Lacking the necessary time to weed and care for their vinyards, many farmers revert to weed killers and sprays. As one young farmer told us, he just didn’t have the time to manage his grapes in any other way. “One day’s spraying means I needn’t go back for 3 months”. He knew that weeding by hand was better but on an island where weed growth can be prodigious he didn’t have the time, because he can’t secure enough income from his surplus crops to pay for his time or that of another worker.

In addition, as we explain in more detail later, the farmers’ focus on quantity over quality with respect to the 2 main crops of grapes and olives has many repercussions one being a further impulse to use chemical fertilizers to boost the yield of the crop.

Staying with Chemicals

We have no hard data about the use of agri chemicals on Samos. But there is plenty of local evidence of farmers spraying their lands and feeding their crops with chemicals. The countless discarded bottles of agri-chems by the roadside also suggests widespread and extensive use. We also heard from farmers who can remember the days when they and their fathers were covered in DDT powder after a day dusting the crops. The dangers of DDT are now known and its use banned, but it still rare to see farmers wearing adequate masks when spraying toxic weed-killers and insecticides.

“The old paradigm of agriculture has its roots in war. An industry that had grown by making explosives and chemicals for the war remodelled itself as the agro-chemical industry when these wars ended. Factories that manufactured explosives started making synthetic fertilisers and gradually the use of war chemicals as pesticides and herbicides began. The 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy is a stark reminder that pesticides kill. Pesticides in agriculture continue to kill farmers. One of Navdanya’s reports, “Poisons in our Food” released in 2012, shows that a link between epidemics like cancer and the use of pesticides in agriculture exist. A daily “cancer train” leaves Punjab, the land of the Green Revolution in India, with cancer victims. In the last five years, 33,000 people have died of cancer in Punjab.”

(‘Tilling the Soil with Pesticides’ by Vandana Shiva, Asian Times, March 11th 2013)

Farmers know that they risk health problems but the effects are rarely immediate. They can also see that they ‘kill the land’ by their weed-killers. The summer bakes the bare earth and the vines are all that grow in a soil devoid of life both below and on top of the ground. The soil is like concrete. On Samos where we have long dry summers the lack of organic matter in the soil not only destroys our bio-diversity but reduces the capacity of the ground to retain moisture.

Agri-chemicals, as we observed meet the (short-term) needs of many farmers on Samos. Waves of emigration between the end of the civil war and the overthrow of the Junta left behind both a smaller and older group of farmers who in turn found themselves caring for more land as family members left. Added to this difficulty was that many of the young people who remained had no intention of following their parents onto the land. Farming had no place in youth culture and certainly was not likely to produce the types of income to support the lifestyles which were now being popularised in the media and being increasingly embraced by the island’s young population. Paniotis typifies this shift and broke out of the family farming tradition by being the first in his family to go to university and then going on to work for a bank. His family’s lands are both extremely beautiful and highly productive – grapes and citrus fruits, but he has absolutely no interest and just laughs out loud at the idea of ever working on the land. For him it is totally absurd and outside his sense of himself and his hopes. There are many like our friend, Paniotis on Samos who have separated themselves totally from the land and don’t even consider participating at any level in maintaining their family lands.

It is this kind of context which makes Samos so ripe to be seduced by agri-chemicals with its promise of helping farmers maintain and work their lands with less labour. It is also seductive in that it promises a level of security against the vagaries of nature and disease;in the short-term at least. Although it can never offer total protection – drought, gales, hale storms, heat waves and the like can still devastate a year’s work. But with respect to common diseases, agri-chemicals offer much which understandably attracts farmers. A good example of this was provided by a local bee- keeper who told us about her experience of attending a seminar on biological production of honey a couple of years ago. The seminar attracted nearly 200 bee-keepers. After a couple of hours, one of the bee-keepers asked the visiting teacher to tell them about the latest antibiotics which were effective against the common bee diseases which can wipe out their hives. Our informant told us that the teacher was dumb struck and asked whether they had not understood a word of what she had been talking about over the past 2 hours. This, the teacher said, is a seminar on biological production and bee care and is completely opposed to the use of agri-chemicals. At this point, most of the audience got up and left leaving behind just 6 bee-keepers!

Samos produces superb honey because of the richness and diversity of its flora and the forests. But sadly much of it is contaminated by high dosages of antibiotics which the bee-keepers use to protect their hives. However, easy condemnation of the bee-keepers needs to be tempered by an awareness that farming is intrinsically insecure and where margins are squeezed they will understandably look for ways including toxic antibiotics to minimise the risk of being wiped-out. At the very time we were preparing this article the chief medical officer of health in Britain issued her annual report in which she warned of an impending disaster for humanity ranking alongside climate change. The disaster was the growing failure of antibiotics to eradicate infections, which in part was due to the prescribing practices of doctors but more significantly due to the overuse and abuse of antibiotics in farming especially with respect to meat production (Guardian newspaper, 11th March 2013).

As with human life, there is now more than enough evidence that the long term impact of many toxic agri-chemicals is not good for the well-being of the environment as a whole and for those who work the land in particular.

Samos is an island of outstanding natural beauty. Biologists laud the extraordinary richness of its wild flowers which blanket many slopes and hillsides in the spring and early summer. It is a ‘green’ island with rivers and streams, thick pine and deciduous forests, valleys bursting with vegetation even in the heat of the summer. And all this is set in the beautiful Aegean.

About 7 years ago, a German botanist published a book on the flora of Samos in which he warned that extensive use of agri-chemicals was already damaging the flowers and action was needed to prevent further damage to what was a precious environment.

Even before this crisis, many people on Samos realised that their biggest asset in term of tourism was the island itself, with its beaches and nature. People here will tell you of the variety of walkers’ paths that connect villages with their lands scattered on the mountain side; of the small stone huts that could be converted into overnight shelters for walkers; of how eco-tourism could bring new life to villages and Samos as a whole, without the island being destroyed in the process.

But there is no sign of any systematic action to promote this line of development despite the fact that the crisis has made many re-think their priorities for the future. There are many here who firmly believe that the future well being of the island and its people could be secured through ecological based tourism and agricultural produce including special wines, honey and olive oil. But how to get there, or even get onto this road to a better future seems distant.

Obstacles

The on-going use of toxic agri-chemicals is not a matter of the character of the farmer, it is a matter foremost of income and secondly the organisation of production. Thirdly, there is the role of the agri-chemical businesses many of which are transnational and have immense power and influence and profit so handsomely from their chemicals and poisons.

With more income the farmers would have no need to find other wages. They would have more time to care for their land in non toxic ways and have the capacity to bring in additional help at key moments in the cultivation and harvesting of the crops. Secondly, it is increasingly clear that the traditional family based ways of farming the land are no longer fit for purpose. As the farmers age, and younger people either leave or show no interest in the lands, there is simply not the pool of household labour to draw upon. In recent years this problem has been eased by the influx of migrant labour especially from Albania, but as the crisis has deepened even this labour is no longer affordable. Hence more and more land is abandoned. If farming is ever to be part of a sustainable future for the island we have to start exploring new more imaginative ways of working the land which goes beyond the household to embrace wider forms of co-operation. With unemployment soaring there is no absolute shortage of labour but it won’t translate into more farmers unless we consider ways to make it into work that is both rewarding and enjoyable.

In our opinion, to see the problem of excessive agri-chemical use as being due to farmers’ character or education misses the point. Classes and propaganda on the benefits of organic farming methods will be largely ignored unless it can provide the income necessary to live and work without fear, on and from the land.

As we have already noted, income from both grapes and olives favours quantity over quality which in turn encourages use of fertilizers and sprays. It is common knowledge here that fertilizers can allow you to double or triple the yield.

On the issue of ‘yield’ it is worth noting Shiva’s observation:

“Just as the gross domestic product fails to measure the real economy, the health of nature and society, similarly the category of “yield” fails to measure real costs and real output of farming systems. On October 25, 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations released its second report on The State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. It observed that the so called high-yielding varieties (HYVs) of the Green Revolution should, in fact, be called high response varieties as they are bred for responding to chemicals and are not “high yielding”. The narrow measure of “yield” propelled agriculture into deepening monocultures thereby displacing diversity and eroding natural and social capital.”

But back to Samos, as we talked with farmers we came across a system in which quality was compromised both in terms of wine and olive oil production.

In the case of wine production this is under the control of the island’s Union of Wine Co-operatives. Legislated in 1934 to have sole control of wine production after a bitter struggle with private wine merchants who ‘were drinking the blood of the farmers’ it set about creating a system that included payments to farmers even if their grape crops were poor and diseased.

There were a number of reasons for this, not the least being the recognition that the moscato grape which is the principal vine variety (98%) and from which the famous Samos sweet wine is made, is especially susceptible to disease which can ruin a crop in days. This is especially true for the vines which are cultivated at or near sea level. Those grown at the high altitudes are far more resistant which is why these vinyards are highly valued.

To protect farmers who experienced poor harvests the Union was prepared to accept and pay for ‘sick grapes’, albeit at a lower rate than good grapes. This feature of the Union is highly valued and clearly gives farmers some assurance that at least some income can be earned.

The farmers we met did not want to see the Union stopping the system of paying for poor grapes but they did feel that the payments for good grapes was not sufficient and that there was no income incentive to shift to more intensive biological systems that would also reduce their yields. As the Union’s general manager told us during an interview, the current premium does not encourage biological production and accounts for little of their wine output. Out of a total of 2,847 grape farmers just 40 are registered as organic producers. We gained no sense that the Union was looking to encourage biological production even though organic wines are now sought after and have the potential to increase farmers’ incomes. Moreover, the Union is also the major supplier of agri-chemicals to all Samos farmers and must be a significant income stream. When we pressed him on this, he did say that the Union did try to identify those agri-chemicals which were ‘soft’ in terms of their impact, but that was about the extent of their concern.

But the system of payments seems to have had some unfortunate, unintended consequences. For example, there are now more vinyards at lower altitudes which are more susceptible to disease, but are still worth cultivating as they will be paid whatever the quality. Inevitably, over time the system has tolerated the need of time pressed farmers to harvest the crop in ways which don’t enhance the quality of the harvest. According to Dean Stergides, writing about Samos wine in the Athens News in 2001 he attributed this to the Union of Wine Cooperatives’ monopolistic position:

“The cooperative’s seizure of production has thwarted the emergence of
individual estates and the corresponding plurality necessary to the further
development of the island’s wine industry. The vast majority of grape-growers have no idea how muscat wine is made and probably couldn’t care less.
This is the best explanation I can think of to justify the total ignorance and
indifference among local farmers, to what constitutes a quality grape, that I
witnessed recently on the island during harvest-time. Most grapes brought in
for crushing were in a pitiful state.
Grapes were often too ripe or not ripe enough. The sick went in the crusher
along with the healthy. I repeatedly saw crates of grapes standing on the
roadside for hours on end under the scorching sun getting oxidised and losing
aromas. Meanwhile, one of the cooperatives star growers was proudly telling
me that he was attaining yields of 40,000 kilos per hectare (about 5 times
more than he should). Technology and the heroic efforts of the cooperatives
two oenologists can only go so far. Unless there is also a change in
mentality, the island’s growers are in for a bumpy touchdown when the current boom starts going bust. “

There is plenty of evidence of poor viniculture on the island. It is commonplace during the harvest-time for picked grapes to stand in the sun for hours even days before being pressed; of seeing diseased grapes being minced with good grapes at either of the 2 Union owned wine factories on the island. This is not restricted to viniculture. During the current olive picking season it is usual to see olives stored in sacks for days at a time before being carted off for pressing. Many farmers, again because of time and labour constraints, gather all the fallen olives with hand operated machines that pierce the olives which inevitably undermines their quality, especially when they are left for days before being pressed. All the guidance on producing the best quality olive oil stresses the importance of pressing as soon as possible after picking and taking steps to prevent unnecessary oxidisation of the fruits. Yet spend a morning in the main olive presses and you will see tonnes of poor olives being pressed resulting in oil which is of poor quality.

We interviewed the manager of one of the newer presses on Samos. He is committed to the production of high quality oil, especially organic production but he faces many obstacles. He was particularly concerned that despite the potential of the island to produce high quality oil that can compete with the best olive oil in the region, Samos had a reputation for poor oil. He talked of his frustration that so many of the farmers were not interested in improving the quality of their crops and queried why he should display posters at his mill showing how to improve the oil. His story resonated with that of another mill owner who told us that most of the olives they pressed in any one season were poor quality and there was insufficient good quality oil to make it worthwhile marketing it.

That the island is failing to make the best use of its 2 main crops cannot be explained simply by reference to the monopolistic position of the Union. It also seems to us that the principle of sharing the risk of crop failure is a good one for it meets the need to provide some degree of security given the vagaries of nature. It is hard to see how such a principle could be embedded in a wholly privatised system of farming which would have no interest in such communal insurance. There are however issues for the Union with respect to its position on biological production and its involvement in the supply of agri-chemicals. We would also question whether the Union has prioritised sufficiently the importance of maximising farmers’ incomes which would, we suggest entail a bigger shift towards biological production and embedding that within an island wide project of eco-tourism with all its attendant spin offs.

But poor farming practices both with respect to oil and wine are essentially aspects of poverty and all its consequences. Oil and wine production to be done well are labour intensive. Both crops benefit from being processed as quickly as possible from the time of picking and not to be standing round waiting until there is a sufficient amount to be processed. But this requires labour that is not forthcoming at least not in the way it is currently organised. Harvests are picked according to who is available and not by the needs of the crop. A single farmer can take days to gather sufficient olives to merit pressing. Much easier to wait until the majority of the olives have fallen to the ground and then sweep them up, good and bad, old and new. The oil might not be good but still it provides some income even if sold at less than 1 euro a kilo. But what if farm labour was differently organised? What if harvesting became a much broader collective effort that would allow the crops to be picked quickly and when ready?

The same is true for the grapes. Often using the labour of friends and family the grapes are picked when this effort can be mobilised. Maybe the crop is not in prime condition but this is not the priority.

However, there is also a type of schizophrenia when it comes to farming. For whilst farmers might not always take the best care of the grapes and olives they produce for income, it does seem that higher standards are applied to those crops where the wine and oil is intended for home use. In this case, farmers attach a high priority to the quality of both their wine and oil and reserve the best of their crops for their own use. It is not the case then that there is a complete disjuncture between growing and making as some have suggested.

What Can Be Done?

There are those on the island who do believe that with respect to wine making that the Union is part of the problem. Currently, one farmer who believes that the future for Samos wine is high quality biological production is challenging the Union’s legalised monopoly. To this end he has secured substantial financial backing which he has needed to challenge the Union through the Greek courts, and is prepared to go the European courts if necessary.

In our interview he made it clear that he believes the Union has lost its original vision and is now more concerned with protecting the organisation than it is with encouraging the best possible wine for the best possible prices. He believes that their control deters good viniculture and that it should be opened up to allow others to produce and market Samos wine. He believes if given the opportunity he could attract and reward farmers for good biologically grown grapes and make a wine that could demand a high price. But, as he admitted, his approach could not offer the farmers any guarantee over crop failure. He would not be prepared to pay for poor grapes.

He is very persuasive and passionate but his fight with the Union has so far prevented him from opening his wine press and pushing on with his project. There is unlikely to be any quick resolution as the general manager of the Union made it clear to us that they would fight tooth and nail to hold onto their monopolistic position and he believed that as long as it retained the support of the farmers then they would be ultimately successful in any legal battle.

He may well be right to be so confident for as long as the Union is prepared to compensate farmers for poor quality grapes – something smaller scale producers would find difficult – the Union can expect to be supported.

But monopoly brings with it responsibility and one has to wonder whether the general disconnection between growing the grapes and making the wine ought to be reconsidered within the Union. At the moment for example, we discovered that farmers have no idea as to how Samos wines are fairing in an increasingly competitive globalised wine market. During our interview with the general manager we were given 2 pages of rave reviews about the sweet Samos wines and details of their recent awards. When we asked some growers about this they said that this was the first time they had heard of such successes which at the very least suggests that communication between the Union and the growers is not all that it should be.

Within the existing framework of the Union it should be possible for a more pluralistic approach to be considered with each of the village unions which make up the Co-op being encouraged to produce their own wine which could then be collectively marketed. After all, many of the world’s most famous wine growing areas operate in this fashion producing a wide range of wine at various qualities and prices under a common title of ‘Bordeaux’, ‘burgundy’ and so forth.

It is unrealistic to expect that the farmers alone can bring about the changes needed. As it is they have insufficient time to manage their lands and certainly no surplus time for developing the marketing and educational systems which are now required. This is where organisations such as the Union of Wine Cooperatives are needed and with something similar for olive oil production. Neither is it simply sufficient to produce a system of incentives to encourage good farming practices and high standards. What is more important is the creation of a system that provides the necessary income for farmers to care and manage their land, which in turn will sustain the village communities which give the island its character and spirit.

We are on an island of great beauty and with wonderful resources. This is our treasure trove and our way to make a future which is nurturing and secure for all. The on going crisis is making this paradise a hell for so many people who have no income and no work. It is forcing us all to re-appraise what we have and what we need to do. But it is only as an island united by a common vision that we can hope to succeed.

 

Το μέλλον της Σάμου : Λάδι, κρασί, μέλι και οικολογικός τουρισμός;

Η κρίση έχει οξύνει την σκέψη πολλών σ’ αυτό το νησί και υπάρχει μια διαρκώς αυξανόμενη κοινή συνείδηση ότι η σημασία και η βιωσιμότητα του μέλλοντος βρίσκεται στο πώς χρησιμοποιούμε το μεγαλύτερο θησαυρό μας : το ίδιο το νησί με την γενναιόδωρη φύση του και την εξαιρετική ομορφιά του. Αλλά πως θα επιτύχουμε το στόχο μας; Προκειμένου να δώσουμε μερικές απαντήσεις, ξεκινήσαμε την έρευνα με την παραγωγή κρασιού, καθώς το γλυκό Σαμιακό κρασί είναι ίσως το πιο διάσημο προϊόν του νησιού.

Από τη στιγμή που αρχίσαμε να ερευνούμε το θέμα της παραγωγής κρασιού και της καλλιέργειας αμπελιών εδώ στη Σάμο, ήταν ξεκάθαρο ότι πολλά από τα θέματα που προέκυψαν δεν αφορούσαν αποκλειστικά την βιομηχανία του κρασιού αλλά ήταν εμφανή σε μεγάλο μέρος της αγροτικής παραγωγής και οργάνωσης στη Σάμο.

Κατά τη γνώμη μας, ο πιο προβληματικός παράγοντας είναι ότι οι περισσότεροι αγρότες δεν μπορούν ναν επιβιώσουν μόνο με τη γεωργία. Απλά, δεν παρέχει επαρκές εισόδημα για να ζήσουν οι αγρότες. Αυτό σημαίνει ότι πολλοί έχουν άλλες εργασίες που παρέχουν το απαιτούμενο εισόδημα για το σπίτι. Το εισόδημα που λαμβάνουν από τα σταφύλια και τις ελιές, τις δύο βασικές καλλιέργειες εδώ, δεν είναι αρκετό για να τους επιτρέψει να αφιερώσουν όλο το χρόνο τους στα χωράφια. Τα πιο αξιόλογα χωράφια για την παραγωγή των σταφυλιών είναι στις ψηλότερες κορφές των Σαμιακών βουνών. Αυτό είναι χρονοβόρο και ως προς την πρόσβαση αλλά και την συντήρηση. Η Άμπελος έχει πολλούς αγρότες, οι οποίοι χρειάζονται 30 με 40 λεπτά στα φορτηγάκια τους για να φτάσουν στα χωράφια τους στο βουνό, ενώ ταυτοχρόνως είναι δύσκολο να συντηρηθούν τα ορεινά μονοπάτια. Πολλοί έχουν αμπελώνες που χωρίζονται μεταξύ τους με δύσβατα μονοπάτια κάτι το οποίο ενθαρρύνει τους αγρότες να ραντίσουν προκειμένου να μειώσουν τις επισκέψεις τους εκεί.

Αυτή η βασική έλλειψη χρόνου, έχει πολλές επιπτώσεις. Η έλλειψη απαραίτητου χρόνου για ξεχορτάριασμα και φροντίδα των αμπελώνων τους, στρέφει πολλούς αγρότες στα ζιζανιοκτόνα και στους ψεκασμούς. Όπως μας είπε ένας νέος αγρότης δεν προλάβαινε να διαχειριστεί τα αμπέλια του με άλλον τρόπο : « Αν ραντίσω μία μέρα σημαίνει ότι εγώ δε θα χρειαστεί να να ξαναπάω για τους επόμενους τρείς μήνες.» Γνώριζε ότι το ξεχορτάριασμα με τα χέρια ήταν καλύτερο, αλλά σ’ ένα νησί με τεράστια εξάπλωση ζιζανίων δεν προλαβαίνει καθώς δεν μπορεί να εξασφαλίσει αρκετό εισόδημα από τις άλλες καλλιέργειες του ώστε να πληρώσει το μεροκάματο του ή το μεροκάματο ενός άλλου αγρότη.

Επιπλέον, όπως θα εξηγήσουμε με περισσότερες λεπτομέρειες αργότερα, η επικέντρωση των αγροτών στην ποσότητα σε βάρος της ποιότητας όσον αφορά τις δύο βασικές καλλιέργειες των σταφυλιών και της ελιάς έχει πολλές επιπτώσεις, μία εκ των οποίων είναι η περαιτέρω ώθηση των αγροτών στην χρήση των χημικών λιπασμάτων με σκοπό να αυξήσουν την ποσότητα της σοδειάς.

Προσκόλληση στα χημικά

Δεν έχουμε δεδομένα για τη χρήση των αγροχημικών στη Σάμο. Αλλά είναι εμφανές ότι αγρότες ραντίζουν τα χωράφια τους και τροφοδοτούν τις καλλιέργειες τους με χημικά. Τα αμέτρητα, πεταμένα μπουκάλια αγροχημικών στις άκρες των δρόμων δείχνουν την διαδεδομένη και εκτεταμένη χρήση τους. Επίσης, έχουμε ακούσει αγρότες να θυμούνται τις εποχές όταν εκείνοι και οι πατεράδες τους ήταν καλυμμένοι με σκόνη DDT μετά από μια μέρα ψεκασμού των καλλιεργειών τους. Οι κίνδυνοι του DDT είναι τώρα πια γνωστοί και η χρήση του απαγορευμένη, αλλά ακόμη και τώρα είναι σπάνιο να δούμε αγρότες να φορούν τις απαραίτητες μάσκες ψεκασμού.

Οι αγρότες γνωρίζουν ότι κινδυνεύουν να αρρωστήσουν, αλλά οι επιπτώσεις σπάνια είναι άμεσες. Επίσης, βλέπουν ότι «σκοτώνουν τη γη» με τα ζιζανιοκτόνα. Το καλοκαίρι η απογυμνωμένη γη ξεραίνεται κι τα αμπέλια αναπτύσσονται σ’ ένα χώμα στερημένο από ζωή.

Τα αγροχημικά, όπως παρατηρήσαμε, εξυπηρετούν πολλούς αγρότες στη Σάμο. Τα κύματα μετανάστευσης απ’ το τέλος του Εμφυλίου μέχρι την πτώση της Χούντας άφησαν λιγότερους και γηραιότερους αγρότες , οι οποίο βρέθηκαν να φροντίζουν περισσότερη γη καθώς τα μέλη της οικογένειας έφυγαν. Σ’ αυτή τη δυσκολία προστέθηκε το γεγονός ότι πολλοί από τους νέους που παρέμειναν στο νησί δεν είχαν σκοπό να ακολουθήσουν τους γονείς τους στην ενασχόληση με τη γη. Η γεωργία δεν είχε θέση στην κουλτούρα της νεολαίας και σίγουρα δεν υπήρχε η πιθανότητα να παρέχει τα εισοδήματα εκείνα που θα υποστήριζαν το είδος της ζωής που τα ΜΜΕ έκαναν δημοφιλές και το οποίο ασπάζονταν οι νέοι του νησιού. Ο Παναγιώτης είναι ένα τυπικό παράδειγμα της αλλαγής και της ρήξης με την οικογενειακή αγροτική παράδοση, καθώς ήταν ο πρώτος από την οικογένεια που πήγε στο Πανεπιστήμιο και μετά συνέχισε δουλεύοντας σε Τράπεζα. Τα χωράφια της οικογένειας του είναι και πανέμορφα και παραγωγικά – σταφύλια και εσπεριδοειδή αλλά δεν ενδιαφέρεται καθόλου και γελάει και μόνο την ιδέα της ενασχόλησης του με την γη. Γι’ αυτόν είναι παράλογο κι έξω από τη δική του λογική και τις προσδοκίες του. Υπάρχουν πολλοί στην Σάμο σαν τον φίλο μας τον Παναγιώτη οι οποίοι αποδεσμεύθηκαν τελείως από τη γη και δεν σκέφτονται καν να συμμετέχουν στην διαχείριση της οικογενειακής γης τους.

Είναι ακριβώς αυτό το πλαίσιο που καθιστά τη Σάμο επιρρεπή στη χρήση αγροχημικών , τα οποία υπόσχονται να βοηθήσουν τους αγρότες να συντηρήσουν και να δουλέψουν τη γη τους με λιγότερο κόπο. Είναι επίσης δελεαστικό το ότι υπόσχεται ένα επίπεδο ασφάλειας ενάντια στις ιδιοτροπίες της φύσης και στις ασθένειες. Ωστόσο, δεν μπορεί να παρέχει πλήρη προστασία – ξηρασία, θύελλες, χαλαζοπτώσεις καύσωνες κ.α μπορούν να καταστρέψουν την δουλειά ενός χρόνου. Αλλά όσον αφορά τις κοινές ασθένειες , τα αγροχημικά προσφέρουν πολλές περισσότερες υποσχέσεις, οι οποίες όπως είναι κατανοητό προσελκύουν τους αγρότες. Ένα καλό παράδειγμα μας έδωσε μια ντόπια μελισσοκόμος που μας διηγήθηκε την εμπειρία της από την παρακολούθηση ενός σεμιναρίου σχετικά με την βιολογική παραγωγή μελιού δύο χρόνια πριν. Το σεμινάριο προσέλκυσε περίπου 200 μελισσοκόμους. Μετά από ένα δίωρο, ένας από τους μελισσοκόμους ζήτησε από τον εκπαιδευτή να τους μιλήσει σχετικά με τα πιο πρόσφατα αντιβιοτικά που είναι αποτελεσματικά στην καταπολέμηση των κοινών ασθενειών της μέλισσας , οι οποίες μπορούν να αφανίσουν το μελίσσι. Η συνομιλήτρια μας είπε ότι ο εκπαιδευτής έμεινε άναυδος και είπε : «δεν άκουσες ούτε μία λέξη απ’ όσα είπα τις τελευταίες δύο ώρες. Αυτό είναι ένα σεμινάριο που αφορά την βιολογική παραγωγή μελιού και φροντίδα της μέλισσας και αντιτίθεται πλήρως στην χρήση χημικών .» Σ’ αυτό το σημείο το μεγαλύτερο μέρος του ακροατηρίου σηκώθηκε και έφυγε, αφήνοντας πίσω μόλις 6 μελισσοκόμους.

Η Σάμος παράγει εξαιρετικό μέλι κυρίως λόγω του πλούτου και της ποικιλομορφίας στη χλωρίδα και στα δάση. Αλλά, δυστυχώς, μεγάλο μέρος του είναι μολυσμένο από υψηλές δόσεις αντιβιοτικών, τα οποία χρησιμοποιούν οι μελισσοκόμοι για να προστατέψουν τα μελίσσια τους. Ωστόσο, η εύκολη κριτικήπρος τους μελισσοκόμους θα πρέπει να μετριασθεί από τη επίγνωση ότι η αγροτική ενασχόληση είναι εγγενώς ανασφαλής και όταν τα περιθώρια κέρδους περιορίζονται. Είναι κατανοητό ότι θα στραφούν σε άλλους τρόπους περιλαμβανομένων και των τοξικών αντιβιοτικών τα οποία μειώνουν το ρίσκο της καταστροφής.

Όσον αφορά την ζωή, υπάρχουν πολλές αποδείξεις ότι οι μακροπρόθεσμες επιπτώσεις πολλών τοξικών αγροχημικών δεν είναι καλές για την περιβαλλοντική ανάπτυξη στο σύνολο της, αλλά και ιδιαίτερα γι’ αυτούς που ασχολούνται με την γη.

Η Σάμος είναι ένα νησί εξαιρετικής φυσικής ομορφιάς. Οι βιολόγοι εγκωμιάζουν τον εντυπωσιακό πλούτο των αγριολούλουδων που καλύπτουν πολλές πλαγιές την άνοιξη και νωρίς το καλοκαίρι. Είναι ένα «πράσινο» νησί με ποτάμια και ρέματα, πυκνά δάση πεύκων και φυλλοβόλων ,κοιλάδες γεμάτες βλάστηση ακόμα και μέσα στη ζέστη του καλοκαιριού.

Πριν περίπου 7 χρόνια, ένα Γερμανός βοτανολόγος εξέδωσε ένα βιβλίο για τα φυτά της Σάμου, στο οποίο προειδοποιούσε ότι η αλόγιστη χρήση των αγροχημικών ήδη κατέστρεφε τα λουλούδια και έπρεπε να υπάρξει δραστηριοποίηση για την αποτροπή της περαιτέρω καταστροφής του πολύτιμου περιβάλλοντος.

Ακόμη και πριν από την κρίση πολλοί άνθρωποι στη Σάμο κατάλαβαν ότι η μεγαλύτερη επένδυση όσον αφορά τον τουρισμό είναι το ίδιο το νησί με τις παραλίες και την φύση του. Οι ντόπιοι θα σου πουν για την ποικιλία σε μονοπάτια που ενώνουν τα χωριά , με τα χωράφια τους να είναι σκορπισμένα στις πλαγιές των βουνών ·για τις πέτρινες καλύβες που θα μπορούσαν να μετατραπούν σε καταλύματα διανυκτέρευσης για τους περιπατητές· για το πώς ο φυσιολατρικός τουρισμός θα μπορούσε να φέρει νέα ζωή στα χωριά και στο νησί χωρίς αυτό να καταστραφεί από την όλη διαδικασία.

Ωστόσο, δεν υπάρχει κανένα δείγμα συστηματικής δράσης για την προώθηση αυτού του είδους ανάπτυξης παρά το γεγονός ότι η κρίση έχει κάνει πολλούς να ξανασκεφτούν τις προτεραιότητες για το μέλλον. Υπάρχουν πολλοί στο νησί που πιστεύουν σταθερά ότι η μελλοντική ευημερία του νησιού και των ανθρώπων του θα μπορούσε να εξασφαλιστεί από τον φυσιολατρικό τουρισμό και στα αγροτικά αγαθά στα οποία περιλαμβάνονται ξεχωριστά κρασιά και ελαιόλαδο.

Εμπόδια

Η συνεχιζόμενη χρήση των τοξικών αγροχημικών δεν έχει να κάνει με τον χαρακτήρα του αγρότη, είναι θέμα πρωτίστως του εισοδήματος και κατά δεύτερο λόγο της οργάνωσης της παραγωγής. Με περισσότερο εισόδημα οι αγρότες δεν θα είχαν ανάγκη να βρουν άλλες απολαβές. Θα είχαν περισσότερο χρόνο να φροντίσουν τη γη τους με μη τοξικούς τρόπους και θα μπορούσαν να έχουν επιπλέον βοήθεια στις σημαντικές στιγμές της καλλιέργειας και της συγκομιδής της σοδειάς. Κατά δεύτερον, είναι φανερό ότι η καλλιέργεια της γης που βασίζεται σε παραδοσιακές μεθόδους στηριζόμενες στην οικογένεια δεν είναι πια κατάλληλη. Καθώς οι αγρότες μεγαλώνουν και οι νεότεροι, είτε φεύγουν είτε δεν δείχνουν ενδιαφέρον για τα χωράφια, απλά δεν μπορούν να αντληθούν άτομα από την δεξαμενή του οικιακού εργατικού δυναμικού. Τα τελευταία χρόνια αυτό το πρόβλημα είχε μετριασθεί με την εισροή μεταναστευτικού εργατικού δυναμικού ιδιαιτέρως από την Αλβανία, αλλά καθώς η κρίση βαθαίνει ακόμη και αυτού του είδους εργασία δεν είναι πια προσιτή. Κατά συνέπεια όλο και περισσότερα χωράφια εγκαταλείπονται. Εάν η γεωργία πρόκειται να είναι μέρος ενός βιώσιμου μέλλοντος για το νησί, πρέπει να αρχίσουμε να ερευνούμε νέους ,δημιουργικούς τρόπους που εκτείνονται πέρα από το σπίτι ώστε να περικλείουν ευρύτερες έννοιες συνεργασίας. Με την ανεργία να ανεβαίνει, δεν υπάρχει πλήρης έλλειψη εργατικού δυναμικού αλλά αυτό δεν μεταφράζεται και σε περισσότερους αγρότες εκτός κι αν σκεφτούμε τρόπους να καταστήσουμε την εργασία τόσο ανταποδοτική όσο και διασκεδαστική.

Κατά την γνώμη μας, το να αποδώσουμε το πρόβλημα της αλόγιστης χρήσης αγροχημικών στον χαρακτήρα ή στην μόρφωση του αγρότη δεν έχει νόημα. Τα μαθήματα και η προπαγάνδα σχετικά με τα οφέλη των μεθόδων βιολογικής καλλιέργειας θα αγνοούνται σε μεγάλο ποσοστό, εκτός κι αν αυτού του είδους η καλλιέργεια παρέχει το εισόδημα που είναι απαραίτητο ώστε να ζουν και να δουλεύουν από τη γή χωρίς φόβο.

Όπως ήδη σημειώσαμε, το εισόδημα τόσο από τα σταφύλια όσο και από τις ελιές ευνοεί την ποσότητα έναντι της ποιότητας, κάτι το οποίο με την σειρά του ενθαρρύνει την χρήση λιπασμάτων και φαρμάκων. Είναι πασίγνωστο εδώ ότι τα λιπάσματα μπορούν να σου διπλασιάσουν ή τριπλασιάσουν την παραγωγή.

Επιπλέον, συναντήσαμε ένα σύστημα όπου υπήρχε ένας συμβιβασμός ως προς την ποιότητα του κρασιού αλλά και του ελαιόλαδου.

Η παραγωγή κρασιού είναι υπό τον έλεγχο της Ένωσης Οινοποιητικών Συνεταιρισμών Σάμου. Θεσμοθετημένο από το 1934 για να έχει τον αποκλειστικό έλεγχο της παραγωγής κρασιού μετά από ένα σκληρό αγώνα με ιδιώτες εμπόρους κρασιού οι οποίοι «έπιναν το αίμα των αγροτών» , ξεκίνησε να οργανώνει ένα σύστημα το οποίο επέτρεπε στους αγρότες να πληρώνονται ακόμα κι αν τα σταφύλια ήταν κακής ποιότητας και χαλασμένα από ασθένειες.

Υπάρχουν κάποιοι λόγοι που συμβαίνει αυτό, με έναν απ’ αυτούς να είναι η αναγνώριση ότι τα μοσχάτα σταφύλια που είναι η κύρια ποικιλία από τα οποία παράγεται το γλυκό κρασί της Σάμου είναι ευάλωτα σε ασθένειες οι οποίες μπορούν να καταστρέψουν τη σοδειά σε λίγες μέρες. Αυτό κυρίως ισχύει για τα αμπέλια που καλλιεργούνται στο επίπεδο της θάλασσας ή κοντά σ’ αυτό. Όσα καλλιεργούνται σε μεγάλα ύψη είναι κατά πολύ πιο ανθεκτικά και γι’ αυτό αυτοί οι αμπελώνες είναι μεγάλης αξίας.

Η Ένωση με σκοπό να προστατέψει τους αγρότες που είχαν παραγωγή κακής ποιότητας ήταν προετοιμασμένη να δεχτεί και να πληρώσει για τα «άρρωστα σταφύλια» αν και σε χαμηλότερες τιμές απ’ ότι τα καλά σταφύλια. Αυτό το χαρακτηριστικό της Ένωσης εκτιμάται πολύ και εμφανώς δίνει στους αγρότες την εγγύηση ότι θα κερδίσουν κάποιο εισόδημα.

Οι αγρότες που συναντήσαμε δεν ήθελαν να σταματήσει η Ένωση αυτό το σύστημα πληρωμών για τα κακής ποιότητας σταφύλια, αλλά ένοιωθαν πραγματικά ότι όντως οι πληρωμές για τα ποιοτικά σταφύλια δεν ήταν επαρκείς και ότι δεν υπήρχε κάποιο εισοδηματικό κίνητρο ώστε να στραφούν σε πιο εντατικά βιολογικά συστήματα τα οποία, επίσης, θα μείωναν της σοδειές τους. Όπως μας είπε ο Γενικός Διευθυντής της Ένωσης στην διάρκεια μιας συνέντευξης, το τωρινό καθεστώς πριμοδότησης δεν ενθαρρύνει την βιολογική παραγωγή και δικαιολογεί την μικρή ποσότητα παραγωγής κρασιού αυτού του είδους. Δεν μας δόθηκε η εντύπωση ότι η Ένωση επιθυμούσε να ενθαρρύνει τη βιολογική παραγωγή, αν και έχουν ζήτηση τα βιολογικά κρασιά και υπάρχει η πιθανότητα για αύξηση του εισοδήματος των αγροτών. Επιπλέον, η Ένωση είναι σημαντικός προμηθευτής αγροχημικών για όλους τους αγρότες της Σάμου και αυτό πρέπει να είναι σημαντική πηγή κέρδους. Όταν τον πιέσαμε σχετικά μ’ αυτό το θέμα, μας είπε ότι η Ένωση προσπαθούσε όντως να εντοπίσει εκείνα τα αγροχημικά που ήταν «ήπια» ως προς την επίδραση τους, αλλά μέχρι εκεί έφτανε το ενδιαφέρον τους.

Όμως, το σύστημα πληρωμών φαίνεται ότι έχει κάποιες ατυχείς και ακούσιες συνέπειες. Για παράδειγμα, τώρα υπάρχουν πιο πολλά αμπέλια σε χαμηλά ύψη, τα οποία είναι ευάλωτα σε ασθένειες, αλλά ακόμη αξίζει να καλλιεργηθούν καθώς θα γίνει η πληρωμή όποια κι αν είναι η ποιότητα. Αναπόφευκτα, με το πέρασμα του καιρού ο σύστημα υπήρξε ανεκτικό στην παροχή χρόνου στους αγρότες προκειμένου να κάνουν συγκομιδή της σοδειάς με τρόπο τέτοιο που δεν εξασφάλιζε την καλή ποιότητα της. Σύμφωνα με τον DeanStergides ο οποίος έγραψε για το κρασί της Σάμου στην AthensNews το 2001, όλο αυτό αποδίδεται στο μονοπώλιο της ΕΟΣΣ:

« Η οικειοποίηση της παράγωγης από την Ένωση απέτρεψε την εμφάνιση ατομικών κτημάτων των οποίων η παρουσία είναι απαραίτητη για την πρόσθετη ανάπτυξη της βιομηχανίας κρασιού στο νησί. Η πλειονότητα των καλλιεργητών αμπελιών δεν έχουν ιδέα πώς φτιάχνεται το μοσχάτο κρασί και πιθανόν δεν τους ενδιαφέρει. Αυτή είναι και η καλύτερη εξήγηση που μπορώ να σκεφτώ για να δικαιολογήσω την πλήρη άγνοια και αδιαφορία ανάμεσα στους ντόπιους αγρότες σχετικά με το πώς ορίζονται τα σταφύλια ποιότητας, την οποία πρόσεξα πρόσφατα κατά την περίοδο συγκομιδής στο νησί.

Τα σταφύλια συχνά ήταν είτε υπερβολικά ώριμα ή όχι αρκετά ώριμα. Τα χαλασμένα πήγαιναν στη μηχανή μαζί με τα καλά. Επανειλημμένα είδα καφάσια με σταφύλια να βρίσκονται στη σειρά στην άκρη του δρόμου κάτω από των καυτό ήλιο και να ζυμώνονται χάνοντας τα αρώματα τους. Εν τω μεταξύ ένας από τους καλλιεργητές της Ένωσης μου έλεγε με υπερηφάνεια ότι οι σοδειές του έφταναν τα 40000 κιλά ανά εκτάριο (περίπου 5 φορές παραπάνω απ’ ότι θα έπρεπε). Η τεχνολογία και οι ηρωικές προσπάθειες των δύο οινολόγων της Ένωσης μπορούν να φτάσουν μέχρι ενός ορίου. Αν δεν υπάρξει αλλαγή στη νοοτροπία, οι καλλιεργητές του νησιού θα προσγειωθούν ανώμαλα όταν η τωρινή ανάπτυξη μετατραπεί σε φιάσκο.»

Υπάρχουν πολλές ενδείξεις για την χαμηλής ποιότητας αμπελουργία στο νησί. Είναι κοινή γνώση ότι κατά την διάρκεια της συγκομιδής τα διαλεγμένα σταφύλια βρίσκονται ώρες κάτω από τον ήλιο πρίν συνθλιβούν· ότι τα χαλασμένα σταφύλια λιώνονται μαζί με τα καλά και στα δύο οινοποιητικά εργοστάσια του νησιού. Αυτό δεν περιορίζεται μόνο στην αμπελουργία. Κατά την εποχή της συγκομιδής της ελιάς είναι σύνηθες να βλέπουμε ελιές αποθηκευμένες σε σακιά για μέρες κάθε φορά πριν μεταφερθούν στο ελαιοτριβείο. Πολλοί αγρότες πάλι λόγω περιορισμού στο χρόνο και την εργασία συγκεντρώνουν όλες τις πεσμένες ελιές με χειροκίνητες μηχανές οι οποίες τρυπούν τις ελιές, κάτι το οποίο υποβιβάζει την ποιότητα τους ιδίως αν έχουν μείνει για μέρες πριν συνθλιβούν. Όλες οι οδηγίες όσον φορά την καλύτερη ποιότητα λαδιού τονίζουν την σημασία της συνθλιβής τους το συντομότερο δυνατό μετά τη συγκομιδή τους και της λήψης μέτρων για την αποφυγή της ζύμωσης των αρωμάτων τους. Παρ’ όλα, αυτά αν κάποιος περάσει ένα πρωινό από τα κύρια ελαιοτριβεία θα δει τόνους από χαμηλής ποιότητας ελιές να να μετατρέπονται σε χαμηλής ποιότητας λάδι.

Πήραμε συνέντευξη από το διευθυντή ενός από τα πιο καινούρια ελαιοτριβεία της Σάμου. Είναι αφοσιωμένος στην παραγωγή υψηλής ποιότητας λαδιού, ιδίως στη βιολογική παραγωγή αλλά συναντάει πολλά εμπόδια. Ανησυχούσε ιδιαίτερα για το γεγονός ότι παρά τις δυνατότητες του νησιού για παραγωγή υψηλής ποιότητας λαδιού το οποίο μπορεί να συναγωνιστεί τα καλύτερα λάδια της περιοχής, το λάδι της Σάμου έχει τη φήμη ότι είναι χαμηλής ποιότητας. Μίλησε για την απογοήτευση του επειδή πολλοί αγρότες δεν ενδιαφέρονται για την βελτίωση της ποιότητας της σοδειάς τους και αναρωτιόνταν γατί θα έπρεπε να βάζει αφίσες στο ελαιοτριβείο του για τον τρόπο βελτίωσης του λαδιού. Η ιστορία του απηχεί την ιστορία ενός άλλου ιδιοκτήτη ελαιοτριβείου ο οποίος μας είπε ότι οι περισσότερες ελιές που συνθλίβονται είναι χαμηλής ποιότητας και υπάρχει ανεπάρκεια στο ποιοτικό λάδι κάτι που το καθιστά μη εμπορεύσιμο.

Η αποτυχία του νησιού να κάνει την καλύτερη δυνατή χρήση των δύο βασικών καλλιεργειών του δεν εξηγείται μόνο από την μονοπωλιακή θέση της Ένωσης. Επίσης, φαίνεται ότι η αρχή της κατανομής ρίσκου μιας αποτυχημένης σοδειάς είναι μια καλή αιτιολογία γιατί βοηθά στο ότι δίνει ένα βαθμό ασφάλειας ενάντια στις ιδιοτροπίες της φύσης. Είναι δύσκολο να κατανοήσουμε πως μία τέτοια αρχή μπορεί να ενσωματωθεί σε ένα πλήρως ιδιωτικοποιημένο σύστημα καλλιέργειας, το οποίο δεν θα έδειχνε κανένα ενδιαφέρον για μια συλλογική ασφάλιση. Υπάρχουν, όμως, κάποια θέματα για την Ένωση όσον αφορά την θέση της για τα βιολογικά προϊόντα και την εμπλοκή της στην παροχή των αγροχημικών. Επίσης, αναρωτιόμαστε για το εάν η Ένωση έδωσε επαρκή προτεραιότητα στην σημασία της αύξησης του αγροτικού εισοδήματος κάτι το οποίο, υποστηρίζουμε, θα συνεπαγόταν μεγαλύτερη μετακίνηση προς την βιολογική παραγωγή και στην ενσωμάτωση του σε ένα ευρύ πρόγραμμα οικολογικού τουρισμού με όλα τα επακόλουθα.

Όμως, οι χαμηλής ποιότητας γεωργικές πρακτικές τόσο ως προς το λάδι όσο και ως προς το κρασί είναι ουσιαστικά πτυχές της φτώχειας και των συνεπειών της. Για να γίνει σωστά η παραγωγή κρασιού και λαδιού χρειάζεται εντατική εργασία. Και οι δύο καρποί επωφελούνται από την όσο πιο σύντομη επεξεργασία τους σε σχέση με το χρόνο που έχουν μαζευτεί και δεν θα έπρεπε να περιμένουν μέχρι να μαζευτεί επαρκής ποσότητα ώστε να τα επεξεργαστούν. Αλλά αυτό απαιτεί εργατικό δυναμικό που δεν βασίζεται στην εξυπηρέτηση, τουλάχιστον κατά τον τρόπο που οργανώνεται τώρα. Η συγκομιδή γίνεται σύμφωνα με το ποιος είναι διαθέσιμος και όχι με βάση τις ανάγκες της σοδειάς. Ένας αγρότης μόνο του μπορεί να χρειαστεί μέρες για να συγκεντρώσει επαρκή αριθμό από ελιές ώστε να μπορεί να γίνει σύνθλιψη. Είναι πολύ πιο εύκολο να περιμένει μέχρι οι περισσότερες να πέσουν στο έδαφος κα μετά να μαζέψειτις καλές και τις χαλασμένες, τις παλιές και τις νέες. Το λάδι μπορεί να μην είναι τόσο καλό αλλά και πάλι παρέχει κάποιο εισόδημα ακόμη κι αν πωλείται λιγότερο από ένα ευρώ το κιλό. Αλλά τι θα συνέβαινε εάν η αγροτική εργασία οργανώνονταν διαφορετικά; Κι αν η συγκομιδή μετατρέπονταν σε μια ευρύτερη συλλογική προσπάθεια που θα επέτρεπε οι σοδειές να συλλέγονται γρήγορα και όταν είναι έτοιμες;

Το ίδιο ισχύει και για τα σταφύλια. Τα σταφύλια μαζεύονται συχνά με την εργασία φίλων ή της οικογένειας όταν υπάρχει κινητοποίηση από μεριάς τους. Ίσως η σοδειά να μην είναι σε άριστη κατάσταση αλλά αυτό δεν αποτελεί προτεραιότητα.

Ωστόσο, συμβαίνει κάτι τελείως αντιφατικό όσον αφορά τη γεωργία. Γιατί ενώ οι αγρότες μπορεί να μην φροντίζουν όσο καλύτερα γίνεται τις ελιές και τα σταφύλια που παράγουν για το εισόδημα τους, φαίνεται όμως ότι ισχύουν ανώτερα κριτήρια γι’ αυτές τις σοδειές, των οποίων το κρασί και το λάδι θα χρησιμοποιηθούν στο σπίτι. Σ’ αυτήν τη περίπτωση, οι αγρότες δίνουν προτεραιότητα στην ποιότητα τόσο του κρασιού όσο και του λαδιού και κρατούν τις καλύτερες από τις σοδειές τους για προσωπική χρήση. Τότε δεν είναι αλήθεια ότι υπάρχει πλήρης διαχωρισμός ανάμεσα στην καλλιέργεια και την παραγωγή όπως κάποιοι είπαν.

Τι μπορεί να γίνει;

Υπάρχουν στο νησί αυτοί που όντως πιστεύουν ότι στο θέμα της παραγωγής κρασιού η Ένωση είναι μέρος του προβλήματος. Πρόσφατα, ένας αγρότης που πιστεύει ότι το μέλλον του Σαμιώτικου κρασιού βρίσκεται στην υψηλής ποιότητας βιολογική παραγωγή, αμφισβητεί το νόμιμο μονοπώλιο της Ένωσης. Γι’ αυτό το σκοπό έχει εξασφαλίσει ουσιαστική οικονομική στήριξη ώστε να αντιμετωπίσει την Ένωση στα ελληνικά δικαστήρια, και είναι έτοιμος να καταφύγει στα ευρωπαϊκά δικαστήρια αν χρειαστεί.

Στην διάρκεια της συνέντευξης, ξεκαθάρισε ότι πιστεύει πως η Ένωση έχει χάσει το αρχικό της όραμα και τώρα νοιάζεται πιο πολύ να προστατέψει τον οργανισμό από το να ενθαρρύνει το καλύτερο δυνατό κρασί και τις καλύτερες δυνατές τιμές. Πιστεύει ότι ο έλεγχος τους αποτρέπει την καλή αμπελουργία και ότι θα έπρεπε να είναι ανοιχτοί στο να επιτρέπουν άλλους να παράγουν και να εμπορεύονται το Σαμιώτικο κρασί. Είναι της άποψης πως αν είχε την ευκαιρία θα μπορούσε να προσελκύσει και να ανταμείψει αγρότες για τα καλά βιολογικά σταφύλια και να φτιάξει ένα κρασί που θα μπορούσε να αξιώσει ακριβή τιμή. Αλλά, όπως παραδέχτηκε, μ’ αυτήν την προσέγγιση δεν θα μπορούσε να προσφέρει στους αγρότες καμιά εγγύηση σε περίπτωση που καταστρέφονταν η σοδειά τους. Δεν θα ήταν προετοιμασμένος να πληρώσει για τα καλά σταφύλια.

Είναι πολύ πειστικός και ενθουσιώδης, αλλά η διαμάχη του με την Ένωση μέχρι στιγμής δεν του έχει επιτρέψει να ανοίξει την οινοποιία του και να συνεχίσει με το σχέδιο του. Είναι απίθανο να υπάρξει μια σύντομη λύση καθώς ο Γενικός Διευθυντής της Ένωσης το ξεκαθάρισε ότι θα πολεμήσουν με νύχια και με δόντια για να κρατήσουν το μονοπώλιο και πιστεύει ότι όσο έχουν τη στήριξη των αγροτών τότε σίγουρα θα είναι ουσιαστικά κερδισμένοι σε κάθε νομική μάχη.

Και έχει δίκιο να είναι τόσο σίγουρος γιατί για όσο καιρό η Ένωση είναι προετοιμασμένη να αποζημιώσει τους αγρότες για τα χαμηλής ποιότητας σταφύλια – κάτι το οποίο θα το έβρισκαν δύσκολο οι μικρότερης κλίμακας οινοπαραγωγοί –είναι αναμενόμενη η στήριξη προς την Ένωση.

Αλλά το μονοπώλιο φέρνει και ευθύνες και κάποιος θα μπορούσε να αναρωτηθεί για το πώς η ίδια η Ένωση οφείλει να επανεξετάσει το θέμα του πλήρους διαχωρισμού μεταξύ της καλλιέργειας σταφυλιών και της παραγωγής κρασιού . Για παράδειγμα, ανακαλύψαμε ότι οι αγρότες δεν έχουν ιδέα για το πώς τα πάνε τα Σαμιακά κρασιά σε μία ολοένα και πιο ανταγωνιστική, παγκοσμιοποιημένη αγορά κρασιού. Κατά τη διάρκεια της συνέντευξης με το Γενικό Διευθυντή μας δόθηκαν δύο σελίδες με ενθουσιώδεις κριτικές για τα γλυκά Σαμιώτικα κρασιά και λεπτομέρειες για τα πρόσφατα βραβεία τους. Όταν ρωτήσαμε κάποιους καλλιεργητές, μας είπαν ότι ήταν η πρώτη φορά που άκουγαν τέτοιες επιτυχίες, κάτι το οποίο αν μη τι άλλο δείχνει ότι η σχέση της Ένωση με τους καλλιεργητές δεν είναι όπως θα έπρεπε.

Μέσα στο υπάρχον πλαίσιο της Ένωσης θα έπρεπε να αναζητηθεί η δυνατότητα μιας πιο πλουραλιστικής προσέγγισης ώστε κάθε μια από τις ενώσεις των χωριών που απαρτίζουν τον συνεταιρισμό , να ενθαρρύνεται να παράγει το δικό της κρασί το οποίο μετά θα το εμπορεύονται συλλογικά. Εν τέλει, πολλές από τις πιο γνωστές οινοπαραγωγικές περιοχές παγκοσμίως λειτουργούν μ’ αυτόν τον τρόπο παράγοντας μια μεγάλη ποικιλία από κρασιά διαφορετικής ποιότητας και τιμής κάτω από ένα κοινό τίτλο όπως «Μπορντώ» , «Βουργουνδίας» κ.α.

Είναι ανεδαφικό να πιστεύουμε ότι οι αγρότες από μόνοι τους θα φέρουν τις απαιτούμενες αλλαγές. Όπως έχουν τα πράγματα, δεν έχουν επαρκή χρόνο για να ασχοληθούν με τα χωράφια τους και σίγουρα δεν υπάρχει πλεόνασμα χρόνου για την ανάπτυξη των συστημάτων μάρκετινγκ και εκπαίδευσης που τώρα απαιτούνται. Εκεί είναι που χρειάζονται οργανισμοί σαν την ΕΟΣΣ καθώς και κάτι παρόμοιο για την παραγωγή ελαιόλαδου. Ούτε πάλι είναι επαρκές να δημιουργείται ένα σύστημα κινήτρων που θα ενθαρρύνει υψηλής ποιότητας αγροτικές πρακτικές και κριτήρια. Αυτό που είναι πιο σημαντικό είναι η δημιουργία ενός συστήματος που θα παρέχει το απαραίτητο εισόδημα στους αγρότες για να μπορούν να ασχοληθούν και να φροντίσουν τη γη τους, η οποία με την σειρά της θα συντηρεί τις κοινωνίες των χωριών, που δίνουν στο νησί τον χαρακτήρα και το πνεύμα του.

Είμαστε σε ένα νησί εξαιρετικής ομορφιάς με εκπληκτικούς πόρους. Αυτός είναι ο θησαυρός μας και ο τρόπος για να φτιάξουμε ένα μέλλον που θα προσφέρει φροντίδα και ασφάλεια σε όλους. Η συνεχιζόμενη κρίση μετατρέπει αυτόν τον παράδεισο σε κόλαση για τόσους ανθρώπους που δεν έχουν εισόδημα και εργασία. Αυτό μας υποχρεώνει να επανεκτιμήσουμε το τι έχουμε και τι πρέπει να κάνουμε. Ωστόσο, μόνο ως ενωμένο νησί κάτω από ένα κοινό όραμα μπορούμε να ελπίζουμε ότι θα πετύχουμε.

Sofiane Ait Chalalet and Chris Jones

06/03/13

Μετάφραση από την Αγγλική: Μαρία Μακρόγλου

Blood and Humanity: Recent Aspects of Fascist Hatred in Greece

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On Saturday April 27th the Greek fascist party, Golden Dawn, attempted to create blood banks for the exclusive use of Greek nationals. Across the country, Golden Dawn members, with much pre publicity arrived at general hospitals to donate blood which they demanded was to be restricted to Greeks only. At the general hospital in Samos, as in many other places, the fascists were met by a broad coalition of opponents as well as medical staff who blocked their approach to the blood donation centre. The face off started at 9.30am and ended at 4.00 pm when the blood centre closed for the weekend. Golden Dawn members departed without success.

It was a significant victory for those opposing Golden Dawn. In Samos at least this was an all too rare occasions when members from all the various left parties joined together in common purpose. The atmosphere amongst the 50 or so activists was up beat. The medical staff involved never left the front line of the picket and were steadfast throughout the stand off. There was complete unanimity that what Golden Dawn was proposing was utterly unacceptable and inhumane. Here was a red line that could not and would not be crossed.

But the resistance also raised some disturbing issues about the relationship between Golden Dawn and the Greek state. In the lead up to the day, doctors associations and many other health professional groups had made it clear that the Golden Dawn proposal was completing unacceptable and breached every ethical principle that underpinned their work. The giving of blood is without conditions they said, and no one had any right to determine the recipients of donated blood. Such sentiments were reported in much of Greece’s mainstream media. But from the government itself, and specifically the Ministry of Health, there was silence. It is a revealing silence. On an issue as blatantly immoral as this, which clearly dismayed so many people, the silence of the government profoundly demonstrated that Golden Dawn has little to fear from the state across a wide spectrum of its activities.

In Samos, the extent of this complicity was demonstrated by the senior administration of the hospital. Those forming the picket were able to see the hospital manager’s office at the end of the corridor by the main entrance. For many hours we could see the leader of the of the small Golden Dawn contingent repeatedly entering and leaving her office. What people wanted to know was what there could be to negotiate? The matter was clear cut. Blood donations are unconditional and this principle was non-negotiable. The doctors on the picket said that this was the position of the staff throughout the hospital who were utterly opposed to the Golden Dawn initiative which they regarded as both inhumane and illegal.

At around 2pm the chief state attorney on the island arrived and he too was in and out of the manager’s office for over an hour. Throughout the entire day, medical staff on the picket were being called to see the hospital manager and it was through these channels that information about the manager’s thinking became clear. From the outset, the fact that she did not order Golden Dawn to leave the hospital and give up their attempt to donate blood to a Greek only blood bank was a clear sign if not of her sympathies then of her moral weakness and cowardice. That she was prepared to negotiate with Golden Dawn for so long reinforced this assessment. That she failed to make a clear statement to those on the picket and the attendant press; that she failed to support her medical staff, and then once the attorney arrived, decided that the police should be called to remove the picket on the grounds that the noise of the protest disturbed the patients all pointed in the same direction. Weakness and complicity.

The police never arrived, although during the 6 hours of the picket police cars periodically arrived and drove through the hospital grounds. It was also known that under cover police mingled with the protesters throughout the day.

There is however no room for complacency with respect to Golden Dawn. On the issue of Greek only blood banks for example, we learnt during the day that the fascists were using a little known loop hole which allows clubs and associations to create specific blood deposits under their control and determine who might be a recipient. We learnt that this was the main issue of the negotiations between Golden Dawn and the hospital manager and it seemed that she had conceded this point to Golden Dawn even though past practice was restricted to sports groups and similar associations and not to political parties. As far as we can tell, Golden Dawn has created its own blood ‘account’ in the general hospital of Samos. It is a point of law which is now being challenged especially given the fascists explicit and well publicised stance in all its so called welfare support whether food or material assistance which is restricted to Greeks only.

Whereas the Mayor of Athens prevented Golden Dawn handing out food aid in Syntagma Square on the Thursday before Easter (May 2nd 2013) on the grounds that it was fuelled by racism and hatred and beyond the bounds of humane behaviour, the Greek state in the main continues to refuse to condemn and prevent Golden Dawn from poisoning public institutions over which they have control. The medical staff on the Samos picket told of Golden Dawn members coming on to hospital wards dressed in their fascist regalia offering support only to Greeks and of harassing the migrant workers who are employed as carers by families to support sick relatives in the hospitals. Similar events are occurring in schools with teachers who oppose fascism being harassed and children of refugees and migrants being attacked and intimidated.

Two important lessons were learnt on Samos Island at the end of April. One is the necessity for a united front to confront the virus of Golden Dawn. Humanity was the common ground and this must be sustained and developed. Secondly, the Greek state has to be confronted for its complicity and failure to confront this virus of hatred both here in Samos and throughout the country. Tourism is an essential part of the Greek economy. Anyone thinking of coming to Greece (and particularly Athens) should be writing to the Greek embassy in their own country asking for assurances that they will be safe and secure when they visit. This is particularly urgent if your skin colour clearly identifies you as being non Greek. The Greek state needs to know that their complicity with fascism will not be tolerated and that their silence on matters which degrade humanity and expose people to hatred and violence is completely unacceptable.

May 4th 2013

 

Αίμα και Ανθρωπισμός: οι πρόσφατες πτυχές του φασιστικού μίσους στην Ελλάδα

Sofiane Ait Chalalet και Chris Jones, 6 Μαίου 2013

Το Σάββατο 30 Απριλίου, το ελληνικό φασιστικό κόμμα, Χρυσή Αυγή, προσπάθησε να δημιουργήσει τράπεζες αίματος για αποκλειστική χρήση των Ελλήνων υπηκόων. Σε όλη τη χώρα, τα μέλη της Χρυσής Αυγής, με πολύ προ-δημοσιότητα, έφτασαν στα γενικά νοσοκομεία να δώσουν αίμα, για το οποίο ζήτησαν να περιοριστεί μόνο σε Έλληνες.
Στο γενικό νοσοκομείο στη Σάμο, όπως και σε πολλά άλλα μέρη, οι φασίστες συνάντησαν μια ευρεία συμμαχία αντιπάλων, καθώς και ιατρικό προσωπικό που τους μπλόκαρε να προσεγγίσουν το κέντρο αιμοδοσίας. Η διαμάχη ξεκίνησε στις 9.30πμ και τελείωσε στις 4.00 μ.μ., όταν το κέντρο αίματος έκλεισε για Σαββατοκύριακο. Τα μέλη της Χρυσής Αυγής αναχώρησαν χωρίς επιτυχία.
Ήταν μια σημαντική νίκη για όλους όσους αντιτίθενται στην Χρυσή Αυγή. Στη Σάμο, τουλάχιστον αυτή ήταν από τις πολύ σπάνιες περιπτώσεις, που όλα τα τα μέλη, όλων των διαφόρων αριστερών κομμάτων ενώθηκαν σε κοινό σκοπό.
Η ατμόσφαιρα μεταξύ των σχεδόν 50 ακτιβιστών, ήταν ανεβασμένη. Το ιατρικό προσωπικό που μετείχε δεν έφυγε ποτέ από την πρώτη γραμμή των πανό και ήταν σταθερά εκεί, σε ολόκληρη την διαμαρτυρία. Υπήρξε πλήρης ομοφωνία ότι αυτό που πρότεινε η Χρυσή Αυγή ήταν εντελώς απαράδεκτο και απάνθρωπο. Υπήρχξε μια κόκκινη γραμμή που δεν θα μπορούσε να περάσει και δεν πέρασε.
 Αλλά η αντίσταση αυτή, σήκωσε  επίσης και ορισμένα ανησυχητικά θέματα σχετικά με τη σχέση μεταξύ της Χρυσής Αυγής και του Ελληνικού Κράτους. Καθώς οδηγούμασταν σε εκείνη την ημέρα, οι ιατρικές ενώσεις και πολλές άλλες επαγγελματικές ενώσεις στην υγεία, είχαν καταστήσει σαφές ότι η πρόταση της Χρυσής Αυγής, ήταν πρόταση ολοκληρωτικά απαράδεκτη, που παραβίαζε κάθε ηθική αρχή, στην οποία στηρίζεται το έργο τους.
Η αιμοδοσία είναι άνευ όρων είπαν, και κανείς δεν είχε κανένα δικαίωμα να καθορίσει τους παραλήπτες της αιμοδοσίας. Τέτοια συναισθήματα αναφέρθηκαν σε μεγάλο μέρος των κύριων μέσων ενημέρωσης στην Ελλάδα. Αλλά από την ίδια την κυβέρνηση, και συγκεκριμένα από το Υπουργείο Υγείας, υπήρξε σιωπή.
Είναι μια αποκαλυπτική σιωπή. Σε ένα θέμα τόσο κατάφωρα ανήθικο, όπως αυτό, το οποίο σαφώς τάραξε τόσο πολλούς ανθρώπους, η σιωπή της κυβέρνησης, απέδειξε βαθύτατα ότι η Χρυσή Αυγή έχει πολύ λίγα πράγματα να φοβηθεί από το κράτος, σε σχέση με το ευρύ φάσμα των δραστηριοτήτων της.
Στη Σάμο, η έκταση αυτής της συνενοχής, απεδείχθηκε από την ανώτερη διοίκηση του νοσοκομείου. Αυτοί που έκαναν την πικετοφορία, μπορούσαν να δούν το γραφείο της διευθύντριας του νοσοκομείου στο τέλος του διαδρόμου από την κύρια είσοδο.

Για πολλές ώρες μπορούσαμε να βλέπουμε τον αρχηγό της μικρής δύναμης της Χρυσής Αυγής, κατ’ επανάληψη να εισέρχεται και εξέρχεται από το γραφείο της. Αυτό που οι άνθρωποι ήθελαν να μάθουν ήταν τι ακριβώς θα μπορούσε να υπάρξει για να διαπραγματευτεί;
Το θέμα ήταν σαφές. Η αιμοδοσία είναι άνευ όρων και η αρχή αυτή ήταν αδιαπραγμάτευτη. Οι γιατροί με τα πανό έλεγαν ότι αυτή ήταν η θέση του προσωπικού, όλου το νοσοκομείου, το οποίο ήταν εντελώς αντίθετο με την  πρωτοβουλία της Χρυσής Αυγής, την οποία θεωρούσαν τόσο απάνθρωπη όσο και παράνομη.
 Γύρω στις 14:00 ο εισαγγελέας του νησιού έφτασε και αυτός ήταν μέσα και έξω από το γραφείο της διευθύντριας, για πάνω από μια ώρα. Καθ’ όλη την ημέρα, το ιατρικό προσωπικό με την πικετοφορία, είχε κληθεί να δει την διεύθυνση του νοσοκομείου και μέσω αυτών των καναλιών μαθαίναμε τις σαφείς σκέψεις της διεύθυνσης.
Από την αρχή, το γεγονός ότι δεν διέταξε την Χρυσή Αυγή να φύγει από το νοσοκομείο και να εγκαταλείψει την προσπάθειά της να δώσει αίμα για μια τράπεζα αίματος μόνο για Έλληνες, αυτό ήταν μια σαφής ένδειξη, αν όχι της συμπάθειά της, τότε. της ηθικής αδυναμίας και της δειλίας της.
Το ότι ήταν έτοιμη να διαπραγματευτεί με την Χρυσή Αυγή για τόσο πολύ, ενίσχυσε την εκτίμηση αυτή. Ότι απέτυχε να κάνει μια σαφή δήλωση σε αυτούς που διαμαρτύρονταν και στον Τύπο που ήταν παρών, που απέτυχε να υποστηρίξει το ιατρικό της προσωπικό  και στη συνέχεια, μόλις έφτασε ο εισαγγελέας, αποφάσισε ότι θα πρέπει να φωνάξουν την αστυνομία για να να φύγουν τα πανό με το σκεπτικό ότι η θόρυβος της διαμαρτυρίας διαταράσσει τους ασθενείς, όλα αυτά έδειχναν προς την ίδια κατεύθυνση. Αδυναμία και συνενοχή.
Ωστόσο, δεν υπάρχει περιθώριο για εφησυχασμό όσον αφορά την Χρυσή Αυγή. Όσον αφορά το θέμα των τραπεζών αίματος, μόνο για Έλληνες, για παράδειγμα, μάθαμε κατά τη διάρκεια της ημέρας ότι οι φασίστες χρησιμοποιούσαν ένα ελάχιστα γνωστό «παραθυράκι» που επιτρέπει σε συλλόγους και ενώσεις να δημιουργούν ειδικές καταθέσεις αίματος υπό τον έλεγχό τους και να καθορίζουν ποιος θα μπορούσε να είναι ο αποδέκτης. Μάθαμε ότι αυτό ήταν το κύριο θέμα των διαπραγματεύσεων μεταξύ Χρυσής Αυγής και διευθύντριας του νοσοκομείου και φαινόταν ότι είχε συναινέσει σε αυτό το σημείο με την Χρυσή Αυγή, ακόμη και αν η πρακτική αυτή στο παρελθόν,  περιοριζόταν σε αθλητικές ομάδες και παρόμοιες οργανώσεις και όχι σε πολιτικά κόμματα.
Από ότι μπορούμε να πούμε, η Χρυσή Αυγή έχει δημιουργήσει «θυρίδα» αίματος στο γενικό νοσοκομείο της Σάμου. Είναι ένα ζήτημα του νόμου, το οποίο είναι τώρα υπό αμφισβήτηση ιδίως με την δεδομένη, σαφή και καλά διαφημισμένη θέση των φασιστών για όλες τις λεγόμενες δράσεις πρόνοιας τους, είτε με τρόφιμα, είτε με υλική βοήθεια που περιορίζεται μόνο στους Έλληνες.
Το ιατρικό προσωπικό της πικετοφορίας της Σάμου είπε ότι μέλη της Χρυσής Αυγής έρχονται στο νοσοκομείο ντυμένοι με φασιστικά εμβλήματα, παρέχουν στήριξη μόνο στους Έλληνες και παρενοχλούν τις μετανάστριες εργαζόμενες που απασχολούνται ως αποκλειστικές από τις οικογένειες για την υποστήριξη των ασθενών,  συγγενών τους,  στο νοσοκομείο. Παρόμοια γεγονότα συμβαίνουν σε σχολεία με δασκάλους που αντιτίθενται στον φασισμό να παρενοχλούνται και τα παιδιά των προσφύγων και των μεταναστών να δέχονται επίθεση και εκφοβισμό.
Ενώ ο Δήμαρχος Αθηναίων εμπόδισε την Χρυσή Αυγή από το να μοιράσει επισιτιστική βοήθεια στην Πλατεία Συντάγματος την Πέμπτη, πριν από το Πάσχα (2 Μαΐου 2013) με το αιτιολογικό ότι τροφοδοτεί τον ρατσισμό και το μίσος και βρίσκεται πέρα από τα όρια της ανθρώπινης συμπεριφοράς, το Ελληνικό κράτος, κεντρικά, συνεχίζει να αρνείται να καταδικάσει και να αποτρέψει την Χρυσή Αυγή απο το να δηλητηριάσει τα δημόσια ιδρύματα, των οποίων (το κράτος) έχει τον έλεγχο.
Δύο σημαντικά μαθήματα πήραμε από το νησί της Σάμου, στα τέλη του Απρίλη. Το ένα είναι η ανάγκη για ένα ενιαίο μέτωπο για την αντιμετώπιση του ιού της Χρυσής Αυγής. Η ανθρωπότητα είναι ένας κοινός τόπος και αυτό πρέπει να διατηρηθεί και να αναπτυχθεί. Δεύτερον, η Ελληνική πολιτεία πρέπει να αντιμετωπιστεί για την συνενοχή της και την αποτυχία να αντιμετωπίσει τον ιό του μίσους και εδώ στη Σάμο και σε ολόκληρη την χώρα.
Ο τουρισμός είναι ένα ουσιαστικό κομμάτι της ελληνικής οικονομίας. Όποιος σκέφτεται να έρθει στην Ελλάδα (και ιδιαιτέρως στην Αθήνα) θα πρέπει να γράψει στην Ελληνική πρεσβεία στη χώρα του, ζητώντας διαβεβαιώσεις ότι θα είναι ασφαλής όταν θα την επισκεπτεί. Αυτό είναι ιδιαίτερα επείγον, εαν το χρώμα του δέρματός σας, σας προσδιορίζει με σαφήνεια, ως μη Έλληνα.
Το Ελληνικό κράτος πρέπει να γνωρίζει ότι η συνενοχή του με το φασισμό δεν θα είναι ανεκτή και ότι η σιωπή του για ζητήματα τα οποία υποβαθμίζουν την ανθρωπότητα και εκθέτουν ανθρώπους στο μίσος και τη βία, είναι εντελώς απαράδεκτη.

LISTEN TO THEIR VOICES: ALGERIAN REFUGEES IN CENTRAL ATHENS

Listen to the voices of refugees in the centre of Athens. If we hear them clearly, we will have no doubt as to what needs to be done. We need to reject totally all those who seek to present refugees as criminals, as sub humans, as garbage or terrorists as a means of protecting their privileges.

Refugees can only survive by the kindness and friendship of strangers who very often become life long friends. Support from family networks wherever they exist are also important. Just as we discovered during our visits to the West Bank of Palestine, we came across extraordinary solidarity and friendships amongst the mainly Algerian refugees with whom we recently spent 3 days in central Athens.

Accommodation, food, clothing, work, health needs and more are mainly met through these solidarities. There is nothing from the Greek state, there is nothing from their embassy, and what few resources are available from citizen support groups hardly touch the problems they face or can deal with the immediacy of the problem. So much happens at night. Who helps them then? Each other.

Take Mohammed. He told how he arrived in Athens after spending 3 months in the detention centre on Samos, alone and knowing nobody. But he knew the areas where the Algerians gathered. Having coffee in the area, Amin joined him realising that Mohammed with his packed back pack was new to the city. Mohammed lived with Amin and his wife for the next 3 months. People together who had never previously met.

Samir was released the night before we arrived. He had been 9 months in a police cell. His crime? No papers. He arrived in the neighbourhood late at night and was immediately found a room. The next day he was vomiting blood. He had been beaten repeatedly by the police during his jail time. All his care came from other refugees.

There is a lot of moving around rooms. Some had their own places and if they had spare rooms these would be available to any who needed them. Those without a fixed base would move around, not because of any sense of overstaying their welcome, but rather they wanted to see other friends. They might not always have water or electricity in their houses but if they had space it was offered.

If you have, you give, is taken for granted amongst those we met. It is not something to be talked about but to be done. There are no conditions. It is beautiful to see people with so little being so generous. Just as on the West Bank, all the refugees we met had experienced bad things either to themselves or to close friends. One told of how his wife miscarried after a police beating, another of a friend who had died of cancer but got so little help. The Algerian embassy refused to repatriate the body so it was left to the refugees to collect the money to fly the body home. Most had experience of being swept up, humiliated on the streets and held for varying lengths of time in police cells. That there is still humour and laughter, that so many remain steadfast, is due entirely to their solidarities.

Such attitudes and behaviour are crucial to ‘staying strong’.

Food, a room, clothes are just one aspect to staying strong. More importantly, we were told again and again, it was what was in your head that mattered. Staying strong meant being a human being with dignity and being a part of humanity. The terror of never knowing when you might be picked up and beaten by the police, for no reason; the terror of having been beaten up in your own home by police young enough to be your children; the sick feeling that comes from hearing the Greek prime minister state that one of the first objectives of his government was to take the cities back from the migrants; of daily confronting a police system that allows you to be robbed, beaten and messed around for no reason and with total impunity for the aggressor: all of these and more demand strength. Without strength these feelings can defeat you.

If we really want to understand what is going on we must listen to the refugees. They know that they are the victims of a system that quickly resorts to racism to deflect the anger and distress of the majority population that is suffering under this crisis. The Algerians we met loved the Greek people in their neighbourhood. They talked of them as being of a similar character to themselves in their attitudes to work and living – ‘a relaxed people’ like themselves. They shared their pain at the devastation of the small shops and bars in their area and the loss of work and income. And who could ever remain unaffected by seeing so much suffering and hardship in the streets around you no matter what their origins?

An Algerian in his late 50s who had been in this neighbourhood for 10 years, laughed as he told a crowd of us in the coffee bar how police hassled him recently saying all Algerians are thieves and were disturbing Greek lives. He told them to go and arrest some bankers. But another younger guy was clearly cowed by his experience of being repeatedly slapped around the face in his room. Every time the policeman slapped his face he would shout “all Algerians are thieves” – slap – “You are barbarians; primitive” -slap- You have no right to be here” – slap – and “ You are garbage!” -slap. This guy was frightened. He stayed in his room for most of the day. He was scared to be outside.

That the Algerian embassy does nothing for their migrants in Athens might normally deepen these vulnerabilities. We heard many stories about appeals to the embassy. When a small group went to the embassy to demand that they protest to the Greek government about the violence and attacks from Golden Dawn, they were told by Embassy staff that there was nothing they could do. They also told the refugees that they had not been invited to Greece and if they didn’t like what they found, should move on. For some, this just showed once more how the system works. They expect nothing from their embassy. Nothing. But even so when it came to ensuring that Algerians could get their papers and ID’s confirmed, or for registering the birth of a child or helping fly someone sick or dying home, the Embassy’s refusal provoked disgust.

Growing Racism

Those Algerians who had been in Athens for some years all spoke about the ways in which racism was deepening and growing, mirroring the on going economic decline and the rise in violent austerity measures. Neither, they said, was this just happening in Greece. In many places, those on the outlying margins of society are being demonised and presented as the cause and not the victim of the crisis; ‘of capitalism’ as one young Algerian told us. The forms of victimisation are various, but in Athens it has taken the form of presenting all Algerian refugees as criminal. But any criminalisation of the refugees is entirely due to the actions of the Greek state which refuses them so many of the fundamental rights to life, work and travel.

Understanding the way in which racism works for the system by dividing people and making them weak, helps keep you strong. It helps you be clear about what the enemy is and not slip into the trap of the elites who would love you to hate with equal measure the people around you infected by the racist virus. But it is hard. Racist violence of all kinds hurts.

The growth of racism is disturbing to many of those we met. It is the hatred which is so frightening. Where is it going to end? Where are the racist police of today going be in 10 years time? What damage would people do to themselves if they turn ever more to racism? These anxieties are deepened by the knowledge that the Greek state itself is deeply implicated in the process and legitimates, protects and encourages its growth. For the Algerians we met for example, there was no distinction to be made between the police and Golden Dawn. They were simply interchangeable. Everybody knew that the police could beat you and imprison you with utter impunity. They all knew of some such as lawyers who had tried to help them but were then moved against and silenced. They all knew that Greece has no anti-racist legislation which could protect them. They all knew that no police had been punished even though half of the reported cases of racist violence in the past year are attributed to the police. In any event to report the violence of police was a no brainer as it simply brought you more pain. They all knew that many police were active supporters of Golden Dawn and worked directly with them.

But there is another side to this story too. Conversations in the cafeterias also tell of victories, big and small against the police. Of winning places where they can meet and relax knowing the police are scared to come close because they will be hassled and threatened. Gaining such free spaces is uplifting both in keeping the racists out and providing places where people can breathe air free from fear.

The scale of the intelligence to be found in such cafeterias and bars is extensive and vital to the survival of the refugees. This is where you can find a room when you have just arrived. This is where you find out what is going on in the neigbourhood and the city. This is where you find out who is hurting and needs help. This is where you can get news of your friends, and networks. This is where you can talk things through. Where you can relax.

However, you don’t need to walk the streets for long to realise that many around you have not stayed strong and who have not been able to withstand the incredible pressure. Heroin addiction is a big problem. It is available and relatively cheap. Addiction in this context is a nightmare. What temporary relief it might bring is overwhelmed by its consequences including loss of appetite and paranoia. It calls on no genius to explain the causes of heroin addiction amongst some of the refugees nor to recognise that calls for more drug counsellors are no answer. Just as it is no solution to press for better conditions in detention centres and police cells when the people should never have lost their freedom in the first place.

Listen to the refugees. They can tell us much. Solidarities keep them alive and human in the most terrible of circumstances. But what they have to endure is almost beyond belief. And for what reason – because they have not got the right paper or right skin colour and class background ? Ask the refugees what they stand for, and the most common response is “for humanity”. That says it all.