More Than a Myth: Volunteerism in Greece

This piece was co-authored with Despina Tsalavoutis and first published April 4, 2013 on Huffington Post here.

We have been in too many conversations recently where we have heard that there is no culture of volunteerism in Greece. Opinions differ in our daily conversations and in local and international media.

It is no surprise that there is a heightened interest in this topic as the European economic crisis continues to affect member states. In a time of increasing challenges, much attention falls on the relationships and structures in society that are not working. Yet this is a time when people also strengthen what works, and search for new connections and developmental support that enable them to solve problems together, based on shared passion, motivation and purpose.

In Greece, volunteerism is more than a myth. We see a sense of solidarity “αλληλεγγύη” and community “γειτονιά” that people are trying to redefine in the face of significant challenges. Volunteering through citizen sector groups is one form of solidarity that is growing.

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program describes volunteerism as “one of the most basic of expressions of human behavior and [it] arises out of long-established ancient traditions of sharing and reciprocal exchanges.” In Greece, this behavior is traditionally expressed through family, local community and the church. Now there are more people engaging in community service through civil society groups responding to critical issues, including health, social services and inclusion, employment and mentorship, conservation, urban interventions, culture and more.

A gathering in Athens last week offered a fresh sign that people are keen to harness the power of volunteerism. Volunteer4Greece, in partnership with three other Greek organizations that promote and facilitate volunteerism, brought together local civil society organizations, including non-profit and non-government organizations and informal grass-roots initiatives, to meet, exchange, learn and collaborate. More than 90 leaders and managers of 40 groups attended the “Unleash Your Organization’s Potential Through Volunteers” workshop and discussed the tools and methodologies to attract, train, engage and manage volunteers. This was the first workshop to provide non-profits, particularly smaller ones, with international best practices and practical tools to better organize and structure their volunteer programs.

The hosting partners launched within the last two years and already are collaborating to create a network of learning and exchange. Volunteer4Greece is the first Greek online volunteer opportunity board. Human Grid is a project of TEDxAthens to connect volunteers with opportunities in Athens. GloVo matches student volunteers to events globally. All three launched last year. Wonder Festival is an annual event and network inaugurated in 2011 to connect volunteers and promote collaboration among volunteer initiatives. It has helped organizations like Senior Citizens in Action find their first volunteers.

The perception of volunteerism in Greece is evolving as people’s perspective on the value and responsibility for social change evolves. Discussions during the workshop indicated there is a real public interest in supporting sustainable citizen sector initiatives. Public sector programs to address social needs have diminished or proved ineffective. The responsibility for the success of a social cause is shifting to citizen and private sector stakeholders, partnerships, and communities of people. As these changes occur, the role of volunteerism gains more value and appreciation.

“A volunteer is not just someone who appears in your life to serve you or to make your job easier,” explained Gerasimos Kouvaras, Managing Director of Action Aid Hellas, as he spoke about the benefits of properly orienting, training and managing volunteers. “At the same time, you have appeared in their life with an obligation to help them develop and evolve.”

One participant observed that his organization is seeing less volunteers as people struggle to sustain themselves and their families in the face of decreasing salaries, lack of resources and unemployment. At the same time, some of the organization’s beneficiaries become volunteers and use their experience to act as translators or mediators between the organization and the vulnerable groups it serves.

Tzanetos Antipas, Board Chairman of Praksis, an organization focusing on humanitarian, health and anti-poverty programs, said that awareness plays a role in activating peoples’ sensitivity to social issues and volunteerism. Responding to the question, “Do you think we all have a volunteer in us?” Antipas observed that many people do not recognize their potential to be volunteers. It is up to the organization and current volunteers to “wake up” the volunteer in these people.

“Our experience in matching volunteers to organizations has showed that there is a need from the non profit side to acquire more structured tools and better organize their operations, to improve the way they develop their volunteers,” said Volunteer4Greece co-founder Myrto Papathanou, after the event. “The workshop exceeded our expectations… We believe non-profits in Greece are hungry for knowledge and ready to take the next step, which is to use tools and standard operating procedures in their daily operations to grow in size and expand their scope and social impact.”

The volunteer workshop and the new initiatives that hosted it are part of a longer trend towards volunteerism. For example, the organization ELIX has promoted volunteerism in conservation efforts for more than 25 years. Since its founding in 1987, it organized more than 300 voluntary work programs in 104 areas of Greece, and facilitated the participation of more than 6,000 young people in work-camps in Greece and abroad. In 2004, 160,000 people applied for volunteer positions with the Athens Summer Olympics, and 45,000 Greek volunteers became a part of the events. Approximately 25,000 people took part in volunteer action during the Athens Special Olympics in 2011. Atenistas, a group that organizes volunteer actions in Athens to improve public spaces, started in 2010. It recently created the first pocket park in Athens. There are similar groups in other Greek cities.

“In five years I believe the landscape for volunteering in Greece will be very different,” predicts Papathanou. “I dare to say volunteering will have moved to the mainstream, as opposed to being something a small minority engages in.”

What does the future hold for Greece?

We cannot say for sure, but we do believe that civil society has potential to engage growing numbers of people in the process of creating this future. However, new forms of engagement also require new institutions to facilitate trust among citizens. If trust between individuals and across communities grows and flourishes, people can collaborate. Trust requires transparency at all levels and sectors of society, as well as social and governance systems that are participatory and inclusive. If a reliable, fair system exists to create a safe space for public action, then people can build a shared vision and act together to achieve that vision. Citizen actions, of which volunteerism is one piece, and a fair system are inter-related elements of a society: they will grow and strengthen each other.

Additional Information:

List of organizations or programs offering volunteer opportunities in Greece: http://europa.eu/youth/volunteering_-_exchanges/index_he_en.html

Volunteering In The European Union, Final Report submitted by GHK, 17 February 2010: http://ec.europa.eu/citizenship/pdf/doc1018_en.pdf

Despina is professionally active in Marketing Communications & Venture/Partnerships Development. She works with organizations & startups to help 1) develop ventures, 2) extend synergies, 3) empower communications, & 4) accelerate extroversion. At heart, she believes that Entrepreneurship, Sustainability & Creative Education can address global challenges & create new possibilities. She supports endeavors that progress in this direction. She is a graduate of The London School of Economics (MSc Organizational Psychology), from the USA & lives in Europe. She’s a trekker, dreamer, creative facilitator and HuffPost fan.

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It’s not about prostitutes, it’s about a healthy society – sign this petition

Just a few days before Greece’s snap parliamentary elections in April, Greek police published the names and photos of over 12 prostitutes arrested for being HIV positive, in a disgraceful violation of their human dignity and a terrible example for society.

Sign the change.org petition below to tell the Greek Ministry of Justice and other authorities involved or complacent in these actions – including the Greek police, the Ministry of Health and the Citizens Protection Ministry – that it is not acceptable to disregard basic human rights and promote negative and harmful mentalities and behaviors in society.

A 22-year old Russian prostitute was arrested in an unlicensed brothel, and a health examination determined that she was HIV positive. Many more women, some Greek, were arrested in continuing raids ahead of the election. Some of them are still in prison.

Prostitution is legal in Greece, and some brothels are licensed, but there are many unlicensed ones operating in Athens and throughout the country. There is no evidence that these women knew they were infected, and some of them may be drug addicts that worked on the streets, not in brothels.

The police, the prosecutor and the health ministry claim that the identities and photos were published to alert the clients of these women, urge them to get tested, and protect their “wives and families”.

This is not about prostitutes. It is about a healthy and fair society. Greek authorities are working against both in this case.

The message that authorities are sending society is this: it is ok if you are reckless and engage in paid, unprotected sex with prostitutes or other vulnerable women (some sources suggest that clients at brothels actually pay extra to go unprotected), the state will trample the human rights of some people (namely vulnerable people) so that you know it is time to get tested.

If the Health Ministry wants to address the spread of HIV in Greece, it seems to me that the message to the public should be: any one of you out there that pays for sex, despite all the awareness campaigns that many of these women are trafficked, should now get tested. It could be any one of you. And also, stop it.

The Health Ministry claims to be concerned with the wives of Greek men that visit brothels. Has the ministry asked these wives which of these message they are more comfortable with? “Keep visiting prostitutes, we’ll arrest and humiliate the HIV positive ones” or “Prostitution is a symptom of crime, trafficking and social suffering. Now everybody is at risk and should get tested and change their behavior.”

The public safety excuses of Greek authorities for their actions do not hold up – not through their own logic, and not through any examination of best practices around the world for engaging in effective prevention and education.

From the Irish Times:

“I find it very strange that the government has only now recognised this public health danger, days before the elections. I can’t be but suspicious at the motives,” said George Tzogopoulos, of the Eliamep think tank. “We need continuity in disease prevention, not fireworks.”

International and Greek rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the local office of humanitarian medical aid group Médecins Sans Frontières, denounced the breach of medical confidentiality and the endangerment of the women’s safety as a violation of human rights. Police even published the addresses of some of the women, though a few are homeless, so I guess the police can’t direct any crazy people to their doorstep.

  • Press release by the European Aids Treatment Center, signed by several organizations: here.
  • The Greek Ombudsman, in a May 10, 2012 press release (in Greek), declared that publishing the photos and identities of the HIV+ women is a violation of human dignity.
  • The General Secretariat for Gender Equality also denounced these actions.

Please sign this change.org petition to make your voice heard that this is not acceptable: Greek Ministry of Justice: DEMAND THE RELEASE AND MEDICAL TREATMENT OF HIV POSITIVE WOMEN

The petition is directed to the Greek Ministry of Justice and demands the release and medical treatment of these women.

To the Greek authorities:
These are not solutions.
You should know better. You have reputable local and international organizations to consult and examples around the world to look at. You have no excuses.

Greece: transform museums to transform communities

Greece is known for its history and culture, and trademark designs from classical Greek architecture and art make an appearance throughout the U.S. and other countries, in everything from public buildings to mass-produced women’s accessories. The new Acropolis museum infused a new energy to the celebration of this culture and gathered over 300,000 fans on Facebook.

National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

New plans were announced over the past year to help the Greek capital preserve and showcase this cultural heritage, as well as its contemporary creative arts. Many of these plans are not new, but the announcements may be a sign that they will soon get underway. The discussion should not end at how we showcase history, culture and art, however.  Museums and art venues have a higher calling and a greater value to contribute to society. There is vast potential for Greek museums, historical sites and art venues to find new ways to deliver the past into the creativity and imaginations of Greeks and the world’s visitors, from where it will emerge back into communities as new forms of art, design and social interactions.

Greece’s Central Archaeological Council (KAS) announced a plan for a new Archaeological Museum of Athens to showcase the full timeline of the city’s history. This plan will involve an international architectural design competition, as with the new Acropolis Museum, and a two million euro grant from the City of Athens. The first stage in this new city archaeological museum plan is a project to improve the Plato’s Academy, an archaeological site in the center of Athens previously described as neglected: “Eroding walls, rusty fences, haphazard collections of ancient stones, and a lack of explanatory signboards characterize a place that should be a world heritage site.” The Plato’s Academy renovation is estimated at one million euros, though existing funding is enough to cover the call for design proposals.

The National Museum of Contemporary Art is also preparing for a new home. By October 2013, with funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERFD), it will be housed in the old Fix brewery, Greece’s first major brewery.

There are signs that steps may soon be taken toward a more comprehensive strategy to making important cultural sites accessible. The Onassis Foundation announced Rethink Athens, a plan to improve central Athens through urban development, including pedestrian roads connecting archaeological sites and museums, bicycle lanes and an extension of the tram line. The Foundation is funding a European architectural design competition, with the hope that the urban development project will be funded from EU structural funds (ESPA).

Can Athens adopt a comprehensive strategy to integrate art and culture with the community – a strategy that goes beyond initiatives to upgrade museums and make archaeological sites more accessible? Questions remain. Funding for museum security is scheduled for significant cuts, event after two museum robberies this year, one at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia in January, and one at the National Gallery in February. The existing National Archaeological Museum of Athens, renovated ahead of the 2004 summer Olympics, still has insufficient space to showcase its entire permanent collection and insufficient funds to keep all the wings open and fully staffed. Outside its walls, part of the neighborhood has been a gathering place for drug users, and the streets around the museum, the nearby National Technical University of Athens and the nearest metro station, Omonia, are dirty and graffitied.

Further, another portion of the Altar of the Twelve Gods was discovered in February 2011 under the electric railway (ISAP). The Altar, near the Acropolis and ancient Agora, is a significant site for understanding ancient Athens: it was the central point from which distances were measured. KAS granted ISAP permission to rebury the Altar, and Greece’s Supreme Administrative Court, the Council of State, ruled in July to allow burying it so that the electric rail continues to run over it, despite a petition by a citizens’ initiative requesting that this action be suspended and that the government consider an alternative solution of constructing an underground line for the train. In this example, relevant authorities (Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Regional Authority of Athens, City of Athens) failed to act to adopt and implement a solution that would allow the site to be excavated and integrated into a network highlighting and better utilizing sites of ancient Athens, including the Acropolis, the Agora and Kerameikos.

It takes more than beautiful physical structures, clean streets and easy public access for a museum or site to help us connect with our past and inspire our future. Museums are trying out innovative ways to connect with people and communities through social media and interactive educational programs. Examples of this exist in Greece and throughout the world:

  • The Municipal Art Gallery of Larissa/Georgios Katsigras Museum has a learning center that offers free workshops for children and adults.
  • In 2009, the Portland Art Museum – one of the oldest museums in the U.S. – brought in the China Design Now exhibit and invited the community to be a part of the exhibition by creating and contributing content and hosting events throughout the city. (More at FastCompany.)
  • A competition in 2011 sponsored by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded grants to 12 U.S. libraries and museums for proposals to create facilities where teens can explore digital media, technology, art and literature through hands-on learning experiences.

There are also international networks that help museum teams meet and learn from each other in these areas. The MuseumNext 2012 conference in Barcelona May 23-25, for example, will focus on Digital Participation, Digital Marketing and Digital Challenges through presentations and interactive or hands-on sessions.

Common Threads: Tribute To Philadelphia’s Youth. Mural by Meg Saligman.

Local communities can also take an active role in creating opportunities for museums to be a part of the community. Since 1959, Philadelphia’s Percent for Art program takes one percent of a construction contract paid by the City to fund art in public spaces, which has helped fill today’s streets, squares and parks with art. Boston landed on the Fast Company’s Fast Cities Fast Cities 2010 for its innovative approach to supporting the arts community through a housing program. The Artist Space Initiative (ASI) supports the creation of spaces for artists to live and work in industrial areas or emerging neighborhoods that meet artists’ needs.

In Greek cities, visitors will see buildings, long occupied with residents and small businesses, that have unfinished or unpainted outer sidewalls. Ask local residents about this phenomenon, and they will tell you that tax policies create an incentive for owners to leave the building unfinished to avoid property taxes that kick in when a building is completed. Greece’s municipalities and central government should be exploring tax reforms that will make it beneficial for property owners to not only fix this aesthetic disgrace, but to invite and commission local artists to turn gray concrete blobs on the cityscape into canvasses for work that will speak to or reflect the community.

Athens, and indeed, all of Greece, has a wealth of art and culture – historic and contemporary. In addition to showcasing such treasures, the country has the potential to explore innovative ways to help culture, art and community come together. If culture and art institutions, local communities, national authorities and private businesses all enter this discussion and learn from successful examples around the world, Greece can develop a strategy to transform its heritage into an inspiration and a pulse for its modern communities.

Destination Greece: Sun, Studies and Service

As summer approaches, some us are fortunate enough to look forward to a visit to Greece. There are several study abroad or learning opportunities for students that would like to learn about and experience Greece – both classical and modern Greece. Programs are increasingly incorporating elements of local volunteering and community service to help their students establish deeper connections with the local communities that welcome them for the summer. I highlighted some of the stories of young visiting volunteers and interviewed a couple Greek organizations that offer volunteering opportunities for Reinventing Greece.

Journey to Greece students prepare for their volunteer service with the 2010 Special Olympics.

Here is part of that story and the link to the full feature (which is the best part!).

Young people are volunteering while visiting or studying in Greece.

The next generation in the U.S. – young adults from adolescents to about 30 years of age, often referred to as the millenials – want to change the world. Young Americans of Hellenic descent are among them. There are young people from this country volunteering while visiting or studying in Greece. In the process, they are gaining new understandings of Greek society, establishing relationships with people in local communities, deepening their ties to their heritage, and learning important lessons about teamwork, community, leadership and citizen diplomacy.

U.S. millenials volunteer more than any previous generation, according to USA Today, and corporations have found that one of the best ways to attract this next generation as employees is to offer paid time-off to volunteer.

National leaders are recognizing that this desire to have an impact and change the world for the better extends beyond borders. In May 2011, The Next Generation Initiative participated in the Global Diaspora Forum, hosted by the State Department and other partners. We saw national leaders and donors of international programs recognizing and discussing the value of diaspora organizations in strengthening U.S. relations and partnerships with other countries in many fields. One areas of discussion was youth volunteering. Young people are seeking opportunities to go back to their countries of heritage, or other countries, to volunteer.

This trend is evident among Hellenic American youth. In a national student research study conducted by the Initiative in 2010, young Greek and Cypriot Americans overwhelmingly expressed an interest in traveling to Greece for volunteer, internship, study and work opportunities. Students and young professionals report that it is challenging to find information, in English, on community organizations and businesses that offer volunteer or partnership opportunities for diaspora youth.

To address this interest, The Next Generation Initiative would like to help its next Reinventing Greece student and young professional team find opportunities to join their peers in Greece and give back to local Greek communities.

Welcome to phase one in this effort: ask questions and learn.

We asked local non-government organizations (NGOs), community action groups, educational institutions and others about their volunteer programs and community service experiences to learn about opportunities for diaspora Greeks or friends of Greece to give back while they are visiting or studying in Greece. We found that study and travel abroad programs are increasingly incorporating service work in their programs. We are sharing some of their stories here.

As we search for opportunities for our team, we invite you to read about the initiatives we are discovering, and reach out to them to join their efforts if you will be visiting Greece this year. We also invite you to share more of your experiences with us and our readers in the comment section below.

See the stories of young volunteers and read interviews with Greek organizations that offer volunteering opportunities on Reinventing Greece:

https://www.hellenext.org/reinventing-greece/2012/05/destination-greece-sun-studies-and-service/

A global public art project allows local communities to be a part of their local art

This GOOD article describes how artist JR took his project to a global level, thanks to his vision and the 2011 TED prize. His InsideOut Project allows whole communities to be a part of local art.

Check out the Inside Out Project trailer, Episode 1, and other videos on the project’s YouTube channel.

In Greece, MELD | Athens invited six Greek photographers to lead a Group Action as part of this global art initiative. They created portraits of children from privileged and underprivileged backgrounds in Athens and posted them in side-by-side pairs in the city’s public spaces on October 15, 2011. This Eyes of Truth Group Action was a parallel event with the October 10, 2011 TEDxAcademy.

TEDxAcademy Talk by Corinne Weber, Creative Director & Producer of MELD and Yvonne Senouf, Creative Concepts Producer of MELD:

The Greek Crisis: Tents on a Square

  • The “gypsy tents in Syntagma [Square, in front of the parliament] make for an unacceptable sight.”
  • “…what we have now is an image of lawlessness.”
  • “…find a solution to restore the image of the square”
  • “A peaceful demonstration is one [thing] and the camp on Syntagma that is killing the city is quite different.”

Following those quotes, you may be expecting to read something like: these are the statements I am hearing from people in the city. In fact, these are statements from Greeks in public leadership positions. Read again, with their names indicated:

  • The “gypsy tents in Syntagma make for an unacceptable sight.”
    – Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou. According to Kathimerini, the same term, ‘gypsy tents,’ was used by Costas Aivaliotis, spokesman for the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). Source.
  • “…what we have now is an image of lawlessness.”
    – Dora Bakoyannis, leader of the Democratic Alliance party and former Minister of Foreign Affairs. Mayor of Athens from 2003 – 2006. Source.
  • “…find a solution to restore the image of the square”
    – The mayor’s office. Source.
  • “A peaceful demonstration is one and the camp on Syntagma that is killing the city is quite different.”
    – Justice Minister Papaioannou. Source.

There was quite a push to clear the tents off Syntagma Square in Athens in the last two weeks, and today, city authorities and the police finally removed them. This past Thursday, a prosecutor began an investigation to determine whether the demonstrators maintaining the tents and activities on Syntagma Square were breaking any laws.

I support a respectful use of public space and a concerted effort to promote tourism. However, the situation on the main public square in Athens and the remarks of political leaders at the local and national level raise different issues in my mind, and do not bring me to the conclusion that the priority in Athens is to clear the tents away.

Who determines the use of public space?

There is a great and historical significance to the public square.  We tend to think of public squares as a starting point for tourists: lovely areas with cafes, beautiful restored historic buildings, and monuments of historical and influential figures. Perhaps we sometimes forget that, around the world, they have been the settings for significant social and political developments, and not always positive ones. Some of our most inspiring but also our darkest moments as human beings have played out in public squares around the world, from revolutions to public executions. Yet some people are uncomfortable with having the country’s social, economic or political problems reflected on the main public square in the capital. What exactly is the reason why the demonstrators in tents on Syntagma should have a shorter timeline than the economic crisis that brought them to the square?

If other citizens want the protestors to move out because their use of the square is being prevented, this is an important matter to address. But this is not what is being said. Based on discussions with people here in Athens, and my own experience passing through the square nearly every day for the past three weeks, there is plenty of space to pass, the area is tidy, organized and peaceful, and no one walking through seems disturbed or obstructed. Every time I passed through the square in the evenings or at night, there were people of different ages there, engaged in discussions near the tents.

Syntagma the first week of July.

People cleaning the square. Mid-July.

This is extremely contrary to every sidewalk I have walked on in the city, where mopeds and motorcycles park and drive freely, and cars often park half or entirely on the sidewalk. Yet this is not the obstruction and lawlessness leaders are commenting on right now.

Further, the demonstrators have not thrown unwilling citizens and tourists into their effort to make their voices heard by political leaders, which cannot be said of, for example, taxi owners.  Taxi owners have been on strike for nearly two weeks, and part of their strike has included blocking access to roads, ports and airports.  They also went so far as to throw oil on a road to prevent vehicles from leaving the port of Piraeus. Rather than make a case for their position and invite supporters to join them, they simply interrupt services for citizens and tourists and hope this will somehow aid their cause.

To what extent can image divert attention from or completely hide reality?

It seems to me that clearing off every marble tile on the square is less of a concern in addressing the image of the city and the country than the issue of how the media is covering events in Greece and the absence of a strong, clear and consistent message from the mayor’s office or national leaders on what is happening and what they are doing to move forward. Who would we fool by removing the tents from Syntagma?  No one will see the closed, empty shops on every street? No one will encounter young people around the city during the day, who have no job to go to?  Tourists will not notice the increased amount of graffiti and visitors will not see that neighborhoods in central Athens are crumbling further from the condition they were in just a couple years ago? Or will no one see the children, often victims of criminal and trafficking rings, approaching them one after the other to beg while selling flowers or tissues or while playing the accordion?

Whose vision of tourism are we concerned with?

Let’s assume a clean Syntagma will shine so bright as to hide all of the above in a lovely hazy glow.  What is the comprehensive plan for tourism? Is a clean, quiet Syntagma Square the center of the plan?  I would think that making transportation efficient and clean, and developing the network of museums, archaeological sites and cultural activities would be some of the main concerns, particularly in the short-term. There are some disappointing blind spots in these areas.  Here are just a couple examples:

a)     I had to pass through one of the Athens bus terminals several times this summer to catch buses for other parts of Greece.  To get to the terminal, you need either a car/taxi or to switch from the metro to a city bus.  Once you are there, use the restrooms at your own risk (ladies, there are still squat toilets in use) and bring change to give to the woman at the door so that she hands you some toilet paper. There is also one giant chaos of people, buses and cars going wherever they please throughout the terminal, and a non-stop procession of people selling trinkets, tissues or directly begging for change. The train would be a nice alternative, given that the station is accessible by metro, but it still does not connect Athens to all the larger cities of northern Greece.

This is an issue of far greater concern to me than a peaceful walk across Syntagma Square.

b)    There is an issue relating to archaeological sites in Athens of which not many people are aware. In February, archaeologists discovered the Altar of the Twelve Gods during renovation work for the electric rail near Thiseio and Monastiraki.  The altar was an area of religious and political significance, and at one time was the central point from which distances were measured.

This week, the Council of State, the Supreme Administrative Court of Greece, ruled to allow the burying of the Altar so that the electric rail continues to run over it, despite a petition by a citizens’ initiative requesting that this action be suspended and that the government consider an alternative solution, such as constructing an underground line for the train.

It is disappointing that there has been no significant discussion on the part of the relevant authorities (Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Regional Authority of Athens, City of Athens) to consider a solution that would allow the site to be excavated and integrated into a network of sites highlighting ancient Athens, including the Acropolis, the Agora, Kerameikos and other ruins, or even a plan to revamp and better utilize the existing sites.

Public Speaking 101

Ultimately, this situation reveals that Greece’s leaders appear to have forgotten the importance of public speech.  Hard to believe, given Greece’s history, but painfully clear in the statements above.  It is something I have heard this summer from people of different ages, in different sectors and of different political views:  leaders are not speaking to the people in a way that acknowledges their struggles or gives them reason to believe that anyone in power is truly making an effort to make things better.

The People’s Assembly of Syntagma Square has continued to maintain its online forum (real-democracy.gr) and its system of selecting topics of discussion, and it says that the peaceful protests will pick up again in September. Leaders can ignore all of this, call them drug users and loose women, and suggest that the tents on Syntagma are one of the city’s biggest problems if they choose, but this approach only dismisses the real frustrations of the broader public, many of whom are really struggling.  There are European Union statistics that indicate this, if the message is not coming through from the Greek people themselves:

“Based on the most recent statistics available, Brussels calculates that 116 million people in the EU are at risk of poverty (they live in a household with a disposable income below 60 percent of the national median) or social exclusion. The 2008 figures show that more than 2.1 million Greeks fall within the “at risk of poverty” bracket.”
Source.

August is a quiet month in Greece.  The weather is hot; most people go on vacation.  Hopefully Greek leaders will take this time to think about the message they are sending to international and domestic audiences, and lay out a respectful and constructive communication strategy. And some would do well to consider the racism they express when using the word ‘gypsie’ as a derogatory adjective.

Peaceful organizing in cities across Greece

Yesterday, May 25, thousands in Greece gathered at public squares in cities across the country to protest peacefully and demand solutions.  The rallies were organized through social media sites under the banner ‘Aganaktismenoi sto Syntagma’ (“Indignant or Exasperated at Syntagma”) and ‘Aganaktismenoi’ at other cities. The effort was modeled on Spain’s Los Indignados movement.

There were no molotov cocktails and no signs or evidence of allegiances to the political parties, unions or associations. Just organized, peaceful people that are struggling and expect better solutions.

Source: Enet.gr - Ελευθεροτυπία

Some news outlets are reporting that as many as 10,000 (ekathimerini.com) to 30,000 (ANA-MPA) people showed up at Syntagma Square in Athens alone. Individuals reported through social media (#greekrevolution, #25mgr, also follow Asteris Masouras @asteris for updates) and Greek blogs that the crowds included many youth but people of all ages. The protesters in Athens also reportedly blocked a group of anarchists that attempted to filter their ranks, keeping them at a distance and away from the parliament. The rallies served as a sort of public assembly, with participants of different ages and backgrounds discussing their thoughts and opinions.

The rallies did not become a sit-in (though there were some tents in Athens), but this may serve as the long overdue, concrete example that peaceful organizing and mobilization is possible in Greece. Even if an organized, long-term movement with clear goals and proposals does not immediately follow, this is a message that people in Greece and in Greek diaspora communities have been waiting to receive, and that the international media and financial institutions should heed.

Some great photos from the Thessaloniki rally: Spanish style protests reach Greece