Hunger Strikes and Animal Rights (yet more Athens)
Sma and I arrive in a pink-bathed Athens at Dusk. Our lift – an economics teacher, who insists on buying us “Greek” fast food on the way (chips for me, burger for Sma) – drops us right at Syntagma Square where we are to meet our host, Maria.
I’ve been emailing Maria after an electronic introduction from an anarchist friend back in the UK. I have no idea what to expect and when she tells me she’ll be near Parliament for the next three hours and we’re to meet her there, I assume it’s a demonstration and ask if it’s safe to bring bags – but it’s ok, it’s just her twelve-year old son playing in the electronic games shop nearby. We drink coffee in the cafe upstairs while we wait for him to tire of it and discuss politics, movements and the campaigns we’re involved with. Maria is part of the food co-operative Sporos (not to be confused with Skoros, the Free Shop nearby), and also involved with an NGO that helps sex-trafficking victims. It’s nice to be staying with a comrade.
The reason I chose this particular Saturday to return to Athens is that my Anti-Speciesist friends have organised a screening and discussion of Jill’s Film, an Animal Rights film from Britain. I’ve seen the film before, but I didn’t know who made it. Right away I recognise the bald head of John Curtin, infamous old-school animal rights activist from England. Around sixty people are packed into the first floor lounge of the Skaramagka squat, which is amazing for Greece – the Animal Rights Movement here is right in it’s infancy. I move to the front so I can listen in on the English translation Isabel is giving of the Greek questions. After, I ask if John remembers the last time we met – it was in Buddhafield Festival back in the UK, where he lead a workshop called “Animal Liberation as a Spiritual Practice”. It seems we have some mutual friends.
The other major thing that inspired my return to Athens is the Hunger Strike of 300 “illegal” migrant workers, mostly North African, who have been living and working in Greece for several years with a very precarious status. 50 of these people are in Thessloniki, the other 250 were initially occupying the unused Law School building of the University of Athens, but were forced into leaving by the state and relocated to the building they are in now – a privately-owned manor house, where most of the rooms are locked. Actually most of the men are sleeping in tents in the courtyard and the support groups have brought in portable toilets and plastic sinks since the building was so ill-equipped. Unsure of how to help exactly, I visit the building a couple of times and try to speak to people, but find it hard to get involved. There are several groups supporting the Hunger Strike, mainly Leftists. The Anarchists seem to be mostly involved in holding the building, so until the eviction comes there’s not a lot more I can do. This building was negotiated for fifteen days only and the owner has been calling them up, saying they had better leave or there will be “a problem”. I write an article for Schnews, but ultimately feel a bit useless.
There are two demonstrations for the Hunger Strike. Finally, something I can do. But why two? Well one is the Leftist demo and the other, on the following day, is the Anarchist one. I go to both. They seem pretty much the same to me, just the Leftist one has lots of different blocks with different flags and chants, where the Anarchist one is all red and black flags and mostly the same chants, plus more people wearing black. Migrants see us passing and cheer, many of them join the march and start up their own chants in Arabic or French - “Solidarite avec les sans-papiers!” We pass by the Propylaea in Panepistimio, where some Afghans have been demonstrating since November. Six of them have been on hunger strike since December 29th and have sewn their own mouths shut. Cheers go up from all sides as we pass – we applauding them and they us. These struggles are the same, of course. According to the paper I’m handed as I pass, another two men and a woman have now joined the hunger strike and have also sewn their mouths shut. What does it take to make people take notice?
There are no riots and very few police, save for a few partially hidden up side-streets, waiting in the wings. Nobody smashes anything, despite an attempt at a bank by one of the Anti-Authoritarian guys on the Leftist demo. He swings a fire extinguisher at the window, but it bounces off and he tries to saunter away casually as the alarm starts blaring. Other people just look at him, but continue marching on past, chanting as normal. He’s not even wearing a mask.
Some of my friends in Athens notice a difference in me after my time away – that I seem lighter and happier. It’s time to leave Athens again, before I lose all of that. Only eight days and already I can feel the city closing in on me, closing me down.
I’ve really enjoyed staying with Maria, her son Stefano and their feline friend. It’s given me a rare opportunity to catch up on my blog and some other work and I got to do lots of cooking in her nice big, well-equipped kitchen. It’s not often I can feel so comfortable and at home in somebody’s house.
I’m also grateful to my other friends here – to Deborah for hosting me before, and hosting assorted items and receiving post for me while I’ve been away; to Panos for being a real friend; to Christos and Nikos for being themselves and for being generally amazing; to Evgenia and Danai who are so easy to talk to about anything; Isabel for translating and being my tour-guide and for always, always smiling; and to Ihab, my newest friend.
Every morning I wake up and check for news about the Hunger Strike. No eviction attempt yet, so who knows what will happen. It’s tragic, but I really feel that these men are going to die. They have stated that the strike is to the death unless every one of them gets papers. Their stated demand is for unconditional papers for every migrant living and working in Greece, along with the same rights and obligations as Greek workers. Solidarity, love and courage to each of them, and to the Afghans at Panepistimio, the Iranians at the Polytechnic, and to all migrant struggles everywhere. No human being is illegal.