City Plaza is an occupied hotel in the heart of Athens where nearly two hundred refugees are currently staying. The hotel is a self-organized place which means all the residents has a right and duty to participate all the activities on daily basis. Since 2016 approximately 3000 refugees had had found opportunity to stay in the hotel in different time frames before going to another country in Europe in search of better life. This fact has made here a transit place for refugees but the departures have been easily counterbalanced with newcomers and have made it possible to keep the hotel open. Due to this fact, the hotel has been also like a school where students who have graduated leave and the new students arrived to take their places.
Olga has been participated the creation of this project for solidarity with refugees from its beginning and still works actively. She is a member of administration of the hotel and has many duties which are critical to keep the initiative continue. Despite her important responsibilities and her influence on decison-making process, she is very modest and has a low profile stance in daily life inside the hotel. She was eager to speak about the begining and development of this initiative and possible scenarios about its future.
Occupying City Plaza
In 2015 and 2016 more than 1 million migrants who crossed to Greece headed to Germany and other western European countries.
Many nation states in Europe including Greece were not able to keep the borders closed due to the immense pressure of the migrants.
This influx of migrants shocked the many segments of society and created pressure to find a solution or at least to do something for migrants who were vulnerable and need help urgently. Olga was one of the member of an alternative political group trying to help the remaining migrants filled the streets of Athens. She says that in the beginning of 2016 there were 60 or 80 thousand migrants remained if truly speaking trapped in Greece. According to Olga the states policy was to keep the migrants in rural areas or in ghettos far from the city centers to prevent close contact between them and Greek citizens. So the initiative that would be developed by her political group and other close groups should have follow a different path. Their primary aim was to provide housing for refugees in the center of Athens and at the same time they wanted to turn this place a center of struggle against European border regime and European migration policies.
She says that in the beginning of 2016 Diktio which Olga has been a member and other three political groups founded Solidarity Initiative for Economic and Political Refugees. After a short time the other two groups left the initiative and Diktio remained lonely but still had the support of some circles of refugees of which one was Kurds. In April of the same year the members of initiative and its friends occupied the City Plaza Hotel at the center of Athens which is situated at a busy street namely Acharnon. The hotel had been empty for last three or four years and so there were many work that must be done there before the migrants and refugees relocated to there.
Organizing the life in an occupied place
As soon as the hotel was cleaned and necessary repairment were made, the working groups were created to carry out the immense daily work. Different working groups have been responsible for the cleaning, cooking, security, logistics, education and childcare, medical care, reception, and other task. Thanks to this division of work operating an immense place like City Plaza has been possible.
The problem immediately arisen in front of the activists was to find necessary financial resources to provide necessary means for new residents of the hotel. Olga says that they were able to overcome this basic problem by creating a pan-European network mainly consisting of anti-fascist groups. These strong network has organized concert and other activities to raise money for this initiative. Olga states that the other financial means of keeping this initiative alive has been donation. She highlighted that they have never asked any financial help from the state, political parties and companies.
Apart from the rooms there are a cafeteria, a school room for children, a room used as women space and a bar where the residents and the visitors may have hot drinks. Inside the cafeteria there is room where the breakfast and dinner are prepared for all the residents of the hotel. Residents themselves become chef under the rotation system and also every resident has a duty to work in cafeteria for once a month. Necessary items of food are bought from the market with the available budget of the hotel. Adults of each room have to work either in kitchen or do the cleaning work once a week.
There are 126 rooms inside this huge hotel where 100 of rooms are designated for the migrants and refugees. The remaining 26 of them are for volunteers coming from different countries of Europe. This fact shows that how important the role of the volunteers in keeping the initiative continues. They have participated in all kinds of work from security point at the gate of the hotel to the work in the kitchen. Every group comes from a different country and stay here for some months and when their term terminate another group comes from a different country. It has been also very common to find some individual has stayed here for six months even one year with their personal decision and have had a stable responsibility inside the hotel.
Had not the volunteers who has brought different experiences with them and kept the spirit of defending this occupied place at any cost participated, this initiative would have not been continued easily.
Prospect for the future
After speaking about the history and successfully keep the Plaza opened until now, Olga began to emphasize the difficulties on the way of this initiative. She says that they need more efforts to keep the Plaza opened. She identifies the period when the Plaza was occupied as `revolutionary period` in recent Greek history and they found support easily during this extraordinary activism. With the passing of time, this support and the numbers of people with experience to keep the Plaza initiative going has begun to decrease. Due to this fact the responsibility of the persons in administration grew day by day. Olga is one of these persons who have been affected most since this period has begun. She says that she has to stay at the Plaza almost everyday and she doesn’t know how long she will be able to continue this hard and relentless work. On the other hand, it is a disturbing reality that there will be very little chance that some voluntary activists will take over their duty.
It is not exaggeration saying that the City Plaza is the flagship of the occupied places for refugees both in size and as an important resistance experience against the European border regime.
Due to this importance, any possibility of failure of the initiative may have adversary effects on the similar initiatives in other parts of Europe. Organizers and supporters of the City Plaza are well aware of this fact and have been trying to prevent the worse scenario to happen.