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Self-organized solidarity in Athens fights for existence

Necat Ayaz

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 have the right and duty to participate in all the activities on a daily basis. Since 2016’ aproximately 3000 refugees found the opportunity to stay in the hotel in different timeframes before going to another country in Europe, in search of better life. This fact made the hotel a transit place for refugees but the departures have been easily counterbalanced with newcomers and making it possible to keep the hotel open. Due to this fact, the hotel has also been like a school where students who have graduated left and the new students arrived to take their places.

Olga has been participating the creation of this project for solidarity with refugees from its begining and still works actively. She is a member of the administration of the hotel and has many duties which are critical to keep the initiative alive. Despite her important responsibilities and her influence on decison-making process, she is very modest and has a low profile stance in the daily life inside the hotel.  She was eager to speak about the begining and development of this initiative and possible scenarios for its future.

Many nation states in Europe including Greece were not able to keep the borders closed due to the immense pressure of the migrants.

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.

Greek states’s policy was to keep the migrants in rural areas or in ghettos far from the city centers to prevent close contact betwen them and the Greek citizens.

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 needed help urgently. Olga was one of the members of an alternative political group that were trying to help the remaining migrants filled the streets of Athens. She says that in the begining of 2016 there were 60 to 80 thousand migrants that remained trapped in Greece. According to Olga the the Greek states’s policy was to keep the migrants in rural areas or in ghettos far from the city centers to prevent close contact betwen them and the 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 into a center of struggle against European border regime and European migration policies.

Accordıng to Olga, in the beginning of 2016, Diktio, which she has been a member of 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 alone but still having the the support of some circles of refugees one of which was Kurds. In April of the same year the members of the initiative and its friends occupied the City Plaza Hotel at the center of Athens which is situated in a busy street named Acharnon. The hotel had been empty for the previous three or four years and so there was a lot of work to be done before the migrants and refugees were relocated.

Organizing the life in an occupied place

The strong pan-European network has organized concerts and other activities in order to raise money for this initiative.

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. According to Olga they were able to overcome this basic problem by creating a pan-European solidarity network mainly consisting of anti-fascist groups. This strong network has organized concerts and other activities in order to raise money for this initiative. Olga states that the other financial means of keeping this initiative alive have been donations. She highlighted that they have never asked any financial help from the state, political parties and companies.

Apart from the rooms there is a cafeteria, a classroom 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 chefs under a rotation system and also every resident has the 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 from each room have to work either in the kitchen or do cleaning work in the shared areas of the hotel once a week.

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Volunteers

Had not the volunteers who brought different experiences with them and keep the spirit of defending this occupied place at any cost, participated,  this initiative would have not been continued easily.

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 but also from outside of Europe. This fact highlights the role of the volunteers in keeping the initiative alive. They participate in all kinds of work from ensuring the safety of the residents and taking turns at the security point at the entrance of the hotel to 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 that has stayed here for six months or even one year with their personal decison and have had a stable responsibility inside the hotel.

Had not the volunteers who brought different experiences with them and keep the spirit of defending this occupied place at any cost, participated,  this initiative would have not been continued easily.

Prospect for the future

It is not an exaggeration to say that the City Plaza hotel is the flagship of the occupied places for refugees both in size and as an important resistance experience against the European border regime.

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 an exaggeration to say that the City Plaza hotel 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 adverse 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.

About Necat Ayaz

Necat Ayaz is an exiled Kurdish writer and journalist originally from Turkey. He is editor and founder of Infowelat online magazine since 2013. He has been living in Athens, Greece since 2019. He is the author of Katalonya: Dirok Ziman Otonomi (Catalonia: History Language and Autonomy) and Ispanya”da Ozyonetimin Tarihi (The History of Self-Government in Spain).

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