This is the third in a four-part series of articles on austerity in Greece and the response of society. Read part 2 here.
During the Syntagma Square occupation, in various citizen assemblies and working groups, the organisation of an event that would foster communication, cooperation and networking in a practical way amongst the various alternative initiatives scattered all over the country, was repetitively discussed. One year later, in October 2012, members of various initiatives and collectives such as the Athens Time Bank-Syntagma Square, Kafeneio Akadimias Platonos, the collective Nea Guinea, the eco-community project Spithari-Waking Life, the Votsalo network amongst others, put in action this idea by organising the so called Festival for Solidarity and Cooperative Economy (#Festival4sce): more than 200 citizen initiatives from all over Greece participated and organised practical workshops, discussions, presentations and collective events, thus giving the opportunity to visitors to discover another world, where “market laws and exploitation of human labour for profit maximisation isn’t the rule, a world in which human relationships become meaningful again”.
Each year the Festival is organised around special thematic threads such as self-management, self-sufficiency, self-reliance, localisation or degrowth. The programme includes discussion workshops, DIY workshops, thematic discussions, workshops for kids, various cultural events such as concerts, music, theatre, performances, exhibitions, video projections, thus combining theoretical and practical knowledge, all designed under a radical thinking perspective. Furthermore, the Festival4sce provides space and time for spontaneous assemblies among groups and initiatives with common interests in order to network and build bonds of cooperation. As a result, the first meeting of exchange networks in Greece was held during the first edition. Besides, the Festival4sce is a source of inspiration of various events taking place in other parts of the country. An interesting example is the CommonsFest, taking place since 2013 in Heraklion, Crete.
Philosophy-Principles-Objectives: While the foundations of the past crumble down, we are watering the flowers that grow in the ruins.
The Festival4sce focuses on the self-organised citizen-driven movement which is taking place in Greece and worldwide, searching and creating new ways of thinking, living and working. A movement which promotes a world that fosters communication, mutual exchange and the transition to a society based on participation and cooperation, self-management, solidarity, sustainability, self-sufficiency and respect of man and nature alike.
The Festival4sce aims to:
- Illuminate what is already taking place in terms of citizen initiatives in Greece and abroad
- Discover impact beyond the local area
- Become a meeting point for interaction among initiatives and grassroots movements in Greece and abroad
- Inspire learning of new practices and foster exchange of knowledge and experiences
- Spread the concept, the ideas and the principles of solidarity and cooperative economy to larger groups of the society
- Create potential collective projects
- Contribute to the transition process towards a systemic change based on self-management, self-sufficiency, solidarity and degrowth
- Become a source of inspiration for other similar events
Its philosophy is imprinted in declarations and press releases: “...we know that we are living the last episodes of a world based on exploitation, injustice and the illusion of eternal abundance. This world is collapsing and it’s up to us to highlight the structures that will not only replace the current impasse but will also build a tangible example for the creation of relations of solidarity and mutual cooperation”.
Although philosophy, values and strategy are under a continuous and progressive discussion, some basic principles reaching unanimous consensus are:
- Independence from political parties, institutions and organisations
- No funding accepted by any private or public institution or organisation
- Direct-democracy and open processes
- Openness to society
- Shared decision-making
The Festival4sce takes place for three consecutive years at the Cultural Centre of Helliniko, a place that has a particular symbolic meaning and is related to the struggles against the selling off of public land and public property and more specifically to the struggle against the government’s privatisation project of the former international airport at Helliniko and the nearby beach of Agios Kosmas in the southern suburbs of Athens. The citizen Committee against the Metropolitan Park of Helliniko believes that coordination among different struggles and initiatives are essential for the reappropriation and the new use of the buildings and infrastructure of the former airport, unveiling initiatives that will be a tangible example for the creation of relationships of solidarity, cooperation and reciprocity among citizens. Some examples of such initiatives based in the nearby premises are the Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko and the Self-managed urban garden at Helliniko, practical examples of this other world growing.
The 3rd #Festival4sce as a linking tool
Since 2013 the assembly of the Festival4sce has been in touch with Spanish activists, who gradually integrated the coordination team, bringing new dynamics and new perspectives on how such an event could evolve. Exchange of experiences and common ideas as well as the lack of feedback and information flow between Greece and abroad put together Greeks and Spanish on a common target: how to build bonds with Greek and European initiatives.
The interest of this year's festival focused on this aspect: how to create effective ways of communication among various initiatives. Irini -member of the Votsalo Network- declares that the festival was born from the “need for solidarity initiatives from below to meet together and interact”. As Jeza -member of 15M International- puts it; the #Festival4sce is “a golden opportunity” to cooperate with Greek comrades taking into account “the large number of solidarity initiatives that are emerging in Greece and the lack of information or effective communication among them”. Emma -member of the Citizen Debt Audit Platform (PACD) in Spain-, who follows closely the evolution of grassroots initiatives in Greece, sees the festival as an opportunity to “make contact again and learn about their developments, meet new initiatives and build something together, learning from our collaboration”. Photis -member of the Spithari-Waking Life project- agrees: “I think that the festival is a great opportunity to meet and further cooperate among several initiatives of self-management. I feel that cooperation with our Spanish comrades is excellent and their contribution to the organisation of the Festival is extremely valuable”.
Most of the members of the Festival’s coordination team, all of them members of grassroots projects and citizen initiatives, have made their first contact on the squares. “Syntagma Square was a great “street university”, where we learnt a lot mostly by practice: solidarity, reciprocity, respect using direct democracy processes were some of the “disciplines” that everybody had in one or another way to “study”. But its most important legacy is the hub of human relationships that has been created. Even if some of us got to know each other through the festival assembly, what unites us is the Square” admits Kat, member of the Athens Time Bank-Syntagma Square and continues: “we have though still a lot to learn as far as radical management is concerned and this is the purpose of the Festival this year”.
As a result, this year the Festival hosted for the first time European projects such as Cooperativa Integral Catalana, Can Masdeu, LA PAH, Incredible Edible, Brixton Pound, RIPESS, Fair.Coop or Fralib, among others. The discussions covered various thematic threads such as self-management, self-sufficiency, commoning and commons, alternative currencies, exchange networks, eco-communities, social clinics and social kitchens, resource allocation, sustainability and social participation, giving the opportunity to Greek and European projects and initiatives to exchange experiences, knowledge and know-how, share common struggles and initiate common actions. The various discussions and workshops were organised using participatory tools and methods in order to foster two-way communication and feedback among participants, visitors and organisers with the objective of spreading the ideas and the philosophy of solidarity and cooperative economy to larger groups of society.
 Festival4sce Press Release 2013.
 This project -called Metropolitan Park of Helliniko and included in the 50 bn euro privatisations programme- refers to a huge project of the Greek government for the exploitation and development of the 6,204 acre site of the former airport at Helliniko and the nearby coast of Agios Kosmas. Just as in most cases of high value rural development projects, this project is planned to be assigned for 99 years for exploitation to Lamda Development S.A., subsidiary of Latsis Group of Companies, owned by one of the richest businessmen tycoons in Greece and worldwide, ranked 83th on Forbes's 2013 World's Billionaire's list. Lamda Development intends to construct a huge consumption centre including shopping malls, a casino, hotels, luxurious accommodations and infrastructure to serve the nearby golf course. A ‘park’ is planned to be constructed as an ornament of the entire investment. The project has met the opposition of citizens and residents of surrounding suburbs, as well as local authorities, who claim the protection of one of the last urban green spaces in Athens and the creation of a park in the entire area with minimum human intervention, free access to everyone and open to public use. Government’s argumentation for the need of public revenues is highly criticised by opposed parties, including Mayors of surrounding Municipalities as it is doubted that the State will actually benefit from this investment. More info and signatures collection against the investment here.