Athens: Closure of City Plaza

39 months City Plaza: Completing a cycle, beginning a new one [machine translation from Greek]

Today, July 10, 2019, the keys to the occupied City Plaza Hotel were handed over to the former hotel workers who own mobile equipment. All the refugees who lived at City Plaza have been transferred to secure accommodation on the urban fabric.

On 22 April 2016, the Solidarity Initiative on Economic and Political Refugees captured the empty building of the City Plaza Hotel with a double objective: to create a safe and decent accommodation for refugees in the center of the city, and to fight against racism, and exclusion. For freedom of movement and the right to stay.

The decision to take possession took place at a very specific political juncture. On 18 March 2016, one month before the seizure, the Euro-Turkish Agreement on the limitation of refugee travel to Europe was signed. It was the agreement that sealed the end of the “summer of immigration” of the period that began in July 2015, when under the pressure of about one million people “opened” the borders of Europe. It was the deal that turned the Aegean islands into idyllic prisons for immigrants and turned the continental Greece into a place of encroachment for over 60,000 people. The Government of Syria, following its submission to the neoliberal management of the economic crisis, undertook the implementation of a policy of controlling, deterring and discouraging immigration. With Frontex and NATO patrolling the Aegean Sea, with detention centers like Moria on the islands, camps in miserable conditions are the only refugee policy in the hinterland, criminalizing solidarity and the struggle of refugees. At that time the problem of housing was imperative. The refugees who had arrived in Athens either were homeless or found shelter in miserable conditions at the campus of Elliniko, Malakasa or in the Piraeus harbor camp, while on the streets and squares of the city hundreds of people slept in scenes or cartons.

This treaty initiated a discussion at the Assemblies of the Solidarity Initiative on Economic and Political Refugees which led to the decision to seize City Plaza, a seven-year closed hotel in Acharnes. This decision had enough elements of volunteering and could not be justified by the forces we had and the Treaty of the Competitive Movement at that time. But it was a move that corresponded to the political conjuncture and to the grandiose struggle of the refugees, who had opened the frontiers of Europe-Fortress in the previous months and won the right to move. It also corresponded to the massive and spontaneous social solidarity movement that developed along the migratory route.

The City Plaza example of decent housing, a social space of solidarity and cooperation between locals and immigrants.

From the outset City Plaza was organized around two main goals:

to create a safe and decent housing environment for immigrants in the center of the city, a place of solidarity and cooperation between local and immigrant people.

to function as a center of struggle in which the political and social demands of immigrants / residents and locals will be intertwined and complemented.

CP has proved in practice that the state’s “hospitality” policy of refugees is a mixture of cruelty, incompetence and feasibility. Where the solidarity movement, without mechanisms, without any funding from official bodies, without “specialists” and employees, managed to establish one of the best dwellings in the city center, the state continued to go with the encampment of refugees in temporary settlements and scenes in the mainland and the imposition of a system of exclusion of rights, encroaching on appeals, on hot spots on the islands under the shadow of deportation.

This opposition was the crucial element that inspired and led to the massive support of the CP at the beginning of its operation by fighters, organizations / collectives of the left and society as well as by a human being that was initially active in the kinematic way of it. Of course, due to the ownership of the hotel, there were also no “leftist” attacks, which, in full conspiracy with the owner’s narrative and attached to the petty bourgeois rhetoric about the “supreme human right to property,” came to spoil the project, disseminating conspiracy theories (from “getting them” from Soros, Syriza, the German State to moving drugs, weapons, trading in children and prostitution), slandering collectivity and competing participating countries.

City Plaza has in fact proved that refugees and locals can live together when solidarity, struggle and community dominate instead of isolation, punishment and hatred. So in the opposite of the camp outside the urban centers and under miserable conditions, the CP in a neighborhood difficult for the movement, sometimes the neo-Nazi bastion, managed to establish exemplary relations with a large part of the neighborhood’s people and give the former dark the corner of Acharnon and Kathivanos, the security features that are really needed underneath: the safety of dignified survival, the community, the affection and the liveliness of people fighting for life unselfishly their.

At the same time, dozens of solidarity from around the world supported the project. With daily presence, participating in shifts, with a positive attitude and organizing a major international campaign for financial support for the venture. Dozens of pallets of food and essentials have been sent to the Plaza, thousands of people and collectives have donated to support the project, relying solely on these donations for its survival.

At the same time, the City Plaza functioned as a race center. With the aim of internationally reporting the anti-refugee policy of the Syrian-Alder Government and the EU, issues such as institutional responsibility for shipwrecks with loss of life, neglect or obstruction of rescue at sea, the practice of illegal returns in Evros and the Aegean, the Hot Spot encapsulation conditions. At City Plaza there were dozens of open debates on border status, racism, the fight for rights, often with well-known intellectuals from around the world such as Judith Butler, Angela Davis, David Harvey, Alain Badiou, Sandro Mezzandra, etc. The aim was not only to highlight issues related to immigration struggles but also to connect with the local struggles. On May 1st, Polytechnic, in the anti-fascist and feminist demonstrations, the City Plaza block was present for three years.

The City Plaza community: Practices, Rights, Collaboration.

The answer to the question of what City Plaza is aware of in the thousands of people who have passed through its doors: CP is an undertaking to realize a daily life concept that aims at emancipating the “underneath” in the creation of an area of ​​freedom, which actually implements a side of the society we are envisioning.

As a mode of operation, it expressed a policy of everyday life that is in contradiction with the model of migration management and especially its “NGO”. At the heart of the voluntary contribution of time, power and sentiment, there was no provision of “services” to “vulnerable” but the effort to combat insecurity and fear, empowerment and confidence building and trust in collectivity. Assistance to refugees has been re-politicized – it has become a common struggle. As a priority, elements of self-organization, shared responsibility and decision were put forward, as well as a constant reflection of the multiple inequalities that permeate the relations within the project: locality, class, gender, language, education,

Despite the inherent contradictions and difficulties, the collective experience of the organization of everyday life has been the foundation of building a solid and strong community. At the same time, in this context and in contrast to dominant victimization representations, refugees / migrants emerged as dynamic subjects with an active role in social and political life.

The daily routine of the CP was based on the principle of participatory organization and collective decision-making and operation processes, extremely complex processes when implemented in a community of 350 people speaking different languages, different ethnic, class, social origins and different plans for the future. Regular co-ordination became the area where issues of operation and organization were discussed horizontally, and House Assemblies constituted – in the first instance – a real lesson on how we can and should discuss, operate and co-implement refugees and locals / . The organization of the inhabitants and the solidarity in working groups was a constituent element for the organization of the enterprise but, moreover, the necessary basis for the development of personal and political relations between us. The groups that have worked are: Reception, Education, Child, Doctor, Kitchen, Security, Finance, Cleaning, Communication and a self-managed Women’s Area.

Over 36 months in City Plaza, over 2,500 immigrants from 13 different countries were hosted. Of the 126 hotel rooms, about 100 housed 350 immigrants per period, while the remaining 26 were either common areas (classrooms, women’s quarters, storage areas), or the housing of solidarity from all over the world. It was also a political choice for City Plaza not to be a “refugee” shelter, but a place of cohabitation and common everyday life.

We will not provide statistics that speak of countries of origin, ages or “vulnerable” cases. On the contrary, we will quote “statistics” about the huge resources that the competitive movement has managed to mobilize to keep City Plaza:

812,250 hot meals were prepared by the kitchen team.

74,500 man-hours for shifts

28,630 hours of shifts at the reception

5,100 hours of language teaching and creative employment activities

69,050 health papers

However, the most important of what happened can not be measured. They have to do with human relations, with reciprocity and solidarity, with feelings and experiences, with the optimism that is born through the common struggle.

The end of a race cycle, the beginning of a new one

The requirements of such an exercise are very large in resources and forces. It is not a political occupation or a hangout that can be closed for two days or in August without any issues. It is a place that requires daily commitment, responsibility and presence. Besides, in our own logic, self-organization does not contain any automation. On the contrary, it means many hours of work for the organization, often endless co-decision procedures and countless difficulties. In other words, self-organization and solidarity are not theory. It is an act here and now. An act full of contradictions and problems of life. In a society that authoritarianism, war, capitalism, and antagonism among the subordinates are regular, while multiple divisions and hierarchies permeate us all because of their origin, sex and class origin, self-organization is not a slogan. It’s a fight.

Unfortunately, as in many self-organized ventures, enthusiasm, commitment and participation are declining over time – especially in a so demanding treaty. The fact that the overwhelming percentage of City Plaza residents is a transit makes it impossible for the occupation of occupation to pass through the occupation exclusively or primarily to the refugees as most of them, sooner or later, are leaving for Europe. At the same time, the physical resources needed for a project of this magnitude – for food, sanitation, medicine, maintenance of the building – are becoming more and more difficult even though groups of solidarity and comrades from all over Europe have shown a great deal of commitment.

Starting from the above, shortly before its 2 years of operation and after calls to collectives and venues that supported the project since the beginning of its operation opened a difficult and controversial discussion on how long it can last or whether and how it will change with we did not want the project to decline. It was a dilemma whether we would move towards a “normalization / legitimization” of occupation, or move towards the completion of the venture while seeking new ways of continuing the life of the community that was built in another context.

The first direction was considered politically undesirable as it conflicts with the character of City Plaza as a political alternative to NGOs and leads to the elimination of the issue of safe housing from collective struggles and the assertion of rights as a whole.

We concluded that although it is a difficult choice, City Plaza is right for us to close the way it started and worked: as a political project, preserving the central element that made it exemplary, ie the bottom organization, the safe and dignified living, struggle community, mass social outreach.

At the House Assembly on May 26, 2018, this direction was decided – not without contradictions and controversies – and detailed ways of implementing such a decision were discussed. From June 2018 until now City Plaza did not accept new residents, while there was a collective commitment that the project would not be closed if decent housing was not found for all and for all its residents. This commitment was not at all simple to implement. The broader conditions for dealing with the refugee issue – both from the Syrian-Alder government and from the NGOs – did not provide institutional housing for the residents, while the other self-organized areas and occupations did not have the capacity to accommodate such a large number of refugees, despite positive support efforts.

One year on, and while the venture was in the process of closing, the expected change in the political arena and the re-election of New Democracy made it imperative within the occupation to debate the pace at which the integration process is proceeding, given that for several months refugees had gradually moved to secure accommodation. There are two prosecuting evacuation orders for the Plaza, while New Democracy high-ranking officials reported daily about “private property trespassing” and “lawlessness” in City Plaza. In this sense, the evacuation could be exemplary, and many of the refugees, especially those without stable legal status, could suffer disproportionate consequences (deportations, detention centers, etc.). If for some and some of us an evacuation from New Democracy would be a “heroic exit” for which we would not need and give political explanations, for most of the City Plaza residents would risk their already vulnerable and unstable status .

Thus, the decision to complete the closure was reaffirmed collectively by us and on our terms. For all refugees safe accommodation was found. In almost a year and a half between the closure decision and its implementation, most refugees have fled to northern Europe. Of those who stayed at City Plaza, some had the option of renting their own home, while for some who did not have such a possibility, collective solutions were found. Still through common places, as well as new housing housings and solidarity that we have already begun, as well as with the inconspicuously persistent network of almost all the people actively involved in the project (refugees and solidarity), the community will be kept after the building.

The closure of City Plaza is against the inability of the wider competitive movement to develop effective forms of organization, mobilization, and racism to meet the challenges of the era. It is a fact that many parts of the wider kinematic space have chosen different divisions, unable to actually support the project and / or to develop similar ventures, which would give new dynamics to our whole effort. This position does not shift responsibility but highlights the project as a part of a broader political and social process reflecting the ideological-political and organizational crisis within the movement, elements that we will have to confront in the next phase.

City Plaza has been an invaluable political experience for everyone involved, but it has also been a political event with a multiplicity of views of the organizations and individuals that formed it. Without any exaggeration, the CP project has been a pan-European symbol that has condensed resistance to the EU’s racist and repressive immigration regime following the closure of the border and the Euro-Turkish Accord. So much so was a powerful counterpart in a time of pessimism and desertion for the left and parallel strengthening of the far-right.

City Plaza was a big fight, like all the big fights can not be considered one-dimensional as a clear victory or defeat. It is a chapter of anti-racist and migrant struggles and at the same time a kinematic experiment, an unexpected mix of subjectivities, different needs, social-political, gender and class experiences. This encounter, like any mixture, takes a while to clarify, to settle its multiple experiences, and to leave their sediment to our individual and collective consciousness.In the subsoil, new resistances, struggles and human, collaborative and solidarity relationships will emerge – in Athens and dozens of cities that reach and reach the City Plaza residents, but also in everyday struggles against the barbarism of racism and repression policies.

City Plaza’s collectivity was initially aware of its controversial constitution. The alternative he brought could only be incomplete, depending on the conjuncture in which he was born, and on the subjective potential of the movement and its people, their minds, their hearts and their bodies. But also limited, as any claim to rights and equal participation, impinging on the power of capitalist exploitation, the imposition and reproduction of nationalist, racist and gendered hierarchies and divisions.

City Plaza was a link in a racing chain for social liberation. A struggle special as it started from the small and everyday, how to cook the food and clean the building until resistance to the border regime and multiple discrimination. For those who participated in the project, CP was an experience of redefining and reflecting on political thought and practice, power relations, everyday life, cohabitation and terms, self-organization and contradictions. We say goodbye to the Plaza with a promise: to transfer this rich experience, to continue to enrich and broaden the ways and places of the common struggle.

Machione translated from statement in Greek on solidarity2refugees