THE WAY WE SAW IT… AND THE LESSON’S LEARNT FOR THE FUTURE
What would someone- landed with a parachute in the middle of Hania- -see and understand, during those days of hunger strike? There is no such thing as a “typical day of a hunger strike”, cause, during a struggle like that, every single moment is unique and exceptional. Could someone perceive it as exceptional, or this is something that has to do only with the “participants”? If so, how can a fight like this be useful? Is it an action that raises sympathy and solidarity without second thoughts? Is there a “lesson” to be learnt here, since we are not permitted, in any way, to perceive it as an example?
We do believe there is a “lesson”. In fact, if there is a reason for us to hold a gathering action like the one today, it is exactly what we perceive as “lesson”. Because we’ve managed a crack upon the Fortress, but haven’t wrecked it yet…
Politics exists in everything, or solidarity wouldn’t wreck fortresses ; struggles wouldn’t achieve their goals. One more struggle; this is how we saw that hunger strike. One more political decision. A cold-blood, calculated action which had to be done. And it really happened where it was just possible to happen: in Hania, by those who were able to act and support. Unfavourable was only timing-but then, again, do such struggles really obey time schedules?
In Greece, going on hunger strike is considered to be the last resort. Those in the procedure never saw it that way. It was the beginning of a counter-attack. It was a way just to make others see and realize what “living illegally, having survived through mine fields and seas” means. Their target was to make themselves visible by everybody. Not only by those who Greeks who show solidarity and could see and understand anyway. By the whole society. Then, a new way out would open for them. And it really did. That was the very aim and the very meaning of their struggle.
The whole story began 2 months before the 11th of November, 2008. The most active group of immigrants in Hania, Maghreb-Arabi, were upset, having been through a very “hot” summer, participating in impressive demonstrations on one hand, facing attacks on the streets, on the other. Until then, they were the majority of Cretan Forum of Immigrants (CFI). They wanted to act back in a way that would trigger changes. Most of them had arrived in Greece long before and had the feeling that they should better fight on behalf of everybody, for all essential elements in a human’s life – freedom, perspective, health, life itself -, instead of just step back and wait for an individual solution to their problems, because their problems were not individual. They decided: let’s go on hunger strike.
They announced their ultimatum to Cretan Forum of Immigrants and we all agreed to help in organizing it, as we did during all past months through every action decided in CFI’s assemblies, always based on Forum’s collective efforts for self-organising. Forum’s main responsibility was to inform every other solidarity group in town and make clear that the subject was all about duty – exactly as immigrants had perceived it. To us members of CFI, this “duty” was and still is the most important element that arose through the hunger strike of the 15 and this is why we are going to elaborate on it, later on.
After a month of discussions through assemblies where over 200 immigrants were participating, most of the time, around 50 people eagerly placed themselves in that hunger strike. Abdlghani, Abdlrhim, Said, Tarhek, Mohamed, Hassan, Hafith, Houssin, Kharhim, Mahmoud, Rashid, Abdlah, Halid, Henafaa and Ablmajid, were at the end the 15 lions, been chosen by all in the meetings. Body strength and legal state of each were the criteria. Those 15 chosen, would represent not only themselves, but all immigrants in Greece, as well as stand for the problems and torments of all.
For 26 days, the local community stood for, supported the fight and because of this, we may say that the hunger strike was successful, with regard to solidarity standards, that is. It was a harsh hunger strike based on a direct street alliance, on activists, on citizens from all over town, ignoring political stands and tendencies. All them, all us, formed the “Solidarity Initiative”.This alliance of people used every means that could help the struggle of the 15. By acting on the streets, having meetings with the authorities, occupying public service buildings, giving interviews, that alliance managed to transfer the voice of the 15 to every house in Hania, to gain the support not only from every group in town, but from almost every local authority/institution, as well. We estimate that those 26 days were the very reason that the majority of the citizens altered the image they used to have about the clandestine foreigners and their existence in our lives. A change in moods which, in a way, protected our town’s people from the institutional, social, racist, fear of strangers epidemic, which spread the summer that followed across Greece.
Unfortunately, all these supporters, us all, immigrants and Greeks, didn’t manage to awaken solidarity all over Greece, especially to those close to our claims. Back then, we reached an explanation concerning this failure: improper preparation, bad timing- because, in the meantime, a mass hunger strike was ahead, in prisons, all over country-, the Athens-centered mentality and function of the movement as a whole. Even worse, us, the Solidarity Initiative, didn’t manage to communicate the very meaning of “duty” to everybody throughout Greece.
Now is the right time to refer to what was the incentive which managed to bring together a direct social force/movement with the institutional and political parts of this country and gain a successful result; what was the incentive for us all to give our hearts and souls, everything in our hands, so as not to let down the 15 and all immigrants, to leave aside everything that divides and alienates us and become a really strong street alliance. We demanded, on behalf of the 15, that we should all stand beside them and did so, as a thing of duty. In other words, we gathered and self-organized, we were exposed to institutional suppression and to social criticism, we demanded that we should all make a step beyond verbal support to immigrants. Based on our own faith and power, we attempted something more: a procedure through which the one (the immigrant) would make the other (the ones in solidarity) assume his/her responsibility. This responsibility to surpass every difference that keepsmovements divided and to beat fear and second thoughts that normally exist deep inside, especially when, in this case, all claims seemed to be irrational, because of their wide range.
This sense of real duty, the fact that the “subject” of the movement, the immigrant, would make the movement face its responsibilities, did a lot to clear up things. The question was there from the beginning: the 15 going on with their hunger were keeping us united and determined to support them till the end, or was it the other way round? Us, being determined to continue fighting, demonstrating, protesting, releasing street assemblies, were forcing the 15 to keep on hunger striking? There were times that this dilemma seemed like an blackmail. It surely took too much strength to get out of this. After all, it was all about a decision exclusively taken by the 15 and this was that kept the solidarity movement united and determined to continue, till success.
6th of December, 26 days passed. A few hours before Alexis Grigoropoulos was murdered, the Ministry of Internal Affairs came out with a legal bound, concerning the 15. Just before this, some activists hopelessly attempted to occupy a public services building, out of the fact that there was no essential support from solidarity movements from Athens, after all these days. Aware of this reality, the 15 decided to accept the minister’s arrangement, though they hadn’t succeed in their extended goal, concerning their demands about thousands of immigrants without legal existence, all over Greece.
Nevertheless, that legal arrangement gave the opportunity to over 150 more immigrants to live under the sun legally, to escape humiliation, “scoupa” operations and deportation. This is what we call a crack to the Fortress, in fact, a deep one. Moreover, those 15 and all us who fought outside their tents are proud because that struggle based on all mentioned above, has proven that:
immigrants themselves have to lead the migrants’ movement under self-organisation, whatever this means for natives’ attitudes and responsibilities.
immigrant struggles can be assertive of justice, not only protesting against injustice
immigrant struggles can be aggressive rather than offensive.
immigrant struggles can stand being unmediated, self-organised, away from political parties and their clients.
and crucially immigrant struggles can be victorious.
More to the point, the 15 hunger strikers have proven that the above is the only way to succeed. This realization is their legacy to all struggles to come, to the future of anti-racist, immigrants movement.