(27-31 May 2009)

a report from thessaloniki

As decided at the general assembly of the participants at the 3rd Balkan Anarchist Bookfair in Sofia, the 4th Balkan Anarchist Bookfair was held in Greece. Below is a short report of the first two days in Thessaloniki, where the bookfair was a self-standing event at a public square. (In Athens the bookfair was hosted by the B-Fest, a huge international festival organized by Babylonia newspaper – a report on the bookfair there would be very welcome!)

Wednesday 27th June

18:30, Kamara
More than 30 comrades from Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Poland (some of which had participated at the Occupied Rector’s Office in Thessaloniki meeting two months ago –report), as well as visitors from the States, Australia, and Holland joined Greeks, Turks, Afghanis and Albanians in a propaganda action held in front of the arch of Galerius in Thessaloniki (“Kamara”), protesting the violent arrest of 46 refugees in Athens a few days earlier. The arrests included injured protesters and had followed a huge demo by mainly refugees and immigrants in the centre of Athens, sparked off after a Greek policeman had torn two pages of the Q’uran he’d found in the pockets of one of them during a questioning. The State, as well as the central Muslim organization, tried hard to emphasize the apparently “religious” background of the protest demo in order to downplay the severe injustices, violence and death suffered by immigrants and refugees here. The propaganda action in Thessaloniki, just a few hundred meters from the square where the bookfair was being held, was co-organized by the Antiracist Initiative and the Group of Immigrants and Refugees (whose leaflet on the event can be read here: http://clandestinenglish.wordpress.com)

20:00, Rotunda square
The seasoned London East End anti-fascist anarchist Martin Lux, author of Anti-fascist , stressed the class-based character of British society and its century-long deep divides, talked of the open civil war within the working class that broke out in 1970s London, where white, black and Asian youths fought the fascist groups of the NF and the BNP, preparing the grounds for the 1981 and 1984 uprisings in Brixton and Toxteth. He believes Britain today is facing an unprecedented social crisis and can see new riots underway. Martin concluded: “If the crisis is going to lead to a new civil war, we are ready to fight it!”
A veteran of the Bulgarian revolutionary movement and author of File No 1218 Alexander (Sasho) Metodiev Nakov referred to the long history of the Bulgarian Anarchist Movement since the 1920s: the formation of the anarchist guerilla against the coup in 1923 and the antifascist struggle after 1938, his own incarceration, his escape, his 1948 arrest by the communists and his five years at the Belene “work camps” of the repressive Stalinist regime which had outlawed anarchism, and finally the revival of the Anarchist Federation after 1990. In a moving turn of phrase, he said: “I am 90 years old, and not for a single moment in my life have I ever considered leaving the movement”.
After a short discussion with comrade Sasho, the evening continued with traditional Ottoman music by the 5-member ‘Borderline’ band, who later gave an interview to Bulgarian comrades, followed by an acoustic anthology of protest classics ranging from A Las Barricadas to Nicolas Asimos’ No Matter How Hard They Hit Us by the ‘Vagabonds’.

Thursday, 28th June

19:00, Kamara
After joining a demo with another 300+ people called by the Initiative Against the New Repressive Measures, an initiative formed recently by anarchist and leftist students and activists targetting the wave of repression after the December riots, (from the arrests and excessive charges against protesters to the specific measures that outlaw e.g. wearing face-cover publicly), participants arrived at the already lively venue of the bookfair for a discussion entitled “From the Balkans of exploitation and nationalism to the Balkans of solidarity and struggle”.

20:30, Rotunda square
Loukis Hassiotis offered an overview of the dialectics of the national and the social question in Balkan federalist ideas from the 19th to the 20th century, as well as the positions of socialists and anarchists (read full text here). Spyros Marchetos after him proposed a political analysis of the current situation and a perspective for radical movements. He suggested, using Wallerstein’s concept of “bifurcation”, we see today’s profound crisis of the capitalist system (beginning in the last two years or even in 1989) as leading to either the intensification of authoritarianism, repression and fascism worldwide, or towards a more socially equal and ecologically sensitive understanding of society. This, he insisted, is the time to take sides. One can neither cling to the sectarianisms of the past, nor remain cynically neutral and passive. It is the radical movements’ duty, the duty of the left and the anarchists, to reinvent broad alliances and collective strategies.
Andrej Grubačić continued on the same note, stating that today’s depression (rather than mere recession) calls for a radical rethinking of the concept of solidarity. Solidarity should be created through common struggle, not constructed on the basis of common ideology. To highlight the point, he elaborated on the example of one of the longest prison rebellions in US history, the 11-day rebellion at Lucasville, South Ohio in 1993. When the police invaded the prison to crash the revolt, they saw a huge banner saying “No Whites, No Blacks, Just Blue [the colour of the prisoners’ uniform]”, despite the fact that in that high-security and death-row prison all inmates were organized either in Sunni muslim groups, or in the “black gangstas” or in the “Aryan brotherhood”. The common struggle against the common enemy, the prison system, had brought the prisoners together. Grubasic then referred to a group of anarchists providing effective help and solidarity to workers at the occupied factories in Voivodina in the early 2000s. The workers might have been culturally conservative and ideologically very distant to anatiauthoritarian ideals, yet they were a considerable force against neoliberal privatization. (In the discussion later, he was given the opportunity to confirm that the idea of broad collective movements does not include collaborating with States and multinationals…)

Nostalgic and wild Balkan tunes by ‘Yarim Baildsa Kokorec’ and a long, more-than satisfying oriental jazz set by the ‘Ensemble Minoria Grande’, a 7-piece band formed especially for the occasion of the Bookfair, again provided a perfect and neighborhood-friendly accompaniment to the post-panel chats and discussions.

The bookfair brought together publishers of books, mags and brochures from Greece, from Bulgaria (the largest foreign section), Slovenia, Croatia (and the Kate Sharpley Library in London!) and, though the exhibition / vending space was quite limited in size, it went extremely well, since it sold political literature beyond all expectations and aroused great interest in focused visitors and hundreds of passers-by alike. Most expenses for the bookfair (including the soundsystem, the posters and the banners) were covered by income from the books sold rather than the bar and grill - to our pleasant surprise.

A note on the place
Thessaloniki is a student town with too many bars and cafes, a tragically severe traffic problem, and pollution way beyond most European city standards. Entertainment and use of the public environment are extremely commercialized, but on the other hand, in the last decade there have been considerable moves to reclaim public spaces. Now some local initiatives (a legacy of the December riots) are expanding this principle beyond the broader centre of the town. In any case our guests told us they had plenty of time to visit the squats and social centres.
The Rotunda square was chosen for the bookfair as a lively, friendly, yet hitherto not much used place, relatively protected from the din of the cars. It is frequented by neighborhood children and -at certain times during the year- filled with the often annoying noise of football finals coming out of large TV screens in nearby cafeterias. The cafeteria owner realized we would not tolerate the sound for the two days we were occupying the square. On both evenings, our interaction with the children was quite straightforward: On Thursday, we couldn’t have them scream and pass the ball while old comrade Nakov was speaking. They understood. On the second day (when one of them said: “this is our park, you can’t drive us out!...) it somehow happened that the discussion and the ball-playing rolled quite naturally side by side, with mutual respect, despite a light shower that for a moment seemed to threaten both parties…

Text: Lia
Photos: Lubo, Dimitra, Lia
With comments + feedback from: Andrej G, Lubo, Nikos