The Boston Liberation Health Group was extremely fortunate to be able to host Dr. Dora Teloni from Greek SWAN to speak about the solidarity movement in Greece. Dr. Teloni is a social worker and researcher who teaches at the Technological Educational Institute of Athens, in the Social Work department. Dr. Teloni has participated and organized in the solidarity movement from its inception.
Presentations were held at Boston University School of Social Work, Encuentro 5 and City Life / Vida Urbana on November 3-5, 2015. We are extremely grateful to be able to offer this report back and ask that all Liberation Health practitioners find a way to support the movement.
The Economic Crisis
Greece has long been the subject of brutal austerity measures imposed by Troika, a conglomeration of the European Commission (Eurogroup), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB). These measures have led to widespread suffering across the country. Following the market collapse in the United States, which was spurned in large part by the subprime mortgage collapse in 2007-2008, Europe experienced a shockwave of similar market crises that left many countries on the brink of economic collapse. The Greek government was forced to accept financial assistance from Troika. In 2010 and largely by design, it became increasingly clear that the debt incurred by the Greek government vastly exceeded Greece’s ability to pay back the loan, with Greece nearly filing for bankruptcy. Austerity measures imposed by Troika effectively shuttered funding for public services, including universities and hospitals. According to Dr. Teloni, 3,000,000 people were forced out of the Greek social (health) insurance program. With 3 million uninsured Greeks and a total population of 11 million, the country was without a social safety net.
According to Dr. Teloni, as much as 30% of the population was living in poverty, with as much as 50-60% youth unemployment. Research indicates that the national suicide rate increased as much as 40% in one year. Dr. Teloni reports, “in the movement, we do not call them suicides. We call them ‘political murders’.”
This humanitarian crisis was left unaddressed by the rest of the world and up to the people of Greece to find a solution.
The Solidarity Movement
The solidarity movement in Greece grew out of the idea that everyone is in the struggle together. Opportunities were created to help Greek people support one another directly through acts of mutual aid. Solidarity kitchens sprang up to allow Greek people to share food with one another and clothing exchanges were created. To support this movement doctors, nurses, social workers and psychologists worked alongside hundreds of other people to form free clinics. Ultimately, Greek solidarity clinics became a model of mutual struggle, with many professionals working 10-12 hours a day and then taking evening shifts to staff the clinics for free. Many such professionals went unpaid completely, as shuttered services couldn’t afford to pay workers. Refusing to let people die, doctors and healthcare providers worked on.
“The Solidarity movement is not about charity. It is about the belief that tomorrow, you could be in the same shoes as the person in front of you.”
This knowledge that everyone’s struggle is connected, Dr. Teloni shares, has allowed for a restoration of dignity to happen during the provision of services. Rather than promoting a distant relationship between providers and service users, the Solidarity clinics include service users directly, allowing people to become involved in the collective struggle. Dr. Teloni reports that while the city remains somber and uptight, laughter and joy remain common in the solidarity clinics despite the hardship.
The EU Migrant Crisis
With the incessant invasion and destabilization of North and West Africa by the United States, the European Union experienced an unparalleled influx of migrant refugees seeking to escape civil war, bombing and poverty. Uniquely positioned geographically to bridge Africa and Europe, Greece has experienced the highest rate of receivership. Due to draconian anti-immigration laws, Greece has become the holding cell for migrants since the crisis began, with little help from the EU. In conjunction with the already brutal austerity climate in Greece, the Solidarity movement set out to provide support to refugees as they poured into the country. The movement has also been forced to mobilize against fascists and the far Right, as groups like Golden Dawn have targeted immigrants and refugees in acts of racist violence.
The solidarity movement continues to press on in Greece. Dr. Teloni reports that services have included: free medical care and psychological services, legal support and advice, free shelter and housing, clothing, and immigration support, including classes in Greek. Solidarity clinics have become so effective at harnessing the power of the people, that Dr. Teloni reports that hospitals have at times referred patients to the Clinic pharmacies, stocked with the overflow and surplus drugs collected from people’s homes.
Fearing corruption, clinics accept donations only carefully and sparingly, and with the condition that no donors’ names will be published. Thus far, Dr. Teloni shared with audience members that this has allowed the movement to remain a movement by the people, and avoid co-optation.
This is not to say that those who work in the Movement do not do so at great cost: they risk serious sanctions or worse for these continued acts of civil disobedience. As in the United States, it is illegal in Greece to transfer ownership of medicines from patient to patient, and it remains illegal to transport migrants without authorized visas throughout the EU. Legal sanctions aside, workers at the solidarity clinics do so at personal expense of time and energy, putting their lives on hold to support the cause and working extraordinary hours for little or no pay, only to do the same during a second shift at the clinics. While social workers around the world should take note of Greece and recognize the example set by the Greek people, we should also recognize that the situation in Greece is a humanitarian crisis that needs to be addressed immediately and by more than the EU.
Speaking to audience members at CLVU, Dr. Teloni shared that it is a common sentiment in Greece what is causing the massive influx of immigrants: wherever the United States is at war, these are the people that come to Greek shores risking their lives in rafts and boats. It is up to social workers and activists in the United States to place concerted pressure on the administration to stop this endless campaign.
For more information on the Solidarity movement and continued updates, please see the Greek SWAN website. Also see:
Ioakimidis, V. & Teloni, D. (2013). Greek social work and the never-ending crisis of the welfare state. Critical and Radical Social Work 1(1): 31-49.
Teloni, D. & Mantanika, R. (2015). ‘This is a cage for migrants’: the rise of racism and the challenges for social work in the Greek context. Critical and Radical Social Work 3(2): 189-206.
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