The purpose of this blog is to provide analytical commentary on formal and informal labour organisations and their attempts to resist ever more brutal forms of exploitation in today’s neo-liberal, global capitalism.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Mobilising through Solidarity: the social clinic in Drama and the refugee crisis.

While the Syriza government had to submit to the dictate of the European Union in July 2015, the concrete resistance against austerity has continued unabated on the ground in Greece. In this blog post I will discuss the experiences of the social clinic Solidarity Community Clinic – Pharmacy of Drama (KIFA) in Drama and its recent efforts at helping refugees living in a camp close to town. I will draw on experiences and discussions with activists from a recent visit to this city in Northern Greece.

Solidarity as a basis for resistance

Since its establishment in 2012, the social clinic in Drama has assisted over 800 patients, who would have otherwise been unable to access medical health services. This was in direct response to severe austerity policies, which had pushed people outside the public health system. The clinic, located in the centre of town, consists of a small reception area, a room for consultations with the doctor as well as another room storing large amounts of medication donated by the wider public. All staff from the receptionists to the doctors are volunteers. In addition to the general practitioners present at the clinic, specialist doctors are at stand-by having agreed to treat a certain number of patients per month free of charge.

Social Clinic, Drama - Photo by Cecilia Goria

And yet, as Angelos one of the activists made clear, providing medical services and handing out medicine is not the main objective. Ultimately, the social clinic is a deeply political project with an emphasis on mobilising against austerity through solidarity. Its task is to organise resistance to the government and system, which is responsible for the situation.

The hopes in Syriza have vanished since the imposition of yet another bailout agreement in July 2015. The party has never been as far on the left, as it was perceived by foreign commentators, I was told. In its move towards the majority party in Greek parliamentary politics, it had to make many alliances with groups in the centre of politics. While poorer people find it now easier to access doctors and hospitals thanks to Syriza, the costs for medication has gone up. In short, on balance, there have been no major improvements. Activists in the social clinic, while disappointed, were not completely surprised.

Solidarity and the refugee crisis

More recently, the attention of the social clinic has turned towards the ca. 450 refugees housed in an abandoned factory building outside Drama. The situation in the camp is difficult. Many different people are brought together in a confined space. There is basic provision of water, food and shelter, but people are haunted by general uncertainty about their future. Many want to move to Germany and other countries in Northern Europe, but the Northern borders of Greece with Macedonia have now been closed.

Refugee camp, Drama - Photo by Cecilia Goria

It is in this situation of hopelessness that members of the social clinic provide assistance and solidarity. Food and clothes supplies are organised, as are language classes in Greek, English and German for children as well as adults. During my days in drama, activists organised an open air concert for refugees and local citizens alike. Solidarity with refugees is not automatic. In Greece too as elsewhere in Europe, there are people questioning why they should share their already scarce resources with newcomers.

Refugee camp, Drama - Photo by Social Clinic

And yet, the refugee crisis is nothing new, nothing unknown to people in Northern Greece. The grandparents of many of Drama’s citizens today have been refugees themselves as part of the large exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece in 1923, when around 1.3 million Anatolian Greeks and 500,000 Muslims in Greece were forced to leave their homeland. This history is still remembered. Dances of local groups are predominantly from an area around the Black Sea, where many Greek people used to live in the past. As Dimitra, one of the activists told us, ‘the refugees show us our past and the fate of our grandparents, but perhaps also our future. What has happened to these people from Syria, unimaginable several years ago, could happen to us in the future too’.

Refugee camp, Drama - Photo by Social Clinic

Both initiatives the social clinic and providing assistance to refugees are driven by solidarity. ‘Solidarity that, contrary to charity, respects and empathizes with the Other. Solidarity that, instead of showing off in the news, is working silently and persistently. Solidarity that, rather than presenting the human face of barbarism, is deeply conscious about the reasons behind immigrants’ and refugees’ existence and is struggling against them’ (Utopia 500). Importantly, solidarity is always the result of joint struggles, ‘the result of active struggle to construct the universal on the basis of particulars/differences’ (Mohanty 2003: 7). Solidarity ‘is expressed in a willingness to stand up for each other and fight together’ (Lindberg, 2014: 136).

Refugee camp, Drama - Photo by Social Clinic

It is the collective activities of social clinic activists together with Greek people thrown into poverty as well as Syrian refugees, in which this solidarity is forged. While people across the EU agonise over whether to help refugees and admit them or not, the people of Drama show us the way forward based on solidarity. 

Prof. Andreas Bieler

Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website:

8 May 2016

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