European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Refugees 1921 - refugees 2015


           Typical street where refugees from Asia Minor settled down in Elefsina 1921


(Entry / status: 7.10.2015)

Small scale houses reflect a human scale. In detail they go a long way to reflect economy of space, but it combines as well with humbleness and even dexterity. For who could afford back then any thing larger? Or was the small scale intentionally kept at uch a low ratio in proportion to the needs of any human being and his or her family? Surely architects, historians, urban planners and anthropologists would know how space became a rare commodity especially once Greeks were evicted out of Turkey after the disaster of 1921 spread its black wings to cast a shadow over everything.


To walk through these streets especially at the end of September 2015 makes one wonder if the experiences back then, made in 1921, have created structures which could help alleviate the refugee crisis spilling over from the Middle East into Europe. 

The daily messages around that time coming especially out of Germany, but likewise out of Hungary, Austria, Croatia and Serbia make for a reading of troubled times. If Zygmunt Bauman would say as Europeans we have  become all strangers, then this would help as a prerequisite to meet openly the new strangers coming into Europe. They travel often over the Mediterranean and if they do not cross over by all kinds of boats leaving traces thereof behind in the cemetery of Lampedusa or else just as washed up dinghies on the shores of Samos, Lesvos, Kos and other Greek islands, they attempt to cross over the Bosphoros and continue their journey over land often on foot. As Benedict Anderson describes in 'Imagined Communities', it is the pilmigrage which marks the fluid borders. The latter reflect the desparate attempts by those who hold power or wish to have so hard borders. Hungary with its fence like wall to keep out refugees is proving to be as much a contradiction as those fleeing know very well they have been defeated in the most terrible, equally double way: they could not uphold a peaceful dialogue and they became unfaithful towards the house where their parents had grown up as children. The classical view of Aleppo is symbolic of many of these cities now in ruins where once rich and proud cultures flourished in a bed of diversity. Especally Syria can be singled out as having survived for so long amidst ancient ruins and temples while richness unfolded another kind of careless life since not caring about the other but only about the hair do and what to wear next for the party that evening. Life was consumed while underneath the surface injustices planted themselves alike time bombs. It makes walking in these street of Elefsina into a reflection as all the nightmare so many people have been subjugated to while all the political analysis says there is still more to come as IS manages to spread ever greater fear. It is this fear which throws so many into flight.


Anna Arvanitaki, Georgios and Kelly Diapouli on a stroll through the neighborhood


Refugee House in Elefsina

House of refugees honors the refugees by paiting their names on one house. It is a sign of memory work being done in an ongoing flux of the present. Time flows. People come and go. In a city linked to a port this is self understood. Also a city connected to industry, that is equally the case: people come because they find work in these factories, and then life is build around them. Some say this process is an agglomeration of people and things, while at the same time the absurd cannot be underlined better than a factory being build directly beside an ancient archaeological site and before long the damage of the air pollution shows itself on the marble pieces lying around on the ground. Fallen trees would be metaphorcally speaking an apt image of the neglect of nature. How then to redeem when at the same time the refugee crisis is hitting Europe at a time when the member states are no longer in accord with one another, and this kind of disarray continues with Greece struggling to stay on its feet like a boxer who has been hit not just once but several times by also blows way below the belt.

5 October 2015

"Η Αυγή για τη δράση του Βαγγέλη Γκίνη "Project Home".
Avgi Sunday newspaper made an extensive presentation of "Project Home: a home for all refugees", a project that took place in the Refugee's neighbourhood of Eleusis, conveived and initiated by the local photographer Vangelis Ginis."






The threshold - a sign of welcome


Partly the project reflects what happened to refugees in the past, but by undertaking the action in the present, it honours all those who make their way from non European places through Greece to other European member states. Significant is the welcome sign on the threshold just as Germany altered the European agenda by opening everything from train stations to sport halls so as to accommodate the newcomers: refugees from Syria, but as well from many other countries hit by war and a fear that the invisible violence will get still far worse then what has been the case until 2015. Now that Russia has entered the war with full force to demonstrate strength, it matters how this flying of  bombing missions or else shooting rockets from war ships will come across. If meant as demonstration of strength, the underbelly is surely the flood of migrants who can extend the 'demographic warfare' (Enzensberger, 'Civil War'), but also the futility of war if designed only to test new weapon systems in real situatons. That daunting task of military planners has always been the abyss for peace efforts.

The real daunting task is to stop this proxy war. It seems Russia imittes and follows the example of the USA which designed war as having to be fought on foreign territory rather than at home, while using the opportunity to test its weapon systems. Everyone knows once tested, that system can be sold at a higher prize on the arms market. The deal is on or off depending on the success rate defined in numerous, equally dubious terms.

If culture is to alter this absurd measure of success, and implied are the number of people killed at one swipe, then Sarajevo may set an example of not having succumbed even in the darkest hours to a denial of the importance of culture. Theatrical plays took place in half ruined buildings with those sitting in the audience risking their own lives since they could be killed by a sniper hovering in the distance. The cowardice of such an act cannot be described in words. Equally the old method of instigating dialogue has clearly failed. There is needed not a battle cry in the name of peace but instigating war instead, and in reality, but rather what Klaus Heinrich has described as the difficulty to say 'no' to violence and to vicious acts. Even if designed to be punitive, they lack a sense of justice and proportionality. That was always a dispute with Israel Defence Forces when they struck out against unarmed Palestinians and still claimed to do so with a sense of proportionality. The overkill since the development of the Atomic Bomb and its continuation as a threat after the Cold War ended has become the psychological variation thereof. Terror may be best described in those terms: minimum use of force, maximum of casualties and a message based on exaggerated fear to make the enemy run. But which enemy is really meant, that remains unclear. In the case of Russia, it is clearly the internal opposition which Putin attempts to overcome and to silence by showing what is after all a gut feeling when they say if the banks in Cyprus are closed and Russians lose money, then their state should simply bomb Cyprus. That was a sort of mouth to mouth propaganda piece. Now it has become a reality. The gut feeling reached the top commander and he surrenders willingly to such a need for a demonstration of strength. It is not all too far away of riding around on a motor cycle or else showing biceps when doing an exercise without a shirt on.

Art and artists have often enough been captive by images of war. One needs only to think of Käthe Kollwitz who was horrified by First World War and attenpted to express her horror on paper. Whether or not the same applies to refugees nowadays, certainly they are but an outcome of this horrific need for a demonstration of strength done mainly out of fear to lose power.


Poetic gifts

Stranger, you will meet yourself

in a strange world of disbeliefs,

for no one seems to understand

the sacredness of life, yet you have

to flee, run for your life, wake up

at night when you supposed to sleep,

and rest not run out of fear for your life.

Hatto Fischer





Also the poet Germain Droggenbrood publishes continuouly a poem of the week, and for the middle of October 2015 he picked a most appropriate poem which describes the situation of the refugees most apt. There is a saying in German, "manchmal genügt nur eine Andeutung und schon ist alles gesagt" or sometimes a mere hint is sufficient and already everything is said. This can be felt when reading in the poem the tampon being left on the window sill or the rain drops on the window pane.

The poem was publishe by ITHACA 403,

                                              but the days are wretched


                                                   Nadja Küchenmeister


but the days are wretched:alone

in a foreign place. few things

left behind. some tampons


on the window sill. bedcovers

folded back. the heating is

turned up. the anorak hangs


on an iron hook. raindrops trickle

down the pane, drawing dainty

rivulets of shadow on bright sheets ...


Nadja Küchenmeister (Germany )

Translation: Hans-Christian Oeser

Nadja Küchenmeister: Alle Lichter. Gedichte. Frankfurt am Main: Schöffling & Co., 2010.

© Schöffling & Co. Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, Frankfurt am Main 2010

© for the English translation:

Hans-Christian Oeser, 2015


News / European policy debate


EU to agree crack down on people refused asylum or residency

“Several Eastern European countries are cooperating on controlling the flow of migrants at the external borders of the European Union — a program a top Hungarian official said Tuesday could set an example for the rest of the 28-nation bloc.”

Source: Associated Press Oct. 7, 2015 | 12:21 p.m. EDT

Reports indicate that EU member states, prompted in part by the hard stance taken by a country like Hungary, but also due to many services being over burdened, are discussing how to implement more effectively the Schengen regulations. It is said a weak point has proven to be that even when asylum seekers have been turned down and should return to their country of origin, about 40% stay on 'illegally'.

Parallel to the debate in the United States, different political forces advocate quite radical measures even though most of the time it is forgotten that the USA has been since its founding itself a society of migrants.

It is reported in the German press, that Merkel during an one hour television appearance took a firm stand on the issue. At the same time, comments suggest her appearance together with Hollande from France in the European Parliament convening in Strasbourg has hardly made a stir.

Privately citizens in Germany begin to express worries that the refugee issue will split German society more than the debate about the Greek crisis. Politically, the Pegida movement and the surge of the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) party give rise to whether the parties of the middle can still retain their grip on power.

What a Greece can do in this crisis to alleviate the problems of refugees no longer free to move on to other European countries, but remain stranded on Greek islands or else on the mainland, is to maintain its human stance. Despite being gripped itself by a crisis due to austerity measures imposed by the Euro group, local populations along with countless volunteer groups have shown an amazing willingness to help. However, the asylum system seems not to work i.e. it takes time to work through all refugees of which many do not wish to apply as they do not wish to stay on in Greece permanently.

Unfortunately those who deal with the legal questions are often not trained in consider refugees as well at cultural level. Yet all possible resources should be used to give recognition to the refugees in terms of their cultural background. Rather than using a police file system to categorize their identity and to determine whether or not they qualify for asylum, the subjective fear factor has to be taken into account. Only then the risk to the person upon returning can be assessed realistically. It is not sufficient to declare a country as being safe when cultural determinants play a huge role in discrimination and castigation. The risks are even higher for women than men. Moreover the cultural profile should be not merely a simple categorization of what they have done already in terms of contribution to community life. Rather it will be a matter of how to link their potentials with what can be envisioned as future cultural cooperation whether they stay in Europe or else shall return home at some time in near future. Here the Archaeological Sciences and related museums are doing their best to train already young Syrians to restore cultural heritage once they can return to their country. All this would require joining in diverse peace efforts. It is best done by learning to resolve conflicts over such cultural matters like Muslim men accepting or not being served food in refugee camps by women. Here cultural adaptation to another way of life should be made possible without escalation of violence especially the case if the refugee feels insulted. Since this readiness to feel that way is not only limited to religious minded persons who do not tolerate other opinions, but to Western people who have been wounded in their lives by parents and in work situations, what ton is struck matters the most. It is best to work out together common solutions based on imaginative perceptions as to what shall be needed in future when a society like Syria enters a phase of rebuilding itself.

A crucial question is if the Islam religion can be comprehended by those interacting with refugees who indicate already in their clothing both a traditional and a modernised form of religious belonging? It would be crucial to identify the various religious streams and to what school of thoughts they belong to. It is expected that in places alien to them that some will cling even more so to their religion so as to compensate the loss of identity due to being no longer at a certain place where their parents and ancestors have lived. That means habitual identity depends on retaining a familiar surrounding. Once outside the bio-top of own makings, this will need re-creation.

Further observations can lead to some very rich stories. They have to be told as part of a vast new pilgrimage in the 21st century not to Mecca but to Hamburg and other places in Europe. Such a pilgrimage was not even envisioned by Benedict Anderson in his book “Imaginative Communities.” Still, the strength of European cultures will show, if these other forms can be accommodated and allowed to flourish by giving them the cultural spaces which they need to express themselves. Important is a guarantee that they are free from the fear of projections which can lead easily to misunderstandings, if not to hatred.

Hostility is a strange feeling between people aroused by more than fear. Dresden may be here a test case for what went wrong in German re-unification and what happens to people who have layers of history which include both willingness to exterminate others during the Holocaust and experience of a total destruction once Dresden was bombed to the point of causing a massive fire. How to handle guilt and become responsible for a new common life is itself a huge task. This requires quite another conversion so far not practised in the world of the Islam. There feelings have also been aroused by some Arab States having become extremely rich and equally ignorant of the plight of other people. The high discard for life is underlined as well by revenge and something like honour killing. Also a fight is placed much higher than life itself. What danger is there when these elements mixed in a chemical like process with similar elements existing in German Idealism e.g. Heidegger's affirmation of the leader as the innovative force.

All these problems are aggravated by Germany being still engulfed in a complexity resulting out of WWI, WWII and Fascism. The fragile structures of democracy depend upon a certain culture allowing for public debate and openness, so that the opinions of others are respected. This has to include people who do not consider themselves to be political, but who are for the sake of survival anti-political within a certain form only.

A lot can already be noticed on how the media tends to interview certain refugees. They tend to expound on views which affirm merely the editorial line already taken by the newscaster.

When BBC shows how the refugee crisis affects Hamburg to illustrate how Germany is coping or not, such a lens magnifies only specific problems. This technique of highlighting has not been filtered, culturally speaking. It increases the risk of drawing certain, if not fast conclusions which can be highly misleading about the true state of affairs which refugees and local populations have to face. For instance, once footage is shown how refugees break through the barriers around the asylum centre in Berlin, and its director agreeing in an interview when shown the footage that other measures are needed, it says a lot when this director promises that the fences shall be improved upon. Still, the sight of refugees breaking through barriers can incite quite opposite feelings amongst viewers when this footage is shown on television. The anonymous audience can conclude these people do not obey rules, and, therefore, they will endanger our lives. Such a simple conclusion is often drawn when culture no longer guarantees the working with details and thus generalized versions about the others begins to dominate the public debate.

HF 8.10.2015

^ Top

« In Flux exhibition 2015 | Full moon with Savina Yannatou »