Our activism concerns, on the one hand, self-education circles that lead to an event or an open discussion in the squatters’ space and, on the other hand, actions of intervention and assertion of the public space through posters, text distribution, microphones and marches.
First of all, can you tell us a few words about Anormina?
The assembly was created in October 2017 in the squat in Binio. Many of us had met in various struggles, in joint assemblies and especially in the squat. The assembly came out of a common need to find the time and space to initially discuss and act on the march against patriarchy as a particular form of oppression, among others. Some of the issues we have dealt with over the years are medical sexism, the issue of abortion, manifestations of gender violence and more recently extra-institutional approaches to models of justice in response to gender violence. Over the years our assembly has been open to all genders, believing that feminisms ought to be part of all who act and think against oppressions regardless of gender self-identification. However, with very few exceptions, it was and is composed of females. Central to our journey is intersectionality and participation in struggles that go beyond the narrow themes of feminism. Living in a world made of privilege and devaluations based on class, gender, race and ethnicity, we in turn realize that as western, white subjects, we hold much of these privileges and recognize around us many other people who are experiencing the worst face of patriarchy, capitalism and repression. The migratory passage in Mytilene, moreover, leaves us little room for voluntarism. Finally, our activism concerns, on the one hand, self-education circles that lead to an event or an open discussion in the squatters’ space and, on the other hand, actions of intervention and assertion of the public space through posters, text distribution, microphones and marches.
When we look at the current situation in Greece, mandatory shared parenting, the strengthening of the anti-abortion movements and the attempt to hold the fertility conference with many male doctors and the church seem to be the main discussions there. Could you talk briefly about these issues and give us an update on what is happening there? In other words, what is the patriarchy’s agenda these days?
At the level of institutional discourse we have moved from silence to a hyperbolic approach to gender violence, post 2020 (we will talk about this below) and a verbal recognition that women who speak out are heroines etc. The ruling party of the South West is a mishmash of neoliberal agenda and conservative right wing with close ties to the Orthodox Church. And while there is room in the neoliberal agenda for pro-women verbiage to satisfy a fairly broad social class audience that sought such recognition, the same is not true of the conservative right, which sees its patriarchal values being shaken. As satisfaction to this not at all small audience came what you refer to above. Typical is the “1st Panhellenic Conference on Fertility and Reproductive Autonomy” which was cancelled after opposition, as well as the more recent example of the seminar for elementary and high school students entitled “Sexuality-Fertility-Parenthood an inseparable unity”, in which positions of the “unborn child theory” and other views against female self-determination were put forward. This seminar as well as the conference were cancelled following opposition.
So we observe that every two to three months an event is organized by institutions, which aims to structure the new theoretical contents that will counteract any feminist discourse and action that is articulated, which is then withdrawn after much pressure. The exception is the obscene law on co-parenting, which has prevailed. In other words, we are seeing a constant experimentation with boundaries, which are currently very fluid.
In particular, the new law on joint custody of children after divorce stipulates that both parents will have joint custody of the children. Among the conditions for revoking custody from one parent is if he/she has been convicted definitively “for domestic violence or crimes against sexual freedom or crimes of economic exploitation of sexual life”. What this means in practice is that women and children who were abused by their ex-spouses are required to be in constant contact with their abusers and to co-determine the future of the children even several years after the divorce. This is because it can take many years for a “final judgment” to be issued (if such a judgment is ever issued), as the Greek judicial system is extremely slow.
At the same time, on the occasion of the debate around this bill, which unfortunately was put into effect, a form of social media movement for co-custody was organized under the name “active dads”. In this context, the member of the Southwest parliamentary party G. Loverdos, setting the tone, states that “an abusive husband can be a good father”. Thus, we see a misogynistic discourse being organized under this umbrella.
Despite these patriarchal attacks, we see that the feminist movement is growing stronger. What is the agenda of feminists these days? And what is the state of feminist organizations? Can we say that there is a revival of the feminist movement?
To be precise both in this question and in its answer, we should talk about feminisms and not about feminism in Greece (perhaps even more broadly). In other words, we see that there is no common agenda across all collectives or organisations. Often demands expressed by some do not find agreement with other groups or are not in their priorities. Calls to marches often lack the character of central organization or coordination, while at the same time smaller marches (spontaneous reflexive marches as soon as an incident is heard of or “neighborhood marches”) are a practice that has been developing dynamically recently.
At this point we would like to give an example. We know that November 25 and especially March 8 are milestones for the feminist movement in Turkey (and not only) and we follow with great interest the struggle you are fighting every year. In Greece, however, these days have a different connotation. They are the days that most will be talked about by all the others for the women, rather than the women for themselves. Politicians of every hue will congratulate themselves for remembering women/gender issues one day, only to forget them the next. These days look more like a “Celebration of Democracy” (of an otherwise deeply patriarchal and oppressive regime), or a day of “visibility”, than a day of mass assertion, and this is because the -new- feminist movement in Greece has not yet established its own milestones of struggle. It is worth mentioning, however, that in recent years more and more mass gatherings have been organized, at least in Athens and Thessaloniki, by some feminist organizations, mainly of the left. At the moment our group has not found the space to participate with its own contents in these anniversary meetings. The way we try to intervene, especially on those days, is by highlighting less “known” or “visible” points of feminisms.
Although there is no common feminist agenda, we can see spikes in feminist discourses and actions, regardless of our own position on these issues. At the top of the list is femicide, which we will discuss in more detail below. At the same time, there is a very large mobilization, especially on social media, around gender-based violence, the recognition of various forms of abuse, and the sharing of personal experiences, usually in the form of a “complaint” on social media. That is, a process that “breaks the silence”.
On one level of institutional demands, demands such as state upgrading on issues of gender-based violence are made. That is, “sensitization” (!) of the police, provision of a psychologist and a lawyer during the complaint process at police stations, more forensic doctors in the field, better criteria in shelters for battered women so that more women can access them.
Outside the institutional framework, the (not easy) internal dialogue within the broader movement structures and groups on issues of sexism, gender violence, abusive and violent behavior is developing very dynamically, as the complaints mentioned above are sometimes addressed to people who are part of the movement.
At the same time Queer discourses and practices are developing, sometimes autonomously and sometimes in collaboration with feminist groups, which makes visible that for many years in the “traditional” political scene of the left and the anti-authoritarian space there was no space for these subjects to express themselves.
We started to hear the news of femicide after femicide in Greece. Is there an increase in femicides and gender violence or are they more visible now? And we also know that there is a struggle by feminists to make the term “femicide” mainstream and introduce it into everyday language. How have femicide and gender violence been talked about in Greece and what are feminists doing about it?
Femicide is a phenomenon as timeless as patriarchy itself in the geographies we are talking about. In the case of Greece, for example, looking at the past with the eyes of the present, we can discern the femicides of the 1960s and 1970s coded under the label “honor crimes”. In the following decades to the present day, they appear as “crimes of passion” and/or “family tragedy”. However, we cannot speak in numbers as there is no gender category in the Ministry of Justice statistics, only the general category “homicides”. In recent years there has been an attempt by feminist organizations to collect quantitative data, mainly through media reports, so often the figures do not agree with each other. For example, “European Femicide Watch” for the years 2019, 2020 and 2021 reports 17, 19 and 30 femicides respectively. At this point, we would like to point out that the government’s management of the pandemic with constant curfews, repression in public space and mandatory confinement in homes has had a very negative impact on gender-based domestic violence, creating an additional suffocating situation with no way out for the subjects being abused.
Therefore, we cannot speak with certainty about an increase or decrease in femicides compared to previous years or decades. What we could say is that there have always been defenses to the oppression of women in many visible or non-visible ways. However, today this resistance is being articulated more massively and more clearly and a general climate of women’s empowerment is gradually taking hold. It is precisely this clear articulation and assertion that is pushing more and more women to challenge gender violence as a normalized condition. At the same time, this emancipatory movement leads to corresponding violent reactions on the part of those deprived of their patriarchal privileges.
Regarding the term “femicide”, there is a great mobilization by a significant part of the feminist movement, regarding its legal recognition and its function as an aggravating circumstance in the commission of the crime of homicide, but our assembly has not addressed this legal aspect. Nevertheless, the conversation about femicide has been opened up at a social level and indeed in recent months the term has been prevalent in many media (which are by no means renowned for their feminist sensibilities). The recognition at a societal level that gender and the powers that run through it are so powerful that they can even motivate murder is of great importance. As a reaction, to this small victory, it is often said that gender equality is legally and socially conquered, therefore everything is homicide and the term “femicide” serves absolutely no purpose.
But the above would not have taken the extent they have here if the parents and especially the mothers of murdered children (whether by femicide, cops and fascists) had not persistently, and often lonely, articulated the causes of these murders. These mothers are now saying ‘my child was killed by the patriarchy’ and are trying to support each other on the difficult road to the Greek courts, but also to a social vindication so that there are no more lost children. In other words, a network is being formed that is reminiscent of the beginnings of the ‘Mothers of Saturday’/’People of Saturday’ in Turkey and raises the urgent question for all of us whether pain and mourning can ultimately be politicized.
We are watching a series of rapes and femicides come to court and at the same time a lot of people are mobilizing around these cases. How do feminists envision justice, both in the context of these cases and in general?
It is certain that if or when rape and femicide cases reach the courts, the survivors as well as the loved ones of those who are no longer with us, need support and fortunately, lately, they more or less find it, as we have seen countless times in the courtrooms that the victims are put on trial. In most cases we have watched a huge struggle to exhaust and break down the complainants and generally reproduce all the sexist culture and rhetoric. Of course, we are well aware that justice is not only patriarchal but is also deeply class based. For example, the attitude of the courts makes a big difference depending on who the perpetrator is. Justice does not work the same way when it comes to Roma or immigrants who are convicted with great ease compared to the sons of “good families” or cops. In the latter case, as if by magic, evidence of the investigation disappears, mitigating circumstances appear, etc. (as in the case of G. Bika, for example). Moreover, if there is ever a positive outcome in such cases, it comes so exhaustively and belatedly that it may not provide a sense of some vindication.
As far as feminist visions and demands for justice are concerned, again, we cannot speak of the feminist movement as a whole, as mentioned above. A part of the feminist movement focuses on more institutional demands, such as increased penalties, change in legislation, criminalization of sex workers’ clients, etc. Usually in this trend of feminism we rarely find any critique of the role of prisons as places that reproduce patriarchal violence and power within rather than ‘correcting’ those who are there. They also ignore that the more precarious your living conditions are, the more likely you are to find yourself in prison (for any offence) and suffer the indignities and torture there. It generally ignores that prison is not a neutral place that keeps the “bad guys” out of the “good guys”, but a place that produces to the highest degree the culture of rape within it.
Another feminist perspective sees the state and its institutions (police, justice, prisons) as a pillar of the patriarchal and sexist condition and attempts to trace ways of responding outside these institutions, where possible, while criticizing the prison system. Particularly within the anti-authoritarian movement, alternative ways of responding to issues of transgressive behavior are tentatively sought, drawing on examples mainly from abroad such as transformative justice and accountability processes. At the core of this effort is the thought that patriarchy permeates us all, therefore we are all more or less shaped by it and need a collective/community step of questioning, overcoming but also taking care of relations within the community. Recently, the vocabulary, practices and politicization of ‘care’ have been positioned quite centrally in feminist thinking in an attempt to formulate a more comprehensive response to the issue of both gender relations and gender violence.
At the end of 2020, we know that the Metoo movement started in Greece. We followed on Twitter that the Metoo movement came back to the forefront, especially with the recent news of rape and femicide in Greece. How is the situation in Greece right now regarding the Metoo movement? Are its effects continuing?
Although the Greek Metoo has many similarities with the American Metoo, it followed the reverse course. The American Metoo started from “the bottom” from members of the black community and in the process turned into a naughty, spectacular way of approaching gender violence, while in Greece it started from “the top”, from subjects – already quite visible – from the world of entertainment and sports, in order to “descend” to the social base. Thus, the terms and boundaries of Greek Metoo were defined from the beginning more by a media culture than by feminist movements.
Many of the complaints, from the entertainment and sports sector, are currently in the judicial process (e.g. the Lignadi and Filippidis cases). These cases are closely followed by the media as they continue to provide spectacle, as many Greek celebrities are involved in these cases in many ways. Witnesses for the prosecution and defense, supporters of the innocence or guilt of the accused, relatives and friends pass by the TV windows every day, where parallel TV trials are set up. The media discourse is quite problematic (we didn’t expect anything better!), as it often refers to ‘monsters’ who commit ‘heinous crimes’, obscuring the fact that ‘rapists are not race specific, they are everyday men’, as the feminist slogan goes. We have also seen, on the occasion of the Lignadis case (who until his arrest was the director of the National Theatre and is accused of a series of rapes of underage boys and young men), a homophobic discourse being unleashed that marginally equates homosexuality with rape.
We must, however, acknowledge that the Greek Metoo, had and still has momentum, as it opened the debate on gendered and sexualized violence and created the conditions for the experiences of thousands of people who have suffered this violence to be made public, looking for an answer or justification. Since then, public “denunciation”, usually on social media, has been the dominant response to gender-based violence, without, unfortunately, any tools or structures for the subsequent management of the situation and support for the person affected.
Another characteristic of Metoo is that complaints are, as a rule, written by cis (white) women and directed against cis men with abusive behavior, which reproduces the already existing hierarchies and privileges (white, cis subjects) about who is entitled to speak and be heard about gender violence.
Are you in alliance with various movements? If so, what kind of cooperation/alliance do you have with other movements – anarchist, immigrant, socialist, LGBTQ+?
Here in Mytilene our assembly is housed and is part of the occupation in Binio. Binio is a political and social space that was occupied in 2006 and functions as a platform for various collectives. Today it houses 9 collectives (anti-fascist, anti-racist, immigrant groups, queer, student assemblies, anarchist groups) some open and some closed. There is also a library, a film archive, a film group, a bookshop and a radio station. We coordinate with each other through the general assembly. The occupation is part of the broader anti-authoritarian movement in Greece and is not related to parties, institutions or state bodies. Many of the members of [email protected] participate in other assemblies, while at the same time we try (sometimes more and sometimes less successfully) a transversal approach to our feminist discourse and action, as we recognize that patriarchy is not the only oppressive and authoritarian mechanism that threatens and affects our lives.
Often our efforts to connect with other movements or collectives outside of Lesvos encounter a significant obstacle, that of physical distance. Staying in a border island frontier, it is quite difficult to connect with other movements in the rest of Greece, both because of geographical distance, which makes physical communication and joint actions much more complicated (or costly!), and because of different political and social realities, which implies a different political agenda. For example, the migration issue in Lesvos has monopolized for years the daily life and the political agenda, unlike in other places where other issues are prioritized.
Lesvos has become a place of confinement, an open prison for migrants and the island has become almost an outpost of Fortress Europe. How do you, as feminists, approach this issue at this point? And, do you have common struggles with migrant and LGBTQ+ women on the island? Or what are you doing to communicate the struggles?
First of all, the association of Lesvos with immigration is a very old relationship, long before 2015 became an international issue, but we would like to mention some key points of the last few years, in order to give you a picture of the island. 2015 and 2016 can be characterized as the years where “solidarity” was dominant both socially and in the rhetoric (and only rhetoric) of the government of the time, considering that Lesvos was a transit place which was perceived by the locals as a temporary phenomenon. After the EU-Turkey agreement and the closure of the so-called “Balkan corridor”, it became clear that the condition of imprisonment of migrants on the islands and in detention centres was here to stay. All kinds of military/police forces arrived on Lesvos to monitor and suppress migrants and those who stood in solidarity with them. In the period from 2015 to 2019 there have been many militant struggles of migrants together with those in solidarity, some victorious and some not. At the same time, from 2018 onwards racist and fascist voices and practices became dominant in Lesvos so there was a need for the development of anti-fascist movements. Currently, the number of migrants has significantly decreased on the island (about 1,700 people, down from 13,000 in September 2020 when the Moria detention center burned down) and inside the new detention center of Kara Tepe, there is a seeming calm. The reasons for this decrease are the transfer of migrants inland and to other EU countries and, obviously, the murderous and illegal practice of “pushbacks” by the Greek state, which increased sharply after the crisis at the Greek-Turkish border in March 2020.
The motto “common struggles of natives and immigrants” has always been our central principle in any assembly or struggle we have participated in, either as individuals or as a collective. There have been times when this has been realized and others when it has been from difficult to impossible. For example, the incarceration measures for the covid pandemic had a significant – and unequal – impact on the mobility of migrants out of detention centers compared to the rest of the population. In fact, they were effectively banned from leaving. Consequently, most of the networks that had been created among us, through joint assemblies and joint struggles, were dissolved. Today, two years after the beginning of the pandemic, despite the lifting of measures for the local population, the restrictions on movement for migrant(s) remain stifling.
Although, as individuals, some of us have participated and/or are participating in migrant women’s and LGBTQ+ migrant women’s groups and have taken to the streets together several times, this is unfortunately not through collective joint organization, but more situationally, as so far we have not been able to overcome the multiple barriers between us. Language is one of them, but perhaps the most important barrier has been and still is the different and much more pressing needs of people living inside detention centers or living undocumented. Needs which, on the one hand, we are largely unable to meet (those of us who have the privilege of not living in an immigration status) and, on the other hand, create a gap in terms of what we can collectively claim. Obviously, these barriers are not insurmountable, and we could certainly have tried much harder to come closer together and find common ground.
What would you like to say to women and LGBTQ+ in Turkey?
To begin with, a big thank you both for starting the contact between us and for the questions which were targeted and opened up very useful conversations within our assembly. This contact was an occasion to look and learn more about the feminist Turkish movement, about which we also have a lot to ask and learn from its history, organization and determination. We hope in the future to learn more, ideally and in person, about the struggles in Turkey and your perspective on a number of issues on the feminist agenda. Until then, we would like you to tell us how we can support both your struggles and people who have been targeted by the state and patriarchy because of their participation in these struggles, as we know that the conditions of repression in Turkey are different, and the repression has a more brutal face. And finally, a wish:
Just as patriarchy has no borders, we would like the same to be true for feminisms.