Inter Alia has its head office located in Exarcheia: a neighborhood in downtown Athens. This area is known – among other things – as “homeground” for Anarchists and as the place where the 2008 riots began.
While heading the office I walk through the quarter’s streets full of graffiti and posters opposing the economic policies fostered by the EU and inviting the people to step ahead and say ‘NO’ to austerity measures.
Exarcheia does not exactly look like the ideal place where to set an organization working with European funds. When I meet Boyka, one of the founders and actual Project Manager at Inter Alia I ask her whether there is a specific reason why their office is there.
“It’s mainly a matter of costs” she answers “the area is pretty central and economic. But also: we like to think that working here gives us the chance to show that even in Exarcheia is possible to realize nice initiatives , even with the support of European funds”.
InterAlia is a rather young organization, but after few years from its foundation, it is already stably working at European level, leading interesting initiatives focused on fighting prejudices and fostering civic engagement specially in countries facing difficult economic transitions (See for instance their initiatives: “Ask the locals” and “The poor cousin”).
Nikos, another member of InterAlia board, joins the office at that moment: he is a researcher at the University of Athens. Born in the city and expert in international Relations, he seems the right person to whom addressing my next – rather obvious – question: “And so Nikos, how is the city doing lately. Are you somehow retaking from the crisis?”
My question is inevitably related with the economic crisis that hit Greece so badly in the last years. I guess he had to answer hundreds of time this same question.
Nikos approaches the topic with a rather smiling face: “For sure we are still living a very difficult time but.. But from a certain point of view the crisis has even had positive effects on the citizenship. For instance luxury goods were all of a sudden not accessible anymore. And we just realized it and kept on living: a more economically-sustainable, human-centered existence”.
A rather interesting opinion: by talking with them I realised how complex, diversified and dynamic is the city of Athens is nowadays.
“It’s difficult to say how the city is doing. Things are changing and change every day, and every corner of this city has its own story and is doing differently from all the rest”, says Boyka. “I don’t like to talk about the crisis, not anymore: I’ve done it so many times that now it feels like something gone. We passed through that, and as Nikos said, not all of it had negative consequences.”
Taking Inter Alia for instance: without the crisis the organisation would never have been established.
“All of us (Inter Alia was founded in 2013 by three youngsters residing in Athens) were looking for a job in the social sector. Myself I would not have minded to have an ordinary job, even a monotone one, with a boss telling me what to do. But then we just realized this would not have been possible, at least not here in Athens, for evident economic reasons. So, instead of renouncing to our aspiration, we decided to establish our own NGO: it wasn’t easy at the beginning, and it still isn’t, but I like so much the work I do that I personally don’t mind even working during evenings!”
The day after our discussion we had the study group. The participants were on average very young and interested to learn about our project.
“I think it’s very important that we remain active. We have very clearly seen that if the citizens do not participate the consequences can be catastrophic” says one of them. “To me the most important topic – among the eight key areas – is the participation. I would like to see my peers getting more active and advocate for some initiatives: starting from the local. But here the word ‘advocacy’ is not well known: we probably should educate the young people on how to become active citizens. “
Boyka agrees: she daily experiences the difficulty to engage youngsters: “We often involve them in one initiative, but after that some disappear, until our next call for participants. Sometimes I wish I could see them coming spontaneously here, bringing ideas and pushing to have them realized”.
I left Inter Alia office with a different vision of the city, a more blurred and imprecise one, but probably freer from stereotypes.
Athens is after all not just the capital of a country in crisis: it also represents a very dynamic social context, in search of still another identity, after her glorious past and her “indigent present”. It would probably be crucial nowadays if the city could count on the support of its young inhabitants: providing the strength and the ideas for a new social model.
Date of event: 5 July, 2016
Location: Athens (Greece)
Hosting Organisation: Inter Alia
Coordinator: Ms. Boyka Boneva
Contact: [email protected] roject.com
Author: Alessio Lupi