Eterotopia is a space in Thessaloniki founded on 2010, as a space that would organize actions of solidarity, inclusivity and social justice, which would operate in an open and democratic way, and promote a more creative and socially active way of living in the city. The group of people that took that first step didn’t know exactly what this place would end up like. None of us knew what a community structured around ideas of solidarity, democracy, freedom of expression (speech, artistic and otherwise) and of fighting for justice, inclusion and equality within and without would be like. We, however, felt that we needed such a place. And, more importantly, we felt that other people needed it as well, and that it could be useful in making our lives and those of others better.
We had found each other in assemblies, occupations and demonstrations against war, injustice, police brutality, inequality, discrimination, and racism. But beyond specific causes and issues, we felt that our city of Thessaloniki was hostile to its people, particularly the young. We felt that entertainment was commercialized. That there was no free space left for creative expression. That this way of living promoted loneliness, selfishness and detachment, and discouraged people from connecting with each other, supporting each other and joining together to make their lives better. And we felt that the people among us who needed help to get back on their feet weren’t getting it by a society that, for the most part, seemed content to ignore and ostracize them.
Eterotopia, which means “different place” in Greek, was meant to provide an alternative to those trends. We wanted to build a place that would be open to all, regardless of race, skin color, gender and sexual orientation, class or religion. Where we would discuss, make decisions democratically, and implement them together. Where we would inform ourselves and be socially and politically active. Where people would be able to express themselves, entertain themselves and socialize, without being subject to restrictions, economic or otherwise. A place where the weakest among us would find support in a community as equals, rather than being recipients of charity, and the community would empower itself through them. And finally a place where various groups would be able to meet, talk and organize, to promote those very ideas of solidarity and social action to the rest of society.
Those were the principles based on which we started this journey. Now, 8 years later, Eterotopia is open every day for people to come and spend time with each other. We meet every month in an assembly, where next month’s program and any other issue that might come up is discussed by those attending, and all are welcome to participate as equals. 34 teachers and 88 students are participating in free classes ranging from Mathematics and Foreign Languages to Dance and Theatre. Films are shown twice a week by CINETOPIA, two cinema groups that look into Greek and foreign films respectively. Foodstuffs, hygiene products and other necessities are gathered by Eterotopia’s visitors and distributed to over 15 families that need them and that Eterotopia supports. Twice a week we cook together as part of our “Kitchen of Solidarity” project, where anyone is welcome to come and eat and only pay the optional symbolic fee to support Eterotopia if they feel can afford it. We offer Eterotopia to bands, theatre groups, artists and scholars to express themselves freely, with the single condition that anyone be able to attend free of charge, as is the case with all our activities. We are working together with grassroots organizations and movements supporting causes ranging from LGBTQI rights to the fight against a disastrous gold mining operation in nearby Halkidiki. And we have been active in supporting refugees both here in Thessaloniki and in other locations where we felt we were needed such as Eidomeni’s camp.
Eterotopia is all those things and more. But more than anything it is a work in progress. We are still trying to be better at the things we do. And we are still trying to find what would be a perfect version of Eterotopia, a place that lives within an imperfect society. But we are making progress a few steps at a time, and we would like more people on this journey with us. To hear them, learn from them, and to give them a platform where they can be heard. And ultimately to make Eterotopia a structure through which we can help each other improve our lives in all the ways that count, and to demonstrate to people that a different way of organizing our everyday lives, one centered around democracy, equality and solidarity, is not only possible, but rather it is already here and it is working.