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Grassroots initiatives take off

 Recent study finds that more than 410 groups and initiatives are operating in Greece

By Ioanna Fotiadi

Alternative markets, free education for kids and adults, home-cooked meals for the poor, collecting and distributing free medicine, drives to clean up archaeological sites, neighborhoods, beaches and public squares, imaginative city tours, seed storage and exchange programs, makeshift cultural spaces, networks for car pooling, free communications, migrant and refugee solidarity movements: These are but a few of the grassroots initiatives that have taken off in Greece over the past few years largely due to the crisis.

According to a recent study conducted by the Omikron Project (omikronproject.gr), there are currently 412 grassroots groups and initiatives in Greece dedicated to supporting those in need, improving the economy and changing institutions and ingrained ideas. The Omikron Project itself is an open group that holds meetings whose aim is to help improve Greece’s image abroad.

“Our first study of grassroots movements in Greece was about a year ago, when we identified 238 groups,” Mehran Khalili, a British-Iranian political communications consultant who has lived in Greece for years and is one of the founding members of the Omikron Project, told Kathimerini. “After its publication though, dozens of other groups came forward and asked to be included on the list.”

The aim of the register is twofold, Khalili explained: “On the one hand we want to show that Greeks are not helpless in the face of the crisis. They have not become victims, they react in myriad creative ways and have been very effective in tackling many day-to-day problems,” he said. “At the same time I hope that by showing what each group does we can instigate collaborations so that they come out of their isolation and get to know each other.”

The categories drawn up by the Omikron Project are the following: Alternative Economies & Local Exchange, Trading Systems, Collective Kitchens, Education, Environment, Nature & Ecology, Health, Human Rights, Information Technology, Media & Communications, and Neighborhood Assemblies & Democracy Projects.

“I estimate that the majority of these initiatives emerged after the Indignants movement in 2011,” Khalili said. “It was a reasonable response to the collapse of the movement [that staged protest rallies on Syntagma Square].”

According to Khalili, most of the groups have a clear ideological identity, “as they are trying to solve day-to-day problems, such as a lack of medical supplies or food.”

Having lived in a number of cities around the world, the political communications consultant sees certain particularities in the Greek case.

“A large number of Greeks have a steady interest in activities besides their work, they are more political than other Europeans, very creative and tend to have a strong network of acquaintances and friends built through Facebook and Twitter. Combined, all of this is very promising,” Khalili said.

Dispelling the view that Greeks are anything but what Khalili describes above was the objective behind setting up the Omikron Project in 2012.

“The prevailing perception of the average Greek in Europe was that they sit around all day drinking frappe or ouzo,” Khalili said. “We wanted to challenge the stereotypes that had been formed against the Greeks from different approaches.”

It is this stereotype that inspired the title for the poster “Ouzo-drinking / Coffee-drinking lazy Greeks? Grassroots groups in Greece,” which lists the grassroots initiatives active in the country today. Before this project, the group had published two successful videos in which viewers would literally step into the shoes of a cartoon character called Alex, who represents the “lazy Greek.”

“The groups we listed are nothing like nongovernmental organizations. Most are at a nascent stage or act on a local scale, while none receives state funding. This might actually be a good thing as funding can function as a boost that ultimately holds you back,” said Khalili.

ekathimerini.com , Saturday Jul 12, 2014 (14:48)  
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