by Liv Vilsgaard Christensen, junior consultant, Nyt Europa
An extended weekend full of bright ideas and reflections (… and sun) has passed in Athens. In the last weekend of September, Nyt Europa together with ten volunteers from ‘Young Europe’ travelled to Athens in Greece. The trip was a combination of an ACT-tour to evaluate and reflect on the activities of our project ‘Young Europe’ along with an exhibition of the artworks of ‘Art of Fundamental Rights’. The trip was planned together with our Greek partner organization ‘Organization Earth’, a non-profit organization working with climate and environmental rights with headquarter in Athens.
With three days in Athens, we had to get the most out of every day – and we surely did!
After arrival to Athens on Thursday midnight and a good night of sleep, we left to go to Organizations Earths’ learning space outside of Athens called Center of the Earth. After passing a shopping mall, we arrived at a beautiful park full of lovely scents and a calm atmosphere surrounded by nature: Center of the Earth. Well-fitting with the surroundings, it was time for reflecting on the Young Europe Folk High School in Barcelona held this summer. Individually and together reflections and discussions on the four topics, the schedule, the Young Europe network and the aspect of sustainability was carried out. Though, I personally had not been able to go to the Folk High School in July since my internship started in September, it was clear to me that the Folk High School had made an impact on the volunteers and created friendships across Europe.
The big question of discussion was therefore: How do we keep the network alive?
After the evaluation, we rounded off the first day with a lovely view of the Acropolis from the rooftop of our hostel and afterwards we all went for a dinner in the lively center of Athens enjoying all the delicious food Greece has to offer: tzatziki, pita bread, moussaka, olives, souvlaki, Greek salad and not to forget, the feta cheese. With full and happy stomachs, it was time for a well-deserved night of sleep back at the hostel.
On Saturday we had time to do some sightseeing of Athens. We decided to go see Acropolis up close and not only admire it from the distance. After walking up the hill in the hot temperature of Athens, the destination was worth the effort. The view of the city and the Parthenon was stunning.
After visiting Acropolis, it was time to walk back down the hill to visit the head office of Organization Earth in downtown Athens. Vassilis Stramogiannis welcomed us in a former garage and nightclub, which is now an industrial space hosting the office of Organization Earth. Vassilis told us about how Organization Earth works with sustainable living and co-existence with the planet. These goals are facilitated through reconnecting humans with nature. One way to do so is through community-based activities such as ‘Urban Gardening’ and collective cooking – which we were so fortunate to get to be a part of on Sunday during our stay.
After the visit of the office, Organization Earth had planned a tour of the Ancient Agora and Pnyx. Both places which mark the beginning of thinking in terms of democracy and rights. Surely, the perfect place to visit, when going to Athens for hosting an exhibition on rights!
In Greek ‘Agora’ means ‘a place of gathering’ and it did not only serve as a marketplace, but also as a place for elections and discussions of matters such as politics and law. Did you know that in order to avoid corruption a kleroterion was used to randomly assign citizens for official roles, such as court juries? However, when talking about democracy and rights in ancient Athens it is important to highlight that only a small number of people were included in the democratic process at the time, since it was only applicable to ‘citizens’: Athenian men. Fortunately, we have come further in today’s understanding of democracy and rights – but as ‘Art of Fundamental Rights’ shows there is still work to be done.
On Sunday we headed back to the Center of the Earth for a workshop on ‘Healthy environment, a fundamental human right’ with Lefteris Papagiannakis, Director of the Greek Council for Refugees. This summer deadly wildfires have raged in Greece. Like in Greece, Portugal has also experienced forest fires and as a result six youth has filed a lawsuit to The European Court of Human Rights against 32 countries accusing them for not protecting the environment and therefore breaching their human rights. Time is still to show whether the court rules that states have obligations to protect citizens against climate change. However, Lefteris explained that the right to nature is not the only human right under pressure in Greece. Lefteris also gave us an insight into the current status of human rights in Greece regarding civil society and migration. At the borders of Greece there has been reported cases of violations of human rights, and being a rights defender in Greece today is difficult since they have been accused of criminal charges from the Greek Government while trying to denounce attacks on human rights.
It is evident that there is still a lot to fight for when it comes to rights – both for humans and nature.
The workshop was followed by a chance to join the ‘Sundays on Earth’ in which Organization Earths’ volunteers prepare and make a communal dinner with fresh homegrown vegetables from the garden. This experience really expressed the focus on solidarity, collectivity and reciprocity. Here we got to experience first-hand, the impact Organization Earth has on creating spaces for local Athenians to reconnect with and spend time in nature.
Eating some fresh vegetables (and not only feta cheese…) was just what we needed before heading across the park to the exhibition of the ‘Art of Fundamental Rights’. The thirteen artworks were hanging on the walls of Center of the Earth and shared an important message: Rights are not to be taken for granted. Having toured the Ancient Agora and taken part in the workshop with Lefteris Papagiannakis, the importance of this message was clear, and the experiences brought a central perspective to the exhibition.
During the exhibition the artists Sara Jansen, who drew ‘Citizens’ Rights’, and Leister Gradiz, the artist behind ‘Solidarity’, was there. Therefore, we had the unique opportunity to hear about the thoughts that went into every single detail of the artworks. Not to forget the chance to ask questions about the artworks and receive answers from the person, who created it, which the guests greatly enjoyed. Leister Gradiz gave a talk about his artwork ‘Solidarity’ and pointed out that solidarity is inside all of us. From his talk, I bring home a small task for me to keep in mind: every day we must try to do something good for others and express solidarity. At the end of the day, we are all human and we need and feel the same things. I hope that you, the reader of this, will do the same!
A lot of things happened during our 72 hours in Athens. With plenty of new knowledge, many impressions and even stronger friendships, we all travelled back to our various homes across Europe – certainly with heavier (emotional) backpacks than when we arrived. Europe is indeed lucky with its youth!