This news relates to events that happened on Wednesay, yet the recent military escalation between Turkey and Russia and the refugee crises this clash opened make it of renewed interest. The local coordinated response of Lesbos and Chios’ residents and refugees points to a path towards getting out of the current crisis, a path in line with the emancipation of both humanity and the proletariat.
The general strike assembly in Lesbos ended on February 26th amidst insurrectionary slogans. The local press headlined that Mytilene, the capital, had been “turned into Vietnam” by the ongoing fighting, ambushes and skirmishes between the population and an army of riot and counter-insurgency forces sent to the island by the government. In Chios, the situation was no better and even Syriza calls the military and police sent from Athens “occupation forces“. Meanwhile, the government warned that it did not intend to back down and the European Union asked for restraint from the parties, hiding its own responsibility. What is going on? Is the press right when it suggests that this is a xenophobic reaction from the islanders?
Moria’s camp in Lesbos is Dorian Grey’s portrait of European humanitarianist discourse. Last September the overcrowding ended in protest. The protest was suppressed and fires were set off during the fight with the police, resulting in the death of a woman and her young daughter. Some of the European press and television stations then turned their attention to something that was an open secret and the reason for frequent protests in Greece: the inhuman living conditions in Moria… and in so many other refugee camps in the Aegean.
However, in December, growing imperialist tension between Greece and Turkey led Erdogan to relax his surveillance of the coastline and bring in a new wave of refugees. In December alone, 5,000 refugees arrived alive on the Greek islands. The Greek government’s response? They erected a “floating wall” in the middle of the sea so that the precarious boats would sink before reaching the coast.
The arrival of thousands of new refugees further aggravated conditions in the already insalubrious camps. Moria has almost four times the number of inhabitants it can support. Today there is one field toilet for every 150 people, one four-person tent for every three extended families, and access to clean water remains a problem. At the beginning of this month, when the refugee demonstrations started in Mytilene -routinely stifled by the repressive bodies- there were already 25,000 refugees in Lesbos alone, when conditions were not supposed to be suitable for more than … 700.
The unhealthy conditions, the deportations and the police violence were not “just” what mobilized the refugees. It was also the violence of the gangs within the camps themselves. Syria or Afghanistan not only expel workers and peasants, they also expel their exploiters, slaughterers and torturers, who are often found later to have become “bosses” of the lumpen struggling to resume their exploitation like ticks. But the Greek state, which is so keen on repressing protests, does not want to get involved in the repression of the lumpen who exploit refugees. Its solution has been to start building enclosed mega-structures in which to cram the refugees in order to control them as a whole.
Until now the islanders, mostly small farmers and workers in the tourism sector, had lived with the refugees, in many cases in solidarity with the refugees. The lack of minimum sanitary and living conditions has been repeatedly referred to by the locals as a public health hazard… which was already beginning to merge with the fear of the spread of Wuhan’s pneumonia. But this widespread anger did not find a spark until the government announced that it would confiscate land for three years to build the new refugee holding centers. And that was way too much… for the petty agrarian bourgeoisie of the islands, an attack on land ownership is a “casus belli”.
It was then that the fear of some and the discontent of others led the islanders as a whole to join into the struggle by making the migrants’ demands their own: no more building the refugee closed camps that the EU took up at the proposal of Sánchez and Macron at the mini-summit on migration in the summer of 2018: transfer of refugees to the continent and residence permits “for those who are not criminals”.
The protests extended to Chios and the pitched battles with the forces sent from the capital were widespread. The repression was followed by the call for today’s general strike and a continuous trickle of information from both the conservative Greek press and Syriza press that has all the appearance of a revolt getting out of the hands of the political apparatus.
What’s this all about?
Until now, the petty bourgeoisie of the Aegean islands had been a “container” against any response to the general worsening of living conditions caused by the creation of the giant concentration camps planned by the EU. If this class brewed anything, it has not been solidarity towards refugees.
However, the fear of an epidemic and the government’s clumsiness in expropriating land had temporarily aligned the interests of local property owners with those of workers and refugees. The stubbornness of the government, the cynicism of Brussels and the brutality of the police, ambushing civilians and firing smoke canisters at close range amidst racist anti-Turkish cries, must serve the workers in drawing conclusions and overcoming the ideological siege created by the permanent patriotic bombardment. Their enemy does not lie in Turkey, but in Athens. That is why the mobilizations must overcome the leadership of farmers who only fear being expropriated and take the mobilization to the continent where workers are the majority of society.