Citizens Beyond Walls is a project co-founded by the European Union which involves eight countries: Serbia (VCV), Hungary (Utilapu), Bulgaria (CVS), Germany (SCI), Spain (SCI - Catalunya), Greece (SCI), Netherlands (VIA) and Italy (SCI and Associazione 21 Luglio).
In the framework of the European Year of Citizens, the aim of the project is fostering inclusive policies to respect Citizens’ rights in Europe, with specific focus on new citizens and minorities. The Peace Nobel awarded European Union is facing a worrying growth of right wing extremist groups. In several countries they have been able to influence media narrative on citizenship and on EU itself. They were able to affect national policies and to hinder the process of inclusion for new citizens (immigrants) and marginalized citizens (Roma). Extreme right wing groups are a threat for peace in Europe, where peace is not only absence of conflict but the condition where citizens are equally endowed of rights. A grassroots reaction of European Civil Society is needed and urgent. “Citizens Beyond Walls” is an action lasting 16 months, involving 8 EU countries, aimed at activating European Citizens to counter the mentioned process, to elaborate inclusive narratives and to advocate with policy makers for initiatives to stem the phenomena.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE PROJECT
The way in which this project is structured is very important, because its different phases represent different stages of the research itself.
- The first phase was a preparatory meeting aimed to design a journalistic research to be carried out in each country. The aim of the research is outlining the activity of extreme right wing groups and the presence of citizens’ initiatives to support Peace and inclusion of new citizens and minorities;
- The second phase was a Seminar, entitled “Racism vs. Peace” held in Athens, in which the research was launched;
- The third phase took place in Sofia, where a training for coordinators was held, in order to decide the different themes in each of the eight countries involved, the topics of the Peace Weeks (see after). There was also a big focus on the study sessions, leading participants to reflect on issues of inclusion, dominance and nationality, among others.
- The fourth phase was the one of the Peace Weeks: each Peace Week took place in one of the involved countries in Summer 2014, and they were grouped together as “Peace Caravans”. They were meant as informal gatherings of people who exchanged ideas on the research, linking it to local realities.
- The last phase is the Final Event: it will be held in Rome, from 26th to 30th March 2015. It will present the results of the research and will advocate for citizens’ rights with policy makers. The project will build on the capacity of carrying on researches as an expression of civil society activation which is proved by previous applicant’s projects.
THE SITUATION IN GREECE
During the last five years, Golden Dawn (Xrisi Avgi), a neo-Nazi, anti-immigrant and Holocaust denying party with openly racist ideas and violent practices, has managed to increase its support and actually, managed to enter the Greek Parliament at the elections of 2012. Golden Dawn’s breakthrough on June's 2012 parliamentary elections was the outcome of problematic migration managements, but it was also connected with the pathogenic characteristics of the Greek political system that the economic crisis just brought to the surface. At an ideological level, the organization rapidly shifted its rhetoric from national to anti-immigration issues, emphasizing the correlation between immigration and crime. They followed a one-dimensional rhetoric strategy where all immigrants are the same, illegal and possibly criminals. At a practical level it employed two methods, one based on the idea of social solidarity towards Greek nationals and the other on violent practices.
There are, though, in Greece many associations, forums, NGOs which put efforts in contrasting the growth of extreme right parties and movements: the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN); the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Greece (UNHCR) in cooperation with the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR); the Greek Council of Refugees (GCR) in collaboration with the Médecins du Monde, launched in 2013-2014 a program called ‘ENOUGH!’ which aspired to complement RVEN’s actions. The KEERFA, which constitutes a strong antifascist movement that fights against racism and fascism in all of its aspects and defends the rights of immigrants and other socially vulnerable groups; Athens’s Anti-racism Festival, which celebrates resistance and solidarity.
THE PEACE WEEK IN ATHENS
The Peace Week in Athens was one of 8 Peace Weeks organized in the framework of ‘Citizens Beyond Walls’ project, which focused on rise of extreme right movements and parties in Europe. The aim of the project was raising awareness of Athenian society on issues of multicultural diversity, nationality and inclusion. In the Peace Week there were international volunteers taking part and getting involved in different activities, aimed to spread the meaning of the research. The Peace Week consisted of three different stages. First, the volunteers participated in the Anti-racism Festival of Athens, together with the team of SCI Hellas; then, pulling from their experiences in the festival and in their lives, they created an artistic performance, combining theatrical parts with music, costumes or whatever fitted their creativity, all together – a piece that spoke about peace, diversity, anti-discrimination and, ultimately, about humankind; to finish this work, they presented the itinerary work of art in the streets of Athens to sensitize people and spread the idea of peace. The study theme was focused on the issues of peace and diversity. It also approached the subject of Citizens Beyond Walls, through an overview of the research going on in Greece about the extreme-right movements and how to counteract their influence on society.