In 2015 the people of Lesvos became a symbol of hospitality on the edge of Europe. But since then, European politicians turned the island into a laboratory for their damaging, abusive and divisive policies.
Today, 5 years later even the basic idea of democracy is at risk in Lesvos. This is a crucial moment to turn things around. We envision Lesvos as a laboratory for fixing the social fabric and for creating a vibrant, open, active and inclusive community.
Lesvos is a micro-cosmos.
People who risk their lives on small dinghies to reach Lesvos are fleeing wars, violence, discrimination, inequality, poverty. This goes back to the root of many problems in our world today.
Then there is a host population who finds itself at the edge of Europe, in a fragile position. Greece has suffered a deep economic crisis and harmful austerity measures. On top of that the local population feels abandoned and forced - by Europe but also by their own central government - to host the asylum-seekers who arrive on their shores and are trapped in the island.
A mix of hardship and year-long frustrations now makes for the perfect breeding ground for a populist and far-right response, a divisive rhetoric and toxic polarisation.
As a local group in Lesvos, we have always sought to stand in solidarity with all and to build bridges between refugees and locals. But as the situation in the island continued to worsen and the local frustrations increased, a growing part of the local population is turning against refugees and solidarity groups like ours. A toxic narrative is gaining ground, which demonizes refugees and anybody supporting them – and blames them for everything that goes wrong in the island.
Divisions are escalating. We strongly believe that at this point, the only way to enhance engagement and participation is by actively listening to the local community, to start from their needs and concerns, and help facilitate solutions. We want to find constructive ways to fill the gaps to fix the social fabric.
Lesvos has a local population of around 85.000 (and approximately 20.000 asylum-seekers).
Our target groups are locals across the island and across generations. We will distinguish several groups according to several criteria, to be decided in further detail as part of the project (ie according to their opinions, age, location, interests and needs). This will include: actors in social economy, cooperatives, farmers, people engaged in ecology, university community, local health care actors,...
Specifically for children and young people, we anticipate the need to engage in educational activities in schools. Where appropriate, we will involve refugees as well as locals who are already actively supporting the idea of an open, tolerant and inclusive local community.
As a first step we want to recruit two people to lead on the work and design an approach that fits the complex local context.
We will start from our strength and initiate dialogues in community settings where we already have established a relationship – to be run as a pilot – to then move on to more complicated and polarized community settings. These pilot dialogues could be run in a specific location (ie in a village, covering several topics) or on a specific topic (ie local health care, education, economy,…).
Based on the lessons from the pilot dialogues, the project team will design a full plan of dialogues and conversations to be held. In parallel, they will work on the gaps and potential solutions that emerge from the dialogues and start proposing concrete actions and activities.
As result, we expect it will get harder for a part of the local community - and for those who import a divisive rhetoric from the outside– to maintain that refugees and solidarity groups are to blame for everything going wrong in the island.
We anticipate that many people in the island feel neglected, unheard and feel that their immediate needs are not met. With our dialogues and concrete proposals we want to address these gaps and frustrations, which are currently exploited by the haters and by right-wing politicians for political gain (while not offering any concrete solutions to the local population).
We will be successful if our dialogues will start to have a ripple effect, so the toxic narrative and overall hostile environment will turn. But this will take time.
In 2015 the people of Lesvos became a symbol of hospitality on the edge of Europe. But since then, European politicians turned the island into a laboratory for their damaging, abusive and divisive policies. Today, 5 years later even the basic idea of democracy is at risk in Lesvos.
This is a crucial moment to turn things around. We must find new ways to resist and create in Europe. While Lesvos is now a testing ground for abusive and divisive policies, we will transform it into a laboratory for finding new ways to build a vibrant and inclusive local community. For a long time now we feel we cannot count on the European Union to uphold the core values we should all cherish and respect. It is up to us citizens, in our daily life, in our everyday communities, to live these values.
Lesvos is our home and solidarity is what we believe in. We continue to believe that the majority of the local population shares our values on solidarity, dignity for all, freedom, equality.
Over the last 8 years we have overcome many challenges and we have re-invented ourselves numerous times.
We have faced eviction threats and harassment to intimidate us and stop our work. In the recent peak of violent attacks, we have been attacked, threatened and our property has been vandalised.
In 2015 we were a central point to respond to the unseen emergency. In 2016, with people trapped in the island because of the EU-Turkey deal, we set up new projects to focus on integration, employment, educational and vocational activities.
Now we feel it’s time to re-invent ourselves again.
Funding requested from Civic Europe
- 2 Full-time local positions for 1 year: 16,800 x 2 = 33600 EUR
- Travel costs (local): 1800 EUR
- Fund for educational activities in schools, pilot (training, preparation, materials): 4500 EUR
- Fund to respond to emerging concrete local needs, pilot actions (depending on what emerges throughout the process): 10000 EUR
If others on the platform have tried similar initiatives, we would love to hear from them! Also regarding facilitation of dialogues in polarised contexts and creative educational activities in schools to promote and open and inclusive society, we would love to hear from others.