In February and March 2020 Lesvos made international headlines. After years of being completely left alone by the EU and being pushed to its breaking point and beyond by having to carry the burden of the European migration policy, far right groups and angry locals took control of the narrative: They set up road blocks and thereby controlled movement, smashed cars, attacked refugees, journalists, activists and NGO workers and burned down a school for migrants.
It was a time of constant fear in which the stream of terrible news never seemed to stop. A time during which our crew as well was attacked by a mob that threatened to set the Mare Liberum on fire. The situation got so intense that many NGOs and activist groups had to stop operating and saw themselves forced to send their volunteers home. This was the peak of a development: From an island that was once praised for its selfless support and solidarity with arriving refugees and even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 to a place associated with fascism and violence. Suddenly international nazis came to the island with the confused vision of defending Europe’s borders. Local antifascists quickly made them feel unwelcome and this absurd form of Nazi-tourism soon stopped. But what stayed is the big questions of how this could have happened in the first place, how this island could change so drastically.
Then, the Corona pandemic spread further and with it the world’s focus shifted. It became quiet on the island again. But the problems didn’t go away. Local and international activists and NGO structures are currently still weakened and mostly understaffed and overworked, especially those trying to make life – in the infamous and deadly overcrowded Moria camp – more bearable for the refugees. And during all this time the Mare Liberum still hasn’t been able to find a safe port. But most worrisome are the continuous attacks against refugees: Fire was set to an empty warehouse where refugees had been living and two residents of Moria were shot with a gun when they were going for a walk. When the trial against the perpetrator was held‚ right wing activists gathered in front of the court to show their support in disregard of Corona regulations and harrassed and attacked journalists. Just a few days ago cars parked in front of Moria were smashed. Later during the visit of the minister of migration and asylum, Notis Mitarakis, in Moria we had to witness the first road blocks in 7 weeks, in which NGO workers were attacked once again. Meanwhile, a hotel in mainland Greece that was supposed to host vulnerable asylum seekers from Moria was set on fire. It all feels so strangely familiar to those who were here a couple months ago. Familiar yet terrifying.
And the big question is: Will it start again? Will far right groups and enraged individuals take control again, now that Corona related restrictions are again being loosened? Still, we know that many of the islanders are staying strong in solidarity against the fascists and we are amazed by their courage and strength. Our work, the work of many, wouldn’t be possible without them. Yet the recent development have us deeply concerned!
📸 2018, Athens, Psirri, Greece, Artist/author unknown