Greece is suffering under the austerity measures imposed as a condition of its EU bailout. As poverty in the country escalates, Greek activist Christos Giovanopoulos is campaigning for solidarity in Germany.
Deutsche Welle: Mr. Giovanopoulos, can you tell us about your tours, and who you're trying to reach?
Christos Giovanopoulos: We're usually invited by solidarity groups that focus on social welfare, or [in Germany] by members of the Blockupy movement or the [anti-fascist] Antifa group. Then we try to build connections and bonds between the two movements, and see how we can cooperate at the European level.
We also speak with trade unions. We've been approached by - and we speak with - leftist parties. Social democrats aren't included, because we consider them part of the problem - and hold them responsible for the current situation.
How do people in Germany react when you talk about the Greek situation?
Differently. On the one hand, they're happy about how solidarity groups are developing - how the Greeks organize themselves and unite against austerity measures. Usually, there's this image of the Greeks abroad - that they're just lazy and corrupt.
Let's talk about concrete points. Just what kind of solidarity are you demanding?
First of all, we demand political solidarity. That means campaigns that inform people about what's happening in Greece. And also, it's about bringing people together who're in a similarly difficult situation - people in Greece, people abroad, in Germany, Spain, Italy and other countries - and uniting them. But we're also asking for material assistance. There's a big need for medicine, especially children's vaccines and milk for babies. Due to the high rate of unemployment, people in Greece can't pay welfare insurance. So we have a big problem with families that can't pay for their children's vaccinations. Lots of kids have poor nutrition, and that leads to malnutrition.
Do you ask people to donate money for Greeks in need?
No, we try to avoid monetary donations. That's not how social solidarity structures work. Most social clinics or social pharmacies that look after the needy, for example, don't ask for money, but for donations of goods. Of course, there are the practical problem [of shipping goods abroad] - the legal and security aspects. That's why we've really been pushing for donations to Solidarity4All for specific projects. Then the necessary goods can be purchased and passed on to welfare organizations.
And of course, there's transparency throughout this process in order to build a sense of trust and security. We don't want to use any networks for official charities. That system lacks any control whatsoever, and you don't know where the money ends up going.
When did you get the idea to promote solidarity between Greece and other European countries?
In the last two, three years. Some things were born of necessity. Solidarity initiatives within Greece were already in place before Solidarity4All decided to do an international campaign. The consequences of austerity measures enacted by the Troika [EU, IMF and ECB] became clearer and clearer. Normal people needed help.
The second reason is that we had many people who wanted to help Greece, but didn't know how to do it. That was more about showing what was needed, and where. For us it's also a political fight. The political system that put us in this situation should be toppled. We want to present a different paradigm of social organization.
How do you finance your work?
In most cases, it's volunteer work. Some things do have to be financed, like travel costs when someone goes abroad. Crowdfunding's also an option, or we host a benefit party. Some things are paid for through donations.
When we talk about the financial crisis in Greece, corruption is often mentioned. Greek millionaires avoid paying taxes by lodging huge amounts of money in foreign countries. Isn't it difficult to recruit solidarity in Europe if many of those responsible for the crisis are Greek?
That's not the biggest source of corruption. That happens everywhere in the world. Of course, the government has to address tax avoidance as one of the causes of the crisis. But when we actually follow the money that Greece has lost up to this point, the sum is pretty small. The payments that Greece has to make to Europe as a condition of the EU aid package, that's of a different scale entirely. That's the real theft.
Christos Giovanopoulos is a member of the Greek solidarity group, "Solidarity4All." The 44-year-old recently traveled through Germany as part of a trip through ten "stations" in Europe to raise awareness about the precarious situation in Giovanopoulos' home country.