Archives and International Engagement on Refugee and Migration Issues: Part One – Feminist Researchers Against Borders and Archiving Resistance in Athens
I have away from the day job at the Refugee Council Archive at the University of East London to attend both the Feminists Researchers Against Borders Taster Workshop in Athens followed by the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) conference to be held in Thessaloniki. It was an early start on Thursday morning, departing our AirBNB around 4pm for a taxi to Luton Airport for our flight to Athens. In a state of dreary eyed abandon, and thanks to the occasional benefits of mobile technology enabling online check-in. With our fancy online boarding passes, we passed through the obligitory security checks and finally made it into the airport proper for our 7am flight. Fortunately, there was just time for the required cup of coffee and a breakfast roll at a well-know caffeine supplier (other drinkes and beverage suppliers are available!) before being summoned to the gate.
Our flight went to plan taking just over three hours to go from the warmth of London to the even greater warmth of Athens. We had an interesting taxi ride from the Airport down to oour AirBNB with a lot of information and useful tips for our stay in Athens given by the driver. It is our first trip to Athens (and will also be our first time in Thessaloniki) although not the first time in this part of the world, and it was reasssuring to see again the traditional Greek architecture once again and also the three mountains sorrounding the city. After settling into our accomodation for the weekend, situated in the Exarchia district of Athens, near to the National Archaeological Museum and the National Technical University “Polytechnnio”, where a workshop was to take place. The Polytechnic seemed a very appropriate place a Feminist workshop given its long history of student activism and student sit-ins. It has an important place in the history of Athens due to being the location for the historic student uprisings against the military dictatorship in Greece betwwen 1967 and 1974, which were violently put down on 17 November, 1973. There is also a monument in honour of the Polytechnic students killed in the Greek Resistance during World War Two and a commemoration service is held every year on the anniversary of the uprising.
Our host kindly recommended several local restaurants to try. One of these was called Diporto, described as a secret underground situated in the Athina region of Athens. We thought we give this a try as it meant we could start to explore the city before grabbing some traditional Greek food to eat. Diporto is located in the basement of what is otherwise a deserted and empty building at Sokratous 9. Athina 105 52. Situated next to the local fruit and veg market and a short walk from the Omonia metro station, Diporto would be so very easy to miss if you hadn’t been told about the restaurant. The basement itself automatically takes you bak to times past with an old-fashioned countryside feel to it, with big wine barrels along one wall, a handful of tablets for guests and with garlic and herbs hanging up on the wall and a basil plant and Basil plant on the counter. Chilled wine and bread are served as soon as you sit down and there is no set menu, your choice is whatever is being cooked on the day. We had a choice of beef with pasta; vegetable and potato; fish and/or chick peas. The food was amazing and it was great to be able to enjoy such traditonal homemade recipies in a location that felt like you were sharing a traditional family kitchen on a relaxing Sunday afternoon.
The two-day workshop took place in the National Polytechnic of Athens by Feminist Researchers Against Borders**. The aim of the workshop was to generate interest and ideas in preparation for a Summer School that Feminist Researchers Against Borders will run in Athens the following year (15-30 June, 2019). The workshop aimed to consider the issues around refugees, migration and bordering, from a Feminist perspective and within the local context of Greece, looking to “develop students’ familiarity with intersectional feminist methodologies, no borders framework, and other critical approaches to researching “crises.” The workshop was very well attended with over 40 participants prepared to challenge the sweltering Athens heat (and a lack of air conditioning) to attend, contribute and listen to the mixture of approaches including mini-lectures, NGO engagement, break-out sessions and hands-on workshops.
There were many points of discussion to come out of this workshop, bit for the remainder of this blog, I would like to focus in particular on the Athens in Motion Walking Workshop participants undertook at the end of this first day. This was a participatory workshop session whereby participants were encouraged to engage with a particular location, in our group’s case, a street located behind the Polytechnic, and to situate yourself within that environment. Participants were encouraged to take photographs and to reflect upon their feelings towards the photographs they took. One aspect that really struck me as an Archivist was in taking photographs of the resistance posters and graffiti both along this particular street and also inside the Polytechnic campus. Although my Greek is not great, it was clear that much of the graffiti and the posters were a means of resistance in support of refugee and migration issues.
From an archival perspective, this raised interesting questions in terms of whether we should, and if so, how we should, try and document these sites of resistance as a visual record of the work being undertaken on the ground? Our civic engagement work eith the Refugee Council Archive at UEL over the past several years has focused on a bottom-up methodology towards the collection of materials, especially oral histories, and there is definatelyan argument that says a similar methodology could be applied to in attempting to preserve these visual records as sites of resistance and as a counter narrative to the more traditional (and thereby official) narratives that exist within archival collections. Graffiti and fly posters of this kind are evidence of local engagement and activism on refugee and migration issues and stand as imprtant monuments to local activism on these issues, often in response to impositions from the State. I would be very interested to know whether any work has aleady been done on this from a Greek perspective, either through directly archiving these works through photography and/or preserving copies of posters and flyers. Certainly this is something that would be worth further exploration.
From the student activism at the Polytechnic to Graffiti and Feminist approaches to refugee and migration issues, our trip to Athens, albeit an very short one, was most certainly engaging and look forward to heopfully returning for the full FemnistResearchers Against Borders summer school in 2019.
**Feminist Researchers Against Borders is a network of feminist researchers and organisers working to dismantle the structures that produce, constrain, criminalise, control, and shape immobilities and mobilities, whether forced, coercive, elective, or otherwise–including the borders of the modern nation state and its management of human life and ecology through gender, class, sexuality, racialisation, ableism, citizenship, and colonialism.