The infirmary of Social Solidarity Thessaloniki
greece / turkey / cyprus |
community struggles |
Sunday December 02, 2012 16:29 by Melbourne Solidarity with the anti-austerity movements in Gr
self organised solidarity hospital
The infirmary of Social Solidarity Thessaloniki (self organised solidarity hospital) needs financial support [trans. from German]
Early November 2011 saw the creation of the infirmary of Social Solidarity Thessaloniki’s (SKS). The project deals with providing basic health care to the growing percentage of the population Thessaloniki’s that due to the capitalist austerity have no access to hospitals and health centres. Below is an interview with Serafía Kalamítsou, 37, a paediatrician and an anarchist who has been active in the forming of the SKS. (Details for donations are at the end, interview by Ralf Dreis, as abridged version appeared in GWR 373).
RD: Serafía Hello, can you say something first about the situation in Greece and then explain how the idea of the construction of the SKS originated and how it was implemented.
SK: Hi Ralf, I will say something about the situation in the health sector, as those of us working within the SKS are especially active in this area, even if our work involves confronting other societal problems. It is important to understand that the problems in the health sector were present before the onset of the economic crisis. The situation has now worsened and affects more people [under the austerity measure]. But even before it was so, that many did not have access to the health system, or that those who took a department, were treated negatively or had to pay privately for treatment needed. In February 2011, during the hunger strike of 300 immigrants who were fighting for legal status in Greece, we found ourselves working together as a support group. 50 of the hunger strikers were housed in the centre Thessaloniki’s workers and had asked for help from people in the healthcare field. Several doctors, nurses and psychotherapists - mainly Anarchists, anti-authoritarians and leftists - then founded a caring hospital workers collective in the centre to accompany the hunger strikers with a doctor. The immigrants had for the most part lived for many years without legal status in Greece and again had submitted applications and paid a lot of money to various authorities to get legal residence papers. Ultimately, they only remained on hunger strike to demand their rights. After its end, and full of the enthusiasm from our fruitful collaboration beyond the hospital work, we decided as a collective to form a social solidarity group clinic for refugees in our city.
RD: In the beginning you thought to make the clinic exclusively for refugees.
SK: Yes, but we quickly decided to include all people without health insurance, so immigrants and Greeks. Then even as we were holding meetings to discuss how to implement the project, the economic dictates of the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank hit Greek society with full force. The result was that the number of uninsured people increased so rapidly, that Greeks are now well over half of our patients. At the beginning we approached the city, so they provided one of their massive empty buildings. But municipal leaders provided nothing but various excuses and nothing occurred. Later we tried to rent rooms, which was not feasible for financial reasons. Then we discussed the possibility of a home occupation [squatted space], which was rejected by many people in the group as setting up in a squat could pose a threat or be a source of fear for undocumented people. Ultimately, we made an agreement with the workers centre. The rooms on the 1st floor of the building in the 24 Aisopou St. were made available, and that's where we are now. The centre workers are currently paid and the electricity, so our main expenses relate to the purchase of vaccines and oral surgery, which amounts to around 5000 Euro per month. Most other drugs and dressing materials we use come from donations from individuals who have looted their medicine cabinet.
RE: Can you give us an idea, how many people are involved in the SKS and how the SKS was further developed?
SK: In the beginning, during the hunger strike, we were about 30 people. Then a few more came to the meetings during the planning phase and we are currently at least 200 people involved in the health care sector. Moreover, there are also doctors in private practices who would like to participate directly, but this doesn't work due to us holding the same working hours. They see 2 or 5 or 10 patients monthly from the SKS in their practice instead. SKS exist in a variety of disciplines such as general medicine, dentistry, psychotherapy and child medical practice and social pharmacy in which the patients get their drugs for free. All this is organized by office workers who work to coordinate it all without which the whole project would be impossible.
RE: Controls whether your patients you have health insurance?
SK: No, we do not control that. We have repeatedly stated publicly that we do not intend to replace the existing public health system - and apart from that, we can not. We will not try to be a Ministry of Health rather than the Ministry of Health to be. We are there for those who have been excluded from the capitalist system, who have been kicked out of the hospitals and health centres and are nowhere treated differently. We do not intend to try and be always available, but try to create the political and social conditions to ensure that all people have equal access to health care and no one is excluded from treatment in hospital. We can only provide basic health care, as soon as surgery or spine imaging is necessary, our patients must turn to a hospital. It is absolutely necessary for all people to fight for free health care, regardless of whether they are insured or not.
RE: Is the SKS open every day?
SK: Our office opens daily, except Sunday.
RD: The demand seems to be high.
SK: At the beginning only a few departments had daily office hours, now there is a need for other departments to run daily, with the need for many more doctors and our rooms are too small and slow. In addition, this winter, many more people without health insurance will come to SKS.
RD: In Germany, many people are interested in the work of the SKS. I think the majority of this socially active segment of the population appreciates your project as a charitable service. Is that consistent with your self-assessment?
SK: In Greece, there are various kinds of social dispensaries. We call ourselves "Social infirmary of solidarity", but I personally prefer the term "solidarity hospital" because it expresses more clearly what we stand for. There are currently caring hospitals like us who are self-managed and self-organized on the basis of any non-governmental organization (NGO), and who do not belong to the Church. There are also social health centers, that provide charitable work and are maintained by NGOs, the church, or medical associations, and there is the Nazi propaganda of Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn), which have announced "Social wards only for Greeks". In fact, this is purely propaganda anyway because this Nazi party is not in a position to implement such projects. One of their so-called social health centres was announced for the city of Xanthi in northern Greece. In reality it is run by a fascist army doctor who has never actually treated any patients.
RE: On September 13, the daily press wrote that Chrysi Avgi calls to make [blood] "donations only for Greeks".
SK: Yes, that's true, the Nazi propaganda of Chrysi Avgi wants to look like they care about the Greek society. Comrades in Athens reported that only 10 to 12 Nazis were involved in the blood donation campaign. The medical deontology clearly states the way that blood is to be donated, not sold, and that this blood is to be transferred solely according to medical criteria and made available to all those who are in need. It is ridiculous and unscientific to ask for blood for Greek patients or German patients to donate to German people. It is disgusting and disgraceful that at the request of Chrysi Avgi the government authority actually made a blood donation unit available for them. The Confederation of hospital doctors and the National Medical Association have condemned the racist blood drive sharp contrast in their statements.
RE: Back to you and your goals as a solidarity infirmary. Apart from guaranteeing basic health care for people without health insurance, their aims are quite different from there.
SK: We have not started the project to save our soul with charity work, but see ourselves as a political project with a clear objective. Our main goal as SKS is to show that solidarity work and structures can succeed by organizing solidarity to overcome the problems caused by the economic crisis. Solidarity means more than just a helping hand. Solidarity structures may then have a great effect, when solidarity is part of our consciousness, not only for our patients, but also for their families, and the neighborhoods in which they live. During such a process, it is made clear that supportive structures can be created not only in the health sector, but in all the other areas of our lives also. This process of awareness is very difficult to set in motion. If we are here to stay however, if we only create a functioning health centre, our work has been for nothing. We are successful when we manage to make the SKS part of a general movement with the goal of social self-management and solidarity not only in the city, but also throughout the country.
RD: There are a whole lot of self-governing structures in Thessaloniki. Are you coordinating with each other? Do you give out joint texts or policy analysis? Organizing events or demonstrations with other projects such as the social center Mikropolis, or the squatters of the former Army land in the west of the city, who cultivate a "Perka" collectively growing vegetables? Do you have contact with the squats?
SK: We have not published common political texts, but there are assemblies and meetings that we also attend and there are people from other projects that come to our meetings. For example the Mikropolis supported us financially with a fixed monthly solidarity donation. And we are attempting to build an anti-fascist, anti-racist network with various other groups in the city. So far we have not been able to create an organizational structure but informally there are many connections between the various projects.
RD: When you discuss this kind of cooperation, or establish political actions, who ultimately decides what happens?
SK: The SKS is self-governing, and all decisions are made by the General Assembly. The assembly meetings are open to each and every person. Unfortunately, this is not perceived by all but mostly 40-60 activists attend. Many prefer the active work over the discussions of the General Assembly. I personally think it is very important to work together to develop positions and to reach decisions.
RE: What are the reactions of the state or of the mass media to you?
SK: We always try to make our anti-racist positions clear to the public and to publish our articles in many different languages throughout the city. The SKS is by now fairly well known and supported by many people. A fact that currently protects us against direct government attacks. The mass media play their own game. At present they want to emphasize our "charitable" work but not our anti-capitalist or anti-racist perspective, which is why we are very careful in dealing with the mass media. We are weary of the media completely twisted our content and portraying our work as the opposite of what it is - representing us as ultimately a substitute church or NGO.
RD: We mentioned before the fascist gangs of Chrysi Avgi. A project like the SKS imposes itself but to formally as the target of the Nazis?
SK: The risks are real, because we are in a district that is not only home to many migrants, but also to the Bureau of Chrysi Avgi. We are quite concerned about possible Nazi attacks on our patients and ourselves when we leave the house late at night. So far, fortunately nothing has happened. Apart from the personal or informal links with other projects on which we have spoken, there is an anti-fascist phone chain, which is activated in the case of danger.
RE: What are the options for caring people from Germany [or Australia..] who want to support your struggle against capitalist barbarism?
SK: (laughs) Well, the obvious is of course financial support. We always need money and as I have described, there are things we must buy, so mainly dentures, fillings, vaccines for children and so on, all of which is very expensive. If a non-insured child gets sick for example, there are no free vaccinations, which means that they are not vaccinated. But in order to start school the child has to show vaccination certificate with all vaccinations made. Parents who do not even have enough money to feed their children cannot afford expensive vaccinations. Of such obligations to citizens, the Greek government has just adopted, which leads to the corresponding backing of the mass media and popular racist propaganda to further the rise of the Nazis. So far, we have received financial support from farm groups, clubs, through events, by individuals or by other projects such as the Mikropolis. Donations from comrades in Germany are very welcome. In addition, doctors could lend their solidarity, if they have the opportunity to, by donating expensive drugs. We also need ideas and support in the fight against fascism and anti-racist mobilizations, which you have so many years experience of in Germany.
Contact: Aisopou Street 24, Thessaloniki,
Donations to: Friends of social solidarity infirmary Thessaloniki,
IBAN: GR89 0172 2720 0052 7205 9087 744