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(en) Anarkismo.net: Greece, The infirmary of Social Solidarity Thessaloniki (gr)
Sun, 02 Dec 2012 17:27:56 +0200
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
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,
by Melbourne Solidarity with the anti-austerity movements in Gr
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