The island is littered with abandoned terraces. Using the bountiful supply of stone previous generations of farmers covered the island’s mountain slopes with terracing for olives and grapes. Any walk in the mountains reveals the remnants of this extraordinary achievement, with sections of the dry stone terraces still standing amongst the trees and shrub. This is by no means unique to Samos but is true for much of rural Greece especially where the terrain does not permit the use of tractors and other farm machinery.
However, over the past 2 decades the rate of abandonment has undoubtedly been slowed down, first by the arrival of the Albanian exodus through the 1990s and more recently by refugees. If it were not for these sources of mainly young, highly vulnerable and therefore cheap labour many more farms would be abandoned, and certainly in the case of Samos, most of the olives and grapes would be left unpicked. So one of the most significant differences between the grape harvest of today compared with earlier times is not only the presence of pick up trucks as against donkeys and plastic crates instead of wicker panniers, but above all the background of the pickers. Family groups are now far outnumbered by migrants and refugees on the vinyards.
All over rural Greece, refugees and migrants are doing (hard, physical) work without which many villages would simply not survive. Their role and contribution is crucial as my drive from the coast to the village this morning revealed as I passed African and Pakistani workers collecting the grapes.
But in Athens at the very same time the Greek state has launched and is continuing its biggest ever police mobilisation against refugees and migrant workers. The progrom, for this is what is happening, has been named by the state as Operation Xenios Zeus which in itself reveals the utter cruelty and contempt of the state for these most vulnerable of the population. For Zeus is the god of hospitality and the protector of guests! Under this benign name 2,000 police have been deployed in Athens and 2,500 police on Greece ’s eastern border with Turkey . On Saturday 4th August in Athens alone, over 1,100 refugees without appropriate papers were arrested and detained and a further 4,900 held temporarily for questioning. These numbers have grown as the sweep operation continues (see http://clandestinenglish.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/operation-xenios-zeus-in-athens/).
Empty, or under-utilised military camps in the north of Greece have been commandeered to house those detained pending their eventual deportation as well as a new detention centre in Athens . Moreover, in their characteristically authoritarian fashion, the police action is indiscriminate and inhumane. No distinction is made between the majority who have the appropriate papers and those who do not; the main criteria for being swept up seems to be skin colour; no account is given to minors, to those traumatized by their flight and escapes, to those who have been tortured and raped. All this is now well documented as being the norm for the Greek state in numerous reports coming out of Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and many other national and international NGOs ( a recent example being Human Rights Watch’s July 2012 report ‘Hate on the Streets’ (http://www.hrw.org/reports/2012/07/10/hate-streets). But on the ground it is not that nothing changes but it gets worse almost day by day.
The emergence of Golden Dawn following the June general elections adds impetus to the fascistic tendencies of the state. The New Democracy led coalition is desperate to avoid haemorrhaging its right wing support to this populist and openly fascistic party which now has state funding following its success in gaining a presence in the Greek parliament. This is turn has allowed it to gain wide coverage for its racist stunts like giving out food to the poor in Syntagma Square with the vicious condition that they must possess a Greek I.D. The dynamic on the right is like watching a dance of death evolve and grow. If nothing else it ignites the most massive ‘green light’ to a Greek police force half of whom it has been estimated voted for Golden Dawn. It is a green light for violence, cruelty, and neglect all with impunity.