Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Racial Dimension of a Train Journey

Friends have previously accused me of being no fun cause I label everything as political (as if that aint fun!). Here’s a story of one recent train journey that perfectly illustrates the political dimension of simple daily things.

I have come back to Greece for a few weeks and came to Athens from Istanbul. After a pretty interesting hitch-hiking experience, my journey back to Athens continued by train. From Alexandroupolis, its 7 hours to Thessaloniki, and from there, another 6 hours to the capital. It’s a long but fairly beautiful trip.

Alexandroupolis is a frontier town. Between it and Orestiada, a little further northeast, it’s one of the first places you are likely to come to if you travel by land from Turkey. It’s a place that seems to have given in to the atmosphere of a waiting room, or the dreariness of a giant bus station. I have only ever been there when leaving to or coming from somewhere else. In the last decade it’s got a reputation as a stop off point for people travelling document free. In recent years, this has become much more visible and apparent as the numbers of people reaching the city (often by foot, across the Evros river and then through Orestiada) has gone up. Recently, at a guess, the destination of Athens has become more common as immigration controls in other areas has become more violent, and as work has dried up in other parts of the country. I would assume this means that the route from Athens via Alexandroupolis is an extremely well trodden one by now.

When I got to the station to take the train, there were around 40 document free travellers also waiting (I am making the assumption they were travelling without papers, because Greece does not give residency to anyone from Africa or the Middle East). Many looked like they had been waiting a long time for that train. Clothes were airing over railings. People were sitting around in the sun, on the platform, in thw waiting room in small groups, mostly according to nationality/ethnicity. All were men, except for one family. I got talking to some guys from Bangladesh, and sat with them on the train.

A curious thing happened during the journey. Over the course of a few hours the ‘ethnic mix’ of our carriage changed despite few people leaving or getting off. It seemed that, having previously been spread out throughout the trains 4 carriages, all the black people came to be sitting in our carriage. It seemed that the conductor had moved them. At the same time, all the white folks were slowly leaving (or were also moved?). Why? Why? For what reason? Why? Why this segregation? Why? I was the only white person left in the carriage. And now it was a fucking political statement to remain there; a statement of solidarity.

So, I passed my journey in the jovial but also anxious and anticipatory atmosphere of the folks separated out according to their colour and assumed lack of status, by the dude checking tickets and his balding friend rudely selling snacks. Welcome to Greece! I wish them all the best after this welcome.

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Wall Between Greece and Turkey Built in 5 Months

The mainstream media site reported today that on Thursday the contract to build a 12.5km wall between Greece and Turkey was signed by the two governments. The fence is due to be built in 5 months. The article – and the Greek government – claim that the wall will “deter illegal immigration and trafficking”.

But the wall is much more than that.

It is a visceral, physical construction of the racism at the heart of the European Capitalist/Imperialist daydream. It is a symbol designed to send out a message of control; that Europe is closed and that us who are enclosed are safer. Safety and control are far from the same thing. I don't want to live in a place that conflates the two.

The wall will also be a blank page, because it exposes the fake heart of any claim from European power to uphold the rights of refugees (how can a wall discriminate between 'types' of migrants?). In the process it again exposes the constructed of illegality that the control regime has itself constructed.

The wall will also be a straw man, because Europe’s borders don't start and end at its external edges. Despite this sickening news, the wall doesn’t take our eyes off the daily realities of random stop and searches, imprisonment, dawn raids and internal port controls that target migrants from outside of the white world. This wall will be a thread in a much bigger web of control. It is just another barrier among many.

But building a wall and controlling the thing the wall is supposedly built against are not the same thing. The controls get bigger and more complex, but the ways around them are not put out, because the desperate desire or desperate need to move endures. The ways around control might become harder (side effects of the wall could include higher smuggler fees, or changed routes), but they also adjust and change.

Because for all the fake reassurance of control this wall affords the forces of repression, the reality remains; people who desperately want or need to move, will continue to find a way, and they will continue to find a welcome from movements of solidarity. The wall will create a false sense of control. And in that false sense there remains possibility to undermine it.

But for now, solidarity with those at whom this wall will target can and must begin with opposition to its construction.