In the midst of riots, fires, and demonstrations, Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS) convened its first world conference in Athens, Greece from 16 to 19 July. One conference participant said, “Athens is literally burning, my eyes still sting from the police’s tear-gas, and I will be giving my talk in just a few minutes. This is what a conference on democracy should be.”
Conference organizers Maria Nikolakaki, Salim Nabi, Michael Wassell, and Creston Davis were walking around Athens a few days before the conference and all reflected on the extent to which the financial powers of Europe were doing everything in their power to shut down the voice of democracy, and it was in this context that they all knew that such a conference was crucial to hold.
It took courage to travel to Athens in the midst of a politically uncharted context. The feeling in Athens was unparalleled to many and to others who experienced revolutionary conditions before (in Egypt and elsewhere) registered the volatility. Anything was possible and yet we never flinched or second-guessed ourselves. In short, the conference, which was more like a “happening” in which anything was possible straddled the edge of a politically unpredictable scene.
Just hours after the Greek government was blackmailed into signing a deal that, in the words of what Syriza MP and Prof. Costas Lapavistsas called, “a very bad deal” the conference began. Was all hope for democracy crushed just at the start of a conference entitled “Democracy Rising”? This question lingered through the early moments of the conference. But as the conference unfolded the question of democracy’s survival became contextualized and clarified as many began realizing that the question of democracy cannot be reduced to a singular instant, a simple defeat on the battlefield framed by those who oppose it. Debates unfolded as voices filled the halls of the University of Athens who arriving from move than 40 countries converging in the birthplace of democracy itself.
This is the kind of organization, a school that GCAS is building. We believe it is time to take risks in order to forge new lines of thinking, new connections and channels of communication and action. During and just after the conference many people met up at cafes and bars in the nearby anarchist districts in Athens that started more than 40 years ago after the people of Greece overthrow the military dictatorship. New mobilizations were formed, new axises of power organized, and, as one person put it, “The end of the conference, the beginning of a movement.” Where this movement will go no one knows, but what happened during those four days in an over heated Athens will always remind us that democracy is rising, the tide is shifting, that the new historical consciousness that has emerged in the wake of the evil effects of neoliberalism not only leveled at the Greek people but on all of us, will continue unfolding. This unfolding is found among other places in the heart of GCAS’ commitment to organizing a school based on our struggle for democracy. The struggle has only just begun.
Our conference attempted something unique and different than the normal academic conferences we have all grown use to. Normally an academic conference is organized in such a way so as to keep the insights and research of scholars safely tucked away from other important discourses. But as our mission states we believe above all else that theory must be infused with praxis and praxis with theory. This is why our program included politicians from more than six European political parties whose objectives are to fight against the neoliberalization of Europe and politics. But we also welcomed artists, writers, journalists, and leading public intellectuals in order to create the conditions for new lines of thinking and action.
Now that the conference is over, the entire GCAS organizers wish to thank those people without whom the conference would have not been possible: George Souvlis brought many people together and his role was significant, Katerina Anastasiou helped with the organization, Stavroula Drakopoulou made all the posters and all designs which Christos Stavrou had originally contributed. The Dean at the University of Athens, Prof. Michalis Spourdalakis honored us with a significant partnership by offering the University of Athens’ venues. Nabi Salim , Michael D Wassell and Steve Panageotou‘s combined their work (which exceeded over 300 hours) at the final stages of planning. Thanasis Santatsoglou, Evi Zevgiti and Alice Kotsasian and many others, volunteered during the conference. Eleni Drongiti made the commercial spots for TV and Radio in English and Greek, and published the program. Our translators Zeta and Grigoris who worked even more than they were paid, believing in the cause of our conference.
Special thanks to Nikos Poulantzas Institute, Transform, The Real News Network and Solidarity4all for their kind donations. This conference owes a big thank you to Sharmini Peries , Dimitri Lascaris and Chris DeMillo for livestreaming the conference and giving access to nearly 100,000 people across the world. Also, Lindsey K Aliksanyan and Hands Cizek who are directing the film “Birdcage” on our conference. The European Alternatives for the documentary, and Greek national TV ERT for media sponsorship. More than 20 channels from around the world reported on the conference, some reporting that this was the most significant conference of its kind.
GCAS would also like to thank Zoi Konstantopoulou, Leonidas Vatikiotis, Eric Toussaint, Alex Politaki, and Leo Panitch for helping us connect with important contributors.
GCAS is grateful to all. We are looking forward to our next year’s conference. And we encourage all of you to continue being part of our movement by supporting our school. Consider donating to us or taking a few courses with our extraordinary faculty who are committed to changing our world.