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Project of the Day: the Meltemi Community in Greece

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
10th September 2013


“In 1946, a group of employees of some oil company (mostly workers) started a summer camp in one of the areas of Attica, where forest was not quite eradicated (for firewood, mostly – and deforestation is still a major problem in Greece). Over next ten or so years, the summer camp evolved into permanent dwelling, being an example of primary commoning. Now they are a registered ecovillage entity, officially taking care of this patch of Greece.”

Excerpted from Petros’ travelogue for Expedition Freedom:

“Petros:

“These people – now four generations living together mostly in the summer – managed to develop unique and long standing model of commoning community, preserving a patch of Greece from devastation, commercialization and selling to the global capital. And now, in rapidly changing circumstances, they have potential to become center and example to support similar initiatives all over the Greece – and beyond.

They did not own this place. They moved in and started taking care of it. They created a temporary autonomous zone, so to speak. And this zone evolved into one of most fascinating communities I ever heard of.

The community of Meltemi has written rules, dated back to mid-1950s, defining their internal relationships and land preservation routines. They built their huts there and started developing the eco-village decades before the term even emerged. Their goal is simple: to keep the place clean, natural, non-commercial and low profile. Most of huts are assigned to specific families. And they have right to use them – nothing more. No renting, not even letting it for free. No car traffic, except between the gate and your designated parking place. No trash on the ground – waste bins are almost on every corner. Fire prevention (forest fire is a disaster in Greece) at the professional level: all population above 16 years old is trained in firefighting and water outlets with hoses are installed everywhere. There is also watchtower with a water cannon, manned 24/7 in the summer season.

Significant number of houses is not permanently assigned. As the history of Meltemi is rooted in workers’ movement, these houses are available for members of workers’ unions for their holidays. This is one of important tributes Meltemi pays to it’s beginnings. Solidarity goes across the time.

There is a local library, cinema, kids’ playground and even a pack of community dogs (11 of them), walking freely, under protection of the community.

As there is no central policing institution – the board is rather technical body, more serving than ruling the community – rules are enforced by the community itself. If you live in such environment, you better follow guidelines, or you loose reputation – and support – from your neighbours. And this is quite a lot in Meltemi, where social fabric is dense. For serious rule-breakers there are also more expressive sanctions, but I haven’t met anybody who wouldn’t understand a need for them.

There is an ongoing project of writing a history of Meltemi. A lot of documentation, mostly old photographs, has been gathered and digitalised. Video interviews with First Colonists are also planned. There is a need for gathering the history together, as new generations follow, not really feeling that the paradise they live in was built with the hard work and great spirit of their parents and grand-parents. The history perspective is also needed for those, who are now starting similar communities (The Red Earth Tribe for exmple). They will be able to see, that it’s possible, under some circumstances, to start from very simple beginning and to build something, which lasts beyond a perspective of single person. And – with a bit of luck – it is in the reach of most of us.

The Meltemi community is dynamic. The generation change is occuring and now, in the “interesting times” Greece is going through, there are also external changes which may threaten the community and the land under its stewardship. So, there are talks and thoughts within the community about possible strategies, as nobody wants to see the paradise turned commercial entity, or sold to a global capitalist investor. But telling about that is beyond of my story-telling role, so let’s leave it for another time.”

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