‘One happy night’

On the night of Saturday, 7 March 2020, “unknown persons” set fire to the premises of “One Happy Family,” an open social centre outside of the city of Mytilene that supports refugees and migrants.

Since 2017, when it was created, One Happy Family constitutes a humane space of encounter, relaxation, and education for refugees and migrants who live in Lesvos: in the Moria hotspot, at the Kara Tepe camp, and in apartments in Mytilene. The services it provides are food, medical care, a space for resting and leisure, childcare, and education. Some of its sub-projects include: a kitchen, a dining hall, a medical centre, a café, a cybercafé, a cinema, video games, hair salon, an educational centre, a library, a bank, a garden, a greenhouse, a gym and sport facilities, music lessons, yoga, playground, a “nest” for small children, and a safe space for women[1]. This multitude of services and activities cover to a large degree the gaps that have emerged from the inadequate humanitarian assistance and the absence of state intervention, more generally in Greece, and specifically in Lesvos.

A special reference must be made to the ‘School of Peace’, which for the past three years offered daily access to education for children and adults. Since February 2017, it was a “home” for more than 4,000 children who passed through the island.

The fire at One Happy Family was no accident. The police department of Mytilene published a press release which states that it was planned arson[2]. According to the people who created and staff One Happy Family this hate crime is an “attack on the edifice of solidarity.”[3] Burning down a school and a social centre means not only the destruction of particular buildings, but also the destruction of a place that secures basic and self-evident human rights, a space of learning, expression, creativity–a space of freedom.

The arson took place in the midst of a period of dramatic escalation of violence against refugees, volunteers, journalists, and local solidarians–not only by law enforcement agencies, but also by groups of far-right extremists. Moreover, this was the outgrowth of the policies of recent years that have led to an emergency situation in the Aegean islands, at the borders of northern Greece, and in Greece in general: thousands of people are trapped in miserable conditions in the Moria hotspot, many more on other islands. The ongoing violation of human rights, the cessation of the right to apply for asylum in Greece, illegal pushbacks and violent obstruction of people in their attempt to cross the borders–these are just some of the characteristics of the emergency situation. The creators and  staff of One Happy Family remind us that “All of these are much worse than the damage caused to the buildings of One Happy Family and the International School of Peace. All these are still continuing.”

The arson took place in a country where a member of the ruling party commented on the incident on Facebook as “One happy night.” Indeed, when another fb user replied to him that “you rejoice in disaster; that’s how miserable you’ve become,” the former answered: “No, it’s not a disaster. This is more idyllic than a sunset in Santorini.”[4]

Between sunset and sunrise, “light and darkness,” racist paranoia and solidarity, ashes and rebirth, One Happy Family continues to be–and not only “was”–a promise of encounter of people from different points of departure who nevertheless have similar goals: the improvement of their living conditions.

Thankfully there “exists […] a large solidarity movement all over the world, which is determined by the struggle for human rights, equality, and justice”[5];  hence this promise is not only located in Lesvos but everywhere in the world. “We will rebuild the school! Together, the light will prevail over the darkness.”

Naya Tselepi
March 2020





[5] ibid.

1-4: by Naya Tselepi, taken during field visits in May and November 2018.
6-7:  by  Knut Bry


The eyes of the port and their transformations

In April 2015, the port of Mytilene welcomed hundreds of refugees who fled the wars in Syria and Afghanistan. At first, the collectives in solidarity managed to open the abandoned swimming pool. Despite having serious problems with leakage during bad weather conditions, the pool hosted more than 300 Syrians and Afghans whoshared, without discriminations the food and tea, that local residents and shopkeepers offered them. In the following days, therefugees were quickly registered and, then, they left for Pireaus and other European countries. The refugees who passed through the port during this period remember it in the best light: “Since I left my house, which was being destroyed by bombings, we haven’t experienced such a reception anywhere,” said a former resident of Aleppo (Syria) in 2015.

Immediately after, and until September, the port turned into a harbour of agony, since it was flooded by thousands of refugees who waited to be registered in order to leave with the few liner ships (more than 500,000 passed through in 2015). The refugee registration service was set up there and — amid a fluid political situation in Greece (transition from a right-wing to a left-wing government) — was attempting to speed up the  entry registration procedures, as the majority  of refugees wanted to seek asylum in western and northern European countries.

During this period, refugees were forced to live in tents or on the streets and in nearby parks with no cover. The Port Authority refused to install toilets and sheds, and, eventually, the municipality took care of it, after pressure from localresidents. “The port is, for us, the passage to Europe, and waiting is the torture that we have to endure  under the sunto fulfill that purpose,” said a gentleman from Afghanistan. “The port is the place where all of us, who fled the wars,share our dreams and hope for another life,” said a lady from Syria. “We’re not leaving because, here, we feel very close to our goal; if we leave, someone will take our turn,” says a young man from Afghanistan. The town’s residents regard this fact as a continuation of the wars in Syria and Afghanistan.[1]

In this period, two young people draw two eyes with a Greek flag that welcome refugees. The mural was made on the building of the former agricultural cooperative in the port of Mytilene (see post: contested border in port of Mytilene). The building was abandoned at the beginning of the twenty first century during the crisis.

Immediately after the opening of the Reception and Identification Centre in the Moria hotspot[2], the port of Mytilene was decongested; for a small period of time, it became a place of pleasant anticipation for the coveted trip. These eyes were inhabited by refugees, became known by famous photojournalists[3]–but later, they were fenced. The mandatory accreditation of solidarians[4] led to the exclusion of non-institutionalised movements.. The photograph taken of the eyes was used again by the Platanos collective (see post) in condemnation of this discrimination. This constituted the next period of the port.[5]

A photograph, focusing exclusively on the eyes, was used in 2019 as the cover image of the book “PIKPA” by Lesvos Solidarity; in an effort to promote their intercultural perspective.

Amid the quarantine due to coronavirus, at a moment when access to the urban beaches and sea were closed for locals in other parts of Greece, the port opened its gates for a few days and residents were able to regain their lost walk in the jetty. However, the fencing of this public space is now permanent (See post: the fenced eyes of the port).

Christy Petropoulou
May 2020

[1] Rontos, K., Nagopoulos, N., & Panagos, N., 2019 και Papachristou I., Pertropoulou C., Katseniou E., & Rosas Casals, M., 2019.

[2] Tsianos, V., & Kuster, B., 2016.

[3] Aris Messinis AFP ––greek-islands-the-greeks.jpg

[4] Solidarity Platanos, 2016. Σχετικά με το κυνήγι διαπιστεύσεων στη Λέσβο

[5] Petropoulou, C., 2017.


Mitchell, K., & Sparke, M., 2018. Hotspot geopolitics versus geosocial solidarity: Contending constructions of safe space for migrants in Europe. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 0(0) 1–21. Doi: 10.1177/0263775818793647

Papachristou I., Pertropoulou C., Katseniou E., & Rosas Casals, M., 2019. Palabras sobre los refugiados: un análisis, mediante redes semánticas, de la construcción social de percepciones de los habitantes de Mitilene en función de los eco-paisajes. Recherche report Retrieved from

Petropoulou, C., 2017. “De la solidaridad humana a la restricción, la punición et la segregación socio-espacial. Los nuevos llegados (migrantes / refugiados) y la bienvenida en Grecia como proceso glocal. El ejemplo de Mytilene”. In: Thematic Conference IGU Geographies for Peace. La Paz, 23-25 April. Oral presentation. 

Rontos, K., Nagopoulos, N., & Panagos, N., 2019. The refugee immigrant phenomenon in Lesvos of 2016 and the local Societies. Attitudes and behaviors. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Solidarity Platanos, 2016. Σχετικά με το κυνήγι διαπιστεύσεων στη Λέσβο

Tsianos, V., & Kuster, B. (2016). Against the panoptical Realism. An ethnography of the Hotspot Lesvos [Retrieved from:].

Eyes in the port Transformation 1 Efimerida ton Sintakton 24/10/2015 eurokinisi/Stelios Misinas
Eyes in the port Transformation 2 Solidarity team platanos/ 21/1/2016
Eyes in the port Transformation 3 PIKPA photo book 3/5/2019
Eyes in the port Transformation 4 Christy Petropoulou 19/4/2020


The fenced eyes of the port

The EU-Turkey Agreement, signed in March 2016, radically changed everyone’s relationship to the port. In the following years, the painted eyes (see post:  the eyes of the port and their transformations) saw  many refugees making desperate attempts to illegally escape the island, and, more than a few, violent deportations to Turkey; as well as arrests and returns to, the now closed, reception and detention centre in Moria.

The port closed for non-travellers and no one could wait for the ship. This also caused resentment among the island’s permanent residents. For instance, one middle-aged woman told us: “Our walk on the waterfront used to end  at the port where we had often bidden adieu to our friends and family. Now this is not allowed. At first, they told us it would be temporary, but the emergency became permanent.  Slowly, we got used to it.” Also, the frequent controls (with dogs at the entrance of the port) caused distress to young people. “Now we think twice about whether to make the return voyage to the island by ship. The humiliation of our personality is severe ,” a university student declared. Similar testimonies were expressed by other permanent residents of the island.

Finally, on 25 February 2020, the port became known around the world when police officers (from the Units for Rehabilitation of Order) exited the ship in formation.  Their  mission was twofold: to occupy the area of Kavakli-Karava and to install on-site the necessary machines for constructing the first big prison on the island that would function as a refugee detention centre.

The clash with residents in Kavakli (Karava and Diavolorema) on 25 and 26 February, , who came from differentpolitical perspectives, was huge. On 27 February, the police squads were forced to flee[1]; the incident was compared to the historic “go home” of 1944[2]. However, in the following period, an organised fascist attack on solidarity structures, on refugees and solidarians unfolded in front of the port’s eyes. In response, a new wave of antifascist demonstrations broke out[3]. Immediately after, the port fell quiet as the city came under the terror of coronavirus (see post).

In April 2020, approximately 20,000 refugees were confined and abandoned in the area of Moria[4]; the ship linerswere reduced and the port fell silent. The eyes, now faded, fenced, and marginalised, are no longer newsworthy; they are but a faded memory. Their creators remain unknown to the wider public. Entry to the port is no longer allowed, except when holding a ticket for the ferry. The old rituals of farewell and welcoming have faded into history. Today, the city of thresholds (Stavrides, 2009) is becoming more and more a city of barriers, of surveillance and control. The port constitutes the preeminent space where this process is performed. From the habitus of openness that had been created through struggles (Petropoulou, 2019), we entered decisively into that of enclosure.

The photograph was taken on 14 March, immediately after the departure of the Rhodes navy tanker, which was transporting refugees trapped in the port (following a government decision not to accept other asylum applications). The tanker sailed for northern Greece with the aim of temporarily relocating the refugees on board in a place, essentially, of exile. The same day, an antifacist demonstration was taking place in the city of Mytilene and measures to deal with COVID-19 were initiated.

Christy Petropoulou
May 2020

[1] The band “Iperastiki” [a play on words between “long-distance”–as in phone calls–and “transients”, translator’s note] which was born out of the the struggles of Keratea and Halyvourgiki Inc. in Attica, was inspire to write a song: “Let’s go to the fires now, to the roadblocks, brothers, / it’s fun for the bosses, but it’s anger for us. / In the world of capital we are also strangers, / refugees and immigrants are the damned of the earth.”

[2] Kalargalis, A., 2020


[4] See the statements of the Antiracist Observatory of the University of the Aegean and the Observatory of the Refugee and Migration Crisis in the Aegean.


Antiracist Observatory UOA, 2020.

Kalargalis, Α., 2020. Blokia Mytilene, 1944-2020 26.02.2020

Παρατηρητήριο Προσφυγικής και Μεταναστευτικής Κρίσης στο Αιγαίο, 2020. 

Petropoulou, C., 2019. Can the poetic of commoning change the habitus? Reflexions from Lesvos with a Latin American perspective of urban – regional social movements. In: D. Gouvias, C. Petropoulou. & C. Tsavdaroglou (2019). Contested Borderscapes. Transnational Geographies vis-à-vis Fortress Europe (pp.125-138) Mytilene: Research Gorup Invisibles Cities.

Stavridis S., 2009. Από την πόλη οθόνη στην πόλη σκηνή. Ελληνικά Γράμματα. 

Solidarity Platanos, 2016. Σχετικά με το κυνήγι διαπιστεύσεων στη Λέσβο

Υπεραστικοί, 2020. Τραγούδι εμπνευσμένο από τη μάχη του Καράβα ενάντια στην δημιουργία φυλακής προσφύγων.

1. Banner at the port on the day the EU-Turkey Agreement went into force (Photograph from the C.P. Archive)
2. Mural at the port in 2015 and slogans drawn over it, after the EU-Turkey Agreement, in March 2016 (Photograph from the C.P. Archive)
3. The riot police at the port (, 25 February 2020)
4. The fenced eyes of the port by Christy Petropoulou, 14 March 2020


Sappho Square: Geo-trauma or a place of resistance and creation of commons? Contested habitus in the heart of Mytilene. No1

Sappho: “..What is the ultimate beauty?”

Some the cavalry, some the infantry,

some the navy

they define it as the most beautiful thing on black earth.

But I, the one that each of us falls in love with “…”[1]

In the place where Sappho dared to question the value of such an important issue for the time of the (Trojan) war, for centuries now there are disputed six, recurring habits.

The square is empty. The measures of “social distancing” due to COVID19 contributed to this. The square is full of birds. A gentleman, who escaped wars and attacks, and now lives trapped on the island, shares with them the dream of freedom. He stands next to the statue of Sappho. He holds dozens of pigeons in his fingers. It is December 7, 2020, one day after the silent anniversary of the student uprising – memory of Alexis Grigoropoulos, in conditions of pandemic and biopolitical capitalism. A few days after the occupation of the square by the special police force unit, on November 17, and after a team of doctors stopped banners from being hung up in it [the square]. Is anything changing in the square?

The square is full. It is full of children playing, seniors talking, immigrants, students waiting, meeting, exchanging knowledge, arguing, laughing, and learning. The square is being rediscovered[2], when, in pandemic conditions, it becomes a target for silencing the residents of the island. It is May 21, 2020. A day when the actors of its history awaken[3]. At the same time, the square reminds us that it is this patriarchy that is behind the genocide of Erato (1 year later)[4]. What bothered the authors of the proposal to ban demonstrations in the square?

A. The language:

The area of ​​the square is a place of ephemeral-urban-verbal interventions (banners, microphones, music) that communicate their ideas to people. But there are two fixed landmarks in it that bear permanent inscriptions:

– Sappho’s painting made by students of the POLIANA team, which began in November 2012 at the pumping station, which was completed in May 2018 on the day of a voluntary blood donor. One of the inscriptions says in English: “love is to share sunlight and virtue”, for passers-by from all over the world to read.

– Sappho’s statue, made by the sculptor Athanasios Limneos, was donated by the poet Rose Macaulay between 1964-1965[1]. The writing “Come now, kind graces and Muses with beautiful hair” is in ancient Greek. Sappho is closely connected with the anti-patriarchal struggles in Lesvos.

B. The struggles:

The square has been a landmark of struggles since its creation (in 1962, at the site of the demolished customs office). Demonstrations where the Labor Center, PAME, the primary unions, the Students, the Farmers, the movement of “Indignant Citizens” are called, but also the gatherings on landmark dates: December 6, November 17, Antifascist demonstrations.

C. The commons:
The square is also a place of co-formation of the “commons”. A public space that functions as an urban audience. Most socio-political and cultural gatherings take place in this square, but, also, the square calls for a joint meeting around a game, a movie screening, a meal (Other Human), a conversation, a dance… It is also the place of random encounters.

All these meetings hide many, potentially, uncontrollable situations, many political fermentations, and, organized or not, revolts by the oppressed, which usually worries the rulers (as noted by Bakhtin and Hobsbawm).

The above factors (language, struggles, commonalities) create repetitive habits of resistance and creation that constantly confront and are intertwined with the ingrained patriarchal habits of exploitation between humans, which blindly obey to the triptych “homeland – religion – family.

D. The flag:

The flag reminds us that we are at the border. It also emphasizes, as in any area that is systematically degraded, a sense of belonging. Many different events have taken place around it. The day of national liberation from the Ottoman Empire, the day of liberation from the German occupation and many more. From 2015 onwards, some groups attribute more and narrower “nationalist” characteristics to it.

These controversial habits have marked the history of Lesvos. The EU-Turkey agreement signed in March 2015 is a recent milestone and acts as a continuation of the global policy of state terrorism that took place after the fall of the towers in New York in 2011; it was named as “counter-terrorism policy”. See post: Sappho Square No2.

Christy Petropoulou
December 2021

[1] Original Text:

ο]ἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον, οἰ δὲ πέσδων,

οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ᾽ ἐπ[ὶ] γᾶν μέλαι[ν]αν

ἔ]μμεναι κάλλιστον, ἔγω δὲ κῆν᾽ ὄττω τις ἔραται·

Translation to Modern Greek, Δ. Ν. Μαρωνίτης «Εννέα Μεταφράσματα» Ποίηση τεύχος 9, Άνοιξη-Καλοκαίρι 1997) Στο: Σ. Πασχάλης,2004. Μυτιλήνη, Μια πόλη στη λογοτεχνία. Μεταίχμιο, σ.21.

[2] The local magazine Κλαξόν (Klaxon) comments “In the place where we grew up, the squares are the definition of public space…: By definition, open spaces. Sometimes emblematic.” Reference point: The open, free, public gathering space

[3] “Defeat Tsakyri. Sappho Square open to society »The Council of the Community of Mytilene rejected the proposal of the Deputy Mayor of Culture Panagiotis Tsakiris, which was submitted on the anniversary of the coup d’etat of April 21, 1967 and supported by the” Free Citizens “faction for the adoption of a” regulatory act ” Sappho Square at certain times of the year will be used only as a place of cultural and intellectual activities and not as a place of political or trade union gatherings unless there is an announcement of elections.Source: Ήττα Τσακύρη. Η πλατεία Σαπφούς ανοικτή στην κοινωνίαFrom NEWSROOM Published 21/5/2020



Photos: Christy Petropoulou 

Sappho Square: Geo-trauma or a place of resistance and creation of commons? Contested habitus in the heart of Mytilene. No2

From March 2015 onwards, Sappho Square has been marked by many events.[1] From a meeting place – a refuge for refugees to find temporary shelter in tents and a place of solidarity action (food, music) it becomes a place of permanent repression. In particular, immediately after the uprising of the residents against the creation of a large detention center on the Island (February and March 2020) in the Square, hundreds of women from Moria came to protest the miserable living conditions and the delay in issuing their asylum decisions where they were under attack by police and paramilitaries. For the next 3 days, the police were asking passers-by to leave in order to clean the Square by throwing tear gas. “From whom will you clean the square, from me?” asked a student. During the covid19 pandemic, the police checks for exit notes in the square were multiplied. The square is empty during the day, and at night, as soon as the shops close, it is full of young people and puppies …


Sappho Square is very popular in all tourist guides, in all the references to the city of Mytilene. But in recent years it seems that something has begun to change. Indeed, in an unpublished survey conducted by students of the Urban Analysis course through mental maps in June 2019, the square appeared as the place with the most signs of fear of being approached at night by first-year students. Qualitative research showed that fear is socially constructed and is due in large part to what they have heard about the square before coming to Lesvos rather than to what they themselves have experienced. In the area around the square, some incidents of violence against young girls were reported, which makes many female students avoid approaching her [the square]. In the same area, the constant checks and persecutions of refugees have led many, many of them, in search of other routes to return to their place of temporary residence. In, previously, published surveys the square was a landmark and was surrounded by a sense of security and common space. What has changed? The most popular posts on the internet talk about pogroms.

20/4/2018 In the Square, on the entry of an Afghan refugee in the intensive care unit due to living conditions in Moria, the (third in a row) hunger strike of asylum seekers takes place with a request for quick asylum registration and better living conditions while waiting. During their stay in the Square, they pray for their release. The symbolic image of prayer (in a religion other than that of the host country) was used by the authorities to stigmatize the actors and intimidate the crowd. Racist calls for emptying the square followed. An important landmark in the square acquires a twofold role: the Greek flag. Since 2016, on the occasion of a false news of its desecration, nationalist rallies are taking place around it, while at the same time the established national holidays continue. In the same direction as in 2016, the call is repeated: “Desecration of the square”.

On 22/4/2018 fascist organizations organize pogroms with mass attacks on women and children, which are protected by a chain of refugees’ bodies and people who stand with them. The event is shown by the news. At the end of the attacks, the police arrested 120 refugees and released 25 perpetrators. Many bodies and parties issue convictions[4].The anti-racism observatory notes: “We call on the local community to isolate the political protagonists of racial and religious hate rhetoric that leads to such heinous acts”[5]. This is the day he sealed the Square with a geotrauma. Since then, Sappho Square has dominated journalism as a place of pogroms. The Refugee Crisis Observatory later notes: “… The events in Mytilene seem to reflect a shift in relation to the ‘solidarity’ attitudes towards the refugee population, which developed mainly in the period 2015-2016 and seem to be absent at the present juncture. “Tolerance of asylum seekers’ and migrants’ presence or even rhetorical support for refugees is being replaced by tolerance of aggressive, xenophobic violence against them”[6].

As long as the perpetrators of these episodes are not brought to justice[5], the veil of silent complicity spreads in the city and the suppression of any social resistance or solidarity action is legalized. The e-newspaper “The press project” presents a detailed report on the fascist-racist actions related to the pogrom in Lesvos[6]. The Golden Dawn trial took place, when will it take place in Lesvos?

The anti-fascist initiative against the detention centers prints a poster with the question: “How long will we live in fear? Do not get used to daily fascism. Think, speak, act” and calls on people to recover the square, with daily actions[7].

During the pandemic, poverty on the island increases and beggars appear in the square. “Misery is a sad thing, an evil that cannot be tamed; with its sister, Embarrassment, it enslaves even a great people” (Alkaios)[8].


Christy Petropoulou
December 2021




[1] For instance

29/11/2017 Businessmen, employees and residents of Lesvos gathered in Sappho Square and demanded the suspension of the VAT increase on the islands

27/10/2017 “In the name of the only one who created freedom”

The second mass hunger strike of Afghans-Syrians-Iranians begins in the Square

11/2/2015 Breath of dignity towards the memoranda (call of Antarsya)

[5] “In the drawer” are the pogroms carried out by Golden Dawn supporters in Sappho Square. Two and a half years later, 26 people accused of a felony for the attacks against refugees and immigrants in Sappho Square have not even been summoned for questioning – Writes ATHANASIOS CHARALAMPOUS From NEWSROOM Published 11/10/2020

[7]Αντιφασιστική-Πρωτοβουλία-Λέσβου-108140561044061/ 3 Νοεμβρίου 2020


απ. 364 Lobel-Page

ΑΛΚΑΙΟΣ: απ. 364 Lobel-Page

ἀργάλεον Πενία κάκον ἄσχετον, ἀ μέγαν

Photos: Christy Petropoulou