One evening in early June, Stefanos was in his tent on Eristos beach in Tilos as usual, where he’s come to camp every summer for the last ten years from his home in Athens. But on that evening, he wasn’t just enjoying the peace and quiet, the sound of the sea, the stars above. From his little tent, he was involved in a group effort to keep the signal of the Greek national television station alive.
The softly-spoken 43-year-old tells me over coffee that he was working last year as a computer and website programmer, but the work dried up as a result of the economic crisis. ‘I was politically active before but I felt I had to do something more. When I didn’t have a job anymore, I had the urge to do something about it.’ So he started taking photographs, recording what he saw happening on the streets, and posting them online. He calls himself Dromografos, a play on words meaning something like street reporter.
'It’s an ugly situation in Athens, worse every day, thousands without work. People are tired - so much has happened, it leaves them in a state of shock, they're being hit from every direction.
'The protests have achieved something but the state is fighting back with such force… Four thousand municipal police have been transferred to the main police department, giving them the power to have guns. It’s like a police state in Athens, the police being used like an army, similar to a junta. The constitution means nothing; the government has passed over 20 laws without going through parliament, saying it’s a “unique situation” so they only need the president’s approval – parliament is just decorative.'
One of those laws, says Stefanos, was the shutting down of public television. The Greek government claimed ERT, the state channel, was a ‘haven of waste’, and to save money they were going to shut it down.
'And sure, it was wasteful. But TV is the most powerful weapon. Public television is the only medium that’s unbiased. The government announced at 6pm they were shutting it down at midnight.'
Stefanos, along with other journalists protesting about what this meant for the country, tried to maintain the signal of the TV station online.
'For young people it was very important. The signal never went down on the internet.'
The journalists who have banded together during this time call themselves Media from the People (in Greek, Media Apo To Kato). Their main target is to form a news agency that’s not controlled by anyone, and to set up a website by the autumn that will be the most reliable source for learning what’s happening in Greece; European news media have expressed interest in using it, and they have the technology for web TV. The team of around a dozen groups of people includes some currently employed by mainstream press, working anonymously through social media.
‘What happened with ERT was actually a chance to promote what we are doing. We were interviewed three times on television. Whatever happens with ERT in the future, whether they do put it back on air in a different form, it’s a good thing that all these TV and newspaper guys came together to build something new.’
If they manage to make it happen, he says, people won’t have to search twenty or thirty sites to find out what’s really happening. As Stefanos sees the current Greek government acting more like a junta, it’s important for people to have access to real information, unfiltered by the controls of the privately owned media, in the lead-up to new elections.
What does he see in the future for Greece?
‘There are two possibilities. The first is continuing the current route with the IMF, Troika and so on. Most economists, even the capitalist ones, think this is leading to destruction, that there’s no way Greece can develop in a way it can pay back the loans. The new loans just pay the interest on the previous loans.
‘Then there's the other scenario. The main opposition party, Syriza, if they managed to make a government, would have to agree to co-operate with the communist party, which wouldn’t be easy but it could happen. They would try to re-negotiate with the EU so Greece could not pay the interest on the loans for 20 years until we can grow the economy. It would put money back into the market. If the EU didn’t agree to this and Greece left the EU, it could trigger an exodus from other countries in similar positions – Ireland, Spain, Portugal.
‘The next years in Greece will be hard – but most people think there is nothing to lose, that the situation can’t get any worse. At the beginning of this crisis, Papandreou said "we will do our best so that every family has one working person…" We thought at the time it was a mistake – how could there only be one person in a family working?! But now it’s come true. People who’ve lost their jobs receive welfare from the state for six months only, then they have to go back to their villages to live off a parent’s pension to survive. Properties are left empty, shops close, streets are deserted.’
As for Stefanos, although he sells his photos whenever he can to foreign media (usually when something major makes international news), he offers them for free within Greece – ‘for the cause’ – as long as others don’t use them for profit. And he’s found his new way of life incredibly rewarding, even though he’s surviving on a minimal income.
‘There was something missing before. So many people were struggling and there was no-one to cover it, to say what they wanted; no-one knew the people who lost their jobs were demonstrating and asking for something. I’ve learned many things I didn’t expect. I’m on the streets from morning til night, and try to post photos immediately.
‘There’s stress, but I feel great about it – when I get up I think wow, what do I have to do today, and when I go back at eleven or twelve at night I feel very tired but very happy, it fulfils me.’
In the meantime, he's monitoring the news from Eristos Beach, Tilos.
Find Stefanos at www.dromografos.org, @dromografos