Nassos Theodoridis of Antigone: choice of culture as central aspect of human rights

By Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following my interview with Nassos Theodoridis, Director of ANTIGONE, Information and Documentation Center on Racism, Ecology, Peace and Non Violence established in 1993 in Thessaloniki. I talked to Nassos about his organisation, his name, objectives and projects and about the importance of non-violence and the struggle against racism. All education to human rights, non-violence, peace, and respect of diversity starts from school. Would like to thank him again for his detailled answers. 
 What is the main objective of Antigone?
ANTIGONE-Information and Documentation Center on Racism, Ecology, Peace and Non-Violence is a non-profit organization set in Thessaloniki, active since 1993.
ANTIGONE develops activities aiming to assure equality of opportunities for everyone without any negative discrimination based on gender, race, national or social origin, disability, colour, religion, age, sexual orientation etc. On the bases of solidarity and direct activation ANTIGONE attempts to contribute towards the creation of the appropriate social conditions so that every person can take on active role in the various aspects of social, economic and cultural life. Furthermore, ANTIGONE targets to raising awareness and sensitization of the wider society on non-discrimination issues, human rights, social ecology, non-violence and interculturality.
ANTIGONE participates as coordinator or as partner in both national and international projects. The organization carries out sensitization activities, events on non-discrimination, non-formal educational workshops on the integration of differentiality conducted via the methodology of non-formal education as well as seminars and vocational training workshops in various thematic sections.
Why the name Antigone?
The name “Antigone” refers to the name of the principal hero of an ancient Greek tragedy called “Antigone” (written by Sophocles). Although the story is a myth, the case of Antigone is supposed to be the historically case of a non-violent form of disobedience against authoritarian rules. The story is about a young woman who has buried her brother by breaking King Creon’s decree, and she is punished for obeying God’s law. As the play begins, Antigone vows to bury her brother’s body in defiance of Creon’s edict, although her sister refuses to help her, fearing the death penalty. King Creon, furious at this wilful disobedience, questions Antigone over her actions, but she does not deny what she has done and argues unflinchingly with Creon about the morality of his edict and the morality of her deeds.
How important is intercultural dialogue to struggle against racism?
Intercultural dialogue is important to struggle against racism because freedom to choose one’s own culture is fundamental; it is a central aspect of human rights. Simultaneously or at various stages in their lives, everyone may adopt different cultural affiliations. Whilst every individual, to a certain extent, is a product of his or her heritage and social background, in contemporary modern democracies everyone can enrich his or her own identity by integrating different cultural affiliations. 
No one should be confined against their will within a particular group, community, thought system or world view, but should be free to renounce past choices and make new ones – as long as they are consistent with the universal values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Mutual openness and sharing are twin aspects of multiple cultural affiliation. Both are rules of coexistence applying to individuals and groups, who are free to practice their cultures, subject only to respect for others. 
Intercultural dialogue is therefore important in managing multiple cultural affiliations in a multicultural environment. It is a mechanism to constantly achieve a new identity balance, responding to new openings and experiences and adding new layers to identity without relinquishing one’s roots. Intercultural dialogue helps us to avoid the pitfalls of identity policies and to remain open to the challenges of modern societies. Besides, intercultural dialogue is essential for one to get to know the “other” and avoid ignorance and further avoid the fear for the “different”.
How is the situation of racism and discrimination in Greece?
A few years ago, no one could – or dared – to identify the sharp increase of racism that was about to come to Greece, and few had the political will to openly admit that xenophobia and intolerance were increasing at a fast rate.  Golden Dawn, the most prominent racist organization, active for long, mainly as a small and marginal group inspired by Nazi ideas, grew rapidly after 2009 and entered Parliament with more than six per cent of the vote.  Its violent activity had increased, but the reaction by the relevant authorities had not been prompt, decisive and appropriate.  In 2012, the Racist Violence Reporting Network had been created, and members of Golden Dawn, including all members of the parliament, had been brought to trial for several crimes, including for membership to a criminal organization. 
Greece had amended its old anti-racist law to strengthen its legislation and facilitate its implementation, but the application of legislation was still unsatisfactory.  A number of operational measures had been taken to strengthen the criminal investigation of hate crimes: special prosecutors had been appointed in five cities for the investigation of racist crimes, and two new offices had been established within the Hellenic Police to deal with the investigation of acts of racist violence. 
In 2015, Greece had established the National Council against Racism and Intolerance, which had already started planning a comprehensive strategy.  In order to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to including those grounds in the anti-racism legislation and in the draft bill on equal treatment, the law on the civil partnership pact had recently been extended to same-sex couples.  Greece was ready to establish an independent mechanism for the investigation of allegations of arbitrary behaviour by law enforcement personnel, particularly with racist motives, and the law was pending to be presented to the Parliament.  Greek authorities and institutions were slow and reluctant in facing the reality, and for long had disregarded or underestimated racist violence; it took a long time to recognize that there was a clear pattern of organized racist violence.  However, after 2013, there was a drastic change for the better, with tangible results in terms of law enforcement and criminal justice response, victims and civil society awareness, non-governmental organization networking, and reporting and recording of hate crimes.  

Which projects do you implement to promote dialogue and mutual understanding in society?
Some of our most recent projects follow:
a) Project “Emergency aid for asylum seekers and refugees in Serbia and Greece”
The project under the title “Emergency aid for asylum seekers and refugees in Serbia and Greece” which has been officially funded by HELP and GFO since July 2016. The project is a multilateral attempt of both Greece (through the collaboration of three organizations: ANTIGONE-Information and Documentation Centre on Racism, Ecology, Peace and Non-Violence, Greek Council for Refugees and Smile of the Child) and Serbia to improve the living conditions of asylum seekers and refugees in the respective two countries.
In the framework of this project and in particular as regards the General project objective of ANTIGONE, the latter develops activities within the Camp of Diavata for the enhancement of the interaction between refugees and the local communities. The specific objectives of our Organization are multifaceted: to release the accumulated anger and despair that refugees have experienced, to psychologically support the refugees through activities focusing on vulnerable groups, to enhance interaction with local community/de-institutionalization/socialization through events taking place in the city of Thessaloniki as well as with providing training to intercultural mediators active in the camps, in order to enable and further improve their communication with the refugees as well as with the camp personnel.
b) “Comics in Human Rights Education”
The project entitles “Comics in Human Rights Education” is an educational art project for refugee children aged 12-18 years old, currently living at refugee camps and minors shelters (in the area of Lagkadikia and Sindos) combining educational workshops (getting acquainted to human rights principles and values, express feelings, exchange personal experience and views) and artistic workshops (transmitting own messages in creative ways, development of comic stories characters, script, time and place).
c) Project “Schools for change”
Under the framework of “Schools for Change” project implemented in collaboration with “Heinrich Boell Foundation”, “ANTIGONE” carries out workshops with the participation of students in primary schools, secondary schools and high schools according to the educational needs of every class.
The thematic sections of the workshops vary and so activities can be related to project lessons of every class as well as to issues that are in accordance with class curricula. Some indicative thematic of the workshops are the following: stereotypes/discrimination/racism, bullying/school violence, human rights, rights of the child, gender equality, disability/social isolation, ecology and society etc. Non formal educational workshops are implemented without any financial cost for the schools.
The objectives of the Project are the following:
  • sensitization of students on human rights
  • combat against any kind of negative discrimination
  • development of personal, social and educational skills
  • development of creativity, imagination and empathy
  • interaction in the class and in society with respect, equality and willingness to participate
d) Project “Youth is tolerance”
“Youth is Tolerance” was a project which aimed to combat racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, with a particular attention on Roma discrimination, among young people. The project was carried on in Bulgaria and Romania, where Roma are a numerous minority, and in Greece and Hungary, where Roma represent a small but significant percentage of the population.
In countries with a considerable presence of Roma still persist deep prejudices, also among teachers in schools and universities, which result is the lack of integration in the educational institutions and in the violation of the human and citizen rights of this minority.
Roma young people are victims of widespread forms of racism and xenophobia and are suffering from anti-Roma stereotypes, often justified by wrong behaviour of adults with a key role in society and educational system. This in spite of the last years’ increasing attention on the topics, related to multicultural exchange and integration, mutual understanding and tolerance.

As for its general efforts to combat social exclusion, ANTIGONE participated in various projects that promoted the rights of persons of vulnerable groups, such as “Able ’20” which was an international project involving people with fewer opportunities in the field of employment through self-promotion. The project supported the introduction, implementation and promotion of innovative and qualitative elements in non-formal education and youth work, while bringing together young people with disabilities (target group) from the partner countries of Greece, Italy, Spain, and Lithuania. In this context, participants created self-portraits/video CVs that could potentially be used throughout their vocational path.
ANTIGONE has also contributed in the European Website on Integration, the core function of which, consists of an easily accessible on-line data collection tool for the exchange of information on EU wide experiences in the field of integration. This system provides a basis for the collection, analysis and dissemination of good practices on immigrant integration of third country nationals in the EU. It contains evidence based quality information on good practices and projects from Member States’ national administrations, regional and local authorities, social partners, civil society, private enterprises, academia, international organizations etc.
What does non-violence mean to you?
Nonviolence is a powerful philosophy and strategy for social change that rejects the use of physical violence. The practice of nonviolence calls for peaceful active behavior in the midst of conflict. At its core, nonviolence embodies respect, and even love, for one’s opponents. The practice recognizes and utilizes the importance of dialogue without the use of physical threat or coercion in negotiating and problem-solving.
Also key to the philosophy of nonviolence is a core belief that if we wish to achieve just ends, the means we use must also be just. Proponents would argue that it is fundamentally irrational to use violence to achieve a peaceful society.
Although absent of physical threat or retaliation, nonviolence is not passive and implies the very opposite of weakness or cowardice. The power of nonviolence lies in patience and self-control motivated by the intention to meet human needs and promote a more just society.