Greek activist bookstore struggles to keep debate alive

Shop in Athens strives to revive public intellectual discussions that have largely faded during economic crisis.

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    At Athens’ Free Thinking Zone concept bookstore, you will find everything from brochures to bestsellers, literature to legal guides. There is a wealth of knowledge lining every wall; filling each shelf.

    "It is what is called a statement bookshop or activism bookshop - different from traditional ones," owner Areti Georgilis tells me. "We are making money out of the selling of the books in order to do what we believe, which is activism - activism for human rights, for differentiation, for freedom of speech, freedom of opinion."

    Areti believes that in Greece, the birthplace of democracy, there should always be an abundance of activism. She says that during these difficult economic times, though, the idea of campaigning for causes has become harder to find, as well as fund.

    "There is a deficit in comprehension of each other’s opinions, a deficit in tolerance of one another’s opinions," explains Areti. "So I decided to do this bookshop in order to be..a venue where we can discuss topics that are hot topics..human rights, differentiation, tolerance of opinion, freedom of speech - things that are forgotten easily when you have a financial crisis."

    Areti, who comes from a business background in corporate image management, opened her doors three years ago - and for most of that time thought her bookstore had struck the perfect balance between art, ideals and commerce. But now, all that has changed.

    Common areas of the shop, once filled with loyal customers, are now empty. Pages are not being turned and coffees are not being served. Sales have come to a standstill as patrons of this once bustling, upscale Athens neighbourhood are staying home. 

    Haven for debate

    One of the primary reasons Areti created this space was to provide a haven for debate and discussion, two longstanding intellectual pursuits in Greece. It was, after all, Socrates - a Greek philosopher - who taught the world to think critically. She regularly hosts discussions in which participants representing a diversity of political ideals are invited. It pains her deeply that, if things do not pick up, she may have to close the store.

    Greek businesses struggle to stay afloat

    "In two years," she tells me, "we managed to have a community around us that supports us and what we do..If we were in another country, we would have already opened two more stores."

    Philosophy books, naturally, have their own place of honour in the Free Thinking Zone. But these days, they are not bringing Areti, who loves philosophy, much comfort.

    "We do not have to agree in everything. No we do not - democracies do not agree. But we have to compromise in order to move ahead one step and one step and one step. This is progress."

    She hopes that her country will finally be able to close this ugly economic chapter, and that Greece will, once and for all, be able to move towards a better, more prosperous, future.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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