Lessons learned by a wandering citizen 

There it is, Power’s paradox: it assimilates into its mechanics those that have been through too much to revolt for a future.

By Margherita Dacquino 

The recent Italian elections have been the grim stimulus to write this article, a recount of the encounter between youth’s sublime naivete and Power’s infectious wickedness. Each reader is free to visualise Power as he/she best prefers, according to his/her experiences of dispossession, disempowerment, and violence.

Last summer I organised an independent photo report on Greek refugee camps. For three weeks a photographer and I travelled between refugee camps across Greece to photograph and document the hardship of others. The plan was simple: visit camps, speak to people, and recount how Europe’s response to migration flows is degenerating into a bio-technological dystopia of violence and surveillance.

After one year, words had not been written yet and the images were a fiasco. While inexperience and lack of organisation and finance could be among the reasons for this, its root causes are others. To begin with, we were confronted with Power’s intense dislike for its victims’ humanisation and for those attempting to unveil its misdeeds. Secondly, accepting one’s helplessness is incredibly hard. And finally, as a citizen of the EU, I was an accomplice to Power’s sins. How could I dare to speak in the name of those who suffered the reality my society had created for them?

Later, rage vanished, helplessness encountered disinterest and my attention was given to other causes and issues. Giorgia Meloni winning the elections and her animated xenophobia have strangely revived my rage, which is now directed against her and what she represents. She has given me an enemy and the hope that a fight can still be held.

Before her, I felt powerless. 

Who was my enemy?

The Greek authorities? Or the EU with its externalised and militarised migration policies? Or maybe, my European compatriots with their disinterest, fear, and placid acceptance? The whole system was degraded, and I did not have the bravery or strength to start a personal fight against it or write about it. But now Ms Meloni is in Power, and I write this article whit her as my muse.

Below are three encounters I had with Power

Meeting Power in privilege 

Challenged by the limits of my experiences, when faced with my own white privilege in Greece I did not immediately recognise it. When seeing the massive amounts of military and police personnel patrolling the areas near refugee camps, I felt adrenaline and excitement, instead of fear and violence. In my mind, I was a courageous explorer rebelling against the system – I was wrong.

Today, I understand what was happening. I see my white privilege as a shield, a shield that allows me to easily wander in a system that represses those without it. I felt immune to police and violence, and I felt the Power of my citizenship and skin colour. The right to be wherever I wanted to be.

When detained by the Greek police for checking, I was terrified, yet I still had my shield on, and the police acted accordingly. In the police officer’s eyes, my whiteness rendered me harmless. They did not body-search us when they brought us into their outpost in the refugee camp of Chios. From where I was seated, I could see the entrance to the outpost, and that they would systematically body-search the refugees coming for regular counselling sessions with NGO workers. The shield had protected me from physical humiliation, and once again I had found myself a spectator of a repressive routine, justified in the name of the protection of those like me, the shielded ones.

It is indeed like this that I most often understand white privilege, a shield that I voluntarily and involuntarily exploit. However, my experience in Greece made me understand that privilege is not just a shield that we get at birth and passively wear every day of our life, but rather a weapon that we actively maintain as a collective. Refugee camps, border patrols, and passport regimes are the materialisation of our collective effort to weaponize our skin colour and uphold our economic and political privileges.

Meeting Power’s paradoxes

I encountered Power’s paradoxes in Lesvos, a Greek island that hosted the largest refugee camp in Europe, Moria, before it burned down in 2020.

When I visited Moria, it was August, and a heat wave was strangling the Turkish and Greek coasts. On Lesvos there were no fires, just sun and heat that drained all living things. The mission of the day was to visit the former camp which had previously hosted more than 12000 people.

By the time we reached the camp, we had finished all the water we had managed to bring on our bikes. I felt weak, lightheaded, and craved water. The desolation of this place momentarily made me forget my thirst. In front of me were the remaining vestiges of Moria. I walked through burned trees and disrupted facilities; toilets, tents, and classrooms. This was the broken promise of a better future Europe provided to its unwanted.

One section of the camp, barricaded by cement walls and barbed wire, seemed to have been untouched by the flames – it was the police outpost. Sounds of voices came from inside, and my thirst made itself known again to my parched tongue. While searching for an entry to ask the police officers for some water, we walked into an unexpected and bizarre scene; near the wall was parked a water truck leaking water and, not far from it, was parked an old Volkswagen with two men sitting next to it, chatting, eating, and drinking cold sodas shielded by trees from the harsh sun. Our arrival distracted them from their meal, and after having checked with a first look our tourist allure, the smaller of the duo registered the water leak and moved to stop it.

He must have noticed our thirst in the way we would inadvertently fix our eyes on his glass while explaining to him who we were and what we were doing there. He took a frozen bottle of water from his old van and gave it to us for free.

As he explained to us, Moria was built without a reliable water source in its proximity and, after the burning down, the management of the water tank bringing water to the remaining police outpost was left to him. From what I understood it became clear he was an immigrant himself, homeless and delirious, surviving on what generous people brought him to eat.

He was in his forties, kind and aware. A solitary outcast that might have not found his place even in a society welcoming him. Yet, the violent, hostile, and xenophobic European society had given him an essential duty: take care of the water supply to its armed forces.

There it is, Power’s paradox: it assimilates into its mechanics those that will not fight for dignity and integration, those that have been through too much to revolt for a future, those that have previously been its victims and have accepted society’s evils and exploitation.

This man seemed happy, extremely solitary, completely delirious, but happy. So… does Power allow happiness to its victims only in solitude and insanity?

Power’s survivors and the simplicity of one man’s love

In Greece, I encountered humanity’s best face: empathy and resilience in NGO workers confronting the criminalisation of humanitarian assistance and solidarity; ambition and joy in young refugees facing an artificial unknown and Europe’s strategic cruelty; integrity and love in Adel*.

I interviewed Adel in Mytilene. He recounted to me his work as a translator for FRONTEX, and how the misery and pain he faced every day had slowly eaten him. Alcohol had been his way to cope with Power’s evil.

But this is not all that Adel is. He is a father incredibly in love with his new-born child. His eyes were full of the most beautiful light when he spoke about his son and the future that awaits his family.

And in that light, Power has no place.

* This name has been changed for publication to respect the privacy and anonymity of the interviewee. 

Photos by @leo_clydebourg

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