10 + 1 questions and answers about Human Library Greece

-When and how was Human Library Greece founded?
The idea and practice of Human Library was first applied in 2001 in Denmark. It expanded quickly and traveled globally adopting very different organizational structures in different contexts. In Greece, Human Library came together as an initiative four years ago by a group of volunteers who had come across the project through the very successful Living Library Turkey and the congress of United in Sheffield. In September of 2009 Human Library Greece became part of the International Network of Human Libraries and in February 2010 carried out its first pilot event in the cultural center of the municipality of Athens.

-Who are behind the idea and which are their motives?
Behind the collectivity there are people from across the spectrum of social activism and activism for human rights (antifascist, antiracist, feminism, LGTB rights and rights of people with disability, to mention a few) who came together in order to coordinate their actions and voices and meet with whomever experiences discrimination and social exclusion in the direction of mutual empowerment and resistance. “To narrate is to resist” is the main slogan of Human Library, which means of course that by articulating who I am I resist assaults and infringement on my subjectivity and freedom, but also by addressing others I invite them to a collective act of resistance. That is why self-organization, inclusiveness, mutual respect, and an horizontal a-hierarchical structure are substantive and inviolable group principles.

-On the bookshelves of the Human Library there are no print copies. What do readers borrow then?
Readers who come to Human Library borrow human books, with flesh and bones, with pulse, warm books with the disposition to share their experiences and their stories and to challenge you to overcome your prejudice. It is people with stories from across the spectrum of social exclusion and discrimination, but also from across the fronts of resistance and the fight for dignity and freedom, who through their personal narration invite the reader, all of us, to pull down our separate shelves and cases, and remember that the true stories of true people are nuanced, ambiguous, multifaceted and fluid and do not fit in solid categories and under fixed labels. Sole condition: the readers must respect the books and bring them back in the exact same condition in which they borrowed them, without having rumpled their pages or caused any damage.

-Which is the process?
There are two basic processed which constitute the Human Library Greece: its assemblies and its events. One process is reinforced and draws meaning from the other. Assemblies, where both volunteers and books participate on an equal basis, are the bodies where decisions are taken and where the goals, values and procedures of the collectivity are being discussed. During events the group socializes its activity. An event takes usually the form of an open library where readers chose from a proposed bibliography a ‘book’ they would like to read and they have up to 30’ to meet and discuss. There are human dictionaries (sign language, English, Farsi, Dari) for whomever does not speak the book’s language, as well as librarians who take care of the readers’ children.

Some of the book titles one would find during an event are the following:
“Living (HIV)positively – By reading you won’t be infected; perhaps you’ll be disinfected” “Life through my hands – hands that communicate through sign language”, “The problem in the big family of humanity is that everyone wants to be the father – feminist stories in a sexist world”, “Many great discoveries begin with an accident, I discovered the wheel – I do extreme sports, I go out in a wheelchair”, “Don’t say! You can’t tell!  - Living with mental disorder”, “Dwarfism – People who escaped from fairytales and are since in search of their own story”, “In search or a better life -  Following the Greek dream, looking for a better future, enduring in optimism”, “The grey hair gay or being inside the closet is a source of misery – Growing up outside the closet, openly, proudly, colorfully…”, “Conscientious objector – 20 years of public action against army enlistment”, “Azadi means to be free – the adventures of a refugee from Afghanistan in Fortress Europe”.
Nevertheless our events have been gradually differentiating, with peak moments the recent publication of the manual “Who, if not you?” and the organization of workshops on responses to racist violence.

- Where could one find Human Library Greece?
Human Library is a mobile/nomad library. Its events are carried out in neighborhoods, municipal libraries, social centers and cultural clubs, within festivals and in which ever framework could constitute a meeting place of free exchange. Our assemblies are at the moment hosted by Kivotos.  

- Which is the place of Human Library in the context of the crisis in Greece?
If the social crisis in Greece is characterized by the discourse and the logic of racism and intolerance, the withdrawal of collective forms of resistance, and by the victory of the individual on the collective, of the logic of entrenchment on that of free coexistence, of disillusionment on public responsible action, of silence on substantial dialogue, of black /white on color, then Human Library is a discrete, however important we would say, intervention exactly because it promotes and enacts everyday the values of coexistence on the basis of a culture of inclusiveness, mutual respect and the rejection of structures of power and competition which cultivate fascism.

- What do members of the group gain from their participation?
This action is simultaneously an educational tool on dialogue and an act of resistance against the sweeping onslaught of racism and fascism. It is the application here and now of alternative organizational forms and of alternative ways of looking at the ‘other’. The group operates a-hierarchically and rejects its institutionalization. Individuals from immigrant communities, persons with disability, a-theists and conscientious objectors, gay, lesbians, trans and bisexual persons are equally involved in the collectivity. Thus, this experience is for all of us an everyday negotiation with or own stereotypes, our own informal and internalized hierarchies. This is not a process without difficulties, since we are all nurtured in a stereotypical way of thinking and in learnt roles and functions of assignment. It is not at all obvious that we have all overcome aspects of racism, neither have we have eliminated all forms of prejudice. This action is a very real and everyday negotiation with the ‘others’ around and inside us which eventually cultivates a habitus of radical coexistence.




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