When more than one million Syrian and other refugees poured into Southern Europe a few years ago, many Greeks rebuffed them, embracing nationalist, anti-immigration politicians or applauding officials who would usher the newcomers on their way to Germany and other countries.
Fanis Kolias and his friends founded a magazine.
Kolias, 27, is a former Greenpeace communications officer who is currently studying business administration at Athens University of Economics and Business. He launched Solomon in 2016 with the help of two Greek citizens and refugees from Afghanistan, Belarus, Russia and Somalia.
Solomon is a nonprofit that publishes online in Greek and English. It’s named after a globe-trotting elephant character in a José Saramago novel whom people view differently according to their culture. That same concept of multiple perspectives applied to anything that different people subject to scrutiny, Fanis concluded.
“So many different aspects of one idea,” he said. “It was something really interesting for me.”
Today, the website is mostly a culture and arts journal, but it also features pieces like an anonymous migrant’s musing on the difference between a refugee and an immigrant. The latter term is one that Greek critics of migrants and refugees often use to justify measures to prevent Syrians, Afghans and others from landing on their shores.
“Is it fair,” asked the writer, “to categorize an employee who works 12-14 hours per day in a chemical plant (and still cannot meet his physiological needs) and must leave his country to come to Europe (in order to earn a living with dignity)—is it fair to call this person an immigrant, or worse an illegal immigrant?”
Stories like those garnered plenty of hate speech in the magazine’s early days, said Kolias. But more recently that type of feedback has died down as Solomon has become better known as a cultural observer.
It features stories, videos and photo essays on subjects like the Athens Pride festival, street artists, and squatters who turn empty buildings into artists’ residences as the Greek economy continues to struggle after years of austerity measures.
“We talked about an issue that Athenians have been discussing for years—utilizing all of the abandoned, listed [for preservation] buildings in Athens and how they managed to put theory into practice,” the magazine wrote in a story about Communitism, a movement to create communes of artists and other creative workers in reclaimed buildings.
Refugees might report and write Solomon stories. Or Greeks might write them. Articles might be about issues that impact migration. Or they might not. The identity of authors is not so important to Solomon’s editorial vision, said Nasruddin Nizami, an Afghan migrant who has lived in Greece since 2010 and serves as Solomon’s public relations officer.
“We are not focused on using terms ‘refugees’ and ‘migrants’ like other media,” said Nizami. “We’re not like other media that focuses on refugees’ selling their bodies or selling drugs. We go with our camera and write about integration.”
Solomon is not the only new media project in Europe that gives voice to non-native populations, countering negative stereotypes about them and helping them integrate into their new communities. Others include Amal, Berlin!, an Arabic, Farsi and German-language digital newspaper in Germany, and community radio projects like Micro Camp, in France, and Radio Ghetto, Voci Libere (Free Voices), in Italy.
But Solomon’s approach is novel in Greece, said Marina Rigou, a journalism professor at the University of Athens.
“Solomon is an extremely interesting project,” Rigou said. “In a period where xenophobic speech is spreading rapidly, in Greece and internationally, Solomon chooses to do stories on people without any discrimination or stereotypes, but instead focuses on them as members of the same society.”
Keeping the magazine afloat in the moribund Greek economy has been a struggle. The team tried paywalls and other gimmicks to raise cash but abandoned those ideas. Around 500 people read individual stories, said Kolias, a number that’s been rising.
They received a few grants to buy video cameras and conduct media training. They also developed a separate unit, called Cue, where Solomon staffers create websites, videos events or perform other creative work for paying clients. That’s raised around $14,000.
Then, in June, the team won a grant of around $140,000 from the Open Society Foundations, Fanis said. That’s allowed them to rent an office space and to pay nine staffers who previously worked as volunteers.
Kolias saw the grant as a way to cultivate the vision that Solomon has been advancing. He noted that many Solomon stories center on or help promote events, art shows or happenings. That’s by design. The magazine is about documenting as well as building community.
“I realized the potential strength that a diverse group of people could have,” said Kolias. “I didn’t do this because of the refugee crisis. I was surprised at the strength of a diverse group of people.”
More Coverage of Migration Issues
While the flow of migrants and refugees to Europe has slowed in recent years, thousands of people continue to make the journey. The United Nations’ Migration Agency recently reported that more than 70,000 migrants and refugees had reached Europe by sea as of early September, and that more than 1,500 had perished in the attempt.
Millions of other people have been forcibly displaced by conflict within their homelands or have fled to nearby countries in the Middle East and Africa.
Al-Fanar Media‘s coverage of migrants and displaced people includes a series of articles on books by or about refugees. Read more about their views and perspectives in these articles: