The Odigitis festival is one of the leading primary cultural events of the Greek communist movement. Its aim is to provide a space for the left-wing and workers’ movement to gather and engage in conversation, as well as cultural activities that strengthen the bond between these two elements of the socialist movement. This year the slogan of the festival took inspiration from Nikos Beloyannis’s famous words: “The young generation together with the KKE, ‘for what is great, beautiful, and staggering!’- Socialism is the answer in the 21st century!”
The Festival was founded in September 1975, just months after the collapse of the 7-year old military dictatorship known as the Greek Junta. The festival begins with a series of smaller events in major Greek cities and then ‘tours’ the country on the way to the main event in the capital, Athens. When it was founded, the festival would have been an event where the left could finally breathe and express its opinions more freely, especially since the KKE was banned under the Junta. Considering Odigitis translates to ‘Guide’ the festival stays true to its name in delivering a platform for the KKE and KNE to express their analyses of modern neo-liberal capitalism, and provide workers with a viable alternative-socialism.
Dimitris Koutsoumbas the General-Secretary of the KKE described the festival as follows: “The festival is a pole of attraction for young people because when everyone tells them that things do not change, the festival presents a different point of view; with our struggles, dreams and strength we will build a free, open and hopeful world through Socialism. It is also a great opportunity for those who believe that they have undeniable answers within the framework of this system [capitalism], to reconsider their overall stance. Because much more is within the power of the young generation than what the defenders of the system are trying to convince them of! Every young person who feels aversion to today’s barbarity has their own place in our struggle, looking towards change, towards the new society that we need”. These words are direct, and highlight the great strength of Odigitis – it provides the student movement with a place to gather and converse, something that should inspire our movement at home.
“I believe that life should have these three ingredients; the great, the beautiful and the staggering. The great is to be in the heat of the struggle, to fight at the forefront for a better life. Those who fail to do so, they simply drop behind… The beautiful is anything that brightens up life; music, flowers, poetry. The staggering is love…”
What was it like?
The three day long festival was an extraordinary experience for us as YCL delegates, since we were able to experience firsthand the organisational and cultural brilliance of the KNE. It is no understatement to say that we were astounded by the scale of the festival, but also by the scale of the communist movement in Greece and the impact of the Party in all areas of Greek politics. When we arrived at the International City, and were greeted by stand after stand of communist and worker’s youth organisations, we were reminded that our role in the movement must not simply focus on Britain, but on the whole international scene. Something showing the true strength of Proletarian Internationalism was the presence of the both Russian and Ukrainian communist youths, side by side. The Odigitis magazine, the official publication of the KNE said, “The presence of the delegations of Russian and Ukrainian communists in Internopolis, side by side, proved to be a resounding example of class internationalist solidarity, against the common enemy, in spite of imperialist conflicts.”
Not far from the City, was a huge pop-up bookstore of all sorts of materials printed by the Party and Youth in Greece. Its scale was truly impressive and certainly caught our eye with its volumes on the long and epic history of the Party. It shows the wealth of the organisations in Greece, both in terms of money and of knowledge. But more importantly it shows that they are at the front of the ‘Battle of Ideas’ in Greece and political education is taken very seriously in the KKE.
Continuing on, we came across multiple exhibits that detailed many things such as Communist history and the current political climate in Greece today. The most striking image was the one of Vladimir Lenin getting off the train in Petrograd to a crowd of celebrating workers. In this same area was a speaker’s stand that was almost constantly occupied by various people speaking on a myriad of topics, though unfortunately our lack of understanding of Greek, sadly meant little could be taken away from all these exhibits. It was exciting to see KNE members, who we had gotten to know, giving speeches to a crowd of attentive festival-goers.
The Festival had five stages which played a variety of genres of music, mostly focusing on cultural works like folk music etc… We were encouraged to learn a traditional Greek dance, which one of us took better to than the other admittedly, though not through lack of trying. It was very impressive to see how much emphasis the KKE-KNE puts on cultural activities, and it has provided us with a vision of what can be achieved here in Britain. This wasn’t just a festival of festival-goers but a promotion of working-class culture, there were all age-groups from young to old celebrating the working-class struggle and its culture. The promotion of the cultures of our four respective nations: England, Scotland , Wales and Cornwall is an area where the YCL could thrive and the inspiration of the Greeks is one for us to take note of.
Overall, the environment of the festival was one of joy, excitement and learning, and the experience is one that will stay with us for many years to come!
Berkan and Rowan displaying the CP flag at the Acropolis
What we did while there
On arriving in Athens, we were greeted by the other delegations, who were very eager to chat and were very friendly and welcoming. We had talks on various topics, and each of us learnt new things from the others, as we heard first hand about the struggles and realities in different countries. This was inspiring. These comrades came from as far west as Mexico and Brazil and as far east as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Some comrades even hailed from Palestine and their view on the Israeli occupation of their homeland was an invaluable first hand insight into life there.
The first day had us ‘Touring Athens in the 40s’ which chronicled the KKE participation in the events around the Italo-Nazi occupation of the Hellenes, and those cadres who were tragically martyred by the class-enemy and servants of imperialism. The tour concluded at the Polytechneio in Central Athens. This was the first polytechnic in Athens, though now only houses the Architecture Department, it is certainly a fascinating place that we were honoured to visit. Whilst there, we heard a speech from the All Student Cooperation Movement, which is the KNE’s student alliance in Greek universities.
Later that day we arrived at the festival itself for the first time, and held a stall in the International City, which gave us the opportunity to meet many good comrades and those who were interested in the issues facing Britain today, and the CP-YCL involvement in combating them. Speaking about our campaigns actually reminded us of just how hard our organisations work, and just what an honour it is to be a part of these revolutionary groups. Some people were residing in Britain and hopefully will become familiar faces to the labour movement going forward.
The second day saw us heading straight to the mesmerising KKE headquarters. The building reached up above all other buildings in the area and so carried with it an air of majesty and its slick and simple yet deliberate design created a grand aura around the complex. When we arrived we heard the speech of Kyrilos Papastavrou, a member of the Central Committee of the KKE who spoke to us about current events in Greece and focused on the rise of trade unionism and the importance of building stronger international bonds with other Communist and Workers’ parties around the world.
Following this, came the chance for each delegation to take the podium, where we were granted the opportunity to speak on a set question given to us by the KNE -in summary: our struggle in the current unstable politico-economic climate. Our speech focused on the YCL’s forthright response to the crises and we hope to have left something for other comrades to learn from. It must be said almost every speech was defined by an unshaken optimism which just goes to show how passionate and dedicated the youth are to the communist movement!
After this we again returned to the festival for the same period but after that, at midnight, we were shown to one of the stages, where a student band of folk-rock was playing. The music was certainly not going to be found at a British festival and that made it even more impactful. It was fun to be able to relax with our comrades and just have a drink with them.
The next day was spent in bilateral meetings between our fraternal organisations where we strengthened our bonds with comrades and brought back home their solidarity and good wishes.
Following this was the last trip to the festival in the evening, where before setting up our stall for the night, we were ushered to the front seats of the main stage for the General Secretaries’ addresses. Before this the KNE marched, flags held high, to the front of the stage; playing their anthem. It was described by a reporter as follows: “And of course the huge political gathering, on Saturday night, where, as far as the eye see, one could see an immense “red river”, which with passion, slogans, smoke bombs gave the pulse and mirrored the entire three days…”
Their speeches were fiery and provocative, they carried messages of strength and unity among the Greek communist movement and set out the KKE’s policy to export this unity to the world. It is no surprise that many of the communist movement’s international organisations were started by the Greeks. Internationalism is key to their party-line.
Following this was a similar event to the previous day as, after midnight, we were shown to the main stage where traditional Greek music was played and all the comrades were encouraged to join in a traditional dance, which after a long few days, was a brilliant way for us all to solidify our new friendships and relax ready for our travels home over the next days.
The final morning came around and the British and Greeks sat down down for our most important bilateral meeting. We opened with thanks for our invitation and the generosity of our hosts. We then began a productive and positive conversation on many topics. We left the meeting sure of our strong relations and mutual respect for our sister organisation. This bright note was where our journey ended and sadly we had to return home. Though not lacking any lifelong memories!
Hopes for the future of the international communist youth movement
The International Youth Movement is, in large part, too fractured over national borders. This is something to be constantly worked upon and is something the YCL is committed to doing.
We feel the KNE is a pioneer of internationalism. When we arrived in Greece to meet all the other delegates, we saw the power of the KNE to unite the communist youth, though this is not the KNE’s work alone. The entire communist youth is growing internationally, and what was told to us by everyone we met was that membership was rising and the Youth Leagues were becoming more powerful. This is wonderful news because, as we have seen here in Britain, a more powerful YCL has led to stronger communist activity in unions and other protest movements and pressure groups such as Enough is Enough. This momentum internationally, means our collective power grows and our ability to inflict revolutionary victories against Capital grows dramatically.
The KKE has spoken about the need for growing international links between our fraternal communist and worker parties, and although they have not elaborated much on how this would translate into reality, it does send a positive message. If an international alliance can be created more concretely, international coordination would become possible and so activism would become more powerful. As Capital becomes transnational so should the communists!
We have reason to trust in this being more than just rhetoric from the KKE as they do have a track record of supporting internationalism. For example, the International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties was founded by the KKE and they have been active participants in this ever since. Now they are speaking of strengthening our bonds beyond this, and whatever this comes to mean, it is something we should all look towards with optimism.
As communists we are tasked to have an optimistic outlook on the struggle – we have a world to win and only our chains to lose. The current youth communist movement is growing in all corners of the world – the vastly growing Odigitis festival is symbolic of the near-victory of the working-class.
International Delegates with KNE comrades at the headquarters of the KKE
Rowan Valvona, is a member of YCL East of England and CP Suffolk branches,
and Berkan Çelebi, is a member of YCL and CP South Yorkshire branches