It is a fine summer evening and I am with my parents in Lake Prespa, Macedonia while Muslimgauze’s Ali Zarin is playing in the background. The tranquillity of the season belies the tension in our midst. News of refugees being rounded up in Greece, hunted on the Bulgarian borders or stuck at the Macedonian ones crowds our thoughts. We watch intently as Deutsche Welle maps the movement of people in transit to Europe via a new route at the Greek-Albanian border. A few days later we watch the Turkish coup unfold on television as mass protests continue in Skopje against the government and more images of Syrian children captivated in terror appear on TV. My parents switch through channels nervously and settle for their new favourite Indian soap opera: Diya Aur Baati Hum. They can’t watch or talk about the refugees, too close to home, too many memories, too much pain. Later, I drive to Salonika to meet my friend Saffo who I met at a failed queer collective, ambitiously and somewhat appropriately named the Balkan Queer Initiative – for it remained just that, an initiative. Disappointed with the anti-racist festival we had attended earlier in the month, we hoped to go to the No Borders Camp together; an initiative to summon the precarious commons into togetherness and think of ways to confront EU borders in the face of refugee pleas on all sides. Greece, or as Saffo likes to call it, the former Ottoman Province known as Yunanistan FOPOY (a pun on Greece’s persistence that Macedonia be called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia FYROM), seems to be boiling too. We join a group of demonstrators on Via Egnatia attempting to re-take Salonika’s Theatre Academy. Local activists, Syrian refugees, European anarcho-tourists, all surround the building and then wait, using the moment to meet, reflect, watch, exchange.
We talk about homonationalism, transphobia in the queer community and what is to be done about the incorporation of queer political formations into the EU enlargement project in the Balkans. Saffo insists that the discourse needs to be decentred from Europe. That it is imperative to talk to ourselves instead of wasting energy persuading the European ga[y]ze that all people in the Balkans, including the refugees, Roma and Muslims, are human too. Our friend Velina joins us from Bulgaria. More conversations about the Bulgarian law criminalising radical Islam proposed by the far right Patriotic Front and adopted in parliament the previous month; of European vigilantes arriving at the Bulgarian borders to defend ‘Europe’ from refugees. We talk about the possibilities and limitations of Novi Levi Perspektivi in Sofia to ‘do something.’ We conclude that they are too small and fragmented, like all leftist movements in the Balkans. Being in Greece reminds us of Syriza, the once promising leftist alternative, now in power and for the previous two weeks gathering up refugees around Greece, evicting them from migrant squats set up with the help of local Greeks and ultimately deporting them to Turkey. Saffo tells us about a protest she attended, against the evictions and deportations of refugees, that took place in front of the Syriza offices which saw members of the Syriza Political Party show up to protest against Syriza the government. All the while Syriza the government has been facing EU pressure to start expelling refugees after the EU reached a deal with Turkey for their containment there. Paradoxically, the coup in Turkey, with its entire terrifying unfurling and the consequences, gives us a glimpse of hope that the EU-Turkey trading deal with refugee bodies may now have to wait.