Heraklion’s Autonomous Open Market Generates Solidarity Economy

Heraklion, Crete – For the last two years, in the largest city on the small island of Crete, the Integral Cooperative of Heraklion (I.C. Her) has operated an autonomous open market out of the last bit of free space in the city. A network of self-organized projects with various local products meet once a month at the market in Georgiades Park as a project of I.C. Her, which has started the creation of a new social structure and an autonomous economic system rooted in the values of human ecology.

A presenter from I.C. Her spoke at the Athens Polytechnic University in early June 2018, for the second Networks of Resistance-European Local Struggles Conference. Check out the first special from Networks of Resistance II, ‘Occupied Urban Gardens Grow Community, Stunt French Gentrification‘. Watch the Heraklion Autonomous Open Market presentation (~53 min):

This is not only about producing, this not only about trading, or using any alternative currencies, but the bigger goal is how to motivate people in a political manner to get, again, things on your own power and their own hands. To construct the society that we want to live in.” – Presenter from Autonomous Open Market

I.C. Her is modeled after the Integral Cooperative of Catalonia and connected to the Athens Integral Cooperative. I.C. Her has been aiming “to involve all social sectors and all kind of activities that are important to grow a new social structure. That means from education, agriculture, economy, everything one can imagine that would make our society work”, according to the speaker.

Athens Integral Cooperative: Building Alternative Economies in Greece from Unicorn Riot.

Folks from Heraklion reached out to Catalonia Integral, who then sent a few people to visit and help them set up I.C. Her, which is now “empowering us to make something new … to have another opportunity to express our need for freedom and for reviving, let’s say, the political struggle in our town,” said the speaker.

Born from a 2008 banking system expropriation of half a million euros, generally attributed to Enric Duran, that was used to finance social movements in Europe, the Integral Cooperative networks are built as tools to “create a grassroots counterpower departing from self-management, self-organization and direct democracy”, according to their website.

The Integral Cooperative is not necessarily a cooperative itself, but rather a network of producers. The producers are mostly individuals but also groups that are involved in the integral cooperative because of the political aims.

It is essential to build an autonomous economy outside of the capitalist system.” – Presenter from I.C. Her

With local products from local producers, the Autonomous Open Market is open one Saturday a month from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., to collaborate and organize between the different projects, sell products from producers, and spread the products, information, and ideas of the cooperative itself to the broader public. They are also “trying to create more awareness about Integral Cooperative inside the market” itself, said the speaker.

Some of the products for sale during the Autonomous Open Market (photo via I.C. Her)

Based around core values rooted in human ecology and respect of the environment, autonomous and self-organized projects use the market to work together towards common goals, collectivize and collaborate. The presenter spoke about how the market, which started in May 2016, is a social transition project driving others to change themselves and the way we act and develop new realities of how a society can operate in a more “free and independent manner“:

Economy is not just the currencies, economy is the production itself, its how you put in practice your ideas and how you express your inner need to create in a free and independent manner.

The projects are empowered by “a truly autonomous economic system” as the market uses a solidarity economy; establishing cooperation and direct relationships with each other while operating independently from banks, the state, and institutions, said the speaker.

If we talk about self-organizing projects, autonomous, and solidarity economy, we have to use our own tools … this economy should be independent from any kind of institutions, states, or the banks.” – Autonomous Open Market Presenter

They utilize alternative currencies as well as the Euro. They want to allow people passing by the open market at Georgiades Park the ability to buy something in Euro, as they then use that opportunity to introduce them to the idea of community currencies and alternative economies. The speaker said it was “very important” that they “transmit the messages we want to the public as well, that’s how we got expanded in the local community, through the open market, mainly.

I.C. Her has created its own local currency and exchange network called the Kouki, which is used for about 80% of the transactions.

The cryptocurrency FairCoin accounts for about the other 20% of the transactions, said the speaker. Cryptocurrencies are digitally created on the internet, decentralized, and out of the control of central governments and FairCoin has created the world’s first ever “co-operative blockchain … by creating an algorithm based on mining processes that rely on a proof of co-operation.

What is FairCoin? An Explanation by Theodore from Athens Integral Cooperative from Unicorn Riot.

Eighty to ninety percent of the transactions within the Integral Cooperative of Heraklion are made during the open market. The transactions are done through the Integral Cooperative platform on the internet but the transition is being made to the Community Forge platform. Community Forge is a non-profit that distributes free and open-source software to manage complementary currencies and more.

The speaker said that over 240 members are inside I.C. Her and that he feels they need to “make their own platform,” and the new system will be installed on their own server that they can manage the interface to better suit their needs based on the feedback from those in the cooperative.

New projects have been made from the Autonomous Open Market, which include a cooperative grocery with producers who participate in the market and integral cooperative and a solidarity kitchen, which does events around Heraklion and spreads the ideas of autonomous economies. Doctors are involved in the network and help with a solidarity clinic that collects drugs for people in need and allows patients to receive services with local currency.

The more projects are involved and working together the more it empowers the whole integral network. The projects work together during the market and at times collectivize resources. For example, there is a local refugees initiative that needed money to rent a place, they came with a solidarity proposal to the open market assembly and received secondhand goods and clothes that they sold to pay for housing. The market also has products from the worker-owned soap factory, Vio.Me.

Hand soap from Viome sold at Athens storefront

Further synergies through the market include community supported agriculture groups, the LETS network (Local Exchange Trading System) in Greece, Integral Cooperatives, and projects involved in FairCoop. Also, workers get paid local currency to work during the market and various political groups work together to create new initiatives.

The open market and the integral cooperatives are “not just a trading network or local currency,” it’s about transforming the society in a way that you want it. The speaker said that in a similar manner as the Lentillères (the occupied urban gardens in Dijon), it is important to stay in the neighborhood and wage their struggle because then everybody can see that it works.

Numerous “park tribes” defend the “forest garden inside the city” at Georgiades Park where the autonomous market is held near the city center, said the presenter. The park is currently threatened by the municipality to become more commercialized, so people are organizing open assemblies to defend and preserve the park, “which is actually the only open space we got, which movements, political groups, and people, can go there autonomously and make activities.

The Aims of the Autonomous Open Market are practice autonomy while they extend the use of community currencies, promote I.C. Her, connect with other struggles and collaborate between projects and the network for the common good. The speaker said that their call out to people is to:

  • acknowledge the root of the problem(s)
  • respect common values, as also freedom at all levels
  • network globally in solidarity and cooperation
  • collaborate and build utopia, here and now!

The speaker was very frank and real about the struggles they face, naming the main problem being the administration needed to keep up with the local currencies. People are coming into the project needing training on technical knowledge and instruments that the Integral networks operate through. They need more fresh fruit and vegetables and the speaker said the other main problem is the inability of people to cooperatively work together at times, which the speaker said they are working on:

“People who are among us that may have the political mentality that we imagine, sometimes we cannot collaborate with each other, this is a thing that is happening inside the integral cooperative itself, we manage to have a network and cover each other with infrastructure and needs … we anticipated to have a bigger scale of collaboration and synergy between the people which is not the case right now, but we have seen the problem.

Expanding beyond Heraklion to places throughout Crete, bringing in more producers with wider variety of products and fresh produce, and trying to make the market more often than once a month are some of the goals, said the presenter. They are also motivated and involved in the Kurdish struggle for democratic autonomy, the speaker said “the way we the network, the integral network, evolves, is a kind of a democratic movement, a democratic autonomy movement, in a kind of network of communes.

Check out their website for more information on the Autonomous Open Market and the Integral Cooperative of Heraklion.

See our past coverage on alternative economies and community currencies:

This is our second report from the Networks of Resistance II, featuring presenters from urban gardens of Lentillères, the Autonomous Open Market, the designer of a digital app for social currency, and Pablo Prieto (Prieto presented about Cooperativa Integral last year) who is currently in Kurdistan. Last year, activists from ZAD, Bure, Hambach, as well as the Cooperativa Integral of Catalonia and the DIY internet of ExarcheiaNet presented at the conference. Continue to follow Unicorn Riot as we are traveling to Greece again to continue bringing our international coverage spotlighting sustainable ways of living, horizontal organizing, mutual aid, alternative economies, and more.

Cover image via Heraklion Integral Cooperative, I.C. Her, Facebook.

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