In light of the Conference on the Future of Eastern Europe which took place from the 6th until the 7th of June in Riga, we spoke with Chris Sakellaridis of the Greek Green Institute about the involvement of youth and ecodemocracy in an ever-changing world.
Hey Chris! Thank you for finding the time to speak with us. Let's get to know each other! Tell us a few things about you.
My name is Chris Sakellaridis and I am Youth Projects Coordinator at the Green Institute of Greece. I also represent the Institute at the General Assembly of the Green European Foundation. I am a trainer, writer and translator and have worked in different contexts in the UK, Italy and Greece.
What is the Green Institute? What is its mission and which methods are used to accomplish it?
The Green Institute is a non-governmental organisation affiliated with the Green political movement in Greece, especially the Greek Ecologist-Greens. Its mission is to promote all aspects of political ecology in Greece and beyond and to foster public debate as well as provide comprehensive answers to questions of Green policy. We aim to do this through publications, training seminars and conference events, always in collaboration with different civil society actors, here and abroad. A recent example is our publication on Productive Reforestations, in cooperation with our Austrian partners, Freda, which can be accessed for free here (English) and here (Greek).
What is the Future of Eastern Europe Conference about? Which activity are you looking forward to the most?
The Future of Eastern Europe and Ecodemocracy conference is a first-of-its-kind event, bringing together diverse voices from the region, from Baltic states to the Caucasus, to discuss the challenges and opportunities for the Green movement. It is envisaged as a forum to deepen understanding and cooperation between Green and environmental activists from the region and it is part of the Green European Foundation’s Transational project involving partners from the Green Institute (Greece), the Cooperation and Development Network (based in Serbia), Green Thought Association (Turkey), Green Window Sustainable Forum (Croatia) and Ecopolis (Hungary). The conference looks to the future of the region and is youth-led and youth-driven, aiming to be the starting point for the forging of common visions and actions. I think the programme has a great range of extremely important discussions, and I am personally anticipating the discussion of the terrible Russian war in Ukraine which has radically changed our world and the session on Energy, which I feel is the most important issue of our time.
You seem to be pretty passionate about ecodemocracy. Could you help us break down what does ecodemocracy entail? What is needed to secure democratic legitimacy for policy measures to benefit nonhuman species?
Ecodemocracy is a relatively open term still under formation. In short, it involves the inclusion of deep ecological principles in our governance systems, aiming for, as Jan Lundberg put it: 'the restructuring of our society for maximum conservation and equal rights of all species'. With our current global trajectory, it is imperative that we begin to question our systems of governance, and by extension production and consumption, and strive to form alternatives that understand and incorporate the earth's limitations and our responsibility towards other species. How can we make democracy more ecological? What kind of changes do we need to apply to our thinking about participation, institutions and decision-making to put ecology and the environment at the forefront of our political systems?
These are some of the questions that we must address if we are to bring about the institutional and social transformation needed for a truly sustainable existence. Critical in this is revolutionising our thinking about ourselves as a species, not as destructive rulers or even well-meaning custodians of the planet, but as co-inhabitants, as equal members of what Robin Wall Kimmerer calls: 'the democracy of species'. Institutions, legal frameworks and especially local and regional governance structures must begin to shift their approach to include non-human beings in their considerations, for example with regards to resource use, especially of land and water, and also economic activity. To this end, the endless growth mindset which has dominated politics for the last 40 years and the extractivist mindset which has dominated for over two centuries, must be deconstructed and replaced by a focus on sustainability and degrowth. Giving equal rights to non-human beings and redefining our notion of citizenship is one way in which this shift can be brought about at the institutional level and that of society as a whole. Green politics has always been at the forefront of inclusion; it is time for us to fight for the inclusion of non-human beings as our fellow citizens.
Why should young people care about the establishment of ecodemocratic institutions? How can they help towards that direction?
I feel that young people already understand the importance of ecodemocractic principles implicitly. At least two/three generations of humans have now lived through some of the fastest changes with regards to the climate crisis and species extinction. It is up to us to reinvent politics, disrupt the status quo and create a solid foundation not only for us but also for the continued existence of biodiversity on our planet. We can do this in many ways, through demonstrations, strikes, advocacy, education, lifestyle changes and also through coming together to debate, discuss and make decisions on our common action. Also working within democratic institutions, in the public sector, civil society, industry and other spheres is crucial. Every effort towards the radical change required from us is valuable, whether individual or collective, but history suggests that for changes of the magnitude required to be implemented and be effective, concerted collective effort is a necessity. Just like a forest, whose constituent beings all strive towards the continuation of life each on their own but at the same time supporting each other, so must we empower and enable our communities to thrive not in competition and not at the expense of the planet.