The fight for Greece’s self-organized political spaces

    A night-time rally and march during the week of solidarity actions in Greece. (Athens Indymedia/Anonymous)
    A night-time rally and march during the week of solidarity actions in Greece. (Athens Indymedia/Anonymous)

    The second week of January, a variety of anarchist groups called a week of solidarity actions across Greece — only the latest in more than a year of street protests and uprisings against economic austerity. The call brought together three interrelated issues: the state’s decision to shut down self-organized political-social spaces and squats, the increasing criminalization and police brutality, especially against immigrants, and the rising wave of social fascism. The criminalization of immigrants and anarchist political centers is nothing new. Yet both have intensified recently as rampant media coverage of these issues has turned into a public spectacle in order to draw the people’s attention away from the corruption scandal known as “Lagarde List” and appeal to voters turning to the right-wing extremist organization Golden Dawn, which entered the parliament in 2012.

    International and domestic media tend to portray ongoing protests in Greece as chaotic and often violent outpourings of rage. This prism silences the actual crystallization of social resistance through the years. This crystallization is complex and far from homogeneous, particularly when it refers to the day to day fragility of anarchist initiatives. Nevertheless, the week of solidarity actions affirmed not only a generic anti-state stance, but also a direct questioning of how the realm of everyday life is reproduced.

    The solidarity actions mainly included open-mic interventions, leaflet handouts and demonstrations by dozens or hundreds of people in more than 20 cities across the country. In Athens, people held open organizational assemblies in the downtown facilities of the National Technical University. Protests occurred in outdoor public spaces and indoor sites like radio stations and the metro. The actions soon spread to peripheral neighborhoods, while the week culminated in a 10,000-person march on January 12 in the center of the capital. Most of the participants were affiliated with the anarchist-antiauthoritarian political movement.

    The call for the national week of solidarity actions was sparked by a handful of violent incidents in late December. First, on December 20, the state evicted Villa Amalias, the oldest Greek squat in Athens. Only two days later, people aligned with pro-violence fascist groups set fire to the social space Xanadu in the city of Xanthi.

    Next, on December 28, the police entered the Athens University of Economics and Business campus with the claim that illegal trading activities were taking place. They arrested 16 immigrant street vendors who were present and had with them goods such as pirated CDs. The police also confiscated the equipment of the university’s autonomous radio station, which had been operating in the building since 2002. Finally, on January 9, riot police re-evicted Villa Amalias (which had been re-squatted) as well as Skaramaga, another squat in the center of Athens.

    To understand the broader context of this week’s actions, one must look at the memorandum, which — under pressure from the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund — the Greek parliament passed on November 8, 2012. This memorandum set the fiscal policy from 2013 to 2016. The measures were introduced to address the nation’s recession and were based on a series of economic assumptions that follow the global neoliberal turn of the last 30 years, widening the schism between the Greek state and its citizens. The most notable policy enacted by the memorandum was the agreement of the Greek state to practically renounce its sovereign right to use its assets. Under this agreement, properties owned by public real estate companies, infrastructure and state corporate monopolies are to be transferred by summary proceedings to the newly formed Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF) in order to be exploited by any interested private investors. The mission of the Fund is, as officially stated, development with the sole purpose of the repayment of debt.

    The majority of Greece’s population — petit to upper-middle class — can no longer economically sustain its life plans and day-to-day norms. This economic squeeze affects people’s ability to pay everyday expenses, as well as more perplexing and long-term issues such as the use of water resources and infrastructure. As life grows more precarious, the nation’s internal demographic changes — caused by an aging population and low birth rate — have dramatically weakened the wide informal support of family networks that have functioned in the absence of an efficient welfare system. People are realizing that the safety nets they had been accustomed to are radically shrinking, if not completely vanishing.

    The new property tax is illustrative of the situation. The government introduced it through the electricity bill. The idea was simple: to make people fear that if they do not pay the new taxes they will have their electricity cut. Private home ownership, the only practical investment of the Greek state for the majority of its citizens, is changing now from a safety net to a burden.

    Over the course of decades, anarchists in Greece have managed to establish hubs of experimentation with self-organization, autonomy, horizontalism and mutual aid — many of which are now under threat of eviction. They have also developed analyses and even their own historical archives that challenge the narrowness of social memory. Since the 2008 riots sparked by the police assassination of the 15-year-old student Alexandros Grigoropoulos, Greece has witnessed the emergence of self-organized neighborhood assemblies and various solidarity networks. These assemblies and networks have spread far beyond Greece’s biggest cities to suburban peripheries, small towns, villages and the countryside.

    The outcomes of this experimentation have been far than perfect. As Antonis Drakonakis, a lawyer and sociologist, said in a remark on the week of solidarity actions, “Social spaces emerge in the urban space. They shape an archipelago of freedom, with any benefits and costs this conveys. They do not only constitute spaces of free expression but also centers of defense (and sometimes of attack) towards the various aspects of fascism and police arbitrariness. There, imagination and creativity, childhood and utopia collide with the desert of the real.”

    This infographic below, which illustrates elements of the week of actions in the center of Athens, provides a glimpse of this fragility.

    Map of actions in Athens during the week of solidarity. (WNV/Themis Pellas)
    Map of actions in Athens during the week of solidarity. (WNV/Themis Pellas)

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