Summer in Greece: New Democracy Edition

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In Greece, following the accession of the New Democracy party and a ban on freedom of assembly, the simmering conflict between anarchists and the far right continues, even in the middle of summer. In this report, we cover gentrification, escalating tensions with Turkey, ecological struggles, refugee and prisoner solidarity, the eviction of the historic Terra Incognita squat, and more.

This update is adapted from RadioFragmata’s monthly contribution to the “Bad News Report” podcast. You can also read our reports from May, June, and July.


The Greek government and its bootlickers and beneficiaries are stumbling towards disaster. The economic crisis of 2008 will soon be seen as easier times. While tourists wander Greece dropping coins into the pockets of the bosses, only half of society can afford to take a holiday this year—something considered indispensable in the hot Greek summer. COVID-19 cases are at record highs. The daily infection rates are much higher than they were when the country was in formal lockdown back in March. Yet the state continues cutting hospital budgets in order to redirect funds to police agencies, focusing on its human opponents rather than the virus.

In Greece, as elsewhere in the world, revolutionaries, the excluded, and the exploited struggle with self-preservation both materially and psychologically in the face of the slow-motion COVID-19 apocalypse and the right-wing police state. While new measures are going into effect and a second lockdown seems likely, we find strength in understanding that both our precarity and the struggle against it are shared globally. The struggle here is rooted deep in the discontent of countless beautiful hearts and a history in the streets: “Even if we never win, we will always fight!”

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Immigration

Formal state attacks and grassroots fascist campaigns of harassment continue in parallel across Greece. World-famous basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo recently discussed the hardships of growing up black in Greece in light of Black Lives Matter; in fact, he was not given citizenship until he was drafted into the NBA—many people born in Greece to immigrants or non-white families never receive citizenship. In response to his comments, a high-ranking member of the Ministry of Education, Konstantinos Kalemis, called Antetokounmpo a “monkey” and a “n—r” in a tweet. At the same time, the Mayor of Aspropyrgos, Nikos Meletiou, facing criticism for demolishing the homes of 100 Roma families, responded that he “didn’t demolish people’s homes,” he “simply took out the trash.”

On August 4, a man from Cameroon was assaulted by a mob at Lianokladi Station. He was on his way via train to Lamia when he mentioned that he had already had the COVID-19 virus. He was threatened with violence, forced to the back of the train, and forced off the train at the following station. Anarchists in the region staged a demonstration at the station where this took place.

Refugees continue to arrive at Aegean Islands only to be threatened with homelessness if they request asylum and pressure not to communicate about their conditions to those who might support them. As a result of continued measures to complicate the efforts of support workers, many arriving refugees are not welcomed by helping hands, but greeted by state forces or predatory farmers looking for cheap labor. Immigrants face heinous work conditions in the brutally hot agricultural fields of Greece.

In the last few months, support groups have documented dozens of cases of Greek border authorities escorting life rafts and dinghies of refugees out of Greek waters and abandoning them in the sea. Officially, more than a thousand refugees have been stranded in the Aegean Sea; we assume the actual number is much higher. Greek border authorities have not only pushed refugees back towards Turkish territory, but gone so far as to shoot at inflatable rafts. The journey to asylum is dangerous enough already; to force those taking this risk back into the ocean increases the chance of drowning. Even according to the state’s own protocol, this violates asylum laws established on an international level.

Refugee camps still lack basic hygiene to limit the spread of COVID-19; they are sealed off, treating the inhabitants as expendable. In the process of hiding these virus outbreaks, many camps have begun preventing supporters from entering. This cuts off a much-needed lifeline, as many refugees in the camps across Greece rely on assistance from volunteers rather than the few state programs available. Using the virus as an excuse to rationalize excluding visitors, the state has blocked the flow of needed supplies and silenced the voices of those inside the camps.

Meanwhile, construction companies are competing for a 132,680,000 euro contract to create three new refugee camps on the islands of Samos, Leros, and Kos. This offers an opportunity for money laundering; undoubtedly, this construction project will cut corners when it comes to the safety of refugees, prioritizing the profits of the contractors.

Fliers spread by anarchists at Lianokladi Station.

As described in our previous report, a campaign of displacement and terror has targeted immigrants and refugees who gather at Victoria Square in central Athens. The fascist party Golden Dawn and its sympathizers joined other groups in a call to “take back” the square, candidly asserting that they were protesting the “diversity” in the park and calling for ethnic cleansing to defend Greek purity—rhetoric typical of the Greek Christian right. A flyer for the demonstration to “cleanse the square” displayed pictures of people of color hanging out and women in hijab smiling.

In response, a few dozen fascists rallied near the square on July 15, countered by hundreds of anti-fascists eager to fight. Once more illustrating the relationship between the state and fascists, riot police and other state agencies protected the fascists; after a few hours, the police attacked and ultimately displaced the anti-fascist protesters blocking the square. Throughout the event, police could be seen encouraging the fascists to calm down, expressing their support for them. In the end, the police escorted the fascists into the square. Dispersed anti-fascists attempted to block the nearby streets and disrupt the flow of traffic; police responded by throwing tear gas into the crowd and beating and arresting two people. Subsequent video footage clearly shows police placing weapons in their bags to justify the beating and arrest. The Delta police who arrested them took few precautions to conceal what they were doing even as they were filmed; in the current political climate, such a video may not even matter. The arrestees currently face various charges and a long trial; they have been banned from attending demonstrations or “visiting Exarchia.” New Democracy appeals to the moderate right of the European Union and the Greek middle class while consistently supporting Golden Dawn and other openly fascist elements of its base.

During the standoff around Victoria Square.

During the standoff around Victoria Square.

Anti-fascists continue to show solidarity with those residing in Victoria. Efforts continue to defend the square against fascists, along with attempts to put new benches and infrastructure in the square, since the state has removed the previous ones.

Reports circulate that detainees at the Petrouralli immigrant detention facility in Athens face a campaign of sexual terror from the guards and staff. Women requesting medical attention have been sexually assaulted while being escorted to facilities where there is less surveillance. Women who have organized against the guards and attempted to share stories with the outside world have been punished for this—in one case, a group of women were surprised with searches of their confinement areas and transferred to other detention centers around Greece. Allegations of sexual assault against the staff of the detention center have become so widespread that the prison’s internal affairs has undertaken a show investigation. As of now, however, all of the guards accused of sexual assault and intimidation continue working there as if nothing has happened.

The Petrouralli immigrant detention facility.

Evictions

In the early hours of August 17 in Thessaloniki, police evicted the historic squat Terra Incognita. This eviction was carried out in the middle of summer on the assumption that many supporters would be out of the city on holiday. Founded in 2004, Terra Incognita has hosted various concerts, assemblies, and projects, serving the broader anarchist and revolutionary communities of Thessaloniki.

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Some hours later, 100 people held a protest in response, followed by a protest of 400 people in the evening.

Other squats across the country remain on high alert. Over eight months have passed since the deadline set by the state for squats to sign leases or face eviction. Police continue to threaten squats in the major cities and on islands including Corfu and Crete. Squats housing immigrants and refugees, such as Notara in Exarchia, have cited repeated harassment by local police. Banners, demonstrations, and graffiti campaigns continue across the country in support of these squats.

The world-famous Terra Incognita squat before its eviction.

Ecology

A text message from the state in mid-August warned of a wildfire taking place near a plastics factory, urging people to keep their windows closed, as the air is expected to become too toxic to breathe. This is a foretaste of the future in Greece.

Developers in Greece have long used fires to clear forests for development. Between this and climate change, fires are a constant and increasing threat to the land and people here. At the end of July, four thousand people were displaced from their homes when a twenty-kilometer-long area caught fire adjacent to the largest armory in the country. Some anarchist groups are organizing to help prevent forest fires where the state will not.

Anarchists organizing against forest fires and ecological devastation.

An environmental movement is growing across the country as quickly as capitalist developers look to sell off the land. An occupation of a municipal building in Athens on July 28 brought attention to plans to deforest a local mountain called Immotos, one of the few places that offers natural refuge around the city. The occupation publicized the threat; for now, the plans to deforest parts of the beloved mountain have been suspended.

Campaigns to protect fresh water against companies such as Nestle are continuing to gain traction in regions including Pelion. The campaign referred to in a prior report about the village of Stagiates continues. Communities in the region of Mesochora in Trikala face eviction orders from Greece’s state electric company, which aims to expand a hydro-electric dam there. People have already started to mobilize against the threat.

As tourism declines, the new administration intends to intensify the plundering of previously protected wilderness. Anarchist and anti-authoritarian movements are beginning to appreciate the need for an ecological movement. On July 29 and 31, people in Athens attacked the headquarters of the companies ENTEKA SA in Chalandri and Erren Hellas in Acropolis with hammers and paint extinguishers in solidarity with those defending mountains against wind turbine construction across Greece, and to send a message that a militant ecological movement is indispensable.

A protest at the dam at Mesochora.

Sexual Violence

The Greek Orthodox church has always served to preserve patriarchy and sexual violence. The pandemic has exacerbated the situation. Some people have undertaken a project to map occurrences of sexism and sexual violence.

Rest in Power, Vassilis Maggos

As described in our last report, the anarchist Vassilis Maggos was brutally beaten by police during a demonstration expressing solidarity with those arrested while protesting a cement factory in Volos. He suffered intense psychological trauma while in recovery from the beating. Police seized his body from his family in order for the police to use their own coroner, following a public outcry about the 26-year-old’s death. The police brought in Eleni Kalyva to conduct the autopsy—she is a well-known ally that the police have repeatedly employed to investigate controversial cases in which officers may have been at fault. She is known to have fascist sympathies and a close relationship with the current government.

Eleni Kalyva’s conclusion was that Vassilis died of acute pulmonary edema. The police claim that this was not due to the beating; however, the full investigation has not been made public, and his family is seeking outside help. Vassilis spent his final weeks of his life recovering from the pain and trauma of being beaten by police. Using a familiar playbook, right-wing social media have cited personal issues such as drug use as a way to suggest that Vassilis was responsible for his own death. Even if drug use had something to do with his passing, the trauma of being beaten and tortured by police was clearly the cause of his tragic death, and drug use or other issues do not diminish the responsibility of the police.

The police also brought Eleni Kalyva to investigate the murder of a girl in Trikala in late July, when a 16-year-old girl who was known to have a relationship with a police officer was found dead outside of a church. Kalyva was called in to investigate her death after suspicions began to circulate that the girl had been murdered by her police officer boyfriend. Now we are told that the girl climbed to the top of the church and killed herself—which would be a surprising feat, given the details of the situation, but Kalyva confirmed the claims of the police.

Anarchists and anti-fascist football fans have spread murals, banners, and graffiti across Greece remembering Vassilis Maggos. A Molotov cocktail attack against a government building in Volos took place in this his name, as well as an arson attack on a bank in Marroussi, Athens. He will be remembered.

Tensions with Turkey

While Greece proceeds deeper into economic crisis, an ironic relationship of opportunity is emerging between Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

War games in the Mediterranean are escalating as regional powers race to discover oil in the Aegean Sea. The conversion of the Hagia Sophia, designated a Unesco heritage site, into a mosque has also stoked tensions. Both of these have helped to distract and embolden the right-wing bases of the Greek and Turkish heads of state, utilizing nationalism to shift attention away from the economic hardships inflicted upon the people of Greece and Turkey.

Fliers spread by anarchists at Lianokladi Station: “The machismo of the security guards reaches where the baton of the police does not.”

Repression

The Solidarity Assembly for prisoners, fugitives, and persecuted fighters organized a demonstration at the Korydallos prison in Athens on July 20. The demonstrators held their ground for an hour outside the notorious prison, throwing leaflets and chanting in order to bring attention to the conditions prevailing in prisons across Greece, government plans to construct a new prison in the ruins of refugee and Roma encampments, and the danger that COVID-19 poses to prisoners.

Access to adequate water has become an issue in the Grevena prison, as prisoners struggle to maintain proper hygiene in the midst of the pandemic. Doctors remain scarce in Greece’s prisons, leading many to wonder what the true number of COVID-19 infections is behind bars, as many who fall ill or die never see medical personnel.

Inside Korydallos prison, anarchist political prisoner Dinos Giagtzoglou made a solidarity statement expressing support for Chilean defendants Monica Caballero and Francisco Solar on August 14.

Vangelis Stathopoulous, a long-term prisoner accused of being a member of the group Revolutionary Struggle, was scheduled for an appeal court appearance in Athens on July 24, only to be denied access to his lawyers and quickly returned to his prison cell in Larissa, a four hour drive away. It is assumed that the point of this was to inflict psychological pressure on this political prisoner as he struggles to continue fighting for his appeal.

On September 16, anarchist defendants Giannis Dimitrakis, Kostas Sakkas, and Dimitra Syrianou will face trial in Thessaloniki, accused of the attempted robbery of an ATM cash supply delivery. They were arrested in June 2019 following an organized operation involving an ambush by the anti-terrorist and EKAM squads. The defendants have already faced incarceration, bullet wounds, torture, prison riots, hunger strikes, arrest warrants, and then arrests and fresh imprisonment in the course of their principled commitment to anarchist struggle. Due to the pandemic, concerts and other means of fundraising are not possible, so the movement has established a firefund for their support.

New measures are going into effect to prevent the transfer of prisoners deemed terrorists. This strategy is intended to create additional hurdles for political prisoners, especially anarchist and illegalist prisoners, who seek to be transferred to prisons closer to their families or to pursue studies while behind bars.

In Greece, with good behavior, prisoners are permitted weekends out of prison to visit family and friends. The current government is trying to eradicate this tradition, especially for political prisoners and those deemed political enemies, implementing new hurdles to prevent prisoners from receiving permission for short-term leave. Political prisoners such as Dimitris Koufodinas of the N17 group have been denied any possibility of furlough at all. This is part of a broader claim to “modernize” Greece’s prison system, which includes the reduction of funding for hygiene and social services for prisoners and an increase in budget for prison infrastructure and staff.

Gentrification

Airbnb is a major cause of gentrification around the world. It has also been a driving force in the campaign to clear Exarchia of “undesirable” elements and lobbied for re-opening Greece to tourism regardless of the pandemic. The pandemic has taken a toll on Airbnb in Greece, but the company is still encouraging its beneficiaries to buy new houses and hold onto existing property on the premise that the disruption of tourism is only temporary. On August 12, people smashed the windows of the offices of a private company managing Airbnb properties in the neighborhood of Pagrati, sending a message to those who aspire to turn Athens into a zoo for tourists. Graffiti against Airbnb is widespread in Greece.

The state is experimenting with new measures in the process of eviction in response to bankruptcy. The state is doubling down on auctioning homes while people still reside in them and foreclosing and seizing homes belonging to residents who cannot pay taxes or bank fees. While politicians are pushing new measures through parliament and police are experimenting with new tactics, anarchists and community groups are organizing popular assemblies in preparation for the fall, when the economic crisis is expected to intensify.

The Greek government continues to grant new licenses to businesses for use of sidewalks and public space to compensate restaurants and bars for losses during the pandemic. This is also an opportunistic attempt to privatize more public space. While another lockdown is looming, we expect to lose more public space as soon as the lockdown is lifted again.

In one of many attempts to appear more modern and “European,” a massive campaign has prioritized policing public transportation. In response, on July 27, at a major metro station in the Petralona neighborhood of Athens, people destroyed the entrance machines. Onlookers applauded as the entrance became admission-free. This action occurred just two weeks before the seventh anniversary of the death of Thanasis Kanaoutis—a nineteen-year-old boy who refused to pay the 1.20 euro fee to ride the bus and was pushed out of the bus by a metro officer, killing him. The July 27 action took place in solidarity with five graffiti writers who have died over the past few years in the course of crossing the electric track while running from security guards.

A communiqué claiming responsibility for the action signed by anarchists concludes thus:

“END OF APATHY
CLEAN CITIES, ONLY IN DIRTY MINDS
SECURITY OFFICERS GET YOUR HANDS OFF GRAFFITI WRITERS
SOLIDARITY WITH THE SQUATS
A CITY ON FIRE IS A FLOWER BLOOMING
MOVEMENT WITHOUT TICKETS FOR EVERYONE”

-Anarchists

Graffiti on the subway in Athens.

International Solidarity

The uprising in the United States continues to resonate in Greece. In mid-August, a communiqué from a group calling itself Anarchist International Solidarity claimed responsibility for two arsons expressing solidarity with those taking the streets of the USA. One targeted the home of the General Director of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, Elias Spyrtounia, a lobbyist and mediator for US geopolitical interests in Greece and around the Balkan region. According to the communiqué, “the arson attack on his home was an act of solidarity with those who took to the streets of US metropolises, clashed with police, destroyed symbols of wealth and oppression, and are struck by racist violence and state repression.” Another targeted a police officer’s car in the Athens neighborhood of Gyzi: “If the police want to speak the language of violence, let us reply in night visits to their homes and vehicles as our minimum reaction.”

Even as our movement’s infrastructure faces pressure from the Greek state, Greek anarchists have rallied to the struggle to defend squats elsewhere in Europe. In Athens, people damaged the façade of a German grocery, LIDL, and a communiqué claiming responsibility for the action declared solidarity with the squats Liebig 34 and Rigaer 94 in Berlin, Germany, as well as with all squats struggling in Greece and around the world.

Exarchia

The Delta police—the police unit created to quell demonstrations following the 2008 insurrection—roam Exarchia, accosting women with sexual threats and detaining people with dark skin and those they suspect of anarchism. Some officers wear fascist patches on their uniforms—the Greek flag with an image of the Hagia Sophia in Turkey. While we do not support either side on this issue, that particular emblem is a traditional image used to rally fascists.

One of the last open squats belonging to refugees and immigrants in Exarchia, Notatra, continues to face constant harassment. People with darker skin are followed when they approach or leave the squat; the Delta police are routinely stationed nearby. The increase of police has been obvious all around Greece since New Democracy came to power, but the situation in Exarchia is different. It is an experiment that even police agencies outside Greece will likely pay attention to—a long-term campaign to overwhelm a neighborhood and destroy its spirit.

It is interesting to note that this approach, though new to Greece, is drawn from a strategy New York City and London police employed in the nineties known as “quality of life policing.” The idea is to attack every instance of suspected crime with equal ferocity in order to overwhelm a neighborhood that is at odds with the status quo, creating an environment of perpetual fear for those who inhabit it. As in New York City, police employ “stop and frisk” tactics in Exarchia relentlessly.

Summer in Greece

They opened the borders—and only a fraction of the usual number of tourists came. But some of the ones who did come brought COVID-19 with them. At the same time, those few still able to work during the summer season have less leverage against their bosses than usual, both because of widespread economic desperation and because of the conditions under New Democracy. In Greece, hundreds of thousands of people usually work during the summer in order to make money to sustain them for the rest of the year. We expect a gloomy fall.

Police continue to evict and ticket free campers across Greece, trying to force them to go home. In July, on the island of Samothrace, some police who were harassing campers were attacked with stones and beaten.

Conclusion

It’s August in Greece and most people are away from their homes—or wish they could be. It’s hot and the situation is grim. Yet even amid the harsh summer, there have been demonstrations against the bill described in our previous report banning unpermitted protests. Fresh graffiti all over the country expresses insurrectionary discontent.

The church and the far right count on the neo-liberal New Democracy administration to coddle them. Greece received some seventy billion euros in COVID-19 relief from the European union, but we know that money will chiefly serve to provide more contracts to the wealthy and to hire more police to protect their power and enforce their laws. Whatever happens in the coming months, we hope the fall will see a new wave of resistance ignite in Greece and around the world.