Listen to the Episode — 99 min
Alanis: The Ex-Worker;
Clara: An audio strike against a monotone world;
Alanis: A podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Clara: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Clara: That’s right, you heard me—it’s the Ex-Worker! We’re back! Not the Hotwire, not No Wall They Can Build, but the original Ex-Worker, back in action once again. We’re grateful that you’ve tuned back in, despite our long silence. There are a lot of projects on our plate, both as a podcast and in the broader CrimethInc. Ex-Workers Collective, and of course in all of our individual lives and other collective projects. But we’re returning like Cthulhu from the depths because an urgent situation demanded our attention.
As many of you will know by now, a newly elected right-wing government in Greece has come to power, and high on their agenda has been both repressing the anarchist movement and attacking the migrant and refugee communities that have arrived in the country in recent years. Greece has been known internationally over the past decades as home to an especially powerful and active anarchist and anti-authoritarian movement, and the neighborhood of Exarchia in the capital city of Athens remains its most powerful stronghold and symbol. That neighborhood and the radical movements it contains have been under an intense, multi-pronged attack for many years from police, politicians, media, corporations, and the mafia, but have held strong and defended its infrastructure of squatted social centers and numerous organizations and assemblies. But over the past weeks, a new wave of assaults including the eviction of four squats has indicated an escalation of this ongoing conflict. Because of the significance of this neighborhood within the global anarchist struggle for freedom, we wanted to devote particular attention to understanding this conflict—its history and roots, the context of the neighborhood and the anarchist ecosystem it sustains, the recent developments and future prospects, and what we can do, wherever we’re listening, to show solidarity.
So, to that end, this episode will offer three parts. First, to set the stage, we’ll present an audio version of a text published in late August on the CrimethInc. blog under the title “The New War on Immigrants and Anarchists in Greece: An Interview with an Anarchist in Exarchia.” This will provide extensive background to the recent attacks and a detailed account of what’s gone down since the rise of the right-wing “New Democracy” party to power this summer. We’ll interject with some excerpts from previous CrimethInc. texts about developments in Greece. Next, we’ll present two interviews conducted over the past few days with Greek anarchists living and fighting in the Exarchia neighborhood. First, we’ll share a longer conversation with a participant in the Lelas Karagianni 37 squat. We discuss the history of the squat and the neighborhood, the role of the previous left-wing Syriza government and the media in setting the stage for the attacks, the strategy of the anarchist movement for counterattacking and taking back the initiative, how this repression fits into an international context, and opportunities for solidarity and connecting to a broader vision of liberation. Finally, we’ll wrap up with a short interview with a participant in the Void Network, who reports back on the anarchist demonstration from this past Saturday September 14th, developments in Exarchia and prospects for ongoing resistance, and what anarchists from around the world can learn from the struggle in Greece.
As ever, you can read a full transcript of this episode at crimethinc.com/podcast, where you’ll also find links to the texts and groups we’re discussing as well as other text and audio resources you can use to learn more. And we always want to hear from you—hit us up by email to podcast at crimethinc dot com if you’ve got something to say.
Oh yeah, this is Clara… Alanis is probably off rioting somewhere. (Just kidding, obviously.) Anyway, it’s good to be back. So let’s get started!
THE NEW WAR ON IMMIGRANTS AND ANARCHISTS IN GREECE: INTRO
Filled with squatted social centers and characterized by a combative anti-authoritarian spirit, the neighborhood of Exarchia in Athens, Greece has long been an important reference point for autonomous movements around the world. The new right-wing government that has come to power in Greece has pledged to crush this experiment in inclusivity and self-determination. On August 26th, massive police raids evicted four occupations, including some hosting refugee families, many of whom have been sent to concentration camps; riot police surrounded Exarchia, preparing their next attacks. In the following days, a variety of assemblies met to discuss plans for response, and demonstrations were called for August 31 and September 14.
In January 2015, as the global wave of right-wing electoral victories was picking up momentum, the new left party Syriza won the Greek elections. At the time, this inspired a lot of enthusiasm from leftists and socialists in Greece and elsewhere around the world; yet we argued that Syriza would draw movements out of the streets, re-legitimize the institutions of the state without changing their essentially repressive character, and ultimately fail to address the consequences of capitalism, polarizing Greek voters to the right. As we anticipated, Syriza did not follow through on their promises to defend Greece from the austerity measures demanded by the European Union. Instead, they imposed austerity measures themselves, further polarizing Greece and confirming that there is no viable electoral solution to the crises imposed by capitalism.
SYRIZA CAN’T SAVE GREECE (2015)
We’ll pause briefly here to share an excerpt from CrimethInc.’s January 2015 article “Syriza Can’t Save Greece: Why There’s No Electoral Exit from the Crisis.”
On January 25, 2015, after years of economic crisis and austerity measures, Greek voters chose the political party Syriza to take the reins of the state. Formed from a coalition of socialist, communist, and Green groups, Syriza appears to be sympathetic to autonomous social movements; its leaders promise to take steps against austerity and police violence.
Many outside Greece first heard of Syriza in December 2008, when, as a far-left group commanding less than 5% of the electorate, it was practically the only party that did not condemn the riots that followed the police murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos. Since then, Syriza has become the most powerful party in Greece, drawing many of the voters who had supported less radical parties—and some movement participants who previously supported no parties at all. Even some Greek anarchists are hoping that after years of pitched violence and repression, the election of Syriza will provide a much-needed breather.
But will Syriza’s victory offer oxygen to movements for social change—or suffocate them? We’ve seen such promises of “hope and change” before; notably, when Obama won the presidential election in the US, but also when Lula and other Left politicians came to power in Latin America. When Lula was elected in 2002, Brazil hosted some of the world’s most powerful social movements; his victory was such a setback to grassroots organizing that it took until 2013 for Brazilians to mount a real challenge to the neoliberal projects that he took up from his predecessors.
Alanis: Note to listeners in 2019: we couldn’t have anticipated just how dire the consequences of these failures would be four years ago; today, with Trump and Bolsonaro in power, we can see with deadly clarity the consequences that come from boosting hopes of real change via the electoral left and then letting everyone down.
Clara: The consequences of Syriza’s victory will be felt around the world, especially for participants in the social movements they wish to represent. Parties modeled on Syriza are on the rise all over Europe. International financial institutions are watching the Greek laboratory, but so are millions of people who are fed up with being on the losing end of capitalism—as well as nationalist and fascist groups who hope to exploit their rage. We need to understand why these parties are drawing so much support, what their structural role is in maintaining capitalism and the state, and how their rise and inevitable fall will shift the context of resistance. Anarchists especially must prepare for the intense struggles that will follow as the terrain changes, lest we find ourselves alone and backed into a corner.
Alanis: Again, 2019 listeners: does this sound familiar to anyone? In the aftermath of the global financial crisis from 2008 on, a wave of uprisings from the Arab Spring to Occupy and beyond mobilized a massive wave of popular movements for change. But in many places – in Spain with Podemos, in the US with the Bernie Sanders campaign, etc – politicians or new parties came along to absorb and appropriate the grassroots energy of these uprisings and integrate them into the democratic process. The case of Syriza in Greece sums these dynamics up perfectly. Here’s some more background how anarchists responded to the economic crisis, and left-wing politicians worked to take advantage of popular resistance to austerity.]
Alanis: As the state closed down hospitals, television stations, schools, and kindergartens, anarchists and others self-organized to set up autonomous clinics, educational projects, public kitchens, social programs, and neighborhood assemblies. Over the following years, the Greek anarchist movement became a major social force, mobilizing tens of thousands of people to fight beside them. At the same time, this ideological polarization also benefitted fascists in Greece. Golden Dawn gained power in parliament as police officers swelled their ranks. Police repression of anarchist demonstrations became ceaselessly and mercilessly violent, while the far-right-controlled media maintained a conspiracy of silence and prisoners filled the new maximum-security prisons built under the most conservative government since the military junta fell in the 1970s.
These were the conditions in which a small coalition of Trotskyists, Maoists, Greens, and social democrats began to gain popularity under the name Syriza. When thousands of people who did not belong to anarchist or leftist groups marched with anarchists and clashed with police in the fight against gold mining in Chalkidiki, the defense of the social center Villa Amalias, the struggle against Golden Dawn, and demonstrations in solidarity with migrants, Syriza took positions on the same issues. They spoke about them in a parliament and their members attended the demonstrations. Whenever possible, they took advantage of these struggles to gain recognition in the media.
Syriza promised the end of austerity measures—though for the elections, this rhetoric softened into promises to renegotiate the conditions of Greek debt. They promised to dismantle the most brutal police units—though for the elections, this was reduced to only disarming officers that come into direct contact with protesters. Syriza promised to leave NATO—though for the elections, this was reduced to not cooperating in foreign assault missions. Syriza promised to close down high-security prisons and reestablish the universities as a no-go zone for the police, a legal privilege the movement lost after December 2008 in what proved to be a huge setback in clashes with police.
Faced with the challenges of retaining state power, the party will probably deliver much less than they promised. Facing international pressure, a divided electorate, and the structural relationship between state and capital, Syriza cannot hope to resolve the day-to-day problems that most Greeks face as a result of unbridled capitalism. In the long term, this may open the gates for the last governmental solution that Greece has not yet tried (since the 1970s, at least): fascism.
A profit-driven economy inevitably concentrates wealth into fewer and fewer hands. In a globalized world, any country that tries to reverse this process scares off investors; this is why today even the wealthiest nations are being forced to feed all the infrastructure of social democracy into the fire, keeping the market healthy at the expense of the general population. This problem could be solved by the revolutionary abolition of private property and the state that defends it, but there is only one way to preserve the support infrastructure of social democracy while maintaining capitalism, and that is to narrow down who gets to benefit from it. This is the meaning of the food distribution programs Golden Dawn organizes “for Greeks only.” In this regard, nationalist and fascist parties have a more realistic plan for how to maintain the safety net of the white middle class than ordinary socialist parties do.
That’s why it is so dangerous for parties like Syriza to legitimize the idea that the government can solve the problems of capitalism by implementing more socialistic policies. When they fail to deliver on their promises, some of those who believed in them will turn to far-right parties who claim to have a more pragmatic way to accomplish the same thing. This is already happening all around Europe. In Sweden, the flagship of social democracy, decades of left-wing activism aimed at preserving government programs have just opened the way for fascists to claim that, in order to protect those programs, the borders must close.
If Syriza’s victory succeeds in lulling those who once met in the streets back into spectatorship and isolation, this will close the windows of possibility that opened during the uprisings, rendering Syriza themselves redundant and offering a new model by which to pacify social movements around the world. But they are playing with fire, promising solutions they cannot deliver. If their failure could open the door for fascism, it could also create a new phase of movements outside and against all authoritarian power.
For this to be possible, anarchists in Greece and everywhere around the world must differentiate themselves from all political parties, inviting the general public to join them in spaces beyond the influence of even the most generous social democrats. This will mean facing off against the opportunistic politicians who once joined them in the street. It will not be easy, but it is the only way. If nothing else, now that the elections are over and Syriza stands on the other side of the walls of power, the lines are clear.
Abolishing capitalism and the state is still unthinkable for most people. Yet, as Greece has seen, the measures that could stabilize capitalism for another generation are still more unthinkable. In the day-to-day practices of Greek anarchists—the occupied social centers and university buildings, the self-defense patrols against Golden Dawn, the social programs and assemblies—we can see the first steps towards a world without property or government. If these practices reached an impasse in 2012, it was partly because so many people abandoned the streets in hopes of a Syriza victory. These are the examples to emulate from Greece, not the Syriza model. Let’s stop dallying with false solutions.
So, as you were probably not surprised to see if this analysis made sense to you, what this article predicted is basically exactly what happened. Syriza called for a referendum on whether the Greek people should accept the austerity measures being imposed on them by the EU and lending institutions. The Greek electorate resoundingly said no, we should not accept these austerity conditions. Then Syriza went ahead and administered exactly those same conditions they campaigned to reject, and that the voters rejected. It doesn’t take a genius to predict that Greek voters would be frustrated by this deception, and disillusioned with the false promises of the electoral left. This set the stage for the rise of the right wing neoliberal New Democracy party, who gained a majority of seats in this year’s legislative election. And anarchists and immigrants are now paying the price for Syriza’s betrayal.
Incidentally, this is probably obvious, but just in case: we’re hammering away at this angle about how mobilizing to elect left-wing politicians like those of Syriza doesn’t ultimately serve the interests of freedom and liberation not just to be dogmatic anarchists, but because this is an urgently relevant question in the US right now. We’re being subjected to a barrage of propaganda from all directions trying to terrify us into submitting to the Democratic Party as our only hope to fend off fascism. Take it from our Greek comrades: this is a fucking lie—putting faith in Bernie or any president is a serious practical and strategic mistake. Anyway, more on this theme to come.
THE NEW WAR ON ANARCHISTS AND IMMIGRANTS IN GREECE: INTERVIEW
Clara: So, in July 2019, the longstanding right-wing party New Democracy won the national elections by a clear majority. Some corporate media journalists celebrated the victory of New Democracy as a return to business as usual, a rejection of the supposed “extremism” of both Syriza and the fascist Golden Dawn party. But the victory of New Democracy is also a victory for the far right, who have seen their racist, nationalist agenda become mainstream. They took office with the intention of scapegoating immigrants and anarchists for the failures of neoliberal capitalism and the betrayals of left politicians. Taking advantage of the summer holidays to strike, they have already begun violently evicting anarchist social centers and self-organized refugee housing in Athens, openly declaring war on all who stand in the way of their oppressive vision of order.
At the end of August, CrimethInc. published the following interview with an anonymous black flag anarchist resident of Exarchia following a small riot in the early hours of August 28, discussing the context of this new chapter of struggle and the prospects ahead for those who seek a world without capitalism or state oppression.
Alanis: New Democracy began by declaring war on anarchists, specifically on the neighborhood of Exarchia in Athens. We have seen a series of poorly-written articles from the tabloid press spreading fear about “anarchist violence” and promising major government crackdowns. Why have they prioritized focusing on anarchists and specifically Exarchia as the chief enemy of the state?
Clara: New Democracy has shown a sort of delusional obsession with Exarchia. They refer to it as if it were the basis of the crisis here, as if it were the foundation of all of Greece’s problems. As a resident of Exarchia and an active anarchist, I can confirm that the language they use to describe my neighborhood is ridiculously overstated.
Sure, there are some issues with drug dealing and predatory mafia practices in Exarchia. The mafia recruits refugees, taking advantage of their desperate need for employment, hoping that anarchists who oppose opportunistic attempts to establish a drug market in the police-free zone of Exarchia will hesitate before hitting a refugee. This situation is the result of the poverty refugees face as they wait to receive asylum or struggle to make their home in Athens, trying to avoid harassment from police or fascists.
This is tragic, but it is nothing compared to a typical ghetto in the United States; it’s the inevitable result of the combination of the economic crisis and the so-called refugee crisis. The image of a refugee dealing drugs in Exarchia is an easy scapegoat for the right, and New Democracy has used this over and over in a cowardly manner to rally reactionary support.
Most people outside of Greece don’t understand that Exarchia is a very large neighborhood. It is only a five-minute walk from the most expensive part of the city center, Colonaki, a middle-to-upper-class neighborhood comparable to Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The anarchist movement emerged in the early 1970s out of student resistance to the Junta, which was concentrated at the nearby Polytechnio, the architectural university of Athens. Until then, Exarchia was a sort of extension of Colonaki. Since the 1970s, the neighborhood has become a gathering place for anarchists and squatters, but also for the theater community, leftists, intellectuals, artists, and the clients of an array of alternative bars. It is known locally as a nightlife destination on the weekends for students and partygoers as much as it is known for riots and squats.
There is famous hill called Streffi where youth and anarchist-friendly folks go to chill with their friends and comrades. It is also a beautiful park that used to house parties and gatherings to celebrate and benefit the punk and hip-hop counter-cultures and anarchist and anti-fascist movements. Because it has a view of the Acropolis and some of the most expensive houses in Exarchia, a brutal initiative began in the summer 2018 to crush the cop-free-zone culture of Streffi. Riot police surrounded the hill before any announced event, and completely demolished the only squat in the area shortly after it declared solidarity with those trying to reclaim Streffi.
In short, Exarchia is not a beautiful utopia in which anarchists live in harmony together and with other locals. There are snitches and “good citizens” here who applaud the police.
New Democracy has been in power before; they are not something new. But after five years in exile under Syriza, they are declaring revenge on the left. Unlike Syriza, which has a realistic understanding of Exarchia, New Democracy members have a childish image of it. They mystify it as the enemy of all Greek civility and as the epicenter of all things left or anarchist.
While the new prime minister is a rich kid who has probably never set foot in the neighborhood, the police are even more obsessed with Exarchia. On the morning of August 26, when four squats were evacuated, a police spokesperson went on national television to say “One finger launched a silent new vacuum cleaner which is the police, which will slowly suck all the garbage from Exarchia progressively, democratically, with a plan by police officers.” He went on to describe the 143 refugees who were detained as “dust with an annoying character.”
The police felt betrayed by Syriza. They think that for the past five years, the government condoned the weekly actions against the riot police that surround Exarchia. Now the police are ready for war. They are emboldened now in the same way that American police and fascists were when Trump was elected. They await the next battle with great anticipation. The riot police they station in Exarchia are typically not from Athens; they choose officers with extreme right-wing attitudes specifically for that role. This is a longstanding precedent for riot police. In some ways, they enjoy the riots as much as anarchists do; they too believe that they are fighting a war. New Democracy has handed them a clear mandate to restore order in Exarchia.
We can also see that Exarchia has become the highest priority target as a consequence of the decline of more radical action from the anarchist movement. After a period of many surprise attacks and bombings following the upheaval of December 2008, many members of the anarchist groups Conspiracy Cells of Fire and Revolutionary Struggle have been captured and imprisoned, and there has been a significant decrease in so-called political terrorism. Such actions still happen, but not at the same frequency and intensity as before.
This is similar to what happened to US anarchists following Operation Backfire as a result of the FBI declaring the Animal and Earth Liberation Fronts to be the number one domestic “terror” threat in the United States. After a wave of infiltration, repression, and inflated sentences targeting clandestine direct action, the US anarchist movement shifted towards mass street action. The state shifted its strategy, as well, using grand juries to harass people, demonizing classic forms of protest, and militarizing police departments.
In a similar way, owing to the drop in clandestine attacks, the Greek right was forced to construct a new enemy. This is likely why they chose the neighborhood of Exarchia and focused on the local anarchist group Rouvikonas (Rubicon). Rouvikonas has quite a reputation in Athens and the media love them. Essentially, they are an anarcho-communist group that engages in civil disobedience with an aggressive edge. They intimidate bosses, throw paint on buildings, smash turnstiles at subway entrances, and organize various other actions that are inspiring and courageous but deliberately restrained in order to avoid the risk of long prison terms.
Regardless of their restraint and the fact that they are just one of many groups in the Greek anarchist movement, Rouvikonas has become the new government’s public enemy number one alongside the anarchists in Exarchia as a whole and the specter of drug dealing in the square. Unless some more pressing concern arises, New Democracy will focus on this constructed threat, striving to present themselves as the saviors of the Hellenic people, while doing nothing to truly improve people’s lives—a classic fascist strategy.
Alanis: Of the first wave of police raids, in which four squats were evicted and 143 people arrested, the vast majority of the arrestees were immigrants, who are being moved to concentration camps. How do the crackdowns promised by New Democracy relate to continued scapegoating and repression of immigrants? How do anarchist strategies for defense against the government crackdown address the targeting of immigrants?
Clara: Of the four squats evicted, only two were housing refugees. The other two were anarchist spaces that did not serve this function. It is not easy to put all the squats that were targeted in any one category, as they are associated with different groups and different objectives. One of these squats, named Gare, had been evicted—and reoccupied—several times already under Syriza.
It’s also important to emphasize that the squats Spirou Trikopi 17 and Transito were providing housing and support to refugees in a completely self-determined manner independent of the state. Syriza never targeted this occupation, from what I understand—and this is where a new policy shift is obvious. These squats, along with several others nearby, have been providing free spaces for refugee families in conditions that are far superior to those in the state-funded detention facilities. Even if we consider the subject from a statist point of view, it actually saves the state money for refugees to be self-organizing their housing in this way with support from anarchists.
So this is an explicitly racist and fascistic act of symbolic revenge from the new government: a statement to refugees and other immigrants that they are no longer safe in Exarchia’s asylum. Many of the refugees who were arrested will probably be moved to Petrou Ralli detention center, a volatile place located in the middle of an industrial zone in Athens. Others have reportedly been dispersed to various refugee concentration camps around Athens and Greece. We hope that many of those detained will be released following investigation, but some may be deported or else remain in overcrowded detention centers in Greece.
Syriza evicted plenty of squats during their time in power. But they targeted the immigrant squats that they alleged were housing people involved in drug dealing and the anarchist squats that they claimed were being used to manufacture Molotov cocktails. In both cases, they attempted to frame an ethical narrative, trying to draw a line between “good” and “bad” squats.
By contrast, New Democracy has made it clear that they have a long-term plan to eradicate not only the existing squats in Exarchia but squatting itself, along with all the refugees, immigrants, anarchists, youth, and other people who give the neighborhood its world-famous character. They aim to destroy the culture that has come to define Exarchia. This will not be a quick procedure; they have a long-term plan, likely concluding with the creation of a subway stop in Exarchia Square and a return to the good old days when Exarchia had more in common with Colonaki.
Besides the government imprisoning families who had been living self-determined, peaceful lives in Exarchia, the most striking element of the eviction of August 26 was its timing. In late July 2019, around the same time they officially lifted the university asylum, New Democracy released the police officer who murdered the teenage anarchist Alexis Grigoropoulous; these were two dramatic provocations aimed at the anarchist and autonomous movements. Typically, the state has evicted squats between the beginning of July and the middle of August. While squats both inside and outside Exarchia—for example, in the neighborhoods of Kipseli and Koukaki—have been repeatedly harassed throughout the summer and continue to experience harassment at this moment, the operation of August 26 was timed to occur immediately before many people are returning from summer vacations. Carrying out these attacks at this time is meant to send the message that war has been declared on Exarchia and those who support the cop-free and anti-fascist social experiment that it represents.
Alanis: We hear that the Greek government has repealed the “sanctuary law” maintaining university asylum, prohibiting police from entering the universities except in emergencies. How will this effect the anarchist movement in Greece and the social context as a whole?
Clara: So far, the end of university asylum has taken place in words alone. Cops already often raided universities during riots or in pursuit of so-called criminals. Now they have changed the law so police will not need the formal permission of a university dean to enter. But it remains to be seen what this will mean in practice. University asylum is a hard-won victory cherished by a substantial part of the movement in Greece. Many people are deeply invested in it. It is not simply a matter of people sometimes running to the Polytechnic in Exarchia to avoid arrest during riots. This is a very small aspect of how the end of university autonomy will affect the movement.
Universities are important rallying points for assemblies and organizing in Greece. There are occupied spaces inside many universities that house social centers and anarchist groups. Above all, universities have served as a recruiting space for anarchists and as a venue for events. Parties and events at universities throughout Greece, from the hip-hop shows at the economics school in Kipseli to the punk shows at the law school in Neapoli, have provided important infrastructure to challenge repression and raise funds, as well as a safe and affordable space for people to gather and connect politically.
New Democracy has been obsessed with drug users and drug dealing, but no informed person would deny that the police have been intentionally pushing addicts and dealers into the universities. In most cases, drug use and dealing has not interrupted the ordinary function of the universities. But drug addiction is a major problem in Greece, where there is intense poverty by European standards and the port of Piraeus serves as a hub for heroin entering Europe. I do not blame people for their addictions; I blame capitalism. At the same time, the police have used the epidemic to target universities and Exarchia. For a long time, now, they have pushed addicts to the peripheries of the universities in hopes of delegitimizing the asylum law and undermining student autonomy. And while the drug dealing situation in Exarchia has become sad and confusing, it originated with a huge police effort in 2010 to push addicts into Exarchia.
Time will tell whether the police can take control of the universities in practice. If they begin patrolling campuses, evicting occupied centers in the universities, and shutting down parties, this would put a damper on the movement. At the same time, it would probably ignite a forceful reaction from the movement that would backfire against New Democracy.
New Democracy may be poking the wrong beast. If they push harder, rather than sticking to the slow, patient strategy of repression Syriza employed, there will be a broader backlash extending far beyond Exarchia. The asylum law is not only cherished by anarchists, but also autonomists, communists, leftists of all kinds, and, to put it simply, kids who like to party. The reaction to this clampdown has yet to be seen.
Alanis: How does the state attack on Exarchia relate to the capitalist assault on the neighborhood that has been taking place through gentrification and urban displacement? What is the relationship between Airbnb and urban development initiatives and riot police?
Clara: Exarchia has always been a sort of obsession for people from the conservative suburbs and for fascists in the countryside. Since the 1970s, there have been efforts to mess with Exarchia time and time again. After the 2008 insurrection, the Delta police would raid the neighborhood at random, attacking and beating people. Syriza formally eliminated the force; now New Democracy plans to reestablish it.
But Airbnb is the invisible enemy everyone is at a loss to deal with. Exarchia is becoming one of the most expensive places to live in the center of Athens, and Airbnb is almost 100 percent responsible for this sudden spike in real estate value and short-term rent hikes. Prior to Airbnb, a three-bedroom apartment could cost you 250 euros a month; now, that same apartment could generate well over 1800 euros a month if used for Airbnb.
This has drawn the attention of property owners and investors. New Democracy has been promising a new prosperity for Greece following years of recession. Yet in the melodramatic television coverage of Exarchia here, it is rarely mentioned that all these demonized alternative and deviant criminal elements are actually entertaining a huge market of alternative tourism.
In Exarchia, German, American, and Chinese tourists walk side by side the same immigrants and anarchists that the police refer to as trash. There is even a tour available as an “Airbnb Experience” called “Sweet Anarchy” describing Exarchia and its street inhabitants as if we are animals in a zoo.
Umlaut: What the fuck??
Clara: What has changed in the war on Exarchia since the days before Syriza? Chiefly, this: if New Democracy is able to succeed in its long-term effort to eradicate those who defend the neighborhood’s character, Airbnb and foreign investors have created a new market that will be ready to redefine Exarchia swiftly.
Alanis: How will anarchists respond to the attacks promised by the state? Are there divisions over issues of strategy?
Clara: I don’t think there are very many divisions over issues of strategy. Compared to the US, there are fewer bourgeois voices demanding pacifism in the movements here. Any strategy for the self-defense of Exarchia and the movements that define it will be welcome, whatever form it takes. Some groups are more open to using force than others are, but it’s rare to hear the sort of debate about violence and nonviolence that often takes place in the US.
But the challenge isn’t division over strategy so much as it is division itself. I think most people in the movement would say that morale is at a low point in recent memory. There are more anarchists, autonomists, and anti-fascists then ever before, but division is rampant. Many groups have a competitive attitude towards each other, nurse personal disputes, experience infighting, or refuse to work together at all. Still, I believe this will change quickly.
Many would say that 2008 to 2012 saw the peak of anarchist activity in Greece thus far for the 21st century. There were many challenges following mass police operations against the groups Conspiracy Cells of Fire and Revolutionary Struggle, not to mention the tragic deaths of three bank employees during a general strike in 2010.
Many people experienced an insurrection, a generalized revolt that people can only dream of in the current anarchist movement in the United States. Rioting and organizing both took place on a massive scale. However, following those years of struggle, very little actually changed. Austerity and poverty remained the norm, as Greece became the scapegoat for failed European policies and the new generation was forced to bear the consequences of the economic crisis.
When Syriza came to power, many anarchists fought with each other about whether to vote for them. Some argued that a Syriza government would make it easier to defend Exarchia and alleviate the suffering of those in prison, as well as mitigating the stress caused by state forces such as the Delta police. This created a great deal of division between anarchists, showing how confusing things became as what had seemed to be a social revolution quickly turned to the left, taking the stage in the theater of Greek politics.
Syriza was strategic like a snake. The party leaders knew Exarchia; many of them were leftist intellectuals and academics who used to come to Exarchia to debate over coffee or beer. They knew how to quell the movement, how to turn people against each other. They knew how to give people just enough room to breathe so they wouldn’t feel strangled. But they had their hands around our necks the whole time.
Many people from the prior generation became depressed or moved on. It was sad to see what many had thought of as a leftist government with all the right answers imposing austerity measures. It was a sad conclusion to the peak years of resistance.
However, the number of participants in anarchist, autonomist, and anti-authoritarian movements has not decreased. On the contrary, it has dramatically increased. Anarchism exists on a massive scale in Greece. It is hard to describe the extent of the movement and its diversity to an American audience.
During the Syriza years, there was a considerable amount of repression. The police attacked squats, but did so in a very calculated manner, so that people would target their anger internally, emphasizing small conflicts and political distinctions. The Syriza government helped to fan the flames of sectarianism in the movement by containing the movement rather than trying to suppress it.
Now, there are signs that people are coming together. A new poster is circulating calling for a mobilization on September 14 under the banner “No Pasaran.” Many groups in Exarchia that were at odds during the Syriza years are calling for this mobilization together. The assemblies that have taken place in the last 48 hours were not characterized by the infighting many of us are used to, and the number of participants has been high. People feel the pressure. They know they have to choose their battles. They have learned from the deceptions of Syriza that there is no such thing as a victory for our movements in the theater of state politics.
I think many people expected this. Some are depressed and divided, but prepared to transcend these issues collectively. Since its inception in the 1970s, the Greek anarchist movement as we know it has always been characterized by waves. As summer is ending, we see people coming together, opening their minds, and realizing the seriousness of the battle ahead.
Alanis: What can we do outside Greece to support the anarchist movement and the freedom of immigrants there? What are the most effective ways we can act in solidarity?
Clara: For better or worse, Exarchia has been portrayed as the mecca of global anarchism. Sometimes I laugh about this, but then I remind myself to not take for granted the beautiful elements of this neighborhood.
Many would say that the answer to your question is to go to Greek embassies and let the Greek state know that Exarchia will not be isolated, that it is loved from across the world. But I would say, in the spirit of revolutionary solidarity, that the most important thing that those who read this text can do is to continue building spaces and community wherever you are.
Exarchia has its fair share of issues, but it is generally a safe place. Considering its size, the fact that it functions so well without policing—despite so much diversity and internal differences and external pressure—attests to the viability of anarchism. Exarchia confirms that even without a police force, a major metropolitan area can function peacefully. So one way you could demonstrate your solidarity is to work towards creating more communities that celebrate self-determination, that do not welcome the police.
This year will see the first observances of important annual events under New Democracy, including November 17, the anniversary of the day 23 students were killed by the Junta at the Polytechnio in Exarchia, and December 6, the anniversary of the murder of Alexis Grigoropolous that sparked the 2008 insurrection. New Democracy has used both days to rally their supporters and argue that they must lift the asylum laws. While the movement has generally been critical of what is called anarcho-tourism, I think the attitude around this is changing. If people come to Greece for these days, they could help to protect Exarchia.
Outside supporters can also come to Greece to help immigrants independent of the state and NGOs, inside and outside of Athens. This has been going on for a long time.
It is not easy to say exactly what you should do. As I write this, I still don’t know what New Democracy has planned, nor how anarchists here will respond. But there are cops in riot gear surrounding the neighborhood, undercover cops roaming the streets, and tension everywhere. I am equally afraid and excited to see what is to come.
LELAS KARAGIANNI 37 SQUAT: INTERVIEW
Clara: So now you should have some solid context for what’s been happening in Athens over the past weeks and why it matters. As the September 14th demonstration approached, we wanted to get updated on developments there and dig deeper into the history of the neighborhood, the role of Syriza and the media in setting the stage for these attacks, the anarchist movement’s strategy moving forward, and the global context of this wave of repression. In this interview, we discuss these themes with an anarchist from the Lelas Karagianni 37 squat in Exarchia.
The Ex-Worker: First, can you introduce yourselves, and tell us about the squat you’re a part of?
LK37: We’re members of the Lelas Karagianni 37 Squat. It is the oldest squat in Greece. The building was occupied in 1988, so the squat is 31 years old, and it has been a part of the anarchist movement for all these years, as a place where anarchist assemblies are based. And our group, the anarchist collective “Circle of Fire,” which is a member of the Anarchist Political Organization—Federation of Collectives, is based there. The anarchist assembly of students in universities [“Arodamos”] is also based there.
We’re part of the social and class struggles that since 1974 and the fall of the junta have been quite strong and usually upsetting the plans of the state and the capitalists. It is something that is actually important and part of today’s story, because these struggles have managed to bring a lot of people out on the streets who had huge demos against the austerity measures, against the school reform laws. You had and still have the movements for the rights of prisoners; we have struggles about the environment, and also about the immigrants, solidarity to immigrants and refugees; and also the antifascist struggles, which are also really important. We’ve been part of those struggles for a lot of years, and the anarchist movement in Greece is really active in all of these struggles. And this is its greatest strength, that the anarchists are always trying to be present among the oppressed in order to fight against the state and the capitalists, to defend the neighborhoods from the fascists, to try to organize as workers in the workplaces. So this activity, which is quite rich, has for a long time been bothering the Greek state. And maybe the greatest example of this bother for the state is the December 2008 uprising, the December revolt.
This was a time when our movement, the anarchist movement, showed that the ideas of self-organization, of solidarity, can be spread out to a lot of people, and that the clashes between the oppressed and the police forces can be really widespread and defy the dominance of the state in several places in Athens and generally in Greece. So, after the December revolt, from 2009, the state has started a repressive campaign which since then has targeted Exarchia and the squats as these places that are quite symbolic in our struggle.
The Ex-Worker: The economic crisis and the rebellion of December 2008 kicked off a wave of fierce struggles in Greece and a period of high mobilization for the anarchist movement. One of the consequences of this broad social organizing against austerity was the rise to power of Syriza, the left-wing populist party that was elected in 2015. Here in the US, as we go into an election year when many activists will suddenly try to start convincing us to vote for left-wing candidates, it would be useful for us to learn about how having a left-wing government impacted the social movements in Greece. What happened to social struggles under the Syriza government? And how did their rule impact the situation you find yourselves in today? How is the rule of the recently elected right-wing New Democracy party different from or similar to the previous regime?
LK37: Well, the thing is that the fierce struggles from 2008 to 2012 have actually been lessened, because the Syriza party has tried and succeeded to some extent to spread delusion among the people that were on the streets. They told them in simple words that we can satisfy some of your needs, and the only thing that you have to do is to vote for us. And this worked because a lot of people maybe got either confused, or they were afraid because there was a really tough repressive campaign on the streets. So people in the bases were confused by that. But we can’t say the same about political organizations or anarchists or leftists. It is actually, if you had an agenda that was pro-Syriza, it was not only a mistake, but I think that actually helped Syriza to become a government by devouring the social struggles. The anti-authoritarian and the anarchist movement, and I mean its collectives and its organizations, was opposing this prospect because we have estimated and we have seen in the past that when the social struggles and the class struggles are lessened, then the state and the governments gain ground against our interests.
And this is what actually happened during the Syriza government. The demonstrations were not as strong as before; the struggles were not as strong as before. And the Syriza government actually wanted the movements to degenerate, to fall apart. That was their purpose, and that was the way they treated the movements. And their propaganda against us was based on the false idea that they are representing the people, which quite fast became obvious that it was a big lie.
Let’s say an example, about the asylum. You know or you might have read or might have heard that the new government—this is the right-wing government—has passed a law so that the police forces can enter easily in the universities when there are occupations in them. But this is not something that hasn’t happened before, during the Syriza government. One of their first acts during their first months as a government was to send the riot squads in and evacuate a university occupation which was a center for the struggle for political prisoners.
The thing is that this new government has taken this agenda that existed also before and made it its top priority, and publicized it and advertised it. The difference is that Syriza, as I said before, wanted to wait for us to fall apart, while the new government has publicly announced that they want to terminate, to destroy our movement, mainly by using the police force. This is a moment for the state and the capitalists in Greece when they are trying to not only take revenge on the people who tried to stand against them, but also they want to spread fear into the society and make it harder for the people who are suffering from their policies to go out on the streets and fight back. So, this condition can also be clearly shown in Exarchia. Because with the last government, one of the main characteristics of their policy was that they promoted, let drug dealing mafias to occupy areas in the neighborhood of Exarchia. And this led to attacks on people in the neighborhood, on anarchists in the squats of the area, and it really made it harder for people that live for years, coexisting and with solidarity, to keep on doing it.
So there was a struggle against the drug dealers for years. And the state used them as a picture of Exarchia, trying to spread the lie that the drug dealers are the real image of Exarchia. This was very important on their propaganda against us, despite the fact that they were actually collaborating with them, the local police station and etc, and we were fighting both the police forces and the drug dealers.
Now we are in a situation where they obviously attack squats in Exarchia. On the 26th of August, they attacked four squats in Exarchia. In one of them there were a lot of immigrants, men, women and children. And they persecuted them, while 100 meters away, the drug dealers were continuing their activities. It is a quite obvious example of what the state wants to do with the neighborhood at this time. And we should also state that we are aware that funds, huge funds from abroad have bought apartments so they can exploit them and use them and throw away the people of the neighborhood and the activists, and let’s say transform the neighborhood from a neighborhood that is related to the social struggle, to classes, to resistance, to fighting the system, to a neighborhood that is a place for people to consume, either drugs or drinks, and be obedient to the state.
The Ex-Worker: How has the new government and the capitalist media represented what’s happening in the neighborhood and with the attacks and evictions?
LK37: Well as you understand, because your media and our media are of the same category, they are extremely hostile against the anti-authoritarian and anarchist movement, and they were preparing this repressive campaign for months—actually, I should say for years. They are targeting day by day from the newspapers, from the TV stations, the anarchists, the immigrants, Exarchia, and the squats. They are constantly talking about “a place for the lawless.” They were trying to build that image by lying about the true identity of our movement and of its relationship to this neighborhood. It is a coordinated campaign: the state forces hit, and the media talks on their behalf in order to justify the state’s actions.
As about the new government: they’re working the same agenda in a much faster way, attacking not only our movement but also attacking the workers. They have a lot of laws either already voted or they are preparing to vote, that are obviously dissolving the workers’ rights, and they also have already voted laws that allowed the capitalists to destroy the mountains and the beaches and the forests of Greece. And they have also made or are preparing to make laws that are making the legal framework against people who demonstrate and fight even more harsh and strict. So it is a campaign with a lot of heads that is targeting the people of the working class, the society, the anarchists, the immigrants; and from our aspect, we’re doing it because we are a lot, because we have every reason to fight back. There are ten years now that the Greek state and the capitalists are continuing their attack, and the only way for them to be stopped is for us, for every subject of the oppression to unite and make a common front that will stop them in every aspect of their attack.
The Ex-Worker: These media discourses also work to support the state by scaring people with the threat of “extremist” violence from fascists as well as anarchists. Today, the state likes to claim that it is the only thing that can protect ordinary people from the violence caused by polarizing politics and both left- and right-wing extremism. Of course, we know that governments like those in Greece and the United States have close ties to the extreme right and fascist movements; but still, this discourse convinces many people who might otherwise participate in radical social struggles to be intimidated into supporting political parties and the rule of law. How have you responded to this strategy in the Greek context?
LK37: I think it’s a common experience—I mean, the propaganda that you’ve mentioned—it has also been a part of their propaganda against us for years. They call it “the theory of extremes,” that there are the extremes, and that the state and the democracy are the ones that is going to protect the people from the extremes. This is counter-revolutionary propaganda. We know very well that they are working with the fascists, both on the street, and also on the level of ideas. The fascists attack the immigrants on the streets while the Greek state puts them in prisons. So they have the same agenda, but the Greek state is doing it in a formal way and the fascists are working in an informal way; one is happening out in the light and the other is acting in the dark. We have also seen in the last few years, as you correctly mentioned, that political parties and political powers that represent the extreme right are more and more often participating in governments. We’ve seen it in Italy; we can see people here who were clearly fascists participating in today’s government; we can see it in the United States. It is a main factor of their propaganda, to put a dilemma on the people that either you have to submit to the state, or something worse will happen, and fascism will come.
This is not a dilemma. The strengthening and widening of the state’s operation means that the state is becoming more and more fascist, and that the political parties that represent fascism are going to strengthen because the whole system is trending to the extreme right. The centers are becoming right-wing; the right wings are becoming extreme right wings; etcetera. So what we see is that the whole system is trying to impose its will versus the people by threatening them, by imprisoning them, by attacking them, and from our point of view, the only solution that we have is to work harder and harder and to fight harder and harder to make a revolutionary prospect real, and to spread the idea of the revolution relay to people that are threatened and intimidated, both by the state and the fascists that are like their brothers.
The Ex-Worker: Today the anarchist and immigrant worlds in Exarchia are under attack both from the state—politicians, police, and their fascist allies on the streets—and also from capitalists, both illegal (the drug dealers and mafia) and legal (companies purchasing buildings for AirBNB rentals and such). Tell us about the strategy that the anarchist and anti-authoritarian movements in Athens are developing to respond to state repression and capitalist development.
LK37: First of all, I’ll have to clarify that there isn’t one single strategy. We will talk about our strategy and the strategy that we’re working with other comrades together, but there are also other aspects. Our strategy is based on the belief that our movement should not be isolated against the state. We should try to find allies inside the social basis with the immigrants, with the refugees, with the workers. So we’re trying to make a front that will be able to connect the people in the bases of self-organization. When I’m talking about alliances, obviously this does not include political parties, institutions of the government, etc. We’re talking about the people from below, of the social base that we want to unite; the people of the anti-authoritarian struggle and the anti-authoritarian movement. This is a main aspect of our strategy, how are we going to make this front.
Since 2015 we have been part of an assembly that is fighting in the Exarchia neighborhood both against the legal and the illegal capitalists and their armies. Since the election and the declaration of war against the anti-authoritarian movement, we have called an assembly that has the purpose of the defending our movement, our squats, our people against state repression and also pointing out the multiple levels of this attack. In this assembly, the No Pasarán assembly, there are eight other collectives and squats; It’s the Spirou Trikoupi 17 squat, which was evicted on the 26th of August. It’s the Notara 26 squat; these two are squats that also refugees and immigrants live in. It’s the K* Vox squat; it’s our squat obviously, Lelas Karagianni 37. And then the anarchist/anti-authoritarian steki (social space) of Antipnoia, the political group of anarchists and communists Taxiki Antepithesi, the self-organized social space of Galatsi “Stegastro” and the anarchist student assembly “Arodamos”; and other comrades who are not part of collectives. This assembly is for us a good first step of immigrant and refugee squats, political squats, anarchist groups, and collectives of the movement that coexist and try to make a front against the state repression. We have made several actions even in August, which is a difficult time for us in Athens because a lot of people leave; but we’ve managed to make some demos and some gatherings in Athens, to have at least a first step to take an initiative against the state repression before it is completely expressed.
So this is the second point of our strategy. The Greek state wants to have the initiative; they want us to expect their attacks. We have tried to alter this situation; we have tried to take the initiative and make them wait for our moves. They made the first hit by evicting four squats, but since then we have managed to do some gatherings and actions, and now we are heading to the demonstration of the 14th of September, and despite their declarations that they have ended the whole Exarchia matter since a month after they are elected. It has been two months and they have made one attack, and now they are waiting for us to make the demo to see how many we are, to evaluate the situation of our movement, and carefully plan their next steps. This is also a difference from the attacks that they made years before. They usually hurried; they attacked repeatedly for a short period, and then a lot of people went on the streets and were fighting back, so they had to stop the attacks. Now they are following a different strategy against us. They are more careful and they are planning each step, watching us and evaluating our situation. So it is a war that is—we are watching them and trying to evaluate their moves; they are watching us and trying to evaluate our moves; and we try to makes steps so that we can make it more difficult for them to proceed to their goals.
This is the second one. And of course the third one is that besides the legal or illegal capitalists that are targeting Exarchia, the riot police have had a constant presence inside Exarchia neighborhood. They were circling it the time before, but now they have a presence really close to the Exarchia square. For them, it is a way to be in the neighborhood and try to control it, and they make sudden raids, and this is a way for them to show that they are regaining control of the neighborhood. And of course it is our purpose to prevent this presence. We obviously don’t want them there. And we’re trying with different kinds of actions to regain the ground that the state has taken, and in our opinion as LK and as members of the APO, to do this, we need to spread even more: to have a lot of people on the streets, to make a lot of actions and a lot of moves that will force the state to be in a defensive position. That now we are in the defense position, and we should counterattack so that they will be in a defensive position. This is, in a general way of speaking, our strategy against the state repression.
The Ex-Worker: Has the new government’s wave of repression against the anarchist movement and immigrants been focused entirely in Athens? Or has the movement faced attacks recently in other places in Greece?
LK37: Thank you for this question. It’s important to speak about this. Right now the repression is mostly concentrated in Athens and especially in Exarchia. But throughout these years, both the state forces and the fascists have attacked squats in Thessaloniki. Libertatia Squat was attacked and arsoned by fascists in demos that nationalists made the years before; and our squat has also been targeted and attacked several times through these years, which is an aspect we didn’t mention a lot. But there was a combined attacking strategy from the state and from the fascists. They were working together, cops evicting, fascists trying to arson our squats and attack us. We have repelled those attacks and the comrades in Thessaloniki are building again the Libertatia squat. But the state repression right now at the time is focused in Athens. But our comrades, especially in Thessaloniki, Patras, and other places, they have tried to open up, to get out to the streets, because they know that obviously they will be next. Now the state is focusing on Athens, but tomorrow they might hit also in the center of Athens, or in Exarchia, or in our squat Lelas Karagianni, and then they will strike in Thessaloniki, then they will hit in Patras… It is a general plan that this government has for the state’s repressive campaign. And within that, a lot of our comrades in the other cities acknowledge that, and they are acting and preparing to defend our movement also. Also we have calls for tomorrow’s demo from other cities, from Patras and Thessaloniki. Our comrades from these cities will be with us tomorrow morning in Propylea so that we will be together in this demo.
The Ex-Worker: What kind of solidarity would you like to see from anarchists in the United States and other parts of the world to support your struggles in Greece?
LK37: What happens here is not isolated from the rest of the world. State repression has targeted the struggles everywhere, they are trying to eliminate them—they are trying to build what we call the modern totalitarianism. We have seen it in the struggles in North and South America, we have seen it in western Europe, we have seen it in Asia; everywhere in the world, they’re trying to hit the struggles, they’re trying to repress the anarchist and the anti-authoritarian movement, because they recognize that this movement is the real threat to their plans and to their world. So we have to say that we are also watching the struggles and your fights against the fascists, and the struggles that are happening there, and the struggles that are happening in the prisons in the States, and the struggles for the environment; it is also something that gives us power through all these years. We are watching our comrades from the States to Turkey to everywhere. This is something important for us, that we are not alone and that we have comrades all over the world, and that we fight against the state and capitalism with them. This is the first thing.
The second thing is that obviously now we are in a kind of state of emergency. They are threatening the existence, actually, of our movement which has managed throughout the years to succeed, to connect with the society and have a lot of people in the streets. So we think it is important to fight back. We are very pleased to see that our calls for solidarity have already been answered from comrades all around the world. From Australia, Italy, France, the States, Turkey, Rojava—I can’t name all of them, there are too many solidarity actions—and this is something that gives us strength. So from now on, what we expect from our comrades is to keep on fighting, both on their fronts and also whenever they come to express their solidarity towards our movement, especially in times like tomorrow’s demonstration, 14th of September, is a big day for us here; or when in the future if they hit and evict squats or they are arresting people, we will try our best to communicate it with you, our comrades abroad.
Every message, every action of solidarity is important for us. We think that the international solidarity is an important barricade against the state and capitalism, and we want to revitalize international solidarity as much as possible.
The Ex-Worker: To finish, I was hoping you could share with us something about your revolutionary vision for the worlds you’d like to see result from your struggles.
LK37: Maybe that’s the tougher question…
The Ex-Worker: I know, but I think that, at least in our context, so often anarchists have to focus just on reacting to whatever repression or attack is happening that we sometimes lose sight of our passion, our dreams, the reasons beyond immediate self-defense why we’re fighting for a different world in the first place. When this happens it narrows our imaginations, which I think is a serious problem for revolutionary movements. One of the things I appreciate most about the chance to talk with comrades in other countries is to learn not just from your tactics and strategies for fighting repression, but also for how you imagine a revolutionary world could be, how you build your movements around the visions of freedom that inspire you.
LK37: First of all, I completely understand what you’re saying, because our movement was not always strong, was not always as big as it is now. There were times when we were fewer and we had to fight hard, and there were important moments—international important moments—that really helped the movement in Greece. As a squat, Lelas Karagianni comrades have been in Genoa and Prague, in several places where the G8 summits where happening, and a lot of people were there and fighting back against the state and capitalism. This was an international struggle that gave a boost to the anarchist movement hear in Greece because the international experience was transferred locally and vice versa, the local experience was transferred internationally. And as the movement grew up, our vision grew up. When you build step by step and when you grow, you can see the wider picture. And there was point when we have to criticize ourselves and our tactics in order to try to make something bigger.
For years we have propagandized the idea of a revolt, of a social revolt. And it happened! So what we wanted, what we have been asking and trying for years, had already happened. And that was the point when we saw that we need to change our structure, that we need to organize more, so that we can include more people, so that after the revolt, the next step should be the revolution. That idea was enriched by the example of the struggles in Chiapas, from the Zapatistas; from the struggles in Rojava recently; from the struggles all around the world and also back in time from the Spanish Revolution. We’re trying to take what we think really helped the militants to succeed, and some of the things that have been used successfully, we’re also trying to use in our struggle. Let’s say, we’re trying to have multiple levels on our actions, to have a social presence—you know, in the squat we’re trying to make food for people to come, and also make talks about anarchism, and in the same time, fight against the fascists, so that we won’t have just one dimension—that we will have a lot of variety, also in our ideas and in our actions. That’s the one thing.
And the second thing is that we strongly believe that this variety should be connecting with a general vision, with a general idea. We have seen for years that the state and the capitalists and the media are trying to convince the people that their idea of revolution is not any more of the time, contemporary—that it is something that has ended—and this is actually a part of the attack on us, on the people. We strongly believe the we should make the people – and you can only do this if you believe in it yourself – that the revolution is not something from the past, but something we can build for the future. So based on that belief, we are trying to act in a way that first of all defends our, what have we succeeded so far—our squat, our grounds, our neighborhoods from the fascists—and at the same time, to talk to the people of the society to try to persuade them that it is for their interest, that we have common interest to fight back. And this has actually worked, for, let’s say, in the struggle against the fascists. There are two main factors that helped us to repel a huge attack that was made for almost a decade. The fascists killed an antifascist and there were arson squads. We tried to repel this attack using two main factors. The one is that we kept on fighting in the neighborhoods to communicate to the people so that we are going to be a lot. That was one factor. And the other factor was they were counterattacking them and not leaving them to gain ground in our neighborhoods. We tried and we have succeeded in a way to kick them out of the neighborhoods. So this is one aspect, but it shows also our point of view of every aspect of the social struggle. We want to be a lot, and we want to be with a spirit of combat, of fighting back; the one without the other is not enough.
And one last thing about what we have said, of the general idea and how we make it more possible. Two things. One, we are really looking to work in and communicating with comrades from other countries, because we think that social revolution happens, it will be a procedure that will start and last for years. And actually, it is something that needs the participation and spreading of the anarchist fight throughout the world. It will not be the first time that this will happen. We have the historical examples of certain decades where the social struggle was really strong throughout the world; either in the 20s and the 30s, or the 60s and the 70s, where throughout the world there were a lot of struggles, also in the States. And there are the examples that people from all around the world can fight back the state and capitalism. And the last example is since the Zapatista’s revolt and the movement against the G8, that we can find comrades from other countries, work with them, and make an example of fight and resistance internationally and globally.
ATHENS INDYMEDIA CALL FOR SEPTEMBER 14 DEMONSTRATION
Clara: So on this past Saturday, September the 14th, a major anarchist demonstration took place. Here’s the text of the announcement that went up on Athens Indymedia promoting the demo:
AGAINST STATE OPPRESSION Which aims at the intensification of exploitation, poverty and blockades Which targets the anarchist movement, refugees, migrants, and activists Which is expressed through strategies of police control of Exarchia and orchestrated attacks against social spaces of the struggle With attempts to abolish the university asylum With persecution and imprisonment of activists With the propagation of new legal tools of oppression at the hands of the state No truce - No surrender Let’s raise the solidarity barricades To fight back against submission to state oppression No Pasaran! Demonstration against the state’s oppression campaigns and in solidarity with the squats, the structures of struggle and social and class resistance.
VOID NETWORK INTERVIEW
Clara: We wanted to hear firsthand from a participant how things went. So we got in touch with a participant in the Void Network, which describes itself modestly as “a cultural, political and philosophical collective that first appeared in 1990 in Athens, Greece with aim the radicalization of everyday life, the social question, the arising of critical mind, the ecstatic collective symbiosis, the visibility of diversity, the participation to the emancipatory social struggles of our times and the creation of Utopian Public Environments by non-employed cultural activists.” In this short interview, we hear about how the demonstration went— one brief note: the estimate given here for the number of participants in the demo is considerably higher than other reports we’ve heard, so take that as you will—and also how things have developed in Exarchia, prospects for ongoing resistance, and what those of us listening from afar can learn from the struggle in Greece.
The Ex-Worker: So tell us about the demonstration on Saturday the 14th.
Void Network: The demonstration that took place this weekend, Saturday the 14th of September, it was about 7 to 8,000 people, I can say. Some people they say less, but it’s not easy to count, anyway. I think that it was at least 7,000 people, maybe even more. I think it was a very good meeting of many of the anarchists of the city. The presence of the leftists was minimal—there were something like 300 of the Trotskyists—so the big majority of the demonstration was an anarchist demonstration, organized by anarchists. There were two main assemblies that they invited, the assembly No Pasarán and the open assembly of Polytechnic University. It was good that participated many groups, many initiatives under the protection of the bloc. The presence of the police during the demonstration was minimal. They didn’t encircle the demonstration, because it was very big, it was very difficult; they would need more than 10,000 policemen to encircle this demonstration. So they were spread all around the parallel streets. And I think it was a big empowerment for all the people that participated, and it was a strong message also that if they dare to attack the anarchists, the anarchists are still here and fighting back.
The Ex-Worker: Have the repression and raids over the past month impacted the character of the neighborhood? Moving forward from this weekend, what do you think the prospects are for coordinated anarchist resistance or for broader social revolt?
Void Network: The character of Exarchia is untouched, but under pressure. Nobody knows how far the state will go in this meaningless, dangerous, and catastrophic crusade against one of the most beautiful, progressive, and revolutionary neighborhoods in this world. Exarchia is a stronghold of global countercultures for a long time now, so it will not be easy at all for the police or the state to change the situation here. Also, it is not easy at all also for the people even or the businesses to control the place, because the situation is very open, very in flux, like the situation changes from month to month, you know; it’s an urban flux. People from different areas of Athens and all over the world still meet every day in Exarchia and share dreams, desires, utopias, strategies, and methodologies of social struggle. Maybe the new right-wing government believes it can turn Exarchia into Las Vegas in a month, but this would need nuclear weapons to happen, and it will not bring more tourists or investors anyway, you know, if this is the plan of the government.
This is a plan without a plan. The same moment riot police are all around the neighborhood, and when also homophobic and sexist attacks of fully armed policemen against activists, students, refugees, and common people is a daily phenomenon now, as well as throwing large amounts of poisonous tear gas in a residential area in the middle of a European city. The social movements together with refugees, the young workers and students, unemployed kids and older people, immigrants and residents defend the area. Open social assemblies, participation in the social centers, political demonstrations, thousands of posters and pamphlets spread all over the country. We try to spread analysis and counterinformation against the propaganda of the government. Riots spread in unexpected moments, whenever people dare to fight back against the suppression and the public fear.
In a way, New Democracy and the new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis appears in a great arrogance, ready to enforce the worst possible neoliberal politics in the society. And at the same time, he is manipulated by strong far right politicians and ministers within the party that deserve to take revenge for the social revolt that started in 2008 after the assassination of Alexis Grigoropoulos by police in Exarchia, and continued in the massive social movement of the majority of the population against the austerity measures and the intensification of exploitation—what media used to call “the crisis.” So in the same moment, we have a society that for a long time now has been absent from the streets, from the influence of the left government of Syriza. But the people are still in a desperate economic situation. The young people are very angry and unemployed, and in very bad conditions even when they work.
A social revolt in Greece is always possible, especially if the police attack in Exarchia and make the mistake to start kicking people and destroying infrastructures. Of course, in the same moment we have to take care, we have to think that there are many occupied social centers all over Greece, so it’s not only about Exarchia. There are a lot of preparations of struggles all over Greece, you know, in other cities also. And I hope that the coordination of the anarchists will go better and better during the next weeks. Because anyway, the oldest period of the last years, the appearance of all these infrastructures and all these collectives and groups and social initiatives produce now a problem that anarchists don’t have a strong coordination to each other. There are a lot of social centers and a lot of projects and groups that work without an official coordination with other groups. So I hope this will appear in the next weeks better and better.
The Ex-Worker: Although the repression happening in Exarchia is especially intense, it’s certainly not unique, as governments and fascist forces increasingly try to crack down on movements for freedom and against control. What do you think listeners from around the world can learn from the struggle in Greece to enrich our own struggles for freedom?
Void Network: I think that the problems that are taking place in Greece are happening all over the world. We face a very strong neoliberal attack with the help of the fascists, and the coordination of neoliberals and fascists, it becomes more and more strong all over the world. And I believe that we have to expose the neoliberalism to the big masses; the people have to understand how the neoliberals work and why life becomes more and more miserable, and people more and more isolated—we have to break the isolations. The social centers and the social projects, you know, they help very much on that. There are all over the world buildings that have been abandoned for decades, and we need initiatives of people from different social and cultural backgrounds that will give life to buildings and will create the social centers and places of struggle, and also assemblies, open public assemblies.
I believe that the Greek anarchists, if we have something to offer, the main thing, it is this: to break our isolation from each other, and to break our isolation from the general population. This is what we try to do here, anyway. The social spaces that we create offer free education and food, free entrance cultural events, psychological empowerment, and hope for a world without exploitation and loneliness. And in this free, open, accessible for all public spaces, nobody is employed, or have any kind of personal income. And this is a basic, very strong element that the general population feels: that we are not workers, we are not people who work in these social projects; we don’t have a personal income or a personal benefit from these social projects, so that this is what turns them into open and public, really public. Very few projects are organized in private spaces. Most of the spaces that we use we try to be public spaces: places, buildings that have been built by us and they belong to us. So we turn the public spaces into free, open, accessible zones for people. And I believe that it is a very courageous and amazing decision of people when they decide to break down social isolation and individualism, meet in neighborhood assemblies, and decide to give life to an abandoned building left to mold away. At the liberated social spaces people share horizontal voluntary work, common efforts for freedom, and the struggle for a better future for all. And this message can be understood anywhere around the world, by anybody, and be practiced by everybody in the world. This.
CLARA’S CLOSING MOTVIATIONAL SPEECH
Clara: In our little intro that we do at the beginning of each episode, we allude to the dreams that many of us have—that I have, at least—for “a life off the clock.” We were trying to come up with a punchy little phrase that would connect to the “ex-worker” theme, yeah. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that there’s some actual depth to the longing communicated by that notion… To me, off the clock signifies not just “punched out from my day job,” but living in a way where every little thing isn’t quantified and measured and exchangeable; where my time matters not as a numerical unit with a dollar value but as the raw material of a meaningful life, an open-ended space to explore and play freely. Where the quality matters more than the quantity, and where every moment is irreducible, unexchangeable, singular. And “a life” off the clock—not just moments, not just weekends and vacations, but a whole existence that isn’t determined by the logic of the market.
And this is ultimately why I think places like the squats of Exarchia matter and have to be defended. Not because nobody in the neighborhood works shitty jobs—many if not most probably do, and for others being unemployed is even worse—but because those are some of those rare spaces where people are forging collective lives outside of capitalist relations. In the squats and social centers, it’s possible to live, eat, engage politically, enjoy culture, and dream of other worlds without paying or being paid. For so many of us living neck-deep in the neoliberal nightmare in the US or Canada or elsewhere, it’s barely possible to even imagine how humans could live outside of the market and the money economy…let alone to remember that almost all humans did this for almost all of human history. Exarchia is not utopia. But however unrealizable utopia may be, the fact that there are still people determined to try, to dare to dream of worlds beyond capitalism and the state, and to have the audacity to put those dreams into action—this matters. This is meaningful, and those of us whose hearts also beat out of time with the ruling order should take note, and do everything we can to show solidarity. And to be clear: this not only means staying informed about developments in Greece, doing demonstrations, providing material support, and so forth. It also means taking inspiration from the struggles in Athens and beyond in order to pursue our own utopias, wherever we are—to see our own dreams and visions as worth fighting for.
So that’s it for this episode of the Ex-Worker. Huge thanks to the Lelas Karagianni 37 squatters and the Void Network for sharing their perspectives. As usual, you can check out our website, crimethinc dot com slash podcast, for a full transcript of this episode, as well as links to websites, texts, and videos shared with us by the LK37 squatters and the Void Network, plus other background readings on the situation in Greece from CrimethInc. and other sources. We’d also recommend checking out the long interview with an anarchist in Exarchia published recently by the It’s Going Down podcast; we’ve got a link to that as well. If you’ve got feedback or suggestions for us, you can reach us by email: podcast at crimethinc dot com.
We’ll be back with more coverage of rebellions for freedom around the globe… sooner than you think. So stay tuned. Till then, keep loving and keep fighting.