Freedom News

Why is the Greek state attacking Exarcheia?

The Greek state’s long anticipated attack on the rebellious district of Exarcheia began with the eviction of four occupied spaces and a provocative and dangerous attack on the social centre K*Vox. Since the return to power of right-wing New Democracy in the July elections the move has been expected and a difficult struggle lies ahead for Exarcheia and the anarchist and anti-authoritarian space in Greece. The short-term fixations of New Democracy and the right explain the police operation but the attack on Exarcheia is part of a deeper desire by the state draw a line under its decade long crisis and declare total victory.

New Democracy have their own reasons for the attack on Exarcheia.1 While in opposition they raised the right’s traditional banner of ‘law and order’ and helped by a cooperative media painted a picture of a society spiralling into lawlessness. None of this was true, after all SYRIZA evicted occupied centres and refugee solidarity projects as well as sending the riot police into the neighbourhood and against demonstrations countless times while one of SYRIZA’s final campaign rallies for the July elections was attended by prominent police officials. Still the new Prime Minister Mitsotakis repeatedly threatened to ‘end’ Exarcheia while in opposition. That the refugee and migrant occupations were targeted first along with other announcements that the government will speed up deportations demonstrates that an anti-immigration agenda will be a priority. This reaffirms New Democracy’s connections with the far-right despite the liberal ‘centrist’ presentation of Mitsotakis.

The operation against the neighbourhood also fits in with economic and social objectives. One of Mitsotakis’ first announcements as Prime Minister was that the long-established law against smoking in enclosed spaces will be enforced. It was a symbolic measure to proclaim that from now on all laws of the state, no matter how minor, will be enforced. Eradicating the social tolerance for the bending or breaking off the state’s rules is a key element of Greece’s restructuring which was begun by the memoranda programmes. Exarcheia as an apparently ‘lawless’ neighbourhood is the physical embodiment of a mentality the government has set out to end. On the economic side Exarcheia is set to be another of the Athenian neighbourhoods undergoing rapid gentrification and exploitation as low property prices, the rise of tourist rental platforms and the tourism industry as a whole combine to reshape the face of the city. Should the political groups be neutralised or removed from the area, Exarcheia will be the perfect hip/alternative tourist destination.

There are then a number of reasons why the new government is attacking Exarcheia but such an operation was inevitable whoever administers the state. Exarcheia and the anarchist and anti-authoritarian space are one of the few remaining obstacles on the state’s path to a restoration of normality. The Greek state is in the process of moving on from a devastating decade long political and economic crisis and in recent years it has been able to present itself as slowly returning to normal. In August 2018 the third memorandum programme was finally completed, though budget targets still must be meet for the next forty years and the Greek state remains under ‘enhanced supervision’ from the eurozone. The July 2019 elections saw New Democracy restored to power under one of the traditional dynastic families that have dominated Greek politics since the early twentieth century. Despite being the longest serving memorandum government SYRIZA consolidated their position as the new left pillar of the state, replacing the previously dominant PASOK and restoring the possibility of a stable two-party system. Even better the neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn failed to re-enter parliament. Borrowing costs are falling to historic lows and in recently the final capital controls, put in place in 2015, were lifted. Over the last two years the memorandum and austerity were replaced as the main political issue by a focus on national questions such as the historic identity of the state’s northern neighbour and tensions with the Turkish state. When viewed from the top of society it is as if there has been a magical restoration of the pre-crisis status-quo.

While it seems in some sense that so little has changed despite the upheavals of the decade-long crisis events since 2008 revealed a political shift in Greece. For much of the twentieth century the Greek state was in a prolonged struggle against a large section of its own population. This internal enemy was the left whether that was the Communist Party (KKE) who led the resistance to Nazi occupation and the fight against the right-wing Greek state that was restored by the British and the Americans post-1944 or the broader left that struggled against an authoritarian state and the far-right throughout the 1960s and 1970s. That struggle ended, as elsewhere, with the election of a Socialist (PASOK) government to carry out progressive reforms and democratise the state. With the election of PASOK in 1981 the Greek left was reconciled with the state. In the modern crisis this allowed the left to step in and stabilise the state. Between 2008-2012 the Greek state was rocked by a series of revolts and social movements that began with the December revolt of 2008 and continued through the massive anti-austerity movements of 2010-2012. The result of these movements was that by 2014 the two traditional ruling parties, New Democracy and PASOK, were huddled together in a coalition that was so politically exhausted it was incapable of carrying out the next phase of the bailout and memorandum programme. In 2015 the Greek state needed SYRIZA and the left dutifully stepped in to manage the situation better.

During 2008-2018 it became clear that the internal opponent of the Greek state is no longer the left but the anarchist and anti-authoritarian space. It was the space which was central to the revolt of December 2008 that marked the beginning of the crisis. The anarchists and anti-authoritarians were key to the riots which threatened revolt during the most precarious moments of the crisis in 2010-2012. The space formed the core of the anti-fascist movement that combatted Golden Dawn and the far-right turn of the state while going on to contribute to the post-2015 refugee solidarity movement. Anarchists such as Alexis Grigoropoulos and Lambros Foundas were killed by the state’s police. It was members of the space that conducted an armed struggle against the state and have since been at the centre of a continuous anti-terror repressive campaign. The anarchist and anti-authoritarian space has become the main challenger to the state and so a strike at its heart in Exarcheia was inevitable at some point.

While the Greek state hopes to sweep into Exarcheia and wipe away a district that has cause it problems for half a century its operation is not without risk. In 2012-2014 another New Democracy led government aimed to defeat the anarchists and anti-authoritarians. Squats were attacked and evicted, there were attempts to shut down the space’s websites and radio stations, guerrillas and their family members and acquaintances were imprisoned and tried as terrorists while a new maximum security prison and isolation regime was threatened. At the same time Golden Dawn were let loose with the protection of the police. In those years the anarchists and anti-authoritarians fought back and while some battles were lost the state’s offensive was blunted. The current situation is perhaps more threatening as in previous years the existence of wider social tensions and mobilisation meant that the state’s ability to attack the anarchist and anti-authoritarian space was tempered by the threat of the wider disorder that could provoke. Now Exarcheia and the anarchist and anti-authoritarian space are more isolated as large parts of society are demobilised and disillusioned. Still the fact the police waited until the end of the summer tourist season to launch any major operations shows they remain uncertain of the political cost of the operation.

Greece is almost ‘back to normal’. Its old governing elite is back in power with members of one of the dynastic families as Prime Minister and Mayor of Athens. SYRIZA has stepped into PASOK’s shoes to restore a two-party system. Golden Dawn are no longer needed and have been side-lined while parts of the far-right agenda have been fully absorbed into the mainstream. The memoranda and bailouts are over, the banking systems of northern European and America were protected and now Greece is an open field for exploitation and investment. Exarcheia and the anarchist and anti-authoritarian space are the last bastion of opposition that must be overcome. In this precarious and dangerous position only one thing is certain: Exarcheia will fight.

Neil Middleton

1 For a closer look at some of New Democracy’s current objectives see this article by Omniatv (in Greek)

Image: cops at Exarcheia Square, 30th August 2019, via Greek Anarchist Federation

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