In Athens, an anarchist tradition alive and well
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Singled out for blame in the wake of riots that broke out in Athens on February 12, Greek anarchists are eager to show that they “are not mere hooligans”. France24.com takes an exclusive look at the movement on the ground.
Nikólaos, a 36-year-old Greek anarchist, is reluctant to talk to journalists.
“Let me make it clear: I don’t represent any movement,” he says, making direct eye contact. “What I’m going to tell you is just my personal opinion. I’m not a leader or a spokesperson.”
His goal in speaking to the press is to make people abroad understand that Greek anarchists “are not mere hooligans”.
Nikólaos is seated in the office of Radio-Bubble, a community radio station in the neighbourhood of Exarhia in Athens. Home to numerous soup kitchens, occupied public buildings and squats, Exarhia has been the vibrant centre of Greek anarchy movements for nearly 40 years. In the 1970s, students rose up in revolt against the military dictatorship. Today, graffiti and anarchy posters line the walls of Exarhia’s narrow streets.
“We’re not only in a social war,” he insists. “We’re also in a media war.”
In the wake of the February 12 riots in Athens, news outlets and political leaders were quick to point their finger at anarchist protesters and far-left militants. The same scenario unfolded in 2008, when young Greeks and law enforcement officers faced off hours after the police killed an adolescent in a street protest.
“The major difference with 2008 is that on Sunday [February 12], in Syntagma Square, people applauded us,” Nikólaos explains. “Workers, middle-class people, young people, old people, students…We were all gathered at the same place to fight against the same things.”
If the demonstration got out of control, Nikólaos says, it is because the police used clubs and tear gas against peaceful protesters.
‘Defending ourselves’ against state violence
“Many Greeks are now becoming aware of police and media manipulation,” Nikólaos asserts, stirring his coffee furiously. “On the night of February 12, TV news bulletins broadcast very calm images of Parliament as tens of thousands of protesters were being suffocated with tear gas just next door.”
“When faced with state violence, you need to know how to defend yourself,” Nikólaos continues. But if Greek anarchists are, in theory, non-violent, things are a bit different in practice. On February 12, anarchist militants threw petrol bombs and stones at banks, corporations and luxury magazines. “For me, violence begins when your pockets are empty and you have nothing left to eat. Capitalism is a daily form of violence,” Nikólaos says.
Nikólaos is careful to emphasise that “violence is not an end in and of itself”. He elaborates: “The only solution is autonomy and direct democracy.” In other words, no state and no government, but decisions made collectively through assembly-style gatherings.
Exarhia, the capital of Greek anarchism
According to Nikólaos, the anarchist movement in the Exarhia neighbourhood “is a one-in-a-kind phenomenon”.
“Just one kilometre away from Parliament and Greece’s financial institutions, we’re coming up with strategies targeting all the deficiencies of the system and we’re experimenting with alternatives,” he says.
The movement has been increasingly successful. Last year, tens of thousands of people attended an “anti-authoritarian festival” organised in Nosotros, a giant squat that also houses a café, a cultural centre and meeting space. Anarchists from around Europe regularly visit the squat to take notes on the Greek movement in hopes of replicating the “Exarhia model” in their respective countries.
Ypopto Mousi, who hosts a news program on Radio-Bubble, estimates that there are more than 10,000 anarchists in Athens. He says that in recent years he has seen people from increasingly diverse backgrounds and situations drawn to the movement.
“There are a lot of people in society who are anarchists without even knowing it,” he concludes.