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As Greece Burns, the State Consolidates Power: Anonymous Anarchist Voices

An anonymous Update from Greece.

Submitted to Enough 14.

On the 6th of December 2020, we woke up to six thousand police in the center of Athens. Two perimeters of police surrounded the neighborhood of Exarchia. One perimeter on the borders of Exarchia, and another around the memorial of Alexis Grigoropolous. Multiple police forces were otherwise scattered across the city, with helicopters flying above throughout the day. Six thousand police, martial law, and unlimited resources were deployed to prevent the possibility of assembly by those who mourn the memory of Alexis Grigoropolous.

This year marked one of the hottest on record, ever. Just a few years ago under the regime of Syriza, one hundred and three people died during the July 2018 heatwave, primarily due to fires in the village of Mati, Greece. The state claims a 65-year-old man was responsible for the fires after burning wood on his land. Accusations have also been made about unmaintained power lines and arsons committed by opportunistic developers; the two latter causes of fire are frequent and almost accepted occurrences in Greece. The situation was horrifying, and a sheer tragedy. It was the beginning of the end for Syriza’s power and a great opportunity for the right-wing New Democracy party. 

Many of Mati’s residents had lived there for years. Arson and wildfires in the area are not new, but climate change, rampant exploitation of water, and unsustainable development of land have resulted in dried-up mountains and kindling-like forests.

June and July this year saw a record heatwave, drying up what were already dried up forests, so an unprecedented month of fires wasn’t surprising. Throughout August, however, whether in the countryside of Evia or Peloponnese, or the center of Athens, you woke up to smoke, soot, and a television screen that resembled an apocalypse movie. The region of Attica (the municipality containing Athens, and half of Greece’s population) had under 900 firefighters, ill-equipped and overwhelmed. 

As we have noted many times, the government of New Democracy has funneled money from hospitals and medical staff towards police and military budgets since coming into power. This is reflected in the opportunistic use of the pandemic by the state, as well as its priorities of self-preservation and defense of the status quo at all costs: the government does not care about the health of those it governs. The same goes for fire departments and land preservation funds. Mati was an extreme example of climate change becoming a reality, but so is the looming water crisis in Greece and endless heatwaves. The state’s inability to contain these fires was not a matter of prioritizing lives, nor a result of a lack of budget; it was a matter of political will. 

Wildfires are spreading across the world (Mainstream source: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/19/mapping-wildfires-around-the-world-interactive). The fires of Greece, while small relative to even more terrifying fires happening in California or Siberia for example, shine a light on broader issues we face as a humanity. Both the causes and responses to the fires in Greece can foreshadow the will and approach of governments around the world as the climate catastrophe continues to unfold.

The cause of this summer’s endless miserable heat and catastrophic fires is clear: industrial capitalism. There is the saying, “the world will adapt, humanity will not.” Until the last drop of water, the beneficiaries of capitalism will continue to try and plunder the earth at the expense of the rest of us. With climate change more and more undeniable, it is no longer a matter of arguing facts, but picking a side. There is no arguing against the logic of capitalism. Apart from the Christians who pray to the fairy tale heavens above, or the bootlickers who will defend their masters until their death, those who benefit from and coordinate the system responsible for climate change believe that the earth is not an environment nourishing humanity, but only a resource to plunder and exploit, to increase the comfort and power of a special few. 

At least two people have lost their lives in the recent Greek fires, one of whom was a volunteer firefighter, Vasilis Filoras. Volunteer firefighters offer at least 15% of Greece’s fire prevention force. Filoras lost his life after being struck by a falling utility pole (mainstream news source: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/9/our-village-is-dead-the-devastating-toll-of-greeces-wildfires).  

New Democracy, citing the tragedy of the 2018 Mati fire under Syriza, has declared a political victory due to the few lives lost (Though fires continue as this is written). However, a few percent of the country’s forests have burned to the ground, thousands have lost their homes, many have been injured or will suffer long-term trauma and further financial precarity, and countless animals, both wild and domestic, lost their lives or suffered significant and brutal injuries. “Everything can be replaced, other than human life” appears to be the narrative of the right when responding to fires. We of course appreciate deeply the lack of human lives lost in the recent and ongoing fires. We appreciate every act of human solidarity that went into saving lives, but these fires could have been contained. They were not contained not only due to a lack of resources or will by the state, but an even deeper problem we face on an earth at the mercy of industrial capitalism: the notion that somehow the resources that sustain humanity are a result of human innovation and not the earth, creating a logic that everything in the world today can be replaced. 

Sheep huddled together on the island of Evia, one of the areas worst hit by the fires this summer.

At first, the media did everything in its power to hide the truth. Blaming pyromaniacs, and by far the most offensive headline of all was the arrest of an Afghani woman in a park in the center of Athens known as Pedeion tou Areos, nowhere near the fires. 

An attempt was made, in collaboration with police, to shift attention away from financial opportunistic arson, climate change, and unmaintained electrical companies, and focus on the arrest of a mentally ill woman who was foreign, and found with lighters inside a park. Fascist groups also jumped on this narrative, lumping in anarchists and communists as people likely to be responsible for the fires, in an ugly parallel to the far-right rumor-mongering (source: https://itsgoingdown.org/mutual-aid-groups-faced-attacks-from-militias-and-police-after-setting-up-a-community-hub-in-wake-of-oregon-wildfires/) that took place in the Northwestern US in autumn 2020. While fascist groups organized in some regions “on watch” for these unexistent anarchist and foreign arsonists, many anarchist groups (source: https://twitter.com/maria_louka/status/1425768368590700548) were being prevented by police from conducting mutual aid campaigns of on-the-ground-support against the fires, as well as food and resource campaigns for those affected. Additionally, refugee camps in mainland Greece suffered looming smoke and the uncertainties of whether or not they would be moved if the fires come closer (One camp was fully evacuated, as cited in this mainstream source: https://www.ekathimerini.com/news/1165840/northern-athens-migrant-camp-evacuated/), or if fascists might use the fires as an opportunity for arson attacks on refugee camps as they have done so in the past. 

Eventually, the media were forced by the undeniable abandonment by the government of the middle class to re-evaluate their approach to reporting on the fires and their causes. (mainstream source: https://www.zougla.gr/greece/article/kirie-pro8ipourge-aftes-ine-i-ef8ines-sas).

Volunteer and impromptu firefighters have done what they can to halt the fires with little support from the state. This man on the island of Evia is doing the best he can equipped only with a piece of brush.

Similar to farmers and developers in Brazil’s Amazon, it is almost a tradition by farmers, landowners, and developers to burn large vasts of forest to undermine environmental regulation laws, or force projects through ecocide. At the peak of the fires so far, around August 10th, over five hundred and fifty reported fires were happening at the same time throughout the country (source: (https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/09/europe/greece-wildfire-warning-climate-intl/index.html). Likely some of these were arson. However whether these arsons are in order to build new homes, expand farmland, or generate new construction contracts with developers or European Union green-capitalist funding, the foundation of all these motivations is industrial capitalism. Even among the Prime Minister’s disturbing apology for government failure, he highlighted new potential opportunities in the ravaged land (mainstream source: https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/8/19/the-greek-wildfires-and-the-way-forward). Ironically the use of fires to clear mountains of trees, to pave way for the development of wind turbines or other green capitalist projects has been an ongoing issue in Greece as well as other parts of the European Union such as Hungary and Italy. As sad as it sounds, it is no surprise with the drop in tourism due to covid that many green areas once financially beneficial due to their sheer beauty have lost value, and in the eyes of some, should be burned and cleared for more profitable ventures.

Electrical companies throughout the country are also to blame. The immense privatization of electrical companies in Greece going back to deregulation in the 1980s brought profit-oriented oversight and maintenance. Similar to cases in California, these companies bear little legal accountability while posing significant dangers. Apart from the obvious danger of unmaintained electrical lines throughout a country enduring an unprecedented heatwave and rapidly drying climate, this past winter Greece experienced a blizzard. The level of intensity of the blizzard may not be a shock to countries in Northern Europe but was unbelievable to the average eye here. Likely also a result of a deteriorating and unpredictable climate, the blizzard ravaged Greece’s forests, urban parks, and electrical infrastructure. Trees that had survived season after season without a blizzard of this kind began to fall en masse. Many suffered injuries, blackouts occurred throughout the country, and various power lines were damaged as well. Thanks to private industry cutting costs to preserve the bottom line, many damaged lines remained unmaintained and/or barely repaired. You can imagine a permanently lit lighter dangling by a thread above a bowl of cotton: this was the electric apparatus that ran through many evergreen forests, and likely the biggest known and certain culprit of these fires. Once again, a result of industrial capitalism.

The government tackled the fires with the same authoritarian approach it tried with covid. Mass evacuations took place where police forcefully moved individuals trying to fight the fires at any cost. These evacuations had nothing to do with saving lives. The state knew it was caught point-blank showing its lack of concern for anything other than its own preservation, and needed to turn to authoritarian means to prevent being held accountable as Syriza was. Riot police stopped individuals from filming burning forests with no fire-fighters insight and prevented volunteers from joining or maintaining efforts (source: https://twitter.com/dennis1984_/status/1428276084424982533). Police forced caravans of donations of medical supplies to turn around (https://www.alerta.gr/archives/20582?fbclid=IwAR3TNn75SV1wlg2AcqbAAF5gNCYxSDGVZrdiINBmG_yseIDp393OC7r-JKQ), as any non-state sanctioned effort to alleviate the suffering was considered a provocation. Police assaulted individuals screaming about the devastation and government failure, they enabled fascist attacks on journalists reporting government failure, and were seen en masse throughout the country doing what they do best during a crisis of this kind: nothing. 

New Democracy, which loves to evacuate squats, took this approach to what would have otherwise been containable fires. They weren’t containable only because their prevention was not of concern or interest to the state and capitalism (mainstream source: https://www.ethnos.gr/ellada/170718_fotia-bilia-binteo-deihnei-pos-xekinise-i-pyrkagia-mporoyse-na-sbisei-se-20-lepta?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter).

As the permanent crisis of capitalism and the state continues, the first world and those who benefit from this catastrophe will do everything in their power to preserve the spectacle of a solution. Like the economy of Greece that hangs by a thread of EU funding and the fortunes of a few families, there are already announced plans of compensating those affected, funding new reforestation projects and of course “eco-friendly” development in the ashes, all of which also stem from this notion of endless resources within the framework of capitalist domination over the earth.  

The aloof and heinous attitude of the Prime Minister could easily be the face of this logic. The one thing that is certain, is that many in Greece have woken up to the future of governance during climate change. One man was seen in a video saying, “They (The current government and media.) talk horribly about what they anarchists burn, well now I will become an anarchist” (source: facebook.com/tzizmag/posts/4418004268220693). This is a government that floods the streets on the 6th of December during coronavirus lockdown in order to prevent a possible molotov cocktail being thrown, but is nowhere to be found when the environment that produces the air we breathe and water we drink is deteriorating before our eyes.

Smoke from Greek wildfires as seen from space, August 10, 2021.

The Immigration Crisis:

While fires continue to ravage Greece and people lose their homes and villages, the Greek state has responded to the Taliban retaking control of Afghanistan by erecting 40 km in new fencing and an array of unspecified high-tech surveillance equipment on the border with Turkey (mainstream source: https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/greek-pm-turkeys-erdogan-will-discuss-afghanistan-friday-2021-08-20/). This compounds 7 billion dollars given to Turkey by the European Union to prevent refugees from fleeing to Europe. 

Apart from shining a light once again on the priorities of the state while the country it rules burns, the politicians are clearly playing on xenophobic and nationalist narratives of “keeping Greece safe” to appease and distract their frustrated base.

On the island of Xios, the Greek police recently detained 25 refugees who had crossed the sea from Turkey—many of them Afghanis fleeing the Taliban—and fined them 5000 euros each (mainstream source: https://www.efsyn.gr/ellada/koinonia/307513_katatregmenoi-kai-xerizomenoi-min-xehasete-na-kanete-test). This is the fine stipulated for tourists who come to the country without the proper PCR test or COVID-19 vaccine certificate, just one example of the use of anti-virus mandates to persecute immigrants, refugees, and other “undesirables.” The state only withdrew the fines after left corporate media outlets broke the story. Without press coverage, the refugees could have been stuck in a state of permanent debt within an already notoriously corrupt and bureaucratic system. Similar events may well have passed unreported.

 An art action involving a 3.5-meter-high puppet named “Little Amal” resembling a young Syrian refugee has begun an 8000-kilometer walk from Turkey to the UK in an attempt to bring awareness to the struggles of refugees. When this group arrived in Greece in early August, fascists in the city of Larissa met them with threats of violence and intimidation. The puppet was supposed to appear in the center of Athens at the beginning of September, but fascist groups made multiple threats of violence (source: https://twitter.com/walkwithamal/status/1434187673305026564). The puppet finally made an appearance from the safety of a roof, but the participants canceled the walk and display due to the potential of violence.

Little Amal and her entourage parade through the streets.

This symbolic gesture offered a rallying point for the far-right; in response, anti-fascists and anarchists urgently assembled in the center of Athens. A group of fascist hooligans with the support of other far-right individuals in the central Athens neighborhood of Metaxourgeio held a rally near the planned art event on September 3rd. Sympathetic police surrounded and defended the fascist youth.

One organized anti-fascist march attempted to march towards the fascist gathering, but riot police immediately tear-gassed and attacked them—creating a situation in which anti-fascists and anarchists were scattered throughout the area. Small groups gathered and chanted until anti-fascists made another attempt to bring people together to confront the fascists. Once again, the police threw tear gas directly into the march, then chased, beat, and arrested many people at random. However, as a result, the puppeteers were able to make their point in an alternative way, and the strength and numbers of the anti-fascists who confronted the xenophobes showed that without the protection of the police, they would have been crushed.

Athens, September 3: Police mobilized to defend fascists who gathered to oppose an expression of solidarity with refugees.

 Repression and Solidarity

As we have described in previous reports, police operations in Greece are finally coming to resemble the techniques familiar in the United States. For example, the authorities recently demanded that a student arrested during the occupation of a university last year must provide a DNA sample. During the eviction of the occupation, the police seized bottles and tested them for DNA(source: https://athens.indymedia.org/post/1614043/). One of the samples they claim to have found on the empty bottles was allegedly similar to blood found on some papers on the street of Exarchia in 2014 after Delta police were attacked with Molotov cocktails in the night. These allegations seem to be based on flimsy and circumstantial evidence. However, the willingness to pursue investigations targeting both confrontational and non-violent actions for many years after an event, utilizing a great deal of resources in a country that faces severe fiscal problems, represent a new approach to policing modeled on the so-called “quality of life” policing familiar from New York City.

Anarchist comrade Dimitris Chatzivasiliadis, whose ongoing persecution we detailed in our last report (https://crimethinc.com/2021/06/28/hot-summer-in-greece-the-lockdown-abates-the-struggle-continues#the-sentencing-of-vangelis-stathopoulos), was arrested on August 9 after an expropriation attempt at a bank. He had been on the run since 2019, sentenced in absentia to 16 years during the trial of Vangelis Stathopolous. Since his arrest, he has been transferred to isolation in Athens’ notorious Korydallos prison. Dimitris released a statement (https://www.amwenglish.com/articles/imprisoned-anarchist-dimitris-catzivassiliadis-i-was-caught-during-an-expropriation/) regarding his current imprisonment and the circumstances of his arrest. In previous statements, while on the run, Dimitris discussed(https://athens.indymedia.org/post/1601299/) a police raid in 2019 and expressed solidarity(amwenglish.com/articles/communique-by-anarchist-dimitris-chatzivasileiadis-for-week-of-revenge-for-comrade-michael-forest-reinoehl/) with Michael Reinoehl and the broader struggle in the United States.

A banner hung in Athens in solidarity with Dimitris.

As discussed in our February report (https://crimethinc.com/2021/02/25/greece-the-ghost-of-junta-past-returns-the-hunger-strike-of-dimitris-koufontinas), a huge movement exploded in response to the hunger strike of Dimitris Koufontinas. Dozens of individuals are still facing charges, fines, and other forms of ongoing repression as a consequence. A group is soliciting financial support (https://www.firefund.net/kuofo).

 In addition, Tameio (https://www.tameio.org/en/2020/12/call-for-financial-support/), which provides support to long-term prisoners, is soliciting funds continuously, especially following the lockdown and the lifting of the university asylum policy, both of which have rendered previous forms of fundraising almost impossible.

 Gentrification

As AirBnBs used by “Golden Visa” (https://www.scmp.com/magazines/style/news-trends/article/3105467/greeces-golden-visa-offers-eu-wide-travel-after) holders are losing steam due to the pandemic, locals are once again confronting debt and stress. COVID-19 has caused many to lose their jobs and rents are skyrocketing ( https://www.iefimerida.gr/ellada/akinita-feygoyn-apo-airbnb-kai-epistrefoyn-sto-enoikio-megales-ayxiseis-stis-times-pinakes) in some neighborhoods that used to be popular with tourists. Rent in Athens is far outpacing the average Greek income of 600 euros a month—for those who have a job at all. Many locals who cannot afford property taxes or rent await eviction.

Earlier this summer, residents of Exarchia kicked out surveyors(https://actforfree.noblogs.org/post/2021/07/11/athens-greece-exarchia-will-live-on-off-with-the-metro-from-the-neighbourhood-and-a-small-attack-against-airbnb/) who were sent to help plan an unwanted metro station. Also to make the position of the neighborhood clear, an AirBnB was vandalized (https://twitter.com/ExarcheiaT/status/1412335155885363208), helping to express the local opposition to gentrification.

Graffiti in an Athens square.

Coronavirus

Whether or not fleeing to the countryside as the country burns is essential for the mental health of many following the lockdown, it is hard to find calm at this time, regardless of the environment. All the while, the coronavirus continues to ravage Greece, present everywhere except in headlines. Numbers continue to exceed peak infection rates, plunging Greece into a ‘red country’ (According to the USA and European Union) that has “lost control” of the pandemic. Hospitals remain underfunded, with budgets plundered by police and military departments. On top of this, the right, as in many western countries, has fabricated a false notion of rebellion against the vaccine. The same people whom wouldn’t sigh at the sight of an immigrant or refugee beaten by police or fascists dare to claim a sudden interest in personal liberty. There is nothing unique to this narrative. Whether believing in the protection of God, or concerned about Jewish conspiracies, the right in Greece has made it clear that just like in the USA, having a first-world supply to the vaccine means nothing (Picture from a rally in Thessaloniki: https://twitter.com/teacherdude/status/1420654343473205251).

In their largest demonstration in July, the anti-vaccine movement clashed with police, ironically in their attempt to invade Exarchia looking for anti-fascists and anarchists. While of course we wish the worst for these people, we continue to see the regime’s use of the coronavirus as nothing more than an opportunity to consolidate power while society is at its most vulnerable. There is no way to predict if there will be another lockdown, and infection rates are intensely high in the shadows of Greece’s summer, but we are sure that come winter, the money of tourists (Party in Mykonos island predictably ignoring mandates: https://twitter.com/risinggalaxy/status/1416697594613489664) will not be here to protect us from government mandates that exist solely to retain political power (https://crimethinc.com/2020/12/01/greece-new-democracy-and-pandemic-opportunism-the-lockdown-resumes).

Patriarchy Returns to the Headlines 

 In our last report, we highlighted ongoing demonstrations against patriarchy. While rape, abuse, and femicide have long been a component of Greek society, celebrated by the Orthodox church, the coronavirus both exacerbated instances of such trauma and shined a light on the deep patriarchy at the base of Greek society. Since our last report a Greek cop called Dimitris Bougioukos was arrested for trafficking a 19-year-old girl (mainstream source: https://www.vice.com/en/article/3aq7p3/greece-cop-charged-with-imprisoning-teenager-and-forcing-her-into-prostitution). The police officer kidnapped her, forced her to perform sexual acts, forced her to take cocaine, and even forced her to sign a contract to perform for a pornographic company called Sirina entertainment. The event became a scandal, and multiple parties now face prosecution, including the girl’s father, but we all know that officers such as Dimitris Bougioukos are everywhere in Greece. Demonstrations in response to the arrest took place in South Athens, but a broader movement against patriarchy continues to grow, in contrast to the heinous and deeply embedded culture of patriarchy in this country. 

In Conclusion: No Conclusion

The logic of the state’s response to the fires, the looming refugee crisis seen coming from Afghanistan, or the ongoing covid virus, where the numbers matter based on which month of the tourist season it is– all these foreshadow the logic and future behavior of the world’s nation-states that we can expect to see more and more as the world deteriorates. The priority is to preserve the status quo at all costs while forcing humanity to constantly adapt to whatever crisis is needed in such preservation. 

Solidarity acts with struggles across the world continue despite local hardships (Clandestine act in solidarity in the Memory of George Floyd: https://actforfree.noblogs.org/post/2021/07/21/athens-greece-incendiary-attack-against-a-ford-dealership-in-memory-of-the-george-floyd-uprising/). As do various mutual aid campaigns, direct actions in the night, and constant organizing efforts locally. Frustration and rage have not eased at all with the summer months, only transitioned our anxieties from the pandemic to the climate. The deterioration of capitalism’s facade in this country is mind-boggling. A depression is becoming more and more undeniable, and a winter of harsh inflation awaits (mainstream source:https://www.zougla.gr/money/agores/article/blomberg-erxete-enas-poli-diskolos-ximonas). All the while, those who benefit from others’ suffering are doing everything possible to prevent social recognition of this reality. While thousands will be compensated for lost homes during these fires, it will last as long as the headlines. The crisis in Greece is never-ending. The near future is completely unpredictable, but rage and revolutionary tension continue to grow as the government continues to show its true purpose. We extend our solidarity with struggles against the state and capital across the world, and amidst these overwhelming times that we ourselves struggle to comprehend, we conclude this report with the classic quote: “better to die on your feet, than live on your knees.”

Same Voice, Different Name

This update is part of a long-term effort to foster international awareness of and solidarity with the anarchist movement in Greece. The authors have provided consistent updates here over the past few years. This report is no longer associated with the Bad News Report or Radio Fragmata Greece, though both projects continue and we encourage you to follow them for updates on movements in Greece and abroad. We also recommend athens.indymedia.org. The Twitter @exiledarizona, Abolition Media Worldwide, and Enough is Enough 14 also consistently post in English about events in Greece.*


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