Interview with an anarchist* from Athen (original)
We talked with K from Greece about the Government change, the orgranising from anarchist groups and specific repression cases, The interview was taken on march 13th this year.
All the comments made my the interviewers are put in curve
Can you tell us who you are and from which political group you're from?
Hello! I'm K from Greece and my personal involvement in let's say radical anarchist political circles is actually pretty recent. My other big experience, apart from being a regular part of the open assembly this year, has been my participation in a more queer anarchist assembly last year which ended in a kind of abrupt resolution. I've had a lot of political ideas and negotiations in my head for years now, but my practical involvement has been recent with the open assembly starting September. So my personal involvement with all of this has pretty much coincided with the change of government in Greece, which has brought a lot of change in repression tactics and in other things. I just want to clarify that the opinions i present, are filtered through my own prism and my own ideas, I am not transferring my assemblies line. It's an open assembly and it started because of the evictions of a lot of squads by the new government, although the evictions started with the previous left wing government. The Assembly is an open one, so there's a shifting dynamic and not so much of a hardcore line.
What happened so far since the government change in summer last year?
Which changes were made in regard of laws and law enforcement?
So the change of government from “SYRIZA democratica”, so supposedly left wing socialistic government, to a pretty right wing one ("Nea Demokratia") has brought some changes in the tactics that the state employs. My position and also other peoples position is that the state is a constant and although its tactics may change, my analysis against it remains pretty much the same. Although I think it's important to understand the changes, the shifting tactics and discourses in order to struggle against it in a more effective way. So one of the main things with the new government has been the evictions of many squats, especially in exarchia. In winter there was an ultimatum issued by the minister of the protection of the citizens, that said that until the 6th of December, which also happens to be the anniversary of the killing of a younger person (Alexandros Grigoropolous) by a cop, that until that date every squat has to be evicted, otherwise it would get evicted by force. This hasn't happened, but a lot of squats have been evicted anyway, which wasn't the case before. The presence of cops in exarchia is also much stronger, there now are regulary cops in the square of exarchia, which used to be kind of the centre point of the famous exarchia asylum.
Exarchia is a neighborhood where the presence of cops before wasn't strong, if you don't count the weekly Saturday or Friday riot clashes between anarchists and police happening in exarchia. But other than that, the normality was for cops to be stationed around it and not inside. Now they're pretty much inside and they are closing their circle. The stronger police presence makes it easier to get arrested and trailed and usually a lot of false accusations are being placed on you. For example some friends who participated in a demo against repression in September, were charged with some heavy crimes. The trial hasn't happened yet, but is based on zero evidence. This also wasn't the case before. Things were more relaxed, even if it was misleadingly relaxed under the left wing government. And also a law has been passed, that pretty much cancelled the University asylum that existed before. Further new laws are being discussed that will severely limit the right to make a political demo or a political gathering of any sort. You will have to notify the authorities before, have a coordinator, collaborate with the state in other words.
How’s the greek public reacting?
As far the Greek public reaction goes, I am not really sure, because lately I've been mostly in more radical circles and not so much interacting with the mainstream. I mean in Greece hating cops is not only a symptom of the anarchist circles but a more widespread thing and a general lack of trust towards the state this has some historical reasoning behind it, that I think I will not go into. So I think a lot of people don't like the idea of stronger cop presence, but of course many others welcome it and consider anarchists, who are framed more like terrorists, to be the scum of society.
I don't know if it's directly connected to the change of government, but I think it is because a lot of things are more legitimised now under the right wing government but in lesvos island where a lot of migrants arrive and although a few years ago the reception of the public through them was much more welcoming and caring and now there are fascists patrols and people nationally thinking destroying free shops made for giving clothes to the immigrants. There is also a stronger fascist presence in nationalist sentiments of the wider public, that before were much more muted and now are being legitimised because of the change in governmet.
What’s your reaction?
My personal reaction I can not really say, because as I told you, I started getting more involved just recently. In the assembly that I take part in, there are a lot of discussions about how to reorganise having in mind those changes. I don't think we have managed to truly or substantially upgrade our tactics and reactions to these.
What can you tell about the recent arrestments on the 4th of March?
I'm going to talk more about my my own arrest, that resolved of very poor organization in the parts of the open assembly that put the proposal for the action for the 4th of March. It wasn't a particularly militant action, but it was a closed one so it was more dangerous than a regular demo. Dangerous in terms of the possibility of repression. But still the arrests were a thing that nobody expected or had prepared for. It's obvious that the tactics of the state and the strength of repression are constantly changing and getting harsher and I would say that in general we are not really prepared for it.
About the arrests:
The action that I took part in was a small and kind of aggressive and loud demo that was meant as a kind of immediate and loud response to the things happening across the Greek border, which are, to summarize, the fascistisation of local people living across the border land and the killing of migrants. A couple of migrants have been killed by the cops,one directly and one indirectly, by letting them drown. So it's clear that the model of border policing that Greece is adapting is getting much harsher and has created a big outcry. The demo was thought as a fast immediate response to it before the larger demos, that were called for some days after. We gathered in the city centre of Athens at night. This was a conscious decision in order to, for me at least, make a symbol, that we attack this area of the city centre that is so sterilised and touristified and is built around this typical pictures and notions of Greek identity. The same Greek identity that is being brought up by the fascists as something to defend against the wave of migrants. For me it's very symbolic and so it’s the opposition between the sterilised environment and the life or death conditions which exist at the border. We marched, we shouted, graffiti was made, ATMs were broken and finally we went in the Akropolis Metro station. We went in shouting, some people were still painting graffiti and broke a couple of ATMs inside the station and then we ended up at the train platform waiting for the train to leave. The train was going to arrive in eight minutes, but after a while the display, showing the waiting time, emptied. So we started realising that something would happen. Some people took an initiative and ran to the platform going to the opposite direction and wanted to leave. It was a weird situation, because we decided that we stick together, but anyway, I don't begrudge these people. Few minutes later cops arrived at the platform. Just three of them in the beginning.
The remaining people all stuck together. The cops told us they would just take us with them to write down our IDs. As we have been taken up to the main place of the station, more cops arrived. It became apparent that we were going to be taken to the police HQ and that we were not just going to have our IDs checked. Even some cameras were there, we were shouting at them to stop filming, shouting at the cops to stop them. Very slowly we were taken all to the police HQ, where we spent the night. We were not informed whether we're arrested or simply prosecuted, which means they can keep you one night in police headquarters and then have to let you free. Also a dozen of random people have been arrested with us, like people from a dramatic school. At 8 o'clock we were announced that we are arrested and will be charged with five mid level crimes: destruction of property, pollution of the environment, breaching of public peace, which was already used in another case this year, and disobedience, because we refused to give our fingerprints. This is a pretty common tactic from the movement. Some people refused to give their address so they got the charge for that. We weren't given any food for all these eight hours, just some water. We were not hit by the cops, but this was maybe arbitrary and very well could have been. We got segregated into boys and girls and were announced at 8am that we will be taken to the court to be trialed. We had to wait for the cops to do some bureaucracy until 1pm. Then we were taken into vans, that stormed through the city. All surrounded by cop cars with loud sirens it was like a parade. In the media it was presented as a sort of police triumph and the demo was reduced to 30 people with hoods vandalising ancient monuments, which was obviously far from the real case. Not that there is anything wrong with vandalising ancient monuments, but this hasn't happened. First we were taken to a place, where our finger prints should be taken, but we refused more stupid bureaucracy. We started loudly protesting against it and demanded to be taken to the court for the trial, because there is a law that states that once you're arrested you have to be trialed and taken to court within the first 24 hours and not be held in the police headquarters for more than 24 hours. After the protest, we were taken to the court and it became pretty clear that this was our own achievement and if we didn't protest, the court would have closed and we would have been held in for longer. At the court were we arrived, we were awaited by a lot of comrades and a lot of people in solidarity which was extremely heartwarming, at least for me to see. There were a lot of faces, that I love gathered outside the van. At the court we were told again that we would be staying over at the police HQ, because of the courts closing. So then again we very loudly protested and the prosecutor was forced to take us into court. Inside we weren't even announced any charges. It was a very peaceful process. The proper court trial was postponed for a week later and we are already represented by a movement lawyer. So we were let go.
The court date now has been postponed for the first of may.
What is supposedly going to happen regarding the trial?
We have agreed upon, as a common stance due to keeping our politics, that we denial charges, but we accept being accused of being part of the demo and at least cover the people who do not want to speak to judges and courts. We will probably get charged for the breaching of common peace. I think we're not going to be charged with the destruction of property, because they cannot prove who of us did it. The charges won't not so high, which means that we will get a prison sentence, that will be suspended. But it will be of course more dangerous for us, if we have a criminal record to be arrested again. For me this is a breaking point to maybe fear future actions.
What could be forms of Solidarity?
I was so happy that there were so many people outside the court. This kind of emotional support and this kind of care is something that is extremely valuable and although it might not seem like much, but, for me, building actual relationships with care and trust between us makes a huge part of what we do. I mean a part of my critic of society and capitalism is the alienation and individualization.
How are the Assemblys organised?
Well in the open assembly they have the most experience in a lot of discussion. But I think there is a lack in the culture of discussion. There are people who are trying to drive their point home by speaking seven or eight times per assembly, while a lot of people stay silent. I don't want to be too critical. There still are some good outcomes out of the open assembly.
What are differences between the existing Assemblys?
There are "normal" assemblies and open assemblies, which are open to everyone. The one i participate in is a horizontally organised one, compared to another assembly, that also started along with the evictions, which is named "No Pasaran". This group is comprised by collectives and their representatives and not so much by individuals. In my impression it's a much more tightly, but also hierarchical organised assembly. Imagine while in the open one individuals get close, there it feels much more like an exchange of party or organization lines. I mean there is also the ideological difference between us addressing their support of the progroms against the people selling drugs in platea. This has been and still is a huge debate inside the exarchia circles for the past year or so. They have taken one of the most radical, I would even say racist stands against the drug dealing because it's obviously non-greek people, who do this.
What are possible issues in and between the Assemblys?
For the end I will talk about an issue that was important for me these days. It happened after we were segregated boys and girls during the arrest. At that time I started feeling very uncomfortable with some of my co-arrested people, because I noticed that there was a lot of casually sexist and macho behaviour around. Most of it cannot be easily described in specific words said or gestures done. But I trust my insight and i think it's a very typical form of male bonding, especially in situations of anxiety like the one that we were thrown into. It's a way to deescalate the tension and bond with each other, even with the cops, because there were some discussions with the cops in an ironic and performative way but still about six of them. So for me as queer person it felt uncomfortable in that situation. Later there also was a lot of patronizing between some comrades about "our girls" in the top floor, where the girls were taken. The comrades were asking for more food to be brought to the girls. Which i find very problematic. Another incident was a person, sitting next to me in the police van, suggesting a girl, which should be brought into the van by the cops, while them wondering where to place her, to take place on his lap in a really disgusting way. This was met with some laughter from the other people. It is obviously problematic for me to be considered comrades with this people and signing any sort of text with them.
For me it was a way to start questioning my own involvement in the movement, because these kind of behaviours are very widespread in the movement. The discussions criticizing those phenomenons through a more queer or feminist eye have more or less just started. I was glad to bring up this issue in the assembly afterwards and being supported by a lot of my friends and comrades, but what I noticed is that after i spoke and I said the things that i have experienced, five men after me asked to speak and they said that: "Sexism is a very important issue, BUT..." and then they made a huge list of justifications. Of course until we managed to actually put the issue on the table, there were a lot of protestations like: "Yes it's important, but there are more important things happening...".Of course I'm not saying that people dying at the border is not important and extremely important and probably is more important than some sexist comrades, but still this is an issue, that rather is a tactic, and is always used when these things are brought up. There's always something more acting and more important. When something that is said to be so important never is first priority, it is getting obvious, that it's not considered so important at all. And it is mostly something to be avoided and put into mute. There were a lot of people testifying in saying it wasn't meant evil or anything. A lot of people stayed silent like most of the time, but anyway it still took the assembly 3 hours to discuss this issue. Which is nice because it had never happened before to openly discuss an issue like this. In the action there was a specific collective participating, and a lot of the behavior came from their behalf and also they were the ones justifying themselves the most in the assembly afterwards. Two girls from this collective, who were also arrested, left after hearing these accusations or observations from my side. I'm grateful for the support that I received from the female comrades.
For the future, I have no idea what will happen…
We thank K for the interview and wish him and the other comrades much power and endurance for the upcoming time!