In Greece, the right-wing New Democracy government came to power in summer 2019, initiating a campaign of repression targeting refugees and the anarchist movement. The following spring, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Greece, enabling New Democracy to clamp down yet further. Yet anarchists have shown considerable resilience, shifting to the offensive over the past two months.
A Grim Context
As we have documented, in Greece, the authorities have strategically used the lockdown to persecute refugees and suppress social movements. As we wrote last April,
“No lockdown that divests from hospitals to expand police and military budgets is truly aimed at protecting people’s health. Such a lockdown can only be an experiment in authoritarianism.”
The last time we wrote from Athens, everything was covered with soot from raging wild fires. Since then, the state has attacked striking firefighters who demonstrated outside the Ministry of the Climate Crisis in Athens. One person lost a finger, as police threw flash grenades indiscriminately and sprayed the firefighters with a water cannon with no apparent sense of irony. The firefighters’ supposed hero status did not protect them after the fires had been extinguished; the state reserves unconditional support only for the police and military.
Casualties from COVID-19 in Greece have been among the highest in the world, proportionately speaking, but the government keeps expanding police and military budgeting at the expense of the country’s medical infrastructure. In the course of our years of reporting, we anticipated that the state would modernize the apparatus of repression this way, but it is especially telling that it has taken place in the midst of the pandemic. As cited in a previous report, a group of fourteen anarchists are on the receiving end of this process as the state demands their DNA in what appears to be a fishing expedition.
Fleeing immigrants and refugees have been attempting to take new routes into Greece. Tragic drownings have become a regular occurrence, a calculated consequence of Greek border control measures in the Aegean Sea. Corruption continues in the state apparatus while average income remains stagnant relative to unprecedented inflation.
Yet despite everything, the anarchist movement has emerged intact from a year and a half of lockdowns, repression, and uncertainty. After the imposed isolation and silence, we have come out swinging.
The Murder of Nikos Sabanis
On October 23, Greek police chased and murdered a 20-year-old man named Nikos Sabanis in Athens. Nikos and two other Roma youth are alleged to have stolen a car, taken it for a joyride, and refused to stop at a police checkpoint. Several officers decided to engage in a high-speed pursuit, announcing over their radios that their targets were Roma youth.
The Roma are a historically marginalized community across Europe. In Greece, they live in slums outside Athens and in similar encampments elsewhere across the country. Systematically marginalized in Greek society, they face constant police harassment.
Despite the fact that the officers were ordered to stop pursuing the car due to potential danger to traffic, they chased the three youth down, eventually shooting into the car 38 times and killing Nikos. Video footage emerged of the shooting; at the same time, the cops whom claimed to have been rammed and injured admitted to have no injuries at all.
The murder sparked demonstrations across Greece and a mobilization involving Roma communities across the country. Roma youth attacked police with stones and built massive burning barricades on major highways. The police responsible for the killing will likely face no repercussions; fascists applauded them for the murder at their initial prosecutorial hearing over the use of deadly force.
In the United States, police kill an average of at least three people every day, but police killings are not as common in Greece. However, in New Democracy’s new “law and order” Greece, the authorities are aiming to emulate the United States model more and more. The numbers of bullets shot and the probable full dismissal of charges against the seven officers involved will set a precedent entitling police to commit murder in Greece at the rate that they do in places like the United States and Brazil without fear of punishment. While we don’t believe justice can arise from any state court, the absence of “qualified immunity” for officers in Greece had previously served as a deterrent, discouraging police to kill as they wished.
Unfortunately, due to the racism against Roma people that is endemic in Greek media outlets, the case only appeared in headlines for a short time. The response to the murder almost exclusively involved anarchist groups and Roma communities.
The demonstrations of November 17 commemorate the day in 1973 when the military junta invaded the grounds of the Polytechnio (the architectural school) in the neighborhood of Exarchia, killing at least 23 people who were occupying the grounds or otherwise resisting the dictatorship. The asylum laws that used to apply to universities in Greece, limiting the power of police to enter them, derived from this event. As in Chile, where university asylum laws were introduced in response to the mass torture and murder of students during Pinochet’s coup, Greece maintained these asylum laws until the far-right New Democracy party came to power in 2019.
New laws increasing the punishment for possessing Molotov cocktails conveniently came into effect shortly before November 17. While this has always been a punishable crime, Greek police and courts did not previously single out Molotov cocktails the way that they do the United States, where those who employ them can spend many years in prison—as in the case of Eric King. Ahead of November 17, the new law set a minimum sentence of three years for any individual possessing a Molotov cocktail. Depending on the circumstances, the penalty can reach up to ten years.
Nonetheless, demonstrations took place across the country on November 17 after having been suppressed by lockdowns in 2020.
Police forces were scattered across universities everywhere, anticipating that people might attempt to carry out occupations. Despite this, in the days ahead of the 17th, people re-occupied the GINI building of the original Polytechnic in Exarchia, which has served as a meeting space for anarchist organizing and assemblies for many years. The combination of the lockdown with the abolition of university asylum had enabled the university and the state to seize this space from the movement, but people re-occupied the building and used it as a space to host revolutionary events in the lead-up to the 17th.
On November 17, huge demonstrations took place, with the demonstration in Athens drawing many thousands of people. Hundreds upon hundreds of riot police surrounded the anarchist bloc, marching on both sides of the gigantic bloc in a kettling strategy.
That night, clashes took place across Greece. Amazingly, small groups attempted to fight police near the historic Polytechnic university in Exarchia, despite the state deploying over 6000 police in the center of the city. Police carried out at least ten arrests in Athens.
That night, clashes also occurred in Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki. As the main march in Thessaloniki reached its conclusion, many of those commemorating this historical day confronted the police with projectiles and Molotov cocktails.
Small clashes also took place in smaller cities in the country such as Patras.
The demonstrations of December 6 commemorate the day that 15-year-old anarchist Alexandros Grigoropoulos was murdered by police in the neighborhood of Exarchia. This senseless killing sparked a historic insurrection.
This year, December 6 saw the movement waking up from the imposed isolation of the lockdown, during which the state used the virus as an excuse to suppress any assembly of any kind. A gigantic march took place in Athens, with similar marches taking place across the country.
Amazingly, despite a massive police operation, the main march in Athens was able to enter Exarchia, where participants erected barricades and kept the police at a distance with stones and other projectiles. Police eventually overwhelmed the neighborhood, breaking into apartment buildings and snatching individuals at random.
People in Thessaloniki also organized a strong resistance against police forces. Likewise, people in Volos, Patras, and various towns and cities across the country held marches and small clashes broke out in some of these towns as well.
On November 27, during the build-up to December 6, some people attacked the Acropolis Police station in Athens with a flurry of Molotov cocktails. The communiqué also claims another attack against Dimitris Bougioukos, an accused rapist and human trafficker cop. This clandestine action served to inspire courage ahead of the December 6 demonstrations, targeting a police station in the tourist capital of the city of Athens just weeks after the new law further penalizing Molotov cocktails came into effect.
The police force in Athens is considerably more numerous and better equipped than the police in Thessaloniki and Patras, where strong clashes also took place on those days. As a result, the clashes in those cities arguably went further. All the same, it was impressive that people continue to escalate resistance in Athens despite facing a Goliath of a police operation.
The courage and determination that people showed across the country on November 17 and December 6 demonstrate the resilience of our movements. These two days honor the historical foundations of the contemporary anarchist movement in Greece and help to keep the flame alive. Despite the state’s authoritarian opportunism around the pandemic and the “law and order” policies of New Democracy, people honored these dates with courage and defiance.
Immigrants and Refugees
As a consequence of climate change, the pandemic, and war, the refugee crisis tragically continues. World headlines were directed at the nasty proxy war between Poland and Belarus, in which president Alexander Lukashenko used refugees as pawns on that border of the European Union, but refugees continue their desperate journeys here, as well, both by land and by sea. We have repeatedly reported on both the pogroms and the procedures of border control and immigrant detention with which grassroots racists and institutional structures target migrants in Greece, starting well before New Democracy came to power. These have involved shooting at or pushing back boats of refugees crossing from Turkey, setting up floating border walls, and a variety of other forms of persecution. Yet these efforts have only compelled refugees to attempt new, even more dangerous routes as they seek to cross the Aegean sea from Turkey.
Over 1600 people have drowned this year attempting to reach Europe from abroad. Thirty people drowned and many more have gone missing during Christmas week 2021 alone. Nothing that fascists or police could do to migrants could be worse than the situations they are fleeing, which are themselves largely the consequences of a European colonialism that continues to this day. Europe remains a racist fortress dedicated to excluding those on the receiving end of its projects of resource extraction, warmongering, and profiteering.
The Omicron varient—known simply as “O” in Greece—is just arriving here as this goes to press. It’s difficult to imagine how much worse the pandemic could get in this country after what we have lived through.
Demonstrations against femicide and patriarchy continue in Greece. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated domestic violence and femicide, highlighting the longstanding pandemic of gendered violence in this country, which is interconnected with the traditions of the Orthodox church.
Yet despite all the hardships of this past year—the lockdown, the apocalyptic wild fires, and a government that continues to double down on its efforts to repress refugees, anarchists, and other dissidents—we are still in the streets. Squats face imminent eviction, but people are occupying new squats as well. Cases of state repression we previously reported on continue, but people are showing solidarity here with a fierce resilience.
For more information on the struggles of fall 2021 in Greece, we recommend this report from the Prosfygika squat.
We encourage everyone to demonstrate outside prisons this New Year’s Eve to show solidarity with prisoners. We hope that 2022 will be another year of resilience despite the hardships we all face under capitalism. After last year’s lockdown, seeing proof that the movement here will never cease to exist inspires tremendous hope in us. Revolutionary solidarity to all those struggling against the state and capitalism!
-Anonymous Anarchist Voices
Athens, December 29, 2021
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 for several years. While we are not formally affiliated with them, we recommend the Bad News Report and Radio Fragmata Greece for updates on movements in Greece and abroad. We also recommend athens.indymedia.org. The twitter accounts @exiledarizona, @igdworldwide, and @enough14 also consistently post in English about events in Greece.