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Columnists

The Anarchist Battle to Hold Athens’ Strefi Hill, Exarchia

Tourists pouring into Greece, who stop in Athens for a look around, usually head straight for the Acropolis to see the denuded Parthenon, with the thieves of the British Museum holding half the marbles, or they go to tourist areas like the Plaka.

They’re in search of a genuine Greece they won’t find there, although the majesty and wonderment of the Acropolis will endure perhaps even after people are gone from this planet after destroying it with climate change and their greed.

The heart of a country or city isn’t found in its Disneyland or Las Vegas-image neighborhoods with plastic trinkets and refrigerator magnets or cute coffee cups or T-shirts and souvenirs.

It’s more often in spots like Exarchia in Athens, an anarchist haven for sure, but also a spot where working-class people mix with artists and poets and pass little independent publishing houses and, despite ubiquitous graffiti – that is where people can see how people live.

That’s about to change with preliminary work underway to construct a new Metro station, that’s needed for sure because it’s a hike up to Exarchia Square from the Omonia Square station.

However, the anarchists and a lot of the locals don’t want it under their beloved square where you won’t find chain stores or chain coffee shops or chain merchandise, but little independent stores of the kind that used to populate small towns and American cities.

The opponents argue with passion and much legitimacy that a Metro will ironically make it easier for tourists to get to Exarchia – it would also make it more convenient for those who live there – and that it would change the area’s character.

They have about as much chance of stopping it as Spartacus had against the Roman legions, although there is some precedent: opponents of a planned Metro stop in the populous area of Agia Paraskevi in Athens stopped one, and now regret it.

This is one of those cases where both sides can claim being on the right side because Exarchia needs a metro station, although the opponents want it down the hill near the tourist lure of the National Archeological Museum and Athens Technical University, as long as it’s not near them.

They and the anarchists whose sport is frequent battles with riot police that occur so often it seems like there’s a Gentleman’s Agreement to swap tear gas in return for firebomb tosses want their neighborhood to remain largely untraveled.

It does have that kind of Bohemian character associated with the 1950’s Beat movement in the United States that made Greenwich Square a hangout for anti-establishment types, although it was eventually ‘discovered’ by outsiders.

Foreign investors especially are keen to scoop up dilapidated buildings and upgrade them for rentals such as the short-term platforms on Airbnb that empty neighborhoods of residents for tourists and drive up rents.

That, of course, changes the area from what people want to see to what they want to avoid, but by then it’s too late because Starbuck’s will replace a genuine old Greek coffee shop that doesn’t look like a cookie cutter architect designed it.

Exarchia – as does nearby Strefi Hill where violent protesters are trying to stop a plan to turn the unkempt, filthy, criminal hideout into a useful area of safe walking trails and playgrounds and a place of respite – is a symbol for revolutionaries.

Not real ones, but those who are rock-throwers, not thought-provokers: they want regress, not progress and are trying to keep Exarchia and Strefi as enclaves for ideas that died before they were born.

The point is to make Exarchia and Strefi Hill better, not worse, as it has been under their influence, and that’s the way they like it because it gives them a perpetual cause of nothingness. They want nothing, they hope for nothing, but they are imprisoned and want company. That’s misery’s goal.

These are the same people who burned Exarchia almost to the ground in two weeks of 2008 riots set off by an auxiliary police officer firing a shot that killed 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a tragedy that gave them a martyr for other uses.

They are using violence again, against Metro construction crews in the working class that they and their cheerleaders, the Looney Left SYRIZA, profess to support, and attacking Strefi Hill surveyors. That’s their modus operandi: against everything.

If it were left to them, both places would remain as they are: filthy, graffiti-ridden inaccessible places that find the charm and character overridden by the motives of the faux revolutionaries attacking banks – except where they keep their own money.

They are Rebels Seeking Pensions who rail against the state, private companies, and imagined enemies but want benefits – can anarchists have libraries, roads, schools and post offices?

They want to be 18 for Life while adults around them try to act their age and – the best among them – seek to make life better for themselves, their children and future generations to, as the ancient Athenian oath for the young said: “transmit this city not only not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”

They can’t be in power to govern their ideals because they want no government, although if they ever hold a conference don’t miss their Molotov Cocktails at the receptions – but leave the hotel before it’s over, before they blow it up.

 

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