Greece, the home of democracy. And molotov cocktails. They also enjoy regular cocktail nights to raise money for the squats and imprisoned anarchists. It’s one thing to know what is going on inside the UK with regards to squats, but I feel we are severely lacking in communication with squats across Europe, or indeed the world. Hopefully I can bring to you some of the news from some of the squats in Greece along with the usual round-up of news from London and beyond.
Setting The Scene
A quick explanation of how the law works in Greece, from a meeting I had with a lawyer personally involved in one of the local neighbourhood squats. Unlike in the UK, squatting is a criminal rather than civil matter. It is based around a few points in the penal code, such as breaching someone’s right to asylum in their own house, or disturbing the community. However the police cannot act unless a complaint is made by the owner to the state prosecutor, who then instructs the police to enforce it. For public buildings there is a bit of a loophole in the penal code dating back to 1938, and a lot of squats in Greece fall into a kind of “hybrid” category, meaning the prosecutor is less likely to take action unless pushed by the local government. However as of the 1st of July this year, the penalties have gone up in accordance with the introduction of a new penal code. What were simple misdemeanours for resisting can now be classified as heavier breaches of law, and can see a jail-term of 3 years, up from the previous maximum of 1 year. Interestingly this was introduced at the same time as the reduction of a lot of other penalties, prompting outrage from other parties. In any case this was the doing of Syriza, and with the election on July 7th, the conservative New Democracy is back in power, so things can be expected to only get worse (more on this later).
Watch Out, There’s Squatters About! And Cats, So Many Cats
One thing that’s worth noting firstly is that there is a clear distinction between the squats that are for living, and the social centres that are only occupied when events are taking place. The social centres are political, and as such, targets (for example the burning of Libertatia in Thessaloniki during a fascist rally last year). Most of the time these buildings are not occupied overnight, though a lot of them have rather full schedules so are open a lot of the day.
With a home-ownership rate of over 70%, Greece is amongst the highest in Europe. As a result there are not much in the way of housing squats, and tend to be reserved for foreigners who have no access to other means of income or housing. In my time in Athens I lived in a derelict stately home filled with a small mix of people dubbed the international brigade. Speaking to members of squatting collectives, there was an acknowledgement that there probably are also hidden squats much like in England, but even so would be much less prevalent.
The majority of the squats visited either acted as social centres running programs of education, entertainment, and political outreach, or functioned as meeting spaces for neighbourhood assemblies, where multiple groups, anarchist or otherwise, could use the space to discuss issues in the neighbourhood. In Thessaloniki, Scholeio, operating out of an abandoned school, runs language classes on the regular along with other workshops, it holds a well-stocked freeshop, and runs bar nights to raise money for the project and other anarchist groups. Mikropolis does similar, and often hosts gigs on the rooftop terrace. Libertatia also hold cocktail nights in the garden of the burnt-out squat to raise money for repairs (they do love a cocktail bar). In Athens the neighbourhood assembly VKP used to hold their meetings in a rented space until they got screwed by the landlord (heard that one before?) and chose to start squatting a nearby building. They advertise freely in the area of their events that they organise and implore
people to come and participate in the use of the space. Another squat in the neighbourhood was opened by anarchists but made available to all people with at least a baseline understanding of struggle against the state. They now all are prepared to defend the squat in face of a looming eviction.
One particularly interesting space that Freedom has reported on before
is BIO.ME (pronounced vio.me), a worker’s co-op that started when the owners of the factory producing tile adhesives and other toxic materials went bust. Originally squatted by the workers in protest against unpaid wages, they later decided to restore the production of the facilities and now produce only ecologically-friendly cleaning products. True to the neighbourhood approach that seems to be strong in Greece, they have consulted with people to decide what products the local community needs and should be made. Unfortunately the owners are now trying to auction off the land, however there are on-going disruptions to the auction process, one of which we were able to participate in, scaring off potential buyers and further reducing the value of the capital.
There are so many squats in Greece it is hard to give a full report on the goings-on of all them, but you find the activities listed at Kinimatorama in any easy to read format, or check out Indymedia Athens for more in-depth communiques and explanations of what is taking place in squats and other organised spaces. You can either learn Greek or just chuck them through google translate, it seems to work pretty well.
The Election And What It Means For Squatters In Greece
On the 7th of July, while I was in Athens, a conservative New Democracy party won the national elections and came in to power. Prior to this, leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis had run a campaign stressing the need to
crack down on the anarchist self-organising in the neighbourhood of Exarchia: a home to many squats. This is of immediate concern to some of the squats there, who are protected only by the very nature of Exarchia being a place fairly untouched by law enforcement, and are expecting evictions to start happening soon.
On the corner of Exarchia square lies VOX, a cinema squatted since 2013, and home to the anarchist direct action group Rouvikonas. Rouvikonas are known for choosing targets that play on the limits of the law for which the punishments are fines rather than imprisonment, and topical targets that hold great acceptance from the general public, such as for worker and migrant rights or against corrupt professionals .
The Syriza government started to find ways to come down harder on them, and as a result members of the group are potentially facing jail time under old laws revisited, and perhaps new laws in the future, with the new government and police chief in place.
A member of Rouvikonas did make a mention of the fact that while they sit in a precarious situation, and do expect a heavier police presence in the near future, Syriza in fact closed more squats during their time in power than the previous two governments, they simply did it with a smile. Whoever is in power, they were expecting a heavy repression post-election, and are now preparing to defend their neighbourhood.
Other squats and neighbourhoods I’m sure will be doing the same, although we have already seen the first eviction of the Brooklyn squat in Giannina, just one week after the government change, and the City Plaza squat in
Athens took a strategic decision to close pre-emptively just a few days after the election (although this was decided a year ago on political grounds).
In fact much like the situation with Corbyn and the Labour Party in the UK, many people in Greece placed trust in a vaguely-left party, and gave up their engagement with grassroots politics. Many people I spoke to in the squats of Greece expressed this frustration with those that dropped out, and in some ways wonder if the disillusionment will lead to a resurgence in
organising as a more direct and apparent opposition threatens their way of life.
All The Other Stuff
So what’s been going on in London then? I wouldn’t know, I’ve been in Greece. My crew has been evicted twice. The occupation of the Deptford Town Hall by Goldsmith’s Anti-Racist Action was threatened by the university with eviction on the morning of Monday 22rd July, but this did not take place, as in fact the court papers arrived only on the 23rd. Now they’re going to need some luck in the high court.
In Bristol, the Bearpit, a roundabout and subway that was squatted in protest against the proposed building of a new shopping area, was evicted. The council cited anti-social behaviour, and proceeded to use bailiffs to smash up the possessions of those there, despite there supposedly being an agreement with the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft to ensure safe
removal of all the possessions and material from structures added to the site.
Over the ditch in the east of France the Bure forest zone has been reoccupied after a year since police evicted people and destroyed the buildings they were living in. The site has been a presence of occupation over quite a few years against the dumping of nuclear waste in the area.
There’s a call-out for people to go to the forest to support the occupation.
The fight for Liebig34 in Berlin took a turn for the worse the other day when police raided the building, smashing in the barricades and taking possessions for DNA evidence after rocks were allegedly thrown at police the previous day. Retaliation was had by other local anarchists, and
the Liebig crew sound defiant as they prepare for their impending court case.
In Spain, the mayor of Barcelona, once a founding member of the housing activist group PAH, has ordered the first expropriation of houses that were forfeited to the banks for unpaid mortgages in the collapse of the housing and financial markets in 2008. One might have something to say about the limitation of trusting in state or municipal powers, but in the face of a housing shortage in Barcelona taking back these houses from banks to use for social housing is definitely better than the reality of a place like the UK where councils sell-off social housing to private developers who then build homes no-one can afford to live in.
The Netherlands is now also home to two more squats, one in Amsterdam, and one in Utrecht. And my friends and former squatmates inform
me of a new squat in The Hague. Sounds nice, being right by the beach.
And just quickly, back in London, The Advisory Service for Squatters has put a call-out for new volunteers to keep going while some members are overseas or out of action. If you’ve had any experience squatting (or even if you haven’t) head down to the office above Freedom Bookshop or email them at advice [at] squatter [dot] org [dot] uk and offer to help out.
That’s all for now, enjoy the current benefits of climate change. Oh and fuck Boris Johnson but don’t get too caught up on the individual, fight the system that allowed him to float to the top.
If you have any comments or topics you would like me to cover (I’m sure I miss loads of good squatting coverage around the globe) please get in touch at squattersdigest [at] riseup [dot] net.
P.S. Have I spotted the Whitechapel Anarchist Group logo painted on the top of the hill in Athens in the title picture above?