Looming Recession, the Ban on Freedom of Assembly, and the Death of Vassilis Maggos
Report on Italiano
Since coming to power last summer, Greece’s far-right New Democracy party has waged an all-out war against immigrants, anarchists, and rebels, attempting to evict the entire network of occupied social centers that animates the country’s ungovernable movements and to crush other spaces of autonomy such as universities. The COVID-19 pandemic has offered New Democracy additional pretexts as they attempt to replace this rich history of rebellion with a police state suitable for international investment. Yet the looming economic crisis promises to render this effort moot. In this tense context, the past month has seen conflicts escalate all around the country, with the government attempting to ban freedom of assembly, police beating countless demonstrators—one of whom later apparently died of his injuries—and determined anarchists giving battle to the forces of oppression on every front.
This update is adapted from RadioFragmata’s monthly contribution to the “Bad News Report” podcast. You can read last month’s report here.
As we reach the peak season of summer tourism, it is becoming obvious that Greece is headed for economic doom. Desperate attempts to appease business owners at the risk of everyone else’s health have become embarrassing as a 90 percent drop in tourism shows how pointless it was for the Greek government to re-open the economy amid the pandemic. Yet at all costs, in defiance of reality, the state is still trying to preserve the old status quo.
Facing a disaster that will make the 2008 recession seem tolerable by comparison, the new administration continues to escalate its war on immigrants and anarchists in order to distract the public.
The Ban on Assembly
In a move reminiscent of the Junta of the late 1960s and early ’70s, the government passed a law against freedom of assembly on July 9. The ruling New Democracy party demanded this law on the grounds that unregulated freedom of assembly was seen as a severe problem for Athens traffic. This is indicative of this administration’s priorities. The bill immediately sparked social unrest.
Demonstrations ahead of the vote drew a significant police response, especially those organized by anarchists. As detailed in last month’s report, police kettled a delivery workers’ motorcycle protest, arresting every attendee—something much more unusual in Greece than it would be in the United States. Another anarchist demonstration weeks before the ruling drew roughly one riot cop for every attendee.
On the day the bill passed, some 15,000 people took to the streets in Athens around the Greek parliament. Anarchists organized several different blocs in the demonstration. Unfortunately, both the police and the authoritarian left quickly attacked anarchists: police rammed motorcycles directly into demonstrators, while at the same time, members of the KKE and PAME (two authoritarian left groups with seats in parliament) blocked the way to parliament. KKE and PAME protest marshals attacked anarchists and others who attempted to resist—beating them, removing their masks in order to expose their identities, and in some cases kidnapping them in order to hand them over to police.
Despite this, courageous acts of resistance took place. Graffiti appeared across the center of Athens decrying the law and the state. The police in front of parliament faced a flurry of Molotov cocktails, rocks, and other projectiles. One commander of the Delta squad experienced burns and damage to his teeth as a consequence of a Molotov cocktail.
In response, various riot and Delta police rushed to the borders of Exarchia, beating and detaining people at random, especially young people and those perceived to be subcultural. Police did the same thing in the nearby luxury neighborhood of Kolonaki. At least nine people are facing charges for the events, three of whom face significant felony charges. As of July 13, all nine defendants have been released awaiting trial.
Demonstrations involving anarchists and autonomists also took place in Patras, Ioannina, and Thessaloniki. As this goes to press, demonstrations are illegal without the advance approval of the state. The bill promises a future of brutality, detention, and imprisonment for those who take to the streets.
Video: Protests in Athens against the new law banning freedom of assembly.
On June 26, various police agencies evicted the Dervenion 56 squat, one of the last squats in Exarchia. The occupation was established in response to the influx of refugees and immigrants in 2015, at a time when dozens of buildings were squatted. Immigrant solidarity projects later used the space as a resource hub and cooking center. In recent years, it has hosted various solidarity projects, language classes, fundraising events, and political presentations, offering a safe gathering space for groups to assemble. When the state used COVID-19 to shut down universities, specifically the occupied GINI building at the Exarchia’s Polytechnio, Derverion offered an essential alternative.
Police shut down nearby streets in Exarchia to evacuate the building. Various police agencies blocked off all access points so that investigation teams could survey the grounds. City workers eventually boarded up the building’s entrances with cinder blocks, a typical state strategy.
Multiple protests have taken place since the eviction. The first night following the raid, people gathered in nearby Exarchia Square, then marched to the squat and demolished the cinder blocks closing the entrance. The police were taken by surprise, but eventually responded with full force, arresting seven people. During another demonstration a few days later, people smashed the cinder blocks in the doors of evicted occupations in another nearby Exarchia street. A week later, people also smashed the cinder blocks at the site of a squat evicted last year in Koukaki. While symbolic, these actions demonstrate a will to keep fighting. The entry points of Dervenion are now blocked with reinforced steel.
Video: The attempt to reoccupy Dervenion
After the eviction, supporters organized a concert for Derverion. Prevented from happening in its original location, this was eventually moved to Exarchia Square. Afterwards, people scattered around the neighborhood. Barricades appeared and small scuffles broke out as people attempted to reclaim Dervenion while riot police and Delta police counterattacked. Everyone on the streets in Exarchia that night was a target. Many people were sent to the hospital with injuries; police spread asphyxiating tear gas at random, in some cases in the confinement of cafés. Police raided an anarchist cooperative bar without reason. In order to rationalize the attack, police arrested and brutalized the waiter who was working there at the time. Ten people were arrested altogether, with seven facing accusations including possession of explosives, weapons, and ammunition as well as a various misdemeanors. Resistance did take place on this night, but the police response was startlingly arbitrary. Video evidence of their behavior has circulated widely, showing the absurdity of these arrests.
A video supporting the re-squatting of all the evicted occupations.
Other actions have taken place in response to the eviction of Dervenion and the repression of squats in general. Grafitti and banners continue to be seen across the country. A group reportedly attacked the mayor at a private event in response to his war on squats and grotesque use of public funds to decorate the center of Athens. There was also a demonstration outside the home of the person who claims to own Dervenion.
Police continue to harass Exarchia residents. The assault on public space continues as businesses are granted bigger licenses to control sidewalks. While the mafia and drug dealers who frequented Exarchia Square when it was cop-free are gone now, they have only been replaced by the police, who spread fear in much the same ways.
Video: The clashes of July 3 in Exarchia
Solidarity with Struggles in the USA
Solidarity actions including graffiti, banners, educational events, and small demonstrations continue as people express support for the struggle against white supremacy in the USA. In Thessaloniki, the night before the funeral of George Floyd, a small incendiary device was placed near the headquarters of the North American human resources management company MANPOWER. Anarchists took responsibility for the action in a communiqué mentioning the call for international solidarity released by the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement:
“The arson of the ManPower Group is a practical declaration of fiery solidarity with the comrades of the Revolutionary Abolition Movement, who call on the international revolutionary community to take immediate and uninterrupted action in solidarity with [demonstrators in] the United States. The war waged in the American metropolises and suburbs will not be silenced. Because the fire of the attacks of internationalist revolutionary solidarity is spreading to the ends of the earth. Comrades, you have our full appreciation and solidarity from the war fronts on the other side of the Atlantic.
All the power in the Black Uprising
Revolution now and always.”
-Anarchist Action Organization
Immigrant and Refugee Struggles
The Greek state continues to reinforce the parallel world of misery non-citizens experience by means of aggressive measures and opportunism.
In the municipality of Aspropyrgos, bulldozers demolished an entire Roma camp, rendering a large Roma community homeless.
On the islands of Lesvos and Samos, where some of the largest refugee camps are located, the measures passed on the pretext of responding to the virus enable local police to segregate and isolate immigrants in camps, normalizing COVID-19 outbreaks in these already overcrowded camps as long as the virus remains contained there. These camps lack basic hand washing equipment and render social distancing impossible. Alongside prisons, the Greek government has effectively designated these camps COVID-19 ghettos, in keeping with its explicit “Greece is for the Greeks” platform.
In the first half of June, many immigrants and refugees in the grossly overpopulated Moria camp in Lesvos were granted asylum and freedom of movement. Yet according to the Greek state, it is the responsibility of immigrants to find their own housing within one month of the decision. Little to no help is provided to immigrants in these situations; over 11,000 faced eviction and homelessness. Having nowhere to turn, many escaped to Athens and set up a homeless encampment at Victoria Square.
Victoria Square is located in Kipseli, a neighborhood in central Athens. Compared to most of Greece, it’s a diverse area; refugees and immigrants have populated it since the beginning of the so-called refugee crisis of 2015. While fascists and police have attacked people there, it has been known for some time as a haven for people of color and immigrants.
Starting on June 15, buses of riot police surrounded the square, attempting to pressure people in the encampment into being escorted to other refugee camps further into the country and out of sight. At first, the police promised free housing and aid to all who voluntarily boarded the buses. When many refused, police became aggressive. Supporters arrived to show solidarity with the immigrants. For roughly 48 hours, groups mobilized to defend those in the encampment.
Before sunrise on June 17, buses of riot police, Delta police, and other police agencies violently entered the square, forcing at least 71 children and 44 adults into buses headed for various camps across the country. Supporters of the encampment also faced repression; the police beat and arrested at least fifteen people. In order to rationalize forced detention, police forced immigrants to sign papers many of them did not understand stating that they had refused housing following their asylum.
The whereabouts of some of the detainees remain unknown. Others have managed to escape detention and return to Athens. Stories are circulating that many of the detainees have been dropped off at refugee camps and given no accommodations there. Many remain homeless on the outskirts of camps and smaller villages or cities, facing harsher precarity in isolation out of public view. These conditions leave them at the mercy of human traffickers, sexual assault, fascist attacks, predatory agricultural and construction bosses looking to take advantage of their desperation, and other risks. A week after the first police attack, another group of approximately 70 immigrants granted asylum at Moria arrived in search of support, only to encounter the same buses full of police demanding that they forfeit their right to free movement or face arrest and deportation.
Victoria Square continues to face constant surveillance and police pressure, including an attack on July 4.
Meanwhile, volunteers and members of non-governmental organizations have been asked to register with the state. While we do not support most NGOs and recognize the faults of an industry based on suffering, the purpose of the bill calling for this is to intimidate those who support immigrants. The state will use this database to target those accused of overstepping Greek measures on immigration, revoking work and residency visas or pursuing criminal charges.
From the floating dams in the Aegean Sea to the absurd demands forced on the most vulnerable asylum seekers, state violence against immigrants and refugees continues to intensify countrywide.
Recently, there have been repeated hunger strikes inside the immigrant detention facility in Athens known as Petrouralli. Nine women went on hunger strike in June demanding better living conditions; in response, the state threatened to place them under arrest in a formal Greek prison. Sexual, physical, and psychological violence is notorious inside this detention facility, where suicide attempts are frequent. No one outside knows the extent of the virus outbreak and suicide, but it is clear enough that the facility serves to torture already struggling immigrants and refugees. Supporters frequently organize noise demonstrations outside of the facility; movement lawyers are also involved in support efforts. A recent demonstration outside inspired visible unrest in two floors of the facility.
The supreme court of Greece recently granted permission to Dimitris Koufontinas, an ex-member of the armed struggle group N17, to leave prison in order to visit family and friends. In Greece, prisoners have the privilege to leave prison due to good behavior, regardless of their conviction—something unimaginable in North America, especially for those facing long sentences for violent crimes. The new administration is trying to amend this law, using Dimitris as a specific example. He has gone on hunger strike on and off for the last few years, and while the supreme court has declared that he is legally entitled to a “furlough,” the local council of Volos, where he is imprisoned, has rejected the supreme court ruling and his request. They claim that in light of his refusal to apologize for his actions or forswear his convictions, he does not deserve the right to leave prison. Large-scale solidarity campaigns have supported Dimitris for some time; he is expected to continue fighting for his right to leave the prison.
During the pandemic, the department of corrections in Greece has been punishing prisoners who express dissent by stripping them of their few rights, as COVID-19 remains a significant threat to the health and safety of those behind bars.
Prisoners such as Vassilis Dimakis and Antonis Kyriazis have carried out frequent and dangerous hunger strikes in response to the state taking away their right to education. The department of corrections has responded by reassigning prisoners to various prisons throughout Greece and sabotaging the studies of student prisoners who organize behind bars. While the authorities claim that these are simply safety measures, ironically, most of the expressions of discontent for which political prisoners are being punished were about the lack of safety measures in response to the pandemic. Solidarity graffiti and banners can be seen across the country supporting the prisoners in their hunger strikes; some supporters occupied a conservative news station in Patras in solidarity with Antonis Kyriazis.
Imprisoned members of the group Revolutionary Struggle attended a court hearing in late June. The prosecution has added various bank robberies to their existing accusations; it appears that the state is trying to pin various actions to them to live up to the “law and order” rhetoric of the new administration.
As mentioned in last month’s report, two individuals in Thessaloniki accused of an attempted incendiary attack were given until mid-June to pay a 20,000 euro bail fee in order to await trial outside prison. Thanks to a remarkable solidarity effort, the money was quickly raised and then some. At the direction of the two comrades, the extra funds were donated to the Tameio group (a solidarity fund for prisoners and other persecuted fighters), an anarchist newspaper, and espiv.net, a movement-run server similar to riseup.net that has been under attack by the administration of the university where it is located. Taking advantage of the pandemic to strike while students are locked out of the university, the administration has been making claims about piracy as an excuse to target the server.
Female prisoners’ efforts to demand safer conditions during the pandemic have also precipitated strategic reprisals from the state. Woman prisoners accused of organizing behind bars, such as Hazal Seçer, Harika Kizilkaya of the Turkish People’s front, and the anarchist Dimitra Valavani, have been targeted with frequent searches, segregation, and even physical detention by male guards in retaliation for their attempts to speak up about prison conditions.
In a Larissa prison, the authorities transferred 65-year-old political prisoner Ismail Zat to an isolation cell in late June in response to his refusal to be humiliated by prison guards upon his return from a hospital visit. He is one of eleven Turkish and Kurdish fighters arrested in March in a so-called anti-terror campaign. He has dedicated his life to preserving the dignity of his people and is refusing to compromise his own dignity behind bars.
The government of New Democracy continues to withdraw environmental protections. It is not a coincidence that there is new pressure to develop previously protected wilderness as tourism dies off amid the pandemic. Valued for its beauty, this land was considered worth preserving as long as it helped to draw 30+ million tourists to Greece each year. Now that the economy is expected to shrink at least 12 percent and tourism has fallen almost 90 percent, the state is rushing to exploit nature in order to preserve the façade of a functioning economy.
Struggles continue across Greece against wind turbines on mountaintops. These turbines decimate the environments around them, requiring the construction of new roads for trucks to construct and service them. Such turbines are part of a broader campaign by the Greek state to appease the environmental demands of the European Union without making structural changes.
In theory, Greece is one of the most water-rich countries in the Mediterranean—but between the effects of tourism, agriculture, and climate change, 30 percent of the country may be desert in the coming years. Attempts to privatize water continue across the country as rivers, lakes, and aquifers slowly dry up. Agricultural projects looting natural reserves are given a free pass as long they yield profits.
Communities are coming together across the country, taking to the forests, the mountains, and the streets. Banners and graffiti of support for ecological resistance can be seen from the inner cities to the deep countryside. In the Athenian neighborhood of Kaisiarini, a vehicle belonging to the construction company INTRACAT was targeted in an arson attack. A notorious exploiter of vulnerable labor, INTRACAT is responsible for an array of wind turbine construction projects in Ithairon and South Evia as well as various other building sites.
Resisting Urban Development
Greece has started a new so-called urban renewal project in the southern suburbs of Athens. This is deemed the largest project of its kind in Greece and in all of Europe as well. An investment of nine billion dollars over ten years is intended to build a gigantic resort and casino in the ruins of the abandoned airport that was built for the Summer Olympics in 2004. The airport itself is the result of money laundering efforts by opportunistic construction companies. While Greece’s economy is expected to shrink almost 12 percent, the new administration is flaunting this development project for the alleged 2% growth it will create. In a country some say is among the most corrupt in the world, many assume that the project will benefit Greece’s elite, serving only as a talking point about economic recovery for Greece’s capitalist right. The project itself is being funded by the American casino giant Mohegan gaming.
The planned development has caused rampant displacement. The state has already evicted nearby refugee camps and plans to displace various homeless encampments that have existed for some time nearby. At this point, it is foolish to expect great gains from a project that depends on tourism. The project will most likely fail; in any case, it will benefit the very few in the process, while further indebting the public. While the politician Mytsotakis is the face of the new administration, the business elite make the decisions here, as in the USA and many other countries.
Greece continues to sell off its land to the highest bidder. Saudi business men are buying up islands as well as ports and debt to foreign governments such as China.
The Death of Vassilis Mangos
As we prepare to publish this, reports have just appeared about the death of a man in Volos, Greece. Vassilis Maggos was found dead on July 13 in his apartment by his mother, though he may have passed away some time prior to her arrival. The ambulance that responded could not resuscitate him. Police immediately rushed to the scene to supervise the investigation and shape the narrative.
Vassilis Maggos passed away after weeks of suffering resulting from a beating inflicted by police officers. In our last report, we described a large demonstration on June 13 in the city of Volos against the incineration of trash, the privatization of water, and other efforts from municipal authorities to escalate the exploitation of this pristine and biologically diverse region. The police beat and arrested many people during this demonstration. The next day, Vassilis Mangos was attending a demonstration outside the courthouse of Volos in solidarity with those arrested the day prior. Video footage shows various police forces standing across from the demonstration, then suddenly running towards an individual and beating him to the ground until he was heard to scream “I can’t breathe.” That individual was Vassilis Mangos.
Video: The police beating Vassilis Mangos.
While the beating captured on video was heinous, the police took Vasillis into custody to continue beating and torturing him out of sight of supporters. Vassillis is known to the police as a local anarchist and football fan; the video shows that he was clearly being targeted. After arresting him, they brought him to the police station while continuing to threaten him and make homophobic remarks in response to his need for medical treatment. Now we know that he was suffering from 7 broken ribs and significant damage to his liver and gallbladder. Despite the fact that he was obviously suffering from excruciating pain, the police continued to taunt him, denying him food and water, threatening him further, and eventually throwing him into a prison cell. Vassilis reported that when he said that he would sue them, the guards answered, “Who will punish us, the police?” After they stopped laughing at him, he heard the guards saying, “If we are going to arrest him, we probably have to take him to the hospital.” Shortly after this he was thrown out onto the street, most likely to avoid a lawsuit and the procedures of formalizing his arrest.
Vassilis barely recalled being on the street. He could barely breathe, he was unable to think clearly, and, in addition, he was very dehydrated. Some people came to his aid, taking him back to his home, from which he eventually went to the hospital. He remained in the hospital for four days. After he returned home, he made his story public, declaring that he had a positive attitude—that he was happy to be alive and was ready for the long recovery ahead.
An autopsy is taking place as we prepare to publish this. The Ministry of Civil Protection is hurrying to claim that there is no connection between the police beating and torturing Vassilis and his subsequent death, maintaining that those who suggest otherwise are simply political opportunists. Yet the defensive statements of the authorities cannot erase the video of his beating. Regardless of what the autopsy reports, during the days leading up to his death, he was suffering painful disability as a consequence of the police assault. This was his punishment for expressing solidarity with those arrested resisting the exploitative ventures of the Greek state.
The situation is still unfolding, but it has sparked outrage from anarchists around Greece.
It remains to be seen how far the economic crisis will go—or the repressive violence of the New Democracy government. But it is certain that the frustration that prevails in Greek society will continue to manifest itself in the broader revolutionary movement against the state and capitalism.