Exarchist Autonomous Zone


After more than a week of street fighting, the riots in Greece have subsided but have not yet ended. The violent protests, set off after a cop shot a teenager, have been led by the "make total destroy" wing of the anarchist movement, which apparently is headquartered in the Athens neighborhood of Exarchia.

I don't have much to say about the riots themselves, other than the obvious comments (police brutality is bad, retaliation against innocent people and their property is bad, "anarchists" should not be doling out collective punishment, etc.). Instead I'll highlight the curious things I'm reading about Exarchia, described here by Reuters' Dina Kyriakidou:

Exarchia is a haunt of artists and left-wing intellectuals. Favoured by lawyers, architects and publishers, is it one of the city's most charming neighbourhoods.

It is also one of its most violent, a stomping ground for anarchists, drug addicts and anyone who likes to challenge authority—a tradition many say stems from the opposition to the 1967-1974 military junta.

"What others call a riot, we call a street party," one of my neighbours once said.

About two years ago, a public order minister acknowledged it was too dangerous to send officers into the area, which has defied decades of attempts by socialist and conservative governments alike to bring it under control.

Hold on. Scroll back. Anarchists, artists, and lawyers?

The BBC claims that "Greece's anarchists regard the quarter of Exarchia as their fortress and they frequently lure police into ambushes so they can attack them with rocks and fire bombs." The Christian Science Monitor calls the neighborhood a "dense warren of concrete apartment buildings" where "clashes between police and radicals are common."

I don't know how much of this is exaggeration. Roderick Long, who visited the area earlier this year, chuckles at the phrase "dense warren of concrete," noting that "if all that means is that there are lots of narrow streets criss-crossing between tall concrete buildings, okay, that would describe most of the city." Here's the description of the place he wrote in June:

I then walked through Exarkheia/Exarhia, which is supposed to be the "anarchist" neighbourhood of Athens; I don't know much about Greek anarchism (at least subsequent to Diogenes of Oinoanda), but the shops did seem marginally more bohemian and the appearance of the residents exhibited a mild hippie or punk or goth sensibility (though far less so than in, say, the Little Five Points area of Atlanta). Surely there's more to it than this?

Apparently so.