Anarchy in Greece

Greek Anarchists fill in for a failing government.


Margaret Killjoy/flickr

In Greece, where years of unsustainable government spending have driven the state to bankruptcy, the economic crisis shows no sign of abating. So local anarchists are looking to pick up where the state left off, offering state-like services and even claiming the be behind a state-like crackdown.

About 250 "self-managing social centers" have popped up around Greece in the last nine years, according to The New York Times, which reports that the centers have been handing out food and medicine to the poor. (Reason's Jesse Walker blogged about Exarchia, one of the neighborhoods The Times covered, back in 2008.) Their funding comes entirely from private donations and from for-profit activities, such as concerts, exhibitions, and several anarchist-run bars. One major focus is housing refugees, who otherwise would be stuck in substandard, government-run camps. In Athens, The Times reports, around 3,000 refugees now live in 15 abandoned buildings refurbished by the anarchists.

"No one knows who they are controlled by and what conditions people being put up in occupied buildings live in," the mayor of Athens has told reporters. Nevertheless, the buildings have long waiting lists to get in. For a lot of refugees, apparently, the anarchists' accomodations can't be worse than what the government has to ffer.

Anarchists have even taken credit for waging a war on drugs and prostitution. The anarchist group Rouvikonas, whose members have reportedly regularly raided and vandalized both government offices and businesses, held a "night patrol" of a park in Athens, armed with large wooden flag poles flying black anarchist flags. They insisted police were not doing enough to stop the drug trade or sex work in the park, which the anarchists claimed involved "young migrants."

Public Order Minister Nikos Toskas, who is in charge of Greece's national police force, dismissed that move as a politically calculated PR stunt. "Some anarchist groups want to say that they got rid of drugs in the area so that they can control it," he told The Times.

The key word is control. Anarchists started to become a force in Greece in the mid-1970s, often allying with leftist groups to occupy spaces in Greek universities. They have campaigned against the Olympics coming to Athens in 2004, against "neoliberal" education reform, and for "militant unionism." They insist they're not interested in forming a political party, but they want to "enter the political center," as one anarchist said to The Times.

Where governments have failed to privatize sufficiently to avert fiscal collapse, local residents can step up to fill the void voluntarily, not just in Europe but in Detroit, where Reason TV covered a variety of such efforts. Part I of that four-part series is below:

And here are Part II, Part III, and Part IV.