Eva (who made this name up because they want to remain anonymous) has been living in Exarcheia for five years. They explain the personal roots of their anarchist struggle, which is bigger than just against gentrification.
Listen to the full episode of Avaşîn.
What is the source of your struggle? Where did it all begin?
This is a quite personal question but very interesting, because I think everybody’s struggle is also personal, coming from experiences we all have. I have always had a will for freedom and I saw injustices all around me. Since I was a young teenager I had a fascination for anarchism because of a series of events in Greece. During the insurrection of 2008, for example, the cops killed a 15-year old kid, and I remember that very well. But also the refugee crisis that started in 2015 had been important. In the circumstances of refugees you can clearly see the injustices that exist in this world. You can understand all different kinds of oppressions, like gender oppression, class oppression, racism. Me moving to Exarcheia helped for my politicisation.
So you didn’t grow up in Athens?
No, on one of the islands. It was shocking for me to see that Greek people who had everything in their lives, like money, a family, a house, who were in other words fullfilled in a capitalist society, could be so enraged because migrant people would steal some tomatoes from a garden, or calling them trash, and not acknowledge their situation. They had fled war, faced death, so many harsh experiences that we can’t even imagine and still be so strong, and Greek people could not acknowledge it. I describe it in simple terms because to me as a young teenager, it was very simple.
How do you look at this now from an anarchist perspective?
For me it is important that we don’t see ourselves as white saviours. I have done that and I have seen people make that mistake, also people from other European countries. They just want to ‘help help help’ materially, and it’s important to help materially but it is not the centre of the struggle. It is important to look at migrants as you look at anybody else, a person with a history, with a political opinion, a point of view, emotions, strength, and not behave like that we’ll help and save them. To me as an anarchist, I think we should struggle together. I want to get politicised with them. It is important for them to feel welcome, to feel that they can again belong somewhere and build a community.
Why is Exarcheia important in your struggle?
I came to Athens to study. I don’t want to romanticise Exarcheia, we need to look at it realistically. It has the image of an autonomous area, an area of revolt, but in reality, it is filled with capitalism and with state power. The feeling, the atmosphere is that you want do what you want, but it’s not true. But yes, there are many squats, every street has one or two, there are social centres, social kitchens, self-organised shops, spaces like that.
In the 1970s, most of the universities in Athens were in this neighbourhood. The state understood that it is bad news for them to have all these young people come together in one place, so they moved the universities away from the centre. Only the Polytechnic University remained here. It became a centre of the struggle against the military junta and against all kinds of oppressions. Still, every year they organise a big event to commemorate the events of November 1973 [when the junta violently suppressed the resistance] to confront the state and use this historical memory.
How is this connected to gentrification? And how would you describe gentrification?
Gentrification is the violent changing of a neighbourhood into an expensive touristic hell. The leftist government between 2015 and 2019 started it. People who were able to afford the rent are now being displaced. Flats turn into Airbnb’s, old houses have become hotels, shops have turned into bars and you can see the tourists going up and down the streets. The leftist government started to show Exarcheia as an alternative neighbourhood that could attract alternative tourists, who could go and see the nice graffiti on the walls. We struggle against the state, but against the tourists too. When you want to travel in another city, another country, you have to take into consideration what will happen after your arrival.”
Want to know more about the struggle against gentrification in Exarcheia, Athens, Greece, listen to the whole conversation with Eva in the second episode of Avaşîn Podcast, hosted by journalist and author Fréderike Geerdink.