Athenian Democracy by Day and by Night

By Yorgos Karagiannakis

Exarcheia Square in Athens

Exarcheia Square

Exarcheia Square, the Athenian 'Rive Gauche', has traditionally been the autonomous, bohemian and intellectual centre of Athens. It is frequently the site of confrontation between the police and various protesters. The banner reads: 'We are not indebted; We are not selling; We are not repaying. Popular Assembly of Exarcheia'.

Navarinou St Park in Athens

Navarinou St. Park

This is a good example of Athenian citizens' activism. This space used to be a car park belonging to the Technical Chamber of Greece. After the expiry of the car park lease in 2008, the Exarcheia Residents' Initiative Committee entered the space and with the help of local activists converted it into a green park. There were again confrontations with the police, but the residents managed to persevere and complete their project. (http://parkingparko.blogspot.com)

Syntagma Square in Athens

Athenian Democracy by Day

In Spring 2011 a movement inspired by the Spanish ‘Indignados’ appeared in Athens. People from various parts of Greek society gathered and camped in front of the Parliament on Syntagma Sq. (‘Constitution Sq.’) mainly protesting peacefully against the austerity measures of the Greek government. However, during the two day voting in Parliament on these measures (28th & 29th of June 2011) violent riots broke out between the protesters and the police.

Afghan Refugees in Athens

Afghan Refugees

Even if Greece is suffering under its debt crisis, there are people in a much worse situation. These Afghan refugees started a hunger strike in November 2010 requesting political asylum in Greece. Although they stopped their hunger strike, their tent in front of the Academy of Athens and the Statue of Athena still symbolises their struggle for a better future. (http://afghanrefugeesgr.blogspot.com)

Protests in Athens

Syntagma Sq. Popular Assembly

The strange ‘mix’ of ideologies on Syntagma Sq. has created a feeling of confusion. There were clear distinctions between groups, visible in their methods of protest and their demands. The main bulk of people in the centre of the square demanded a shift towards direct democracy. Therefore, they established their own people’s assembly, where, after a draw, anyone could take the microphone for a few minutes and have her/his proposal heard and voted upon by the assembly.

Greek 'patriots' in the Streets of Athens

The Tribes of Syntagma Sq. - Part 1

One of the groups on the square are the ‘patriots’ (read: nationalists). They advocate a return to the Drachma, and dance to traditional songs wearing the national flag and gas masks!

Protests in Athens

The Tribes of Syntagma Sq. - Part 2

The communist left are also present. In a direct parallel to the events surrounding Argentina’s bankruptcy, a banner with a helicopter recalls the way Argentina’s government fled as the economy collapsed. In situations like this Ché’s image provides inspiration.

 

Illegal Migrants in Athens

The Tribes of Syntagma Sq. - Part 3

In this patchwork of social classes and identities, the lower part of the square is taken over by street sellers (usually illegal immigrants) selling their goods to the people in the square. There is always time for a good bargain!

Athenian Nightscape

In Front of the Parliament

Apart from the ideological struggle, and in the midst of the crisis, the square also acts as a free space for young people to get out of the misery and economic pessimism and socialise under the fabulous Athenian nightscape. This function of the camp was maybe the most important: people opening up to each other again.

Police Charging Protesters in Athens

Athenian Democracy by Night

Unfortunately the peaceful protest ended when the police charged the protesters. The confrontation lasted for two days (28th-29th of June) and set a new record in tear gas usage. The people remained defiant.

Exarcheia Square in Athens
Navarinou St Park in Athens
Syntagma Square in Athens
Afghan Refugees in Athens
Protests in Athens
Greek 'patriots' in the Streets of Athens
Protests in Athens
Illegal Migrants in Athens
Athenian Nightscape
Police Charging Protesters in Athens
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