Filed under: International Coverage
The following was anonymously submitted by a frustrated resident of Exarcheia hoping to ignite further rage around the world regarding gentrification.
“The city changes faster than a man’s heart” -Charles Baudelaire, writing about the way that the government overhauled the city planning of Paris after the revolution of 1848.
Exarcheia is under formal and informal assault. The typical provocation of Delta police roaming the streets looking to harass people of color and anyone in a black tracksuit is only the most visible element of assault it faces. Like other neighbourhoods around the world with so-called “alternative” appeal, those in real estate view Exarcheia as a place with great marketing and development opportunities, with an eye towards appealing to the “alternative” youth of the rich.
Multiple renovation and condo developments are being pushed rapidly as Covid becomes normalized and Athens becomes the target of developers around the world. This is warmly welcomed by the ruling neoliberal New Democracy party, which wants to privatize every part of the country and bring the already rich into a new era of prosperity while leaving everyone else in indefinite austerity.
In recent years the faces of these efforts have been swarms of police, a metro station aiming to close the square of Exarcheia for years and an infestation of AirBnBs, but now as lockdowns apparently end forevermore there is a noticeable cultural shift in the neighbourhood. The lockdown was different for Exarcheia. It was an opportunity for police to establish an even more intense presence in the neighbourhood while attempting to reify a “new normal” that’s safer for developers and those they cater to. This strategy has certainly worked in some ways; the digital nomads of Northern Europe who flocked to cheap AirBnBs during the lockdowns seem here to stay. There is an entire fucking compound of them on the streets of Arachovis and Benaki in Exarcheia (one block from Exarcheia square). They are spreading like a cancer, recruiting others to join their comfortable lives in Exarcheia as if they want the whole neighbourhood to resemble a wework one day.
Spaces vacant for years are now open for so-called creative agencies or micro-startups. Even a luxury condo development is back under construction overlooking the memorial of Alexis Grigoropolous and Berkin Elvan. Israeli, Russian, Chinese and American investors are just some of the foreign wealth raiding the neighbourhood looking to further buy up real estate in pursuit of expanding assets, as well obtaining Golden Visas, a scheme where citizenship and residency papers can be purchased through real-estate investment. Trendy clothing shops and rents that are unbelievably beyond the reach of any local Greek (even those earning slightly above the median income of 600 euros a month) are becoming the norm in Exarcheia.
This is not the first time the state has used subversive strategies to sabotage the subversive elements of the neighbourhood. They imported drug addicts and sanctioned mafia drug dealers from all over the city, urging the drug trade to seize the “anti-cop zone” in order to prove a space at militant odds with police can only bring violent crime and mafia opportunism.
On its own, Exarcheia is certainly not an anarchist mecca; it is filled with cafes and theaters entertaining the cultural world of the urban well-to-do as well a wide variety of students and artists who do little to contribute to the beautiful delinquency that has in the past helped protect this neighbourhood from the worst of modern gentrification.
The sudden explosion of development and sheer visibility of an Exarcheia only accessible to the privileged is quite heart-wrenching. The lifting of University asylum laws coinciding with the increase in gentrification is no coincidence, as the Polytechnic was a huge contributor to the historical foundation and perpetuation of a neighbourhood defined by its resistance to Greece’s post-war Junta. There are still frequent attacks on police and a huge campaign of grafitti and even sabotage against AirBnB, but the signs of this type of gentrification have been in the works for years. Comrades from major cities such as New York and Berlin have been screaming that Athens is next, if not already under assault. We can only hope that the cultural recuperation of Exarcheia will be limited by the violent contempt of those who remain true to the anti-fascist, anti-police, and anti-authoritarian elements that have helped define this neighbourhood.
Local assemblies fighting the privatization of Exarcheia’s local parks like Strefi Hill and against the Metro station in Exarcheia square have helped to organize resistance that is seen as family-friendly in Greek media, and consequently harder for police to squash as they do everything else. That said, the random riots that persisted every weekend for years, and which still come and go, may not have presented the most thought-out political analysis… but they most certainly helped to keep the rents down.
The issue isn’t only Exarcheia, it is the whole city of Athens, but in Exarcheia capitalism has once again shown its ability to recuperate anything– even a neighbourhood defined by those in its streets trying to destroy capitalism. Maybe these are my last days living here as I write and think about it. I don’t own anything, and I wake up every morning hearing construction all around me.
I am writing this from a personal experience where I am personally frightened that I will lose my affordable housing. English-speaking businessmen can be heard wandering my hallways during the day discussing how cheap the openings are for them. I wish I believed in a god to pray to, just to pray my old landlord doesn’t get caught up with the current trends around me. I see the aesthetics of the artists and urban rich who have no interest in challenging the world as it is, reifying the alternative but “safe” Exarcheia the New Democracy administration looks to serve its base.
Maybe I’ll be forced to the outskirts so some programmers have easy access to the cutest of cafes. Regardless, I hope for this to remain a refuge for migrants and refugees frightened of fascists. I hope the dumb and dumber haircuts walk with caution amidst the stares of black tracksuits ready to throw a judgmental punch, and I hope the real estate bubble pops, and all these developments fail and are squatted again.
In Greece, the youth who take part in random weekend riots are sometimes called the gremlins. For years I have joked that we must appreciate the gremlins, for they keep us safe from the worst of what the developers of this world want for Exarcheia. For years, I was correct.
I am not one to fetishize Exarcheia as so many anarchists around the world have done due to the 6th of December and the beautiful images the streets of this neighbourhood have created. Still, Exarcheia has been of grave symbolic importance to one of the most proportionately large anarchist movements in contemporary history. Despite its flaws and inconsistencies and the frustrating assumptions tourists make about it, Exarcheia has real symbolism for not only the anarchist movement of Greece but around the world.
Whether or not everyone will agree with this likely depends on their own personal experiences, but the current government of Greece very much agrees with this symbolism. Since coming into power they have used Exarcheia as a huge talking point, and as the neighbourhood becomes more and more comfortable for the comfortable and content, their symbolic war against it advances. This is why the symbolism should matter to anarchists around the world, because the Greek state sees this as a war on anarchists.
With all Exarcheia’s annoyances, and my own grumpy judgments aside, I really want to cry as I write this. I fucking hate this infestation of gentrifying elements. I knew they would come, just not like this, not so heavily at once. Humanity is coming out of this pandemic either far richer and or far poorer. I know Exarcheia is merely one neighbourhood in the world; we need to establish a broader campaign against gentrification by furthering understanding of the forces that drive it and identifying the specific investors and politicians behind it wherever it happens.
Let the negativity of the gritty city streets of the world rain on those who come to consume the filtered cutesy crap that developers and artsy opportunists homogenize from a reputation earned with conflict, survival, and discomfort. Litter everywhere, puke on their sidewalks as they stroll smiling. No more academics! Deal with the tear gas! From Exarcheia to the world, gentrification is war; pick a side!