The Future of Greece: A Society of Barbarism or of Social Spaces for Freedom
Below is an interview with two members of the Greek Anti-Authoritarian Movement (AK) – Malamas Sotiriou and Grigoris Tsilimandos – who are both based in Thessaloniki. In addition to being members of Alpha Kappa – Greece’s largest anti-authoritarian movement – Malamas and Grigoris participate in the free social center Micropolis. Questions were posed by Mark Bray, Preeti Kaur and Chris Spannos. The interview was produced for The New Significance, an online magazine exploring revolutionary forces for change and autonomy in the 21st Century.
What is the Anti-Authoritarian Movement, Alpha Kappa?
Grigoris: The Anti-Authoritarian Movement began in 2002 in response to news that the 2003 European Union (EU) West Balkans summit was going to take place near Thessaloniki, under the Greek presidency of the EU. It’s a political network that anti-authoritarians participate in. EU gatherings were held in the capitals of all the countries that made up the EU at that time. The High Level part of the tour – with presidents, primes ministers and heads of state – was going to be held in Thessaloniki. So, the Anti-Authoritarian Movement began in 2002 in response to this.
Do you make decisions in assemblies? Who can participate in the movement?
Grigoris: Of course there are assemblies to make decisions and the assemblies are open to everybody. In that way there are no members in the traditional meaning of the word.
The Anti-Authoritarian Movement may have begun in 2002-2003 with the EU Summit but the members and originators of Alpha Kappa already participated in general anti-authoritarian movements of Greece that started after the dictatorship fell in 1974 (Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos’ dictatorship was in power between 1967 to 1974).
Anti-authoritarian movements were something new – a line in the history of the movements in Greece – because the other movements in general were very critical of the birth of the Anti-Authoritarian Movement.
Movements were critical in the beginning but now relations have normalized. So we are now part of the movements and we have also put some new things and themes in the anarchist movement in Greece.
We also stopped talking about the movement only from the point of view of the movement and for the movement. We started talking from the point of view of society and asking questions from the point of view of society. Then, we try to answer like a movement. By doing this we break the cycle of ideologies.
Were anarchist and anti-authoritarian politics popular in Greece over the past decades? Or, put another way, when did they start becoming more popular?
Grigoris: These politics began to become more popular after the 1970’s, after Georgios Papadopoulos fell from power in 1974. Between 1974 and 1981 the New Democracy party was in power. Then in 1981, Andres Papandreou, became Prime Minister. He took up Left ideas in Greece. This created more space for anti-authoritarian and anarchist ideas.
How wide-spread is the Anti-Authoritarian Movement across Greece today and what role do the free social centers play?
Grigoris: It matters less how widespread the Anti-Authoritarian Movement is than how popular the anti-authoritarian movement agenda is in Greece.
We can say for example, for fun, the whole thing with Syriza and Alexander Tsipras – who are now the second most popular party in Greece – that half of the ideas that they were using to express the political agenda of their party were things that the Anti-Authoritarian Movement had already put forward. For example, it was first at the 2009 international anti-authoritarian festival (the BFest) in Athens that Michael Albert talked about something called “Solidarity Economy” – participatory economics – so then we started talking about it and making it reality. And then the Left started talking about it and making it reality as well – which is very popular and on the agenda of Syriza.
The same happened with the movements in the city centers. And the same happened in the ecology movements. We participate and change the subject from being centered on only one thing (such as ecology) to being a social movement.
Can you tell us about Micropolis – the free social center in Thessaloniki – as one example of how you put these ideas into practice?
Malamas: Micropolis was needed after the 2008 riots, which took place not only in Athens, but in many cities in Greece, including in Thessaloniki. The riots started following the shooting of young Alexander Grigoropoulos in December 2008. Micropolis was needed after the riots in Thessaloniki. It was a need for the people who participated in the riots and the events that were happening in Thessaoloniki. They gathered in order to have a social space. I would call it a social space for freedom.
In Micropolis we stared to turn our ideas, for example about wanting an economy of solidarity, into reality. What we wanted to do and were trying to do – and have succeeded in a way – was to have the social center become a small autonomous community. And of course communities also have the economic sphere in their lives so we are trying to do production through anti-authoritarian views.
At Micropolis there are many different organizational teams. There is the kick boxing team, the kitchen that serves cheap food every day, there is the market where we have fresh food from local producers and we have an engagement with producers around what we need, what they can produce and for how much. In the market we also try to engage in solidarity activities like purchasing coffee from the Zapatistas and sugar from the Brazilian MST (Landless Workers Movement). There is also the soap team who make soap from used oil. And the table tennis team.
The Anti-Authoritarian Movement has its political network inside Micropolis. There is “VIDA” whose name has a double meaning. In Spanish it means “Life” and in Greek it means “Screw”. VIDA makes furniture by using material from the street and sells it for a social purpose like helping to raise money for infrastructure and will help disabled people, for example, to come into Micropolis, since we have had only stairs until now. We have the wild animals team who support, help, and take care of wild animals that are found injured in the woods or wherever. And there is a free store where we put things that we don’t want or need anymore and anyone who wants or needs those things comes and gets it for free. There is also a library if you want to take a book and return it and there is a book store if you have money and you want to buy and keep it.
How are all these activities organized?
Malamas: There is a main assembly on Tuesdays and we take part in it as different teams of Micropolis. Of course there is direct democracy in decisions and we kind of have a good understanding of this form of decision-making. These decisions are made on full consensus. We don’t have voting.
Recently there has been a series of police raids on squats and social centers. What is your understanding of why these raids have been happening? How has this impacted your work and the work of movements on the ground?
Malamas: Yes, recently the state has started invasions in social centers and squats. This is just the beginning. The minister of “Public Order and Protection of the Citizen” has announced his intention to be strict against “spaces of lawlessness”. This term includes all the free social spaces, everything that’s not under the control of the state. So, this includes all of the radical movement who offers a perspective for a different way of society without the state.
There was an immediate reaction from the movement. A huge demonstration was held in Athens and in many cities in Greece including Thessaloniki. Many actions took place. This state repression activated all the social centers to make the bonds between them stronger and be more open to the society.
Could you tell us about the rise of Fascism and Golden Dawn here in Greece as well as some of the current organizing you are doing against it?
Grigoris: There are many reasons why – which we won’t analyze now – a small neo-nazi, and kind of criminal, party took from 0.5% to 7% of the electoral vote in a very small period of time. It’s not just a fascist party. It’s a neo-nazi party. They have Nazism in their ideology. They are also connected to the mafia and, generally, their members are criminals who also participate in the mafia.
This shows a deep social crisis in Greece. Not only a financial crisis – this is a sign of a deep social one.
This situation began 10 years ago when there were big protests and demonstrations about Macedonia. So nationalism rose then and that was the point when it began to be popular. This was the point when nationalism in Greece increased hugely. In the previous years in Greece, nationalism was in a kind of hiding. Not so much underground. But the protests about Macedonia was the point it began to rise. Nationalism and far right speeches became more popular after that and people were more receptive then.
And when the political system was destroyed after the crisis all these nationalistic and far-right ideas, they found a haven. And PASOK – the so-called “socialist” party – is more responsible for this than the right wing New Democracy party. PASOK gave advantages to the far-right party LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally). LAOS and Georgios Karatzaferis (their leader) was the connection between the right and Golden Dawn and when LAOS collapsed the way was open for the neo-nazi Golden Dawn to enter into the political scene of Greece. Because things are not stable, at all, the way is open for the neo-nazis to have lots of influence and be a big problem for Greece. It’s not just a small group of criminals any more. It’s a big problem.
Leftists in Greece are saying that Greece is the experiment for all of Europe to see if they can try to make the same thing happen in others countries like Spain, Italy, Ireland and Portugal. And what they are doing in Greece they will try to do in the whole of Europe. This is half the truth. The other half of the truth is that European Union leaders are trying to destroy our rights and destroy everything in our social and financial life to show the rest of Europe that they will suffer like Greeks if they don’t play by the European Union’s rules and demands. This is why there is no attempt – even by capitalism’s own standards and interests – to avoid what is happening in Greece and to try to develop again.
The other view is that Greece is ready for social revolution. This is more worrying for the leaders of the European Union. And more worrying for them than the threat of Fascism.
What is your assessment of the relationship between the Greek government and police with Golden Dawn?
Malamas: What worries me is when the Greek state is teaching fascism to fascists. I mean that the Greek state has given the right to the fascists in order to attack immigrants and attack homosexuals. And although they haven’t done it yet, they will some time, give them the right to attack the social centers, Leftists or anarchists. One problem is that the detention centers for immigrants were made by the government not the fascists. The fascists and Nazis also created detention centers however they did it for the Jews. Another problem is that the connections between the police and Golden Dawn are very tight – 50 to 60 percent of the police officers have voted for Golden Dawn. There is also the problem that the state shows us that Golden Dawn members will go unpunished no matter what they do. We see that for example when the anti-fascists had a clash with the fascists and the 15 anti-fascists were tortured by the police like they were protecting their little brother – fascism. That example was obvious but it only became well known because of foreign newspapers (the Guardian for example) reported on these events outside of Greece. Until then no one inside Greece made it public. And this is also another problem with the media because we are now, like some decades ago, experiencing a situation similar to the past dictatorship, when the media from Greece didn’t say anything about the tortures and it took foreign reporters outside of Greece to say what was happening inside our country.
Grigoris: On the subject of 50 to 60 percent of police officers supporting Golden Dawn, some people ask “how do you know that?” Well, there are specific poll stations where only the police officers go to vote. So at the end of the elections, if you know which of the poll stations have the police officers vote, you can understand the percentages. Their vote is not for Golden Dawn. They are not pro Golden Dawn – they are Golden Dawn. You can understand that from the streets, when there are demonstrations, from their brutality against protestors.
In the Anti-Authoritarian Movement we have claimed that on the question of “revolution or barbarism” the state will support barbarism. This is obvious with every decision it has made already. And with all the things that it has done like within the detention centers, and with repression in the streets and so on.
The Left, Syriza for example, is trying more to be in government than trying to solve and understand things that are already happening in social life in Greece. They are trying to be the ruling government but they don’t realize that that if they become the leading party with Golden Dawn possibly holding 13 to 15 percent of parliamentary seats (which the polls estimate), it wouldn’t be easy to control the situation.
And because the leader of Golden Dawn was accused years ago for bombing a cinema full of people in it, the possibility of their making another provocation like this in the future is something we should expect. For example, in 2008 Golden Dawn threw grenades in an immigrant center in Athens. These provocations could repeat like in Italy in the 1970’s where bombings by the right-wing were blamed on someone else like the workers or communists or anarchists.
Malamas: I must add something here. A bomb was blown up in a house and they found the guy who did it. This guy was a member of Golden Dawn. They found in his place about 60 bombs. The problem is that nobody knows – it wasn’t public – we never found out what all these bombs were for. What was their target? This is another example of the relationship between Golden Dawn and the police. The treatment is not the same – the state talks about the two extremes of fascism and anarchism – but of course the two are not the same if one is involved with the police and the other is getting brutal treatment from the police. So this guy who was found with 60 bombs, it was never made public what his bombs were about – if it was a terrorist group or something – and they keep the details of this event in the dark. On the other hand the 15 anti-fascists who participated in the motorcycle patrols were tortured. Of course we don’t know, again, the names of the police who did that.
Grigoris: We have to think about how much money Golden Dawn has now that they are in parliament. They have 7.5 million Euros as a party now. As a party they also have a military commitment and structure. So you can understand what that means. And with connections to the police, army and mafia, Golden Dawn can express itself in many ways. And with this money and these connections you don’t know how it could be expressed in the streets. This is not to make us frightened. But thinking that we are going the way of revolution without any fear, and we are trying to be more powerful in our battle.