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July 8, 2015
July 8, 2015

Greece: Why did ‘YES’ prevail in Exarcheia? A reflection beyond urban myths.

Author: Viola Vertigo
Source: Atene Calling  Category: Letters from home
This article is also available in: elit
Greece: Why did ‘YES’ prevail in Exarcheia? A reflection beyond urban myths.
“In a world that has REALLY been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood”

Someone much wiser then me once said “In a world that has REALLY been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood”. This enigmatic, though concretely enlightening, quote well describes how, nowadays, international press is speaking about the Greek capital city before and after the referendum.

It would be extremely interesting analysing how the narrative about YES / NO opposition on the mainstream media has pragmatically constructed the perception for Greek people to face a class choice, during the week preceding the poll: in favour or against the status quo that prevails in Greece since the beginning of the democratic era, namely that made of ship owners, aristocrats, rich descendants of vary nature and new-riches from the showbiz. I’ll set aside for now this controversy, but I do present here the Athens area map, where percentages of vote per municipality are shown.

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We don’t care much about the geographic extension of “no” victory. Much more, I suggest paying attention to ‘YES’ strongholds: the northern suburbs (voria proastia) and the rich neighbourhood on the coast. These areas correspond to two different peopling criteria: some of these areas used to be small settlements where rich Athenian families had their “second house” out of the city. We are talking about a period that goes from the end of WWI until the 50s. In this period, Greeks were expelled from Istanbul and a huge number of refugees merged in Athens with those of the first wave who arrived during the exchange of population after 1923. Under these circumstances, the human geography of the city begun to change drastically. Other areas, differently, are new or massively regenerated during the “modernisation” era in the 90s. Walking around these areas, for those who are familiar with the central Athens environment, is highly bewildering. All the buildings are new, there are many small squares and small parks, all of them built after a technical planned structure, in order to give disciplined green spaces to the residential blocks all around: all of them well organised geometrically with private small gardens, large balconies and modern fittings. The commercial spaces, although located all around squares and meeting points, are mainly structured in malls and are linked by high traffic junctions or small pedestrian paved streets.

The overall impression is that of entering a Barbie world. These both are the residential areas where old Athenian families, palioi athinaioi, have moved, once they left the chaotic labyrinth of the city centre, packed with traffic and new inhabitants, many of them foreigners. Since the 90s and until the Olympics Games in 2004, these neighbourhoods have been populated by well-off Athenians and Greeks from elsewhere: rich descendants, new-rich, start-uppers “ante litteram”, or even middle-class families just tired of the urban chaos and pollution of the centre.

What is worth highlighting is, indeed, that as very few Athenians are in fact from Athens, but come from the countless villages widespread around the country, in the same way the northern suburbs and coastal residential area inhabitants are not really “from there”. Moreover, and keep in mind this detail, mainly because of the red tapes change of residence involves, domicile address and residence address rarely coincide, and, clearly, it is the latter that corresponds to the electoral district where people belong. What does it mean in practice? It means that, leaving aside the electoral districts of the residential areas mentioned above, the electoral district of the city centre, namely “Athens A”, is where many old Athenians still go and vote. The current inhabitants, instead, or a large part of them at least, have their electoral district somewhere else. For them it means to move to their hailing neighbourhood in the best case scenario, or even leave Athens and go to the city or village where they were born and grown up.

Is this a dimension that might seem uncomfortable for us, but it is really the norm for Greek people. It explains also why many people were not in the condition to vote in this referendum, as long as they could not afford the journey economically.

This long preface is needed to enter a thorny issue, leading us back to the Debordian quote of the beginning. “In a world that has REALLY been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood”. On the 7th of July an article about Exarcheia neighbourhood signed by the reporter Ettore Livini from the Italian newspaper “La Repubblica”, one of the most important in the country, has been published. In very few lines, and with blatant approach, he gave an account of the curious victory of ‘YES’ in the area. The article, moreover, is supplied by a titillating photo depicting flaming barricades and hooded people. What an incredible place, some might say, where while being careful not to get your hair on fire by a flying molotov cocktail of a “wild hooded youth from the square” when shopping, you also get the chance to meet the Greece of Euro’s vanguards, well hidden in “small villas with plants and gardens” or in “almost chic” houses “so beautiful and so cheap”.

Dazzled analysts and sociologists are also mentioned, rending their garments to understand how this result (57,1% for ‘YES’) could possibly be achieved. Then, both we and they are informed by artful estate agents about the creeping gentrification going on in the neighbourhood.

What we actually infer from that article is that ‘YES’ won in Exarcheia for two reasons: 1. there is a secret hipster front that is conquering the neighbourhood. 2. the “anarchists”, the only colourful tone in this otherwise uninteresting and ignored piece of urban space, don’t vote.

Let’s try to discern, with a little of horse sense, the truth and the falsehood for good.

To begin with, we already said who are the electors in Athens A district, to which Exarcheia belongs. It’s not needed to speak further about it.

Secondly, it is largely attested that many components of the Greek antiauthoritarian galaxy (not all of them of course!) openly supported the vote for “no” in this referendum, even though they are sceptical about its potentiality as a weapon for radical change, and this emerges clearly from their statements. The reason why people from the core of the antiauthoritarian space decided to vote for “no” is simple: it has to do mostly with the opposition to the status quo represented by the ‘YES’ array. Not understanding it is short-sighted; mystifying it and underestimating the so called “anarchists” as a bunch of caricatures is a serious lack in the communication of reality.

A further, important, point to consider is the gentrification processes in the city centre, something that the article just runs over. Since many years a huge project of regeneration for the centre of Athens is at stake, regardless of crisis and austerity measures. Of course, Exarcheia is involved and the reasons are crystal clear: the normalization of a stubborn, unsteady area of the city, which fortuitously has the advantage to be located in the very centre, between the archaeological museum and the posh neighbourhood of Kolonaki. With one blow, it would be possible to make attractive for investors an area where “house are cheap and beautiful –although many restorations are needed– and the life in the neighbourhood is almost chic”, and to get rid of an annoying component for the established power. And no, I am not talking about some Saturday night clashes, neither about the so much criticised anti-systemic graffiti bundled (agreeable, I would say) one over the other on the walls of the area.

Speaking about Exarcheia in these terms, aligning ourselves to this spatial stereotype is nothing but a replication of the kind of discourse that would like this place to be normalised (and a champion of the ‘YES’ to Europe). Exarcheia, so recounted, crystallised, simplified, simply does not exist. It is a rhetorical scribble from Mr. Livini’s pen, it has nothing to do with a specific historical reality grounded on resistance against nazi-fascism and even before, on the first forerunner student movements of the end of XIX century, that went across all the urban history of Greece as such. Exarcheia is nothing but a spatial legacy where it is not needed to have steady residence, it becomes home in the everyday use and practice of the space, in the commonality of diversity and in the sharing of a different perspective on life apart the hegemonic one. This is Exarcheia, so often reduced to a freak-show with some burned bins. It is the same Exarcheia where common life takes place, not spectacular at all; life made of school, coffee in the morning, jobs… made of illness, love, deaths.

The understanding of the rhetoric apparatus of this exception and the deconstruction of the stereotypes surrounding this place is a precise duty concerning all those who love it and want to preserve it from indiscreet gazes, hands and pens.

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Note: the quoted phrases are taken from the Livini’s article

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