October 6, 2022

Hardwood Paroxysm

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Athenian Exarchia, opposite the subway

The mobilization of the residents of the Exarchia district of Athens against the construction of a metro station in the district’s central square, Piazza Exarchia, has been underway for the past week, with Clashes with the police and two arrests and ten arrests. Protesters believe the metro, which is part of Line 4, can improve the neighborhood, known to have been home to leftist and anarchist movements for more than fifty years.

Work began on August 10, at 4.30 am. Despite the protests, they only continued in the following days due to the constant presence, 24 hours a day, of a police station wearing riot gear. The police actually had a constant presence in the neighborhood for several years, but the need to defend the construction site, which is also protected by a two-meter high metal fence, prompted local authorities to increase the number of working clients.

The reasons for the fierce front against the project are two main reasons.

First of all, the works will change the appearance of the plaza, with the introduction of escalators and elevators and giving up some green space (temporary, according to those who advocate for the project: trees will be replanted afterwards).

The second criticism is of a broader nature: according to many historical residents, the arrival of the subway in Exarchia will be a decisive step in the process of modernizing the neighborhood. It is feared that the prices of houses that are becoming more and more attractive to residents and tourists will gradually rise, which will gradually lead to the expulsion of the current residents and a kind of assimilation to the neighborhood, which is still a different reality today from many other areas. Athens.

Mural in Exarchia (AP Photo/Dimitri Messinis)

Exarchia is close to universities and polytechnic, but also to the central and touristic areas of Monastiraki and Omonia Square. Compared to the neighboring areas, it consists of a homogeneous and mostly different community, of dozens of blocks often divided by pedestrian streets and devoid of extensive distribution stores. Its streets are filled with bars, bookstores, and record stores.

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The buildings are full of graffiti and murals, many of which have been occupied many times over the years and several clearings have taken place since 2019. Exarchia is home to many leftist, anti-fascist and anarchist movements, which have given the neighborhood a strong identity and attracted new residents, including from outside . The area is very popular with students, artists and intellectuals. According to conservative politicians and the press, even among the homeless and petty criminals, especially those associated with drug trafficking.

The nearby Polytechnic was in 1973 the site of one of the most important protests against the colonel’s military junta, in power in Greece between 1967 and 1974, which ended with a police raid on student-occupied buildings that killed 24 people.

In remembrance of those tragic events, a law was later approved in Greece prohibiting police entry into university structures. This “protection”, Abolished in 2019 by the new right-wing new democracy government, contributed to the growth of the neighborhood as a counter political and cultural center. Exarchia was also the protagonist in subsequent protests: in 2008 A police officer killed a 15-year-old boy, Alexis Grigoropoulos; The case became of national importance and resulted in violent riots across the country that lasted about a month.

The place where Alexis Grigoropoulos, 15, remembers being killed by a police officer (EPA / SIMELA PANTZARTZI)

Starting in 2015, when the arrival of migrants to Greece intensified, the neighborhood became a hub of hospitality: activists occupied about a dozen buildings in the area, turning them into somewhat temporary homes for many migrants, mostly Syrians.

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Since 2019, many occupied buildings have been vacated, but the opposition to the central government, the mayor Mpakogiannī, exponent The new democracy, and in general the police continued to watch Also by murals everywhere. Art and cultural activities, as well as a lively nightlife, have also made Exarchia attractive for alternative tourism as well.

One of the frescoes on the neighborhood buildings (EPA / SIMELA PANTZARTZI)

Fear of gentrification, also caused by the proliferation of homes rented to tourists via Airbnb or similar platforms, is one of the focal points of opposition to subway construction, which sees daily protests and attempts to block construction work.

The project was approved in 2018 by a left-wing government: according to those who support it, it is a necessary step to develop the area and better connect it with the rest of the city (it is located near the National Archaeological Museum, which is a destination for many tourists). He described some members of the opposition Socialist Party as a “minority”, while the left-wing Syriza party has not yet taken a position, Attracting criticism from the government.

on me Kathimerinia conservative Greek newspaper, has been likened to the Battle of Exarchia That Native Americans Against Railroads in 1860: “Their culture could not survive the progress that the railways would make. This is exactly what the residents of Exarchia fear.

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