Athens, for so long the symbol of Democracy in the western world, is succumbing to totalitarianism and as Dimitra Drakaki investigates, the citizens of a once proud city are being manipulated into conflict under the guise of ‘necessary police intervention’.
“The area is no longer inaccessible for the Law Enforcement Authorities” states the Greek Minister for public order Nikos Dendias in 21 of August 2013 after an early morning sweep on and around the grounds of the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) where there were functioning self-organizing squats. The police, who later released video footage that they took inside the occupied rooms, claimed they had turned over to university administrators a number of spaces that had been off limits because of the occupation for the last 30 years. Although, speaking to the newspaper “Ethnos”, the president of NTUA Simos Simopoulos, said that he was not informed about the police operation and today the buildings are still being used by the squatters without the university accusing them of causing any problem.
The squatter’s invasion that began during the period of summer vacations in the early morning hours didn’t face any resistance by the students since the campus was almost empty. NTUA has always been a central symbol of resistance and a place of political awareness. In 1973 students barricaded themselves inside the campus of the University rebelling against the Greek military junta that had been enforced since 1967. The occupation ended in the early morning of November 17 in bloodshed with 24 deaths, when a tank and the army invaded the campus using extreme violence to repress the students’ uprising. From thenceforth the “Athens Polytechnic uprising” was celebrated as a symbol of resistance to governmental oppression or any kind of violation of human rights.
Greece has been in a permanent state of emergency since 2009. Greeks are suffering under austerity measures with no end that are continuously demanded by international creditors, while the unemployment rate continues to climb, reaching 27.4 percent in October 2013. As society’s crisis deepens in the country, police brutality is on the rise. From the very beginning Greek citizens have actively opposed the severe social cuts and wages slashes with general strikes, demonstrations and occupation of public spaces. Under these circumstances and although the Greek coalition government have noticed the sheer number of citizens manifestly opposed to the austerity, a phenomenon of reconfiguration of the state’s policy of oppression has been enacted.
Criminalization of HIV/AIDS
A remarkable example of this technique was the massive operation against HIV-positive women. The authorities claimed that the arrested women were working illegally as prostitutes and accused them of intentionally causing serious bodily harm to their clients. Photographs with the names and all the personal information of the arrested women were published by the official site of the Greek police using as an excuse, the safety of the men that had sexual relations with the prostitutes without using protection. The mainstream media operated a broad coverage of the topic, displaying private data about the imprisoned women and analysis the topic of illegal immigration and prostitution in Greece. Health Minister Andreas Loverdos said he would call on the next government to criminalize unprotected sex at brothels and that AIDS had “spread beyond the ghettos and entered Greek society”.
The reality was far different than the one they displayed. Within a few days the police operated a sudden massive sweep on the streets of central Athens, gathering women who appeared in poor conditions, and imposing on them without their consent, health checks to verify if they were HIV Positive. Only one of the 32 women who were found to be HIV-positive was working as a prostitute. The rest were drug addicts and the majority of them were Greek citizens.
The operation took place only a few days before the parliamentary elections in Greece. The government chose a very specific problem, targeting a vulnerable group of the population by criminalizing the illness of HIV/AIDS. The authorities drew attention to the problem in order to increase the public fear. Then it appeared to ‘solve’ the problem by operating health controls on a large number of women and imprisoning some of them. The stressing of an existing problem was used by the government as a political tool in order for it to intervene with a solution and create the illusion that the authorities exercise their duties and protect the population.
Evacuation of historical squats
The episode in the Polytechnic School was one of the many operations that were held during 2013 in the squats of Athens and other major Greek cities. Historical squats such as the “Villa Amalias” and the Scaramangas squat were self-organizing buildings that were accepted from the larger group of the local community and some of them were operating for more than 20 years. They were places of political dialogue and cultural centers and evacuated in a few days. Police used a disproportional amount of sudden violence for the completion of these operations and disseminated to public opinion the event, even through the official police website.
The pretext that was used from the authorities for these sudden actions was that they wanted to use the buildings for construction of schools and cultural centers. As housing is extremely unwanted during crisis and since the buildings still remain empty and unused, the allegations seem unsupported. The use of excessive police violence carries a clear message of Greek disobedience, a necessary operation of disciplining the society. The message is more important than the procedure itself. Greek citizens are trained to accept extreme police behavior since there is always an reason to excuse it. Vulnerable groups of people are used to create fear in the minds of the citizens. Then the authorities act to restore balance in society. While police action is more brutal than ever before, Athens seems like a city under military control. The rhetoric of disobedience has been enacted, the symbols keep falling apart.