By Joshua Tartakovsky
On Friday night, February 6, in the neighborhood of Exharcheia in Athens, it was clear how fragile and explosive events are, even when a Left-dominated government is in power.
Exharcheia is an anarchist/bohemian neighborhood, teeming with restaurants and cafes, graffiti and hanging light bulbs, smoking teenagers and political activity.
The police remains constantly on guard outside the neighborhood, after severe clashes in the past. Any entry is seen as a provocation, as this is a off-limits area. Anarchist land.
It’s unique environment resembles an island in the midst of chaos, a place of tranquility and laissez-faire. It is a safe place for adults and families, people do not get mugged.
While sitting in a cafe with a few friends, I noticed outside a group of helmeted policemen with shields and batons, speedily and in perfect order, making their way into the Exharchia Square. The Square is a place where people of all kinds hang-out, and where taking pictures is strongly discouraged.
The police snatched a few people and hurried away. Some people yelled out “Fascists”. Anger was sizzling. Youth ran after the police and began throwing bottles.
The police immediately responded by firing tear gas. Clashes ensued.
Youth before throwing a bottle at the police; the latter can be identified by the shields in the picture.
After taking pictures and with clashes intensifying, I went back into the cafe although a friend wisely advised against it. Within minuets the cafe was filled with tear gas. From the window we could see police clashing with youth. Yet we could not leave the cafe.
After making our way out, we saw anti-terrorist police squads waiting ready for confrontation at all exists of the Square, waiting for confrontation.
The youth on its part, began to burn trash bins and prepared empty beer bottles. An semi-intifada, not inherently different than that which takes place in the Occupied West Bank.
After making our way around the cops, we encountered three cars in dire shape following an accident. A police car was heavily burnt and was being toed-away.
It turned out that a car accident took place a block away from the Square. The police arrived but then youth attacked the police. The youth was attacked by others. Within a short while, a police car was burnt to the core.
The police then entered the Square and snatched a few people whose connection to the event remains unknown.
Within a short while, a battle ensued.
Luckily, the police squads remained on guard and camera-men arrived, documenting what they saw, but clashes did not continue later.
Had this been a New Democracy Government, it is likely that the anti-terrorist units, 50% of whom vote for neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, and operating in “gang-like” mentality, would have engaged in an all-out war with the youth of Exharchia, following the humiliation evoked by the burning of a police car.
In this occasion, despite the clashes that resulted, the police did not intensify its crack-down further, probably due to political orders given from above. The area was sealed, however, in all directions.
Yet it remains clear that Athens is always in an explosive situation, even while the Left is in power. The anti-terrorist police squads are known for their brutal tactics and for viewing locals as an enemy. They have no qualms cracking down on youth. Keeping them in a tight leash while ensuring that they do not pass the boundaries, is another major challenge Syriza will have to deal with.