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The insurgent Villa in our neighbourhood

13 January 2013 / 17:01:14  GRReporter
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The story of the abandoned historic buildings in the city that shelter the Greek version of the European culture of the occupation is long. It dates back to the first occupation of Valthetsiou Street in Exarcheia in 1981, goes through that of Lelas Kariani Street, which began in 1988, and up to the occupation-symbol of Villa Amalia. This story seems to be written, at least at first glance, without the knowledge of the city and its inhabitants - residents who are sometimes tolerant and sometimes demand that society intervene.

Destroyed buildings, often lost in intricate disputes of ownership, mainly in the '90s, became attractive to people of the so-called anarchist space. They began maintaining these houses and turned them into social clubs and "places of resistance." Now, even those who do not know about their existence, are becoming aware of them and their accompanying mythology.

Many of the "tenants" have been arrested upon criminal charges during recent police actions in Villa Amalia on Victoria Square and in the house where young Maria Callas lived in the pedestrian zone of Skaramanga. The police have been watching the houses for years, as sometimes they decided to empty some of the buildings, but then life went on at its usual pace and the mode of mutual forbearance reigned again. This time, the government decided to disentangle the Gordian knot, but many people are worried lest unpredictable consequences appear in this way. Attacks with firebombs against homes of journalists have given a new meaning to political opposition. New Democracy accused SYRIZA of nourishing occupations and SYRIZA accused New Democracy of changing the political agenda. Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias, in turn, seems determined to "put an end to the regime of lawlessness", while the real "battle of occupations" apparently is just starting.

Today's economic situation only stimulates occupations and other social groups: the homeless, immigrants and drug addicts, triggering in this way anxiety and reactions in the neighbourhood. Basically, however, it seems that people in the areas where these occupied houses are located, show, if not sympathy, at least patience for the occupiers.

Kiriakakis Konstantinos and his sister Anna were born in the area where Villa Amalia is located. They run a family business with paintings opposite the building in question. "When the building was occupied 23 years ago, it was actually abandoned and crumbling away. I remember the sign "Expropriation" in the '80s which was erected by the municipality. The first occupiers who settled here cleaned it for many days, they took rubbish out of the house," said Konstantinos. "They gave the house identity, musical and cultural events were organised for many years in it. Of course, sometimes at Christmas, they came out and sang carols dressed according to their own ideology," he added.

For most people, whether well-disposed towards the occupiers or not, the question about the villa is not so topical, compared to other problems. They used the presence of the media to broadcast issues like the decline of the neighbourhood and the departure of the former inhabitants.

As for Villa Amalia, citizen's complaints include violations of the hours for rest when parties are organised. Another problem is the behaviour of the police - under the pretext that the house is inhabited by anarchists, the police do not actually keep public order. As reported by the police, "ready to use" bottles, that is, for the production of Molotov bombs, small amounts of gasoline and makeshift shields were discovered in Villa Amalia, among other things. Many bottles were also discovered in Skaramanga, together with stones and pieces of marble placed in crates, as well as tools, ten knives and a combat sling like the items used by the groups with hoods during meetings in the centre.

"I would like this building to be turned into a school or cultural centre, but I do not believe that this will happen," said George, owner of a shoe repair shop in the area. "I'm afraid that if media attention focuses elsewhere the building will probably give shelter to drug addicts again."

"We no longer talk about occupation. It seems to be more of a dispute over ownership," said for To Vima Newspaper Nicholas K., who owns a shop in Kipseli near the house on 37 Lelas Kariani Street, owned by the University of Athens and the Ministry of Education. There, occupation has been continuing for 25 years, with the fence, planks nailed over the windows and garden full of weeds, which are evidence of abandonment. In a neighbourhood which is falling further and further into decay, competent people should have preserved this building years ago. "Today, when drugs are distributed on every corner of Kipseli, this is a minor problem," added Nicholas.

Most residents of the neighbourhood are foreigners and it seems that this problem does not concern them. Over the last three years, Amin from Pakistan, who has a telephone service office in the area, has heard no complaints from customers against those who live in the house on Lelas Kariani Street. "Things are very quiet, the only problem is when 40-50 people with guitars gather and sing, but they do not bother us," said Amin smiling. Other immigrants who have shops around Victoria Square near another occupied building - "The Club of Spies" on the corner of Feron Street and Phyllis Street which functions as a self-service library - are also calm. They are afraid that they may become targets of racist attacks and the occupiers give them a sense of security, unlike the police.

Tags: Villa Amalia occupation anarchists cultural centers Tacheles
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