Drugs, dynasties, and Nottingham Forest: Marinakis and Greece’s Mafia State

Crime. Drugs. Terrorism. These are some of the foes Greece’s recently-elected New Democracy (ND) government claims to be fighting in its war on the insubordinate Athens neighbourhood of Exarchia. The Greek media, concentrated in the hands of oligarchs[1], churn out a constant stream of scare stories about the Athens neighbourhood, home to anarchists, migrants, and other social misfits. Many of these focus on the drugs, primarily cannabis, sold and used there.[2][3][4]

It’s never hard to point out the cracks in state propaganda, but in this case they’re gaping wide. While the police sweep on petty skunk dealers in Exarchia, a blind eye is turned to the man alleged to be Greece’s biggest ever heroin trafficker: Vangelis Marinakis, close personal friend of the ruling Mitsotakis dynasty[5], owner of Greece’s biggest football club Olimpiakos — and now of a slightly less high-flying team over in Nottingham.

The case of Vangelis Marinakis

Vangelis Marinakis is a businessman and politician hailing from the port city of Pireaus [6], on the outskirts of Athens. Like many a Greek multi-millionaire, he made his fortune in the shipping industry, having greatly expanded the company inherited from his father.[7] However, his domain now extends into the realms of sport, media and politics; three key areas an ambitious individual might need stakes in if they were inclined to influence public opinion. Crucially, he is owner of Olympiakos FC[8], Greece’s most popular and successful football club, also based in Pireaus. The club’s fan base is regarded as militantly loyal.

MARINAKIS’ PRIMARY BUSINESS VENTURES

→ Founder and head of The Capital Maritime Group, a group of shipping companies with a total fleet of 80 vessels [9], including 7 LNG tankers.[10]

→  Owner of Olympiakos football club since 2010.[11]

→  Majority owner of the UK’s Nottingham Forest football club since 2017. [12][13]

→  Owner of one of Greece’s largest and most influential media corporations, DOL Group. Through this he now owns several major newspapers (including the popular To Vima and Ta Nea), a leading news portal, in.gr, and some TV stations. [14] He also owns the biggest Greek press & book distribution agency, Argos.[15]

Nottingham Forest F.C.

 

Marinakis and the ruling New Democracy dynasty

Marinakis & Mitsotakis sharing a hug

As with shipping and his involvement in Olympiakos, Marinakis also followed his father’s footsteps into politics, the latter having been an New Democracy (ND) member of parliament in the 80s.[16] In 2014, Marinakis was elected first member of Pireaus city council.[17] The huge Olympiakos fan base in Pireaus guaranteed his victory as an independent candidate and he has used his position to engage publicly in a number of charitable ventures.

However, Marinakis’ connection to politics goes beyond his role in Pireaus. He enjoys close familial and friendship ties with the governing elite, a relationship which goes back years before the incumbent Prime Minister’s accession to power.[18]

Here we need to take a breath before diving into the tangled world of Greek dynastic politics.The press describes Marinakis as a personal friend of the current ND prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.[19] Kyriakos is the son of Konstantinos Mitsotakis, who was prime minister back in 1990-93. Kyriakos’ sister (so Konstantinos’ daughter) is Dora Bakoyannis, also a politician: she has been Mayor of Athens, and Foreign Minister.

One clear sign of Marinakis’ closeness to the first family is that he featured as best man at Dora Bakoyannis’ wedding.[20] Another is that Dora is the godmother of Marinakis’ son.[21]

To name just one more twist on the family saga, Dora Bakoyannis’ own son just happens to be the current ND Mayor of Athens.[22] His father, her first husband, who was also an MP, was assassinated by Marxist revolutionary group November 17.[23] Bad blood between this family and leftists, revolutionaries and anarchists inevitably runs deep.

Corruption Allegations

Marinakis has been mired in numerous criminal accusations and corruption allegations over the years, yet the man is popularly regarded as untouchable. He has been accused of creating a criminal organisation, being part of a multi-national match-fixing network, extortion, bribery, violating the law on explosives, and involvement in drugs trafficking [24]. Court cases rumble on, but so far none of the charges has stuck.

The drugs trafficking relates to the seizure of 2.1 tonnes of heroin [25] – the largest consignment then found in Europe – on the outskirts in Athens in 2014, which is believed to have been imported by a cargo ship named the Noor One.[26] The case has since involved dozens of suspects, the murders of witnesses[27], and threats to prosecutors.[28] But there has still been no trial.

In 2018, four years after the seizure, preliminary charges were brought against Marinakis in relation to financing the Noor One. [29] Under Greek law, a judge must recommend to a public prosecutor as to whether or not a case should be pursued.

As for the preliminary investigation into the match-fixing and criminal organisation allegations, the evidence strongly suggests that Marinakis, a major football club owner, was involved in the selection and intimidation of referees. 100 pages of transcripts of recorded phone conversations describe how:

“…the president and close collaborators of Olympiakos… approached and sought to manipulate in order to serve their interests, police officers, judges, politicians and other powerful individuals of the country, some of whom they hired in important positions in the football club following their departure from key positions they held in the public sector.”[30]

Documents from the preliminary investigation include statements by people who say that they were subjected to ‘campaigns of intimidation’ by people associated with Olympiacos club[31]. One FIFA referee testified that he was pressured into allowing Olympiakos to win the game, but resisted this intimidation.

It is reported that after Olympiakos’ defeat, a bakery owned by the same referee was first vandalized, and later firebombed by unknown attackers [32].

OVERVIEW OF MARINAKIS’ KNOWN LEGAL DISPUTES

→ 2015: Marinakis accused of match fixing and was ultimately acquitted[33]

→ 2018: Preliminary charges in connection with heroin trafficking[34]

→ 2019: It is announced he will stand trial on allegations of match-fixing and forming a criminal enterprise. [35]

Why does Marinakis matter?

Marinakis, along with other dynastic oligarchs, wields great power in Greece through his interlinked roles in business, sport, politics and media.

But a quick glimpse at this character gives the lie to the government’s rhetoric of “law and order”. Yes, every now and then they send in cops to round up petty skunk dealers in Exarchia square — or, just as likely, to evict a migrant squat housing small children. But the big men at the top are another matter.

Hard drugs are indeed a visible problem in many parts of Athens, for which there are numerous reasons. We can start with the financial crisis and widespread poverty in the country, the prohibitive asylum regime that leaves many migrants destitute and hopeless, and Athens’ strategic location as a gateway to Europe. And we can certainly add the powerful mafia networks involved in trafficking millions of Euros worth of deadly drugs.

Meanwhile, with the support of the mainstream media, the government has launched a new attack on the historic alternative neighbourhood of Exarchia. It set a deadline, which expired on 5th December, for all squats – some decades-old – to evacuate or anticipate eviction. Over the past few months, it has already evicted a dozen squats and subjected the area to a permanent quasi-military occupation.

Among the spaces that were evicted were numerous grassroots initiatives housing hundreds of refugees, who were then bussed off to squalid camps, or simply dropped in the middle of nowhere. The permanent presence of armed police in full riot gear and balaclavas stationed around the perimeter of the neighbourhood is designed to instill fear. Indeed there are numerous reports of police brutality and torture experienced by residents and visitors to the neighbourhood over the past few months. [36][37][38][39][40]

New Democracy’s attempts to crush the spirit of Exarchia is being met with resistance, from regular demonstrations and rallies to riots and direct action.

But it’s not enough just to win some battles on the streets. Beneath the street fights lie the propaganda war. The ND regime is fighting to impose its vision of “normality”: a white, christian, conformist, low wage consumer society. While to distract from the misery of the daily grind in post-crisis Greece, they need to turn people’s rage onto migrants, anarchists, and any other outsiders who can’t or won’t fit the mold.

In this propaganda war the media oligarchs have a clear advantage. But we need to keep exposing the reality of the Mafia State. And countering their bleak vision of “normality” with living alternatives.

What can you do from abroad?

→ Amplify the voices of resistance, share information about what’s going on in Exarchia and more widely in Greece.

→ If you’re a fan of Nottingham Forest, stand up against Marinakis. Here are a few ideas (41) (42)

Pitch invasion in solidarity with imprisoned hunger strikers during game in London in 2007

→ Take solidarity action against the Greek mafia state and its oligarch friends. Check out upcoming university events or conferences that might involve visiting Greek politicians or businessmen and organise an intervention.

Nea Demokratia in the UK: a profile

In July 2019 a new right-wing government came to power in Greece, pledging to get the country back to “normality”. By this it means a 1950s-style vision of a uniform, white, christian society where everyone is happy working for low wages, shopping on credit, and blaming their troubles on scummy foreigners.

So, in external affairs, the government rattles the national sabre ineffectively against Turkey or North Macedonia. Internally, it declares war on anyone who doesn’t fit the “normality” script: above all migrants, students challenging the neoliberal university, and the country’s troublesome anarchist movement.

On the ground in Athens, this translates to numerous squat evictions, as well as occupying and gentrifying the “lawless zone” of Exarchia: the haunt of anarchists, migrants and students alike. Plus, in general, boosting police numbers and powers, toughening sentencing laws, and rounding up migrants evicted from the squats to be sent to camps across the country.

The previous left-wing Syriza government also sought to control Exarchia and its anarchist and anti-social elements. But it played a more sophisticated hand, often avoiding inflaming tensions which could alienate some of its supporters. New Democracy takes the opposite tack, playing up its attacks to get applause from its right-wing audience.

New Democracy in the UK

The characters behind New Democracy seem a fair representation of the Greek business elites, with their family dynasties and cronyism. Another feature of the Greek business class is its strong international connections. In particular, many business and political leaders have been educated in the UK, while London is one of the main financial centres where the Greek shipping barons and friends launder and spend their money.

So it’s not surprising that New Democracy has an important presence in the UK. The party’s UK branch is run by an executive committee made up of Greek businessmen settled in London.

New Democracy UK holds events in the ‘Its all Greek to me’ restaurant on Praed Street, Paddington. It runs a website, as well as Twitter and Facebook accounts.
As a start towards investigating the New Democracy UK connection, here is a closer look at its executive committee, with screenshots from the party’s own website and elsewhere.

 

New Democracy UK Executive Committee

1. Vassilis Zafiris

President of the Executive Committee and Manager of Zafiris Consulting, a business consultancy firm based in Hampstead.

2. Christos Kassapis

Kassapis is the Committee’s PR secretary. He owns Camden Laptop Repair, whose address is 16B Pratt Street, Camden Town, London NW1 OAB. Kassapis is also active in party politics in the UK and was a Conservative Party candidate in the 2014 council elections for Camden Town and Primrose Hill. The party lost to Labour in the election.

3. George Palikaras

Previously the President of the Committee, now its ‘International Relations Secretary’. Palikaras is CEO of the multinational, Metamaterial Technologies Inc., described as a ‘smart materials and photonics company’. Metamaterials are materials manipulated to interact differently with electromagnetic waves. Technologies developed by Palikaras’ company have military and police applications.

Products developed by Palikaras’ company include laser-proof glasses

4. Nikolaos Lilis

Lilis is currently the ‘scientific relations and cooperation secretary’ and the ‘head of the financial audit’. He also runs a dental surgery in Ealing and dabbles with Botox. Unusually, this cosmetic procedure is also available at his dental surgery.

(On a side note, every single batch of Botox is experimented on animals first. An estimated 400,000 mice are tortured to death in Europe each year so that rich people can have poison injected into their frown lines.)

The surgery’s address is 33 St Mary’s Rd, London Borough of Ealing, London, W5 5RG.

5. Kostas Papakostas

Papakostas is the Organisational & Coordination Secretary.

6. Fotios Stikas

Stikas is the ‘participation secretary’. He is also active in the Peloponnesian Association of Great Britain, whose address in his name is listed in the screenshot below.

7. Theodosis Zaimis, aka, ‘Ted’ Zaimis

Vice president of the committee and leading its ‘marine division’, Ted Zaimis is a maritime man who also acts as Treasurer for the Nautical Institute.

Zaimis and Palikaras at an apparently thrilling ND UK event

8. Sokratis Ochtaras

Sokratis Ochtaras is the Business Sector Secretary and events organiser.

Two businesses are registered to his name in Camden, one of which is reportedly still active. The nature of the business is unclear.

9. Michael Arapis

Arapis is the ND UK chief editor and its Welsh head. He is also a PR officer for the UK Peloponesian Society.

10. Panayiotis Kalambokis

Kalambokis is the committee’s PR secretary. He is also registered as a director of two UK companies, Malthi Consultants and Ploutos Finance. Neither have websites nor is there much trace of them on the internet.

11. Vasilis Repakis

Vasilis Repakis is the committee’s general secretary

12. Marianna Lykourentzou

Marianna Lykourentzou is the events coordinator and women’s affairs secretary.

Voices of Notara. Part 9: “I tell my children, don’t be afraid”

This is one in a series of interviews with people involved in the Notara 26 squat in Exarcheia, Athens. The struggle for the free spaces here is made up of people with very different backgrounds, life stories and ideas. We aim to record people’s own words without imposing our views – though of course we can’t escape our own perspectives, or the limits of translation.

9. “Madar-e-mehraban” (kind mother)

We arrived in Greece half way through 2017, and we’ve been living in Notara all this time. I have four children under 18, and one who is grown up now.

First of all, we went to City Plaza squat, because my brother had been living there. But they asked us for our government asylum papers, and we didn’t have them so they wouldn’t let us stay. They sent us to Spyro Trikoupi squat, but Spyro Trikoupi was full, so they took our names but told us to try Notara.

After waiting three days, Notara called us and said there was a room. I was really happy to get a room here, because I had heard that the camps were really bad, with a lot of violence. Here people are respectful, and they have rules, such as a silence time for sleeping. People here take a lot of care about children, and there is an assembly every week where we meet together to fix our problems.

Sometimes new families arrive and they don’t feel good because they have heard bad things about living in the squats. So I go to speak with them and tell them not to worry, everything is okay here.

What are your thoughts about the current situation?

I really hope Notara won’t be evicted. But my attitude is that I will continue to live my life normally and not think about it too much. If the police come, they come. I won’t change my life and live in fear, I have to carry on.

One of my sons is two years old, he says “can we go to live with grandma, because there we will be safe?” But I tell my children – “don’t worry, don’t be afraid.” I say to my son – “the police aren’t going to hurt us, they won’t hit you, they just want to give us another home.” He’s only two years old, I have to tell him that.

I don’t think it can be the end of Notara, because the anarchist ideas never die. They are always here trying to protect refugees and help immigrants. If the police evict us, the anarchists will open another squat to help people like before.

What do you think about the Greek anarchists you have met?

Before I came to Notara I had never heard anything about anarchists. Since living here, I’ve come to understand what is their idea. They don’t care about nationality, they just want to help all people. I want to say thank you to them. In the future, if I go to other countries in western Europe, I will try to find anarchists there and I will do what I can to help them too.

Myself, I am a Muslim. But I think we have similar ideas in our religion too. We also have the idea, it is in the Koran, that there are no borders between countries, that people are the same no matter their race or nationality.

What does Notara mean to you?

The home of the homeless. Just that.

Voices of Notara. Part 8: “everywhere I look I see a story”

This is one in a series of interviews with people involved in the Notara 26 squat in Exarcheia, Athens. The struggle for the free spaces here is made up of people with very different backgrounds, life stories and ideas. We aim to record people’s own words without imposing our views – though of course we can’t escape our own perspectives, or the limits of translation.

8. “Spourgiti” (sparrow)

Let’s go back to the summer of 2015, the end of July. Greece was under capital controls from the IMF, meaning there was a limit on how much money you could withdraw from the bank, and also how much you could send or receive through money transfer services like Western Union. Refugees arriving from Afghanistan relied on getting money transferred so they could continue their journey, and now suddenly people were stranded in Athens. People started gathering in the Pedion tou Areos park (in the centre of Athens, next to Exarchia), and the numbers kept growing, soon there were hundreds of people sleeping there.

A comrade said to me “we should help them out.” We got together, just a group of comrades and friends, all residents of Exarchia. We got a pallet of water, borrowed a minivan, and took it to the park. Then we saw – the people there didn’t have anything. The Afghan community in Athens were trying their best to help, but the situation was too much.

It was then we called an assembly, which became called the “self-organised assembly in solidarity with refugees”. Some of us who started it were anarchists, along with leftists involved with the Steki of Refugees and Immigrants on Tsammadou street. But we hadn’t expected the turnout at that first meeting. Hundreds of people came from all over Athens. And the interesting thing was it wasn’t just “comrades” we knew from the movement, there were many new people who had never been involved in anything like an assembly before.

It was spontaneous self-organisation on a big scale. From the first days, we were receiving donations of supplies and distributing tents, medical care, three meals a day, childrens’ activities.

“Things that had never happened before”

One interesting thing about this: it was one of the rare times when the movement didn’t just react to some move from the state – a new law, a new act or wave of repression. Rather, though you could say we were responding to the wider course of events in the world, it was us who took the initiative and created a new political action. In fact, it was the government that was forced to react to us.

For example, it pushed the new Syriza government to open the Elleonas refugee camp in Athens, a supposedly “nice” camp which they had been talking about but hadn’t happened. Actually they even tried to approach our assembly to run it for them! Of course the answer was no. These were things that had never happened before.

And something else. I’m not somebody who wants to enforce my political views on others or try to change theirs. But I’ll say this – I saw many cases where what we were doing in Pedion tou Areos had a big effect on people’s thinking. For instance, I remember one guy turned up and said “I’ve come to volunteer”. I said to him, “here we’re not volunteers, we’re people in solidarity.” He said, “what’s the difference?” And I replied, “I won’t tell you, but if you stay here you’ll find out.”

In the very last assembly he stood up and said, “I came here as a volunteer, now I speak as someone who believes in autonomy and self-organisation.” And there were many more cases like that.

You mention the term self-organisation. But what does that actually mean, in your view?

Self-organisation has many aspects. And there are meanings in books, and meanings in real life. One is that you get together with other people and create something, make an initiative. And in this situation, that means with people who don’t have the same perspectives or political ideas as you, but with whom you share life, you share everyday needs. And that implies that, in a way, you have to defuse your ego, to try and build something together.

It’s a huge experiment, of course. All different attitudes come up, and you find authoritarian people, people acting like leaders – in which I include myself. You’re trying to make a horizontal structure but it becomes vertical, and you have to keep trying to push it back to horizontal again.

Viktoria square

Our intervention in the park lasted just a month, the month of August 2015. In that month, 12,000 people passed through Pedion tou Areos. We had announced in advance that we were leaving on a given date, and that pushed the government to finally open their Elleonas camp. It was a state-run camp, but conditions there were better than being under the sun in the park.

After the end of August, our assembly had a small rest and time for reflection. We thought – “what have we managed to do?!” Then, in early September, as usual many comrades were coming back to Athens who had left for the summer to escape the heat or to work in their villages and islands.

The capital controls were still on, and now many more people were arriving. The government put police in the parks to stop refugees camping again, so then instead people started to gather in Viktoria Square. The square filled up, soon there was nothing to see but hundreds of tents.

So the assembly started to respond to that situation and support the squatted square. And we had a huge amount of surplus stuff left over from Pedion tou Areos. As well as Viktoria Square, we sent things to the islands, and to the camp growing at Idomenei near the Macedonian border.

Sibling initiatives

Back in 2015, at the same time as I got involved in Notata, I was also involved with what we called its sibling, its sister initiative, the Platanos project on Lesbos island.

Many new initiatives came out of that time. Myself, I became involved with a few comrades in our collective, No Borders Athens. Our focus has been on supporting people in some of the worst situations, with serious health or legal issues, but also on being a propaganda or counter-media project, spreading information. And then three of us from No Borders joined in with the squatting project that became Notara.

So I was involved in Notara at the beginning. Later I stopped being actively involved for about a year – I’ve come back now because of the state repression and threat of eviction.

And Platanos: we were sending supplies to Lesbos, but people there said – “more than supplies, what we really need here is people.” This was the time when hundreds, even thousands of people were starting to arrive on Lesbos across the sea from Turkey every day. The Platanos initiative was an occupation of public land by the sea, in the north of the island by the main crossing point. As well as sea rescue teams we welcomed people arriving off the boats with medical care, food and clothing.

The initiative lasted seven months, until the borders were shut by the EU-Turkey deal. Some 700 solidarians were involved over that time. As for the people who were supported by the Platanos initiative, 150,000 might be a conservative estimate.

Notara opened five days before the first team went to Lesbos. So that’s why I say they were like siblings – and Pedion tou Areas was the parent.

What does Notara mean to you?

It’s not political. Not any more. It’s infused inside me so much that it’s part of me. It’s not a squat, it’s the people inside. The residents and the people in solidarity. Sometimes it feels more home than my own home. Of course, yes it is political, in that we strive for certain goals – horizontality, self-organisation. But for me what’s more than that is the emotional meaning. The people who live here call it “our home”, and that’s what it is – it’s home away from home.

When I come here, everywhere I look I see a story. There are hundreds of stories here. These stories could have happened in any home anywhere, but somehow because they happened here they have a greater substance.

Baba Noel

Here’s just one. A couple of years ago, one of the kids went to one of the solidarians and asked if “Baba Noel” was going to come. At first none of us understood what this meant, until we realised Baba Noel means Santa Claus in French, and he was asking if Santa would come to a squat.

So then we did a whole project. We made all these pictures with photoshop showing three of us going on a journey to the north pole, walking through the snow and mountains until we found Santa’s house. We made a map of the journey, and we made a video out of the pictures and screened it in the squat, inviting the kids from Spyro Trikoupi squat too. We also had a map of the route we’d taken, and we explained that we’d gone to ask Santa if he was coming, but we didn’t know whether he would accept the invitation.

We have a comrade who has just the physical proportions of Santa, down to the long white beard. And the costume hire shop, when they found out what it was for, gave us the outfit for free. So when the film ended, we pulled away the bedsheet it was projected on, and there was Santa with a pile of presents. Then there was a tsunami of kids running, crushing, hugging him. Santa started crying – I told him, “stop that, Santa doesn’t cry”.

One kid, who’s now in Germany, he was a bit older and wanted to show he was tougher than the younger ones. He refused to believe it was Santa, and to prove he was right he did the obvious thing, went to pull off the beard. Then when he saw the beard was real he fell into his arms crying “Santa!”

And this is what I mean, the same thing could maybe have been organised by the town hall in Syntagma square, but then it wouldn’t have the same substance at all. And this is also political.

I heard her heartbeat echoing in my ribcage”

One more story. One day I come into Notara, pissed off with something (as usual). A Kurdish couple had just come back from the hospital after giving birth. The father took their days’ old baby and put her in my arms. As I held the baby, she looked at me and smiled, and I heard her heartbeat echoing in my ribcage.

I gave the baby to someone else to hold and walked out of the squat, I walked all the way to Pedion tou Arios, crying all the way. I said to myself – this is why we have to keep the squats, we have to keep them for the people, and especially for the children, the seeds of tomorrow.

All the squats and initiatives have these stories. These stories are the fuel that makes us go on. Sometimes we want to hide them, but they are what water our souls.

How do you feel about the current situation with the squats under threat?

What we’re living in these days is unprecedented. We didn’t have this level of repression, even with the previous right wing government. It is extremely targeted, and they don’t stop at anything. Every day there are three or four new events, stories of people getting tortured, beaten up. For example, today they arrested a whole group of people who were just doing yoga in the park.

The Neo Democratia party that won the elections this summer is a populist right-wing party, but in truth with many far-right elements. Many of its MPs are fascists and push their own agenda. And they have an unprecedented parliamentary majority that means they are unchallenged.

But this does give us another thing. It means that after four years of worsening infighting in the movement, somehow we are starting to unite.

What is your vision for the future?

Difficult. Dark, bleak. But whatever the future is, we make it. And we, we’re always here on the path. The path was here before us, and it will continue after us. So our task is just to keep the path open. So – fuck the future!

Voices of Notara. Part 7: “here we sleep well, me and my daughter”

This is one in a series of interviews with people involved in the Notara 26 squat in Exarcheia, Athens. The struggle for the free spaces here is made up of people with very different backgrounds, life stories and ideas. We aim to record people’s own words without imposing our views – though of course we can’t escape our own perspectives, or the limits of translation.

7. “Joania”

I was in the street, with my daughter. We didn’t have any place to sleep. A friend brought us here and we said “we have nowhere to stay”. They gave us a room, and sheets, towels, soap, diapers, everything we needed.

I have a good life here. Here we sleep well, me and my daughter. Here we feel comfortable. This place has looked after many people with nothing, people who don’t have papers. We asked for social assistance from the authorities but everywhere we go they say: “you have to wait, wait.”

If they evict the squat, I don’t know where we can go. I have an interview in January and I hope they will give me residency then. I like Greece, I hope we will get our papers and I can find a job here. I hope that for all the migrants.

I’ve suffered a lot in this life. I don’t have a father or a mother. But here in Greece people have helped me and made me welcome.

What do I want to say to people reading this? Just that Notara is a good thing, it has given me a comfortable place to live and helped many people. I really hope that Notara won’t be evicted, that it can continue.

Voices of Notara. Part 6: “this is nothing, it’s just a government”

This is one in a series of interviews with people involved in the Notara 26 squat in Exarcheia, Athens. The struggle for the free spaces here is made up of people with very different backgrounds, life stories and ideas. We aim to record people’s own words without imposing our views – though of course we can’t escape our own perspectives, or the limits of translation.

6. “Lonewolf”

I was working with an American NGO for refugees. A few Notara residents were participating in workshops the NGO was running and they told me about their lives. I had never heard of such things as squats before. I said – “ok, I’m a refugee too, I’ll go and see what’s going on there”.

I saw a different vision of the world. It was so different to everything else I’d found in Europe. Like a society in miniature, a society where you have equality, where you’re free, you can take decisions for yourself, you’re not judged by your colour or where you’re born. Where you don’t hesitate to show your opinion and ask for your rights, to change things.

I thought: “this is what I want the whole world to be like.” And from the moment I came in, I felt part of it, like this was my home, like I belong here.

I lived in Notara for two and a half months. I don’t live in the squat anymore but it’s still my home and it will be my home no matter where I go. It’s a mother for all races, whether you’re from Sudan, Afghanistan, Turkey or France.

I am an anarchist. What does that mean? It means freedom. It means I’m from nowhere yet I’m from anywhere, and I fight for what I believe.

My vision of the future? The future is what we make it. If we support each other and act as one we can make a movement. The great empires all fell down when people gathered together. And this is nothing, it’s just a government. If we stand together shoulder to shoulder, what can beat us?

 

Voices of Notara. Part 5: “we have only one choice, to keep fighting”

This is one in a series of interviews with people involved in the Notara 26 squat in Exarcheia, Athens. The struggle for the free spaces here is made up of people with very different backgrounds, life stories and ideas. We aim to record people’s own words without imposing our views – though of course we can’t escape our own perspectives, or the limits of translation.

5. “CheNo”

After we entered Greece, me and my two friends, they put us in the closed camp of Filakio. After ten days they released us and we went to Thessaloniki. We reached the camp of Diavata but they told us they had no room for us, so we decided to try Athens.

We were in Victoria Square, we spent two nights on the street. We were looking for a house but we couldn’t afford anything, it was like 300 or 400 euros. Then an Iranian anarchist friend who was living in Germany told us about Exarcheia and the squats. We headed for Exarcheia and, by chance, found ourselves at Notara.

When we came to the door, at first they said they only had room for one person, not all three of us. But they invited us to come in and eat some food. Then, as we were leaving, they said: “guys, stay, we will find a way to make room for you”.

Student movement in Iran

When I was a student in Tabriz university, in the north-West of Iran, I got involved in political activities more than before. I did a BA, then I was studying for a masters in sustainable management and development. I was also involved in student associations and writing in student journals. And, though I wasn’t a member, I was a supporter of one of the political parties linked to the Kurdish movement, which was illegal.

One day the security department of the university called me and some other friends to a meeting. They accused us of trying to organise a strike in the university, and also of recruiting students to go and fight against ISIS in Kobani, in Rojava. They said if any strike or protest happened, even if I was far away, they would blame me. They cut off my student services and took away my room on campus.

Then one day I got a phone call from a friend. He said the security forces were looking for me at the university. At the same time, two other friends I was working with were arrested in Sandanaj town. I decided to leave Iran that day, and went to Turkey.

In Turkey

Turkey was the most horrible experience in my life. I escaped from Iran because I didn’t have freedom there, but the situation I found in Turkey was even worse.

I continued my political activities in Turkey, coordinating two campaigns and writing for websites. I registered with the UNHCR as an asylum seeker, but the Turkish state blocked me getting documents.

When all responsibility for registering refugees was transferred from the UNHCR to the Turkish state (in 2018), that meant all my personal details were handed over. As a Kurdish person involved with the movement that could be very dangerous for me. At the same time, more friends were arrested and put in prison charged with supporting terrorist groups. Like many other people in similar situations, I decided I had to leave Turkey as well.

In Notara

I want to say it like this. The first day I arrived here, after my experiences in Iran and Turkey, I was very cautious. I held back from getting involved for a while, just checking everything out carefully.

Then, when I started to learn about the movement and ideas behind the squat, and see how people were doing things, I started to get more involved. I met the people working in solidarity with the squat and found them close to my political opinions. I found that I was living in a place with a strong collective life. I feel really happy to be part of this big family.

After I was here two months, the state and police, in a fascist turn, started attacking the squats. I want to be a part of the movement resisting this. I try to always participate in demos, gatherings, any kind of activities I can against these state operations.

What does Notara mean for you?

In brief, it means struggle and resistance. It means we are going to tackle any issues and problems together, side by side. Without hierarchy and inequality between people we can find the deep meaning of humanity, how humans can really be. Notara is this idea, and the idea will never die.

The future? For the future, everything is very clear. We only have one choice – to keep fighting.

Voices of Notara. Part 4: “we have to keep this idea alive”

This is one in a series of interviews with people involved in the Notara 26 squat in Exarcheia, Athens. The struggle for the free spaces here is made up of people with very different backgrounds, life stories and ideas. We aim to record people’s own words without imposing our views – though of course we can’t escape our own perspectives, or the limits of translation.

4. “Sirus”

You could say my political activity started even before I was born. I was born in Iran in 1984, and my mother was serving time in prison for her own political activity. She was three months pregnant with me when she was arrested, and she gave birth to me prematurely due to the torture she experienced in jail. In prison they used me to pressure her, another form of torture, and unfortunately she gave them the names of some comrades. They were executed by the authorities. My mum was released after a couple of months, but she wasn’t able to care for me, she could never return to a normal life.

From 2004, I started to be a political blogger myself, and from 2005 I became active with the Worker-Communist Party of Iran. Like other parties, this was illegal. It existed completely underground, although there are some connected organisations which have a legal presence and carry out activities concerning the rights of women and children. Myself I was very involved with the rights of children.

In October 2007 I was arrested by the Security police and kept for 45 days in solitary confinement in a cell in the secret police headquarters. But they had no evidence against me, and I was released with a five year suspended sentence. All that happened in my city of Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province in Iran. As the repression was becoming too intense there, I moved to Tehran and found a job there. That was April 2008.

In the streets in Tehran

In summer 2009, when the Green Movement started, I was in the streets. The Green Movement’s demands were about the election, and I didn’t vote or support the reformist electoral campaign, but even so I participated in the movement in the streets.

This led to me being arrested several times. The last time, after being beaten and tortured, I was sent to trial and eventually sentenced to ten years. But they let me out on bail before the court date, and I took the opportunity to get away from Tehran and get out of the public eye.

A year later the Secret Services nearly caught me. They found where I was working, and they came to my aunt’s house. Luckily I wasn’t at either of those places when they came, and I managed to escape thanks to a warning from a friend. I was so close to being arrested, just metres away.

In hiding in the mountains

Then I went into hiding for almost a year. For months I hid out in a village in the mountains. The Kurdish people have a famous slogan, “No friend but the mountains”, and I know what that means because that was completely the situation I found myself in. Every week friends would come to bring me food, books. One time a friend brought me a hard drive with films and some PDFs to read. One of the shows I was watching was “Walking Dead”, and that was just how the world was for me: alone and just trying hard to survive.

But I still kept active, helping coordinate events from hiding including that year’s May Day celebration in Sanandaj city. When a couple of months later the police went through their videos of the demo and saw my picture there they arrested my father and held him for almost a week, trying to make him tell them where I was. That’s when I decided to leave Iran. That was September 2012.

In Turkey

I made a new life in Turkey. That wasn’t easy at all. Many things happened which I can’t go into now. But anyway, I stayed active politically, at first working with my party as a journalist and blogger, and I became an advisor to the central committee. I was organising a TV program and 2 online magazines about political prisoners in Iran, and also about the leftist youth movement.

I left the party in 2015 due to political differences. In particular, during discussions about sending a letter of support to Syriza, which had won the elections in Greece! Myself and some other comrades understood that as the party turning towards social democracy, we decided to leave and start working with other groups.

In  2016 I participated with youth socialist organisations, was involved in demonstrations and other activities, and in creating a new political party. But again, I was arrested several times, this time by the Turkish police. That’s a whole other big story, I won’t go into it now.

The last time I was arrested, in Autumn 2017, on the way to the police station they checked my ID. When the officer saw I was an Iranian he started to hit me, shouting “you’re not Turkish, how dare you protest against the Turkish state!” When we got to the station they terminated my UNHCR asylum ID and issued me with a deportation order. They took my money and used it to buy me a plane ticket to Georgia.

To explain, this is a common event in Turkey. As a refugee, they couldn’t deport me to Iran, but they have a deal with the Georgian government to expel people there. Instead of going to Georgia, I got in touch with a smuggler and came straight to Greece. That was in November 2017.

In Greece

I came to Greece from the North. Almost 8 hours walking, under the rain and on a very cold night. At first, I tried to leave Greece and get to another European country. But that was after the borders were closed by the EU, I didn’t make it out and I ran out of money. So I decided I had to try and make a life in Greece. Getting my asylum-seeker registration papers was a really difficult process. In the end I managed to get a lawyer who helped me register and get the documents — but almost 7 months after arriving.

I lived in the refugee accommodation squat called City Plaza for one year. It was run by left-wing people, and I tried to get politically involved with that project. But I had political disagreements with the coordinating team, who made all the decisions. At one point they threw me out of the building and I was homeless for about a week. When other people supported me, especially political refugees who were living there, they allowed me to return, but I decided to stop any activism in general and entered a period of extreme depression. I started smoking weed heavily, drinking and wasting my time. That period lasted for about six months. During this time I got my asylum-seeker papers.

I met a volunteer in City Plaza who was staying for one month. We got to know each other and spoke deeply about many topics, our life, our experiences, our habits and interests. Through this friendship I slowly began to come out of my depression and build myself up again. I started walking and hiking, studying Greek and English, I found a job as a translator for a movie about the women’s struggle in Rojava.

And that’s also when I first came across Notara. Though I really started to get involved when the new government was elected this summer and started to threaten the squats, in August 2019.

What does Notara mean for you?

I have found Notara to be a community that is genuinely autonomous and self-organised. I liked how they were organising here, with decisions made by the residents in the assemblies, in a clear and open way. There are many difficulties and complicated situations, but they work through them together. Learning and self-organising to survive in the face of capitalism and the violence of the state.

For me, Notara is not just a building or a housing project. It’s a place of resistance and struggle. It’s a place of humanity. What do I mean by that? If your common sense tells you that blindly following authority is detrimental to humanity, then maybe you too are an anarchist, and maybe it’s time you get together with other people who feel the same way, and organise to change society.

How is it to be a communist organising together with anarchists?

In my perspective, communism and anarchism are two sciences or approaches, two very important parts of the movement of the working class in our struggle against capitalism. Of course there are political differences. But it’s very clear who is the enemy for me.

For me communism means something very different to bourgeois communism or bourgeois socialism. And I’ve found that the communist movements in Iran and in Greece mean very different things. In Iran, communism means a revolutionary movement, fighting for its life against the state. Here, what is called communism is reformist or social democratic, but not revolutionary.

Bourgeois socialism, in all its offshoots and sects, has reached an impasse. The Soviet and Chinese experiences, social democracy and eurocommunism in Europe, or anti-imperialist populism in countries dominated by imperialism — they are all in their last throes. But this collapse is not taking place because of the pressure of radical worker socialism, which at present lacks social coherence and power. It is coming in the face of the offensive of the right wing of international capitalism.

At no other time has the contradiction been so glaring. On the one hand, the need of society for revolution, and the conditions of production ripe for a society based on common ownership. But on the other, the total absence of the organised political force for undertaking this transformation.

I am a Marxist. Classical Marxist teaching is about collective ownership, the collective involvement of the working class, of people as a whole, in the process of production and in political decision making. The Soviet model, and the bulk of the so-called communist movement, put the state at the centre of their economic theory, and reduced collective ownership to state-ism. But Marxists of my type, what I call the worker-socialist tradition, don’t have this confusion.

And, as I said before, what matters is when you find that common sense with others. That is what I’ve found here and so, without any doubt, I decided to be a part of this movement.

What are your thoughts on the present situation of threat against the squats?

We have to face this honestly. The great truth of our time is that our world is increasingly engulfed in brutality. We are living in a moment of violence and savagery. Because this is how private ownership protects itself. Capitalism targets refugees in an attempt to separate us from other parts of society and the working class. It aims to break the solidarity between us, to divide the working class and force us to accept their will.

The government’s attacks on migrants are a trick. For example, they take away asylum seekers’ right to health treatment and present this as a good thing for Greek citizens. But it won’t be long before the same citizens find their health services have been sold to private insurance companies and no one has free healthcare any more.

They attack the squats because the squats are the symbol of our solidarity and struggle. In capitalism, migrants and refugees are those who have no basic rights, who are stuck trying to move through a maze. The movement of squats opposes this and says: no, we can rise up and create a different life, a free life, if we come together. Not refugees or citizens, but human beings who all demand an equal right to live.

What is your vision of the future?

The future is the fight, the class struggle. I believe the world without the idea of socialism is empty and dark and without any hope. We have to keep alive this idea and this fight. We are fighting for it, we are never going to give in to the fascists and capitalism. We will shoot them with our hope, just as our grandmothers and grandfathers shot them!

Voices of Notara. Part 3: “a place of love and revolution”

This is one in a series of interviews with people involved in the Notara 26 squat in Exarcheia, Athens. The struggle for the free spaces here is made up of people with very different backgrounds, life stories and ideas. We aim to record people’s own words without imposing our views – though of course we can’t escape our own perspectives, or the limits of translation.

3. “Dokhtar-e-Mah” (daughter of the moon)

The idea of Notara came when lots of people were arriving in 2015. Many people were camping in the park in Pedion tou Areos, next to Exarcheia in the centre of Athens, living in tents outside in very bad conditions. We were some people from the movement who went to try and help.

Winter was coming. We held an assembly with comrades, and decided to find a building and occupy it as a squat for refugees. After doing a mapping of the area, we decided on this one, which belongs to the ministry of labour but had been abandoned for more than five years. We said – “what is public, we’ll give to the people.”

We entered the building on 25 September 2015, but we needed at least 15 days to prepare it. We made separations for rooms, showers, common spaces, storage spaces, the kitchen, etc. Social kitchens supported the project and brought in food every day for lunch and dinner, as later they also did for other squats in Exarchia.

Notara 26 was the first squat for refugees opened in Exarcheia. At least 12 or more opened after that. We had no model for how it would work, and we were testing everything out as we went. At the start, we had an assembly every day, and we set up some basic principles. We agreed that everyone would participate as individuals in the new squat, rather than representing groups to which they belonged. And we agreed a political framework based on these ideas: self-organisation, equality, horizontality, and acceptance of difference.

The term “self-organisation” was very important in the refugee solidarity movement at that moment. What does it mean for you?

It means to take our lives in our own hands. We decide together what to do, how to do it, what are our visions and how we try to achieve them. And, from the beginning, we said no connection to the state or to NGOs.

But self-organisation is difficult. Particularly at the beginning, when the borders were still open and refugees were arriving for just two or three days, so it was a squat of people in transit. You can’t really have self-organisation when people don’t stay long enough to build a community. And how can you ask people to get involved in self-organisation when maybe it’s the first time they’ve ever been allowed the right to decide for themselves?

The borders close

So that was the first period of Notara. It was a transit point for refugees passing through Greece, and the “solidarians” – mainly Greek people, and some existing refugees coming mainly as translators – were doing all the jobs.

The second period started in March 2016, when the borders were shut and the EU-Turkey deal was signed. Now people were stuck in Greece and stayed much longer in the squat. Also, a lot of comrades from all over the planet were coming to participate in the squat – and are still coming until now.

The fascist fire bomb attack

Then, on 24 August 2016, at 4 am, came the fascist attack. It was a fire bomb with gas canisters. There could have been many people killed or injured, but the three residents who were on security duty had very good reactions. One called people to come in solidarity, one took a fire extinguisher, and the third person went upstairs to wake everyone and get them down. A lot of comrades came quickly in support. Two fire trucks came, eventually they put it out at 8 am. Everything in the ground floor “salon”, and the childrens’ play area, the stores, the pharmacy, were all destroyed.

We thought the building was gone. But there was so much support, not just hands to work, but also people sending funds from other countries, and the other squats rallying round to house people. We were open again in 15 days.

The third period

There was an assembly where the refugees living in the squat said they didn’t want to be referred to as “refugees”. They wanted to be called the residents of Notara. I think this marks the beginning of a third period: when self-organisation really started, not just as a theoretical aim. People were staying longer in the squat and making a real community.

Of course there have been lots of testing times and problems. It’s a political and social project in process. I think it’s only now, after four years, that we can really call Notara a self-organised space. Decisions are mostly in the hands of residents, with solidarians who don’t live in the squat coming to offer their support. Work is carried out collectively with people forming teams for security, cleaning, storage, food distribution, supervising the playground, etc.

From the beginning until now, more than 9,000 people have been hosted in Notara, coming from more than 15 countries.

And the squat has also become a site of many projects and initiatives. We have had four convoys coming from other countries, particularly France, bringing supplies. We have had groups for women’s empowerment, language lessons, children’s activities, collective kitchens, photography, dance, theatre. One of our core principles has been the acceptance of difference, and one sign of that is that some of the first assemblies of the community of LGBTQI refugees started here.

I want to quote our first declaration, which we still say until now. It says: “let’s make the odyssey of refugees for survival the voyage of humanity towards freedom.”

What does Notara mean to you?

Notara is a place of love and revolution. Here you find many people with different cultures, different experiences, beliefs, ideas – but we are all are trying to walk together towards freedom. Without the state, without NGOs, but ourselves, together. This is revolutionary.

And love, because as a political and social project, we are not only anarchists and anti-authoritarians, we are people trying to build connections, to find things in common across our differences. We have many problems, but we continue. And that requires love. It is because we love our community that we keep working to overcome the challenges.

To continue a struggle you don’t just need fighters, you also need human relations. Otherwise you just have an army, not a revolution. What we need is – human relations with a fighting spirit.

What are your thoughts on the current situation of threat?

In July, a few days after the election, they made their first attack on us, cutting the electricity. Since then, most of the squats in Exarcheia have been evicted, and there have been numerous threats that we will be next.

During these four years, Notara 26 has been welcomed in the neighbourhood of Exarcheia and has been an active part in the life of this neighbourhood. But since the evictions of Spiro Trikoupi 17 and other squats on 26 August, we are living in occupied territory, with riot cops stationed all around us. They are here all day, all night, causing trouble and provoking us – shouting racist abuse, banging on the windows, trying to force the door, and so on – until they get the order to evict.

We have had 24 hour security watch on the squat since the fascist attack in 2016. And what is for sure, the Notara assembly took the decision that we will defend this community. We are not leaving the building. We will defend it in our own way. And they have to know that, even if they evict this building, they cannot evict the idea of Notara.

Also soon after the election, the City Plaza squat organised by left-wing groups decided to close. Amongst other things, they said it was not safe for refugees to stay in a building under intense threat. Also, no doubt many were tired after three years of the squat. Did you discuss this at Notara?

Every three or four months we have a special assembly with just the residents present, not us “solidarians”, to discuss big issues about the squat and its direction. After City Plaza left we were shocked, especially about the timing just a few days after the election, and the residents’ assembly met to discuss it. They took the decision that they wanted to continue. That’s their decision, but we solidarians are totally behind this too. We say that whatever happens, we continue.

Now, in recent weeks we have taken in more people who have been evicted from the other squats. They’ve already been through at least one eviction, and they know what may come here. But when you’ve experienced the freedom of a squat, and when you’ve experienced the hell conditions in the government camps, what do you choose?

As for being tired, of course I’m tired. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. But speaking for myself, I can’t surrender. When I feel tired, I look to my picture of utopia, of the horizon that we’re walking towards.

How do you see the future?

The future is an open horizon. We make our road as we walk it. It is sure that Notara will never die. Even if they evict this building, they cannot evict the idea. I know that the community of residents and solidarians we have built will continue in new ways. The struggle for freedom, and our human relations – these are what give us the power to see the horizon ahead, and to walk towards it.

Voices of Notara. Part 2: “they can only kill the fear in our hearts”

This is one in a series of interviews with people involved in the Notara 26 squat in Exarcheia, Athens. The struggle for the free spaces here is made up of people with very different backgrounds, life stories and ideas. We aim to record people’s own words without imposing our views – though of course we can’t escape our own perspectives, or the limits of translation.

2. Kargar-e-sorgh (“Red Worker”)

I was a political and worker activist in Iran. In the city of Ahwaz, in the south of Iran, I was working in a big factory, a metal works, and I became active in the workers’ movement there.

You were a trade unionist?

No, not a trade union. The only trade unions in Iran are those controlled by the regime. We were organising strikes and demonstrations spontaneously, a grassroots movement. Our factory and others close to it in Ahwaz became very active. The movement was growing for about four years, and from about two years ago we had a lot of actions and demonstrations. Last October, 2018, we had 3000 workers on strike. The strike lasted for forty days, it was one of the biggest and the longest that have happened since the revolution. I was part of the coordinating group for that strike.

I was arrested on 23 October. They told me: “we’ll let you go, on condition you go back to the workers and tell them to stop the strike and agree to the bosses’ conditions.” I agreed and they released me. But then I went to the demonstration in the street and I said the opposite of what they’d told me.

“They can only kill the fear in our hearts”

I said this: “our hearts are ready for their bullets. But the cops’ bullets can’t kill us, they can only kill the fear in our hearts.”

We occupied the factory. Two days into the occupation, the police attacked people’s homes in the night and arrested 41 people. So we decided to occupy again, and this time all stay inside, not going home. The police completely surrounded us, but we held the occupation for five more days.

After those five days, some colleagues brought a van inside as if they were moving materials, they hid me in the van under the stuff and took me out. I managed to get out of Ahwaz and go into hiding. They arrested more workers from our factory, and they put a documentary on national TV accusing me of being an Arab separatist. It doesn’t matter if you’re Iranian, Kurdish, Arab, whatever, they accuse you of lies like that.

So how did you get out of Iran?

I managed to get out to Turkey, over the mountains. In Turkey again I was arrested, for having false papers, and put in prison for 50 days. I spent four months in Turkey altogether, almost half of it in prison. In Turkey I experienced a lot of racism, a lot of racist abuse because I didn’t speak Turkish.

Getting to Greece, that’s another story again. I tried three times to cross, over the land border at Evros. The first two times I was caught by Greek soldiers. They beat us up, they made us take off our clothes and threw them in the river. Then they pushed us back to Turkey.

But the thing I was most scared of? Not the Greek soldiers, but if I got caught by the Turkish soldiers again going back into their country. I was worried that if I was arrested in Turkey again then they’d deport me to Iran.

In Exarcheia

Finally, I made it. When I got to Greece, I was really scared about fascist attacks. After my experiences in Turkey and on the border, I was thinking the world is full of fascists and racists, it’s going to be just as bad in Greece. That thought was always on my mind.

Then on the second day in Athens, I came here to Exarcheia. And I thought – “wow!” Really, wow!

I didn’t know two words of the language, but no one cared. The first place I went to was K-Vox (occupied cafe and social centre). I didn’t know anyone, I just walked in to get a coffee. I could barely communicate, but people were smiling at me! I got such a good feeling. I felt – here I’m somewhere where your skin colour, your language, how you dress, doesn’t matter. In Exarcheia, I found, no one cares about those things.

Later I met a friend, a comrade I knew from Iran. He brought me here to Notara. I don’t live in Notara, I come here in solidarity. When I came here I felt in a place where people are part of a movement, a common struggle. I feel close to people here, I feel that we share ideas.

What does Notara mean for you?

This place has become very important for me. I say to people here: you can count on me for anything, even if you need someone to clean the toilets I’m ready to do it.

Then the evictions started in August and the police started making threats against Notara. When I saw people rallying around, coming out for demos, I decided to participate more. Maybe I can’t do much, but I feel it’s important to come here and show support for my friends. To help them keep up their spirits. If the police come now I could be in danger, but I don’t care. I prefer to try not to think about my personal situation, I feel happy to be close to my friends here.

Notara has been a big experience in my life. To see people living and working together like this, making a place in common, without many big problems. To see people from other countries coming to show their solidarity. To see people acting as equals, all on the same level, no matter where you come from.

The language of struggle

I am very happy if this movement accepts me and knows me as a comrade. This movement in the squats and streets of Exarchia has taught me that our fight, our struggle, doesn’t have any geographic limits, it doesn’t have any one place. All of us come from different places, we speak many languages. But we all share one language – the language of struggle.