by Anna Wolcke
EXARCHIA, Athens – From the outside, the School of Philosophy at the University of Athens looks like any other university building: Nine floors of gray walls, posters, classrooms and a small cafeteria. Students sit on benches, studying for their final exams, and professors hurry past. On a first glance, everything seems normal.
Except for Room 516. A big red Communist star decorates a door painted in black. Graffiti and paint cover the floor.
What used to be an administrative office of the university has been controlled by the anarchist group Rubicon (Rouvikonas in Greek) since November.
After Rubicon first took over the office on the fifth floor, the university changed the lock. The group came back with chainsaws, took over the room and barred professors from entering.
“They violently kicked out people who tried to get in, including professors,” explained Sophia Papaioannou, professor of Latin literature.
Because of Greek University Asylum Law 1268/82, the university has been unable to seek help from the police. The law was passed after 40 people died at Polytech Athens University in 1973 while protesting the military dictatorship then in power. Ever since, the police do not enter Greek universities except for vaguely defined life-threatening situations.
As a result, Rubicon has been able to stay in Room 516 without facing arrest, leaving the university powerless.
What Rubicon uses the room for is mostly unknown. Papaioannou explained that the group held office hours last semester. Students could inform on professors who they thought were Fascists. The group would then offer to “take care of the bad things happening at the school,” said Papaioannou. So far, no professor has reported a violent confrontation involving a member of Rubicon.
More than seven months later, the university seems resigned to its fate.
“Somehow you try to ignore it,” sighed Papaioannou, looking at the locked door to Room 516. “We don’t see them, we don’t hear them, we pretend they’re not there.”
Over recent months, Rubicon has been making headlines in the Greek media. In August 2018 the group invaded the foreign ministry building in Athens. In February 2019 they posted a video that showed them smashing the windows of a department store. In May they raided a law office in Athens and a member of Rubicon was arrested for throwing red paint on the Parliament’s walls and setting off two smoke bombs.
“It’s become a quasi-terrorist organization,” Papaioannou said.
While the group has not taken over any other rooms in the building, their presence is ubiquitous. The anarchist symbol with the letter A inside a circle is sprayed on many walls and floors of the university building.
A poster showed members of Rubicon wearing masks and holding Molotov cocktails. Below the image was a list of demands.
Food should be free for all students at the university, read one. Papaioannou explained that the cafeteria on the first floor offers free food for the students already. Universities should be free for all students, read another. But the right to free education is embodied in the Greek constitution.
A second poster urged students not to vote in the upcoming legislative elections. “When you vote you surrender to exploitation,” it read.
Other posters near elevators and on walls throughout the building invited students to anarchist parties. One of the posters was from April. But the cleaning staff of the university is afraid to take down anarchist posters, explained Papaioannou.
So the posters stay on the walls. And Room 516 remains closed.
2) A Rooftop Café for Anarchists
Although Nosotros Café is open to anyone, it remains invisible to most. If you didn’t know where to look, you would hardly happen on it by accident. Hidden in what looks like a residential building from the outside and sandwiched between two stores, Nosotros Café is a popular meeting place for Athenian anarchists.
The café is in the heart of’ Exarchia – a neighborhood controlled by anarchists for more than two decades. The neighborhood witnessed both the anti-dictatorship student protests in 1973 that led to 40 deaths, as well as riots in 2008, after 15-year old Alexis Grigoropoulos was shot and killed by police.
Getting to the café is not for the faint-hearted.
The café sits on the roof of a residential building that serves as a social center. To reach it, you must climb a staircase whose walls are covered in graffiti depicting nightmarish monsters. Meeting rooms belonging to the center open up to the right and left on each floor. Once the first staircase ends, there is a second, narrow spiral staircase to the rooftop.
Visitors then enter a small oasis. Sunlight dips the café into warm light, flowers and greens crown the balustrade, and jazz burbles around the rooftop.
You can see adjacent buildings from a new perspective and spot people climbing Strefi Hill in the far distance.
On a recent early evening, just a few customers sat at small round tables. One man in his 50s wore earplugs and worked on his laptop. Two young women chatted at another table.
After 8 p.m., the tables began filling with what eventually grew to more than 30 young people, talking and laughing and smoking. The dominant look: Man-bun and beard.
Many of them were frequent visitors. The café has no menu, but people appeared to know what soft drinks and coffees were available. In the evening heat, cold beer was popular.
Nosotros Café is a space of trust. There is one shared bathroom next to the counter, and the lock is missing. But not once during the evening did anyone barge in without knocking.
The website of the café explains that it is a space welcoming libertarian ideas, anarchy, and direct democracy – a social space for everyone free from ideological ideals. Nosotros means “we,” reads the website, “and the name says it all.”
3) Protesting Drug Dealers in Exarchia Square
On a recent Saturday afternoon, people walking by the main square here were greeted by five young men wearing masks and holding baseball bats. The men appeared to be guarding the entrance to an anti-drug event organized by local anarchists.
About 100 people, most in their 20s, had gathered to protest an apparent increase in drug activity originating from the heart of Exarchia.
Music, interrupted by short speeches condemning the drug sellers, could be heard throughout the neighborhood. Young people in dark clothes and with piercings and tattoos sat on the ground drinking beer, chatting and cheering.
Since anarchists seized control of the neighborhood four decades ago, police refrain from getting too close. Scuffles between anarchists and police are not uncommon.
A day earlier there had been three incidents of anarchists attacking police with Molotov cocktails within the span of an hour, according to the Greek newspaper Kathimerini.
Due to the limited police presence in the neighborhood, local residents complain, the Albanian and Russian mafia have taken over the square, turning Exarchia into a popular spot for drug sells.
Now that the anarchists have driven out the police, they seem to have taken on the role of law enforcement themselves.
Shortly after 9 p.m., around 70 protesters started marching the streets, chanting, “Take back Exarchia!” Most of them were holding anarchist flags, some were wearing masks and carrying baseball bats.
The protesters were throwing hundreds of little flyers in the air, leaving a path of white papers on the streets. The flyers displayed a Communist star and read: “The town squares, parks, and roads belong to everyone.”