2015 | Dec
In recent years, the metropolitan area of Athens has been viewed as a locus of multiple security threats for its residents, their property, businesses, civic buildings and public spaces. This is not a new source of concern; moral panic waves targeting a range of social groups have existed for several decades. However, the security doctrine depicting Athens as a city under permanent siege, appeared in a more structured manner around 2000, when Greece was preparing for the Olympic Games. As part of these preparations new anti-terrorist laws were passed, potential “terrorist organisations” were identified and dismantled, unwanted individuals were removed from the city centre, surveillance technologies were installed and traffic restriction zones were put in place.
The prevailing discourse of the safe city is founded on a narrative of an overall security crisis in the city. This narrative tends to become the obvious spatial reflection of a “crisis” in Greek society, regardless of the actual statistics of delinquency or criminality. In the rhetoric of politicians, journalists, administration executives and analysts, the restitution of security is treated as some type of war already taking place in the city (Graham 2010), due to the ideological construct of the security crisis. The call from Antonis Samaras “to re-conquer our cities”, a few months before assuming office as PM in 2012,is the best example of that approach. This war individualises and diffuses insecurity and involves spectacular police operations. These are war-like preparations aiming to detect internal and external enemies and subsequently isolate them or deport them.
The culmination of police violence against protesters is not necessarily connected to the militancy of the protesters per se. On the contrary, it seems that the overall goal is to enhance the suppression capacity of the security forces, by upgrading their operational capacity. New motorised departments have been established, disproportionately large police units have been used as well as methods like the physical seclusion of protesters, pre-emptive arrests, the use of undercover police, the selective targeting of specific groups of protesters and the evacuation of squatted buildings (photo 1).
Photo 1: Syntagma square, 29/6/2011
This approach could be termed the ‘spectacular policing’ model because Greek police were systematically promoting the means of violence at their disposal (and sometimes the results of their use), as a deterrent. A minor but indicative case of ‘spectacularisation’ was that of the police blocking off the centre of Athens during the visit of the German Minister of Foreign Affairs in the summer of 2013. The police banned rallies by surrounding the forbidden zone, a big area around the Parliament, using riot police and a large number of vehicles, even in areas where no gatherings were planned (Map 1). In reality, this operation just hindered everyday life in the city centre, since locals and tourists could only pass through a crowd of fully armed policemen (Maps 1-4).
To an extent, this disruption has become a daily routine in the streets of the city centre, ‘spectacular policing’ was regularised and expanded by moving around or stationing riot police and motorbike police units in various points of interest round the clock (Maps 2-4). The spectacle of the permanent presence of policemen equipped with automatic guns, helmets, tear-gas etc. did not deter groups of passers-by in the same way, thus introducing multiple, unexpected inequalities in the ability of different groups to access parts of the city depending on their age, sex, sexual orientation, origins, class, financial situation etc.
The city’s white cells (leukocytes)
In August 2012, Greek police initiated an operation for the mass arrests of migrants in the city centre, under the oxymoron name “Xenios Zeus”. It was the first time that such a raid was given a code name other than the usual “police raid” which were already popular in the ’90s during the deportation of the first Albanian migrants. Later, it became obvious that the new naming strategy was part of an attempt to promote the displacement of migrants as a long-term migration policy, first, within the framework of sensational acts (e.g. lockout of Larissa train station) and then as part of a repetitive routine. Police practices varied from typical non-violent arrests to obliging large groups to stand for long periods of time or to follow military-like orders to move around. The initial TV coverage was followed by daily press releases by Greek Police. The follow-up to “Xenios Zeus” was the “Thiseus” operation which started in the summer of 2014 (photo 2).
Photo 2: “Xenios Zeus” operation, Menandrou str.
- Εμμανουηλίδης Μ και Κουκουτσάκη Α (2013) Χρυσή Αυγή και Στρατηγικές Διαχείρισης της Κρίσης. Αθήνα: Futura.
- Cheliotis LK (2013) Behind the veil of philoxenia: The politics of immigration detention in Greece. European Journal of Criminology, Sage Publications 10(6): 725–745.
- Graham S (2010) Cities under siege: The new military urbanism. 1st ed. London, New York: Verso Books.
- Xenakis S and Cheliotis LK (2013) Spaces of contestation: Challenges, actors and expertise in the management of urban security in Greece. European Journal of Criminology, Sage Publications 10(3): 297–313.