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  • Towards commoning institutions in, against and beyond the ‘Greek crisis’
  • Lazaros Karaliotas (bio)

Since the outbreak of the so-called ‘Greek Crisis’, Greece has frequently attracted headlines in the mainstream media, as well as much political interest and academic analysis. The details of successive ‘bailout agreements’, the devastating implications of severe austerity measures, the rise of the Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, the squares movement, the successive electoral wins of Syriza in 2015, and the ‘No’ vote in the July 2015 referendum on the loan agreement proposed by the country’s creditors, have captured the public gaze and generated major debates. But less attention has been paid to the everyday urban politics that are unfolding in the midst of the crisis.

Since the emergence of the squares movement during the summer of 2011, the urban fabric of Greece has been the crucible of a profusion of emancipatory political [End Page 93] experiments revolving around alternative ways of collectively self-organising urban everyday life. I want to focus here on the possibilities that such experiments open up, as well as the challenges and limitations they face in ‘articulating alternative publics’ - to put it in the terms of the brief for this discussion.

Living the ‘Greek crisis’

Six years of dogmatic neoliberal austerity measures, imposed by successive governments and by the European politico-economic elites, have left their mark on the Greek urban landscape. Statistical indicators are unable to convey the magnitude of the socio-economic collapse that has been experienced, or the embodied experiences of loss and trauma that have been visited upon Greeks - and even more so on the immigrants living in the country. Between 2009 and 2014 real GDP shrank by 25.5 per cent, while 4 out of 10 citizens currently survive below the 2009 poverty-line.1 Unemployment skyrocketed from 9.6 per cent in 2009 to 26.5 per cent in 2014, reaching the level of 1.3 million unemployed. Unsurprisingly, young people and women are worst hit, with rates climbing to 52.4 per cent and 30.2 per cent respectively.2 And there has also been a series of privatisations, and the retraction of social and labour rights, which has led to worsening levels of precarity, particularly for immigrants, women and young people. Furthermore, recurring cuts in wages and pensions (at rates of between 35 per cent and 50 per cent), the axing of welfare spending in areas like education and health, and the introduction of numerous emergency taxes have led to a sharp increase in the relative cost of urban life, and to widespread experiences of vulnerability and precarity.

At the same time, an authoritarian turn has marked the country’s political life after 2010. Formal democratic procedures had been repeatedly bypassed in the name of emergency and economic necessity, and many political mobilisations, including the squares movement, were met with police brutality. And this turn at the institutional level was accompanied by the resurgence, and sometimes temporary hegemony, of racist and exclusionary discourses in the public sphere.3 Such discourses were many times translated into violent attacks against immigrants, both by the Neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn and the police.

The thousands of homeless people struggling for survival in the streets of Athens and Thessaloniki and the violent attacks against immigrants are the two most visible [End Page 94] symptoms of a bio-political regime that has inflicted multiple vulnerabilities and striven to foreclose the spaces for democratic disagreement and creativity.

From the squares to the urban fabric

At the same time, this regime has again and again been confronted by emancipatory political events and experiments. The squares movement is the most well-known of these. Indeed, the squares movement was unprecedented in the country’s political history since 1974 and the downfall of the military Junta. Between May and July 2011, a multitude of protesters from widely varying socio-economic backgrounds and politico-ideological outlooks - often even conflicting - occupied Syntagma square in Athens and many other squares across the country, to express their strong disagreement with the actions of the regime. The movement represented a peak in the struggle against austerity, and undeniably contributed to the thorough de-legitimisation of the up...