Exarchia is a neighborhood in Athens, Greece. It’s also a battleground.
The city’s most anarchist-friendly district was ground zero for a series of riots that shook Greece in 2008, after 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot and killed there by police.
Since then, Exarchia has become a gathering place for anti-government protesters, a group that has only grown larger and angrier as Greece’s political and economic problems have worsened.
For the neighborhood, this has had positive and negative effects. Exarchia is saturated with graffiti, much of it beautiful, including countless memorials to Grigoropoulos. The area is also home to many popular cafes, bookshops and independent publishers catering to the young and politically disenchanted.
On the other hand, it’s hard to get police to come by when something dangerous happens.
“If a car accident happens, something like that, they don't want to come, so you have to insist that they come even for ordinary things,” said one Exarchia resident, who wished to remain anonymous. “I think most of the people who live here — old people, middle-aged people — they would like more police.”
That’s a tall order in a neighborhood notorious for its clashes with police, where buildings are spraypainted with messages like “We Hate the Police” and “F*ck the Capital.”
And Exarchia’s antiestablishment credentials go back even further than this latest phase of unrest. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, students occupied the neighborhood’s universities in protest of Greece’s military dictatorship, until the government sent a tank crashing through the gates of Polytechnic University, killing students. The resulting uprising overthrew the government.
So one can understand why the police largely stay clear of Exarchia. To some extent, in a neighborhood where many claim they’d rather have no government at all, the almost nonexistent police presence is an example of government giving the people what they want.