March to Athens
Day 180-CVI, from Περιστέρι to Αθήνα, 6 km.
Athens, May 5
The tents are packed, the shopping carts are loaded, the sun is high. We have no more time, we have to decide where to go.
The answer was obvious all along. There was only one place where the March to Athens could end. At Syntagma square.
The only real issue was the road that would take us there. We narrowed the options down to two. Either we’d pass by the tourist area of Thisio near the ancient Agora, or by the anarchist quarter of Exarchia.
People’s preferences were clear on this. We would pass by Exarchia. And comrade Mami would take us there. She is in charge of the map.
After Madrid, Paris, Brussels and Rome, the march has reached the outskirts of the European Union. This is Athens.
In all the other capitals the march had entered with defying confidence, but this time we are really far from home, in one of the black holes of the crisis. We heard a lot stories about this city, maybe too many, and you can sense that people are a bit nervous.
We paint our faces, like custom. We prepare to make noise with pots and pans and flutes and drums. And when the time has come, we march for the last time, all together.
Along the way we are escorted by one police car. Before we left, they warned us. “Tonight no free camping.”
We walk and we try to combine our shopping cart parade through the city with a jam session.
In Exarchia we find a burned out Mini and we turn it into a drum and base. It’s like rocking in an urban jungle.
The wildlife of the zone opens windows and eyes to see who has come to disturb its habitat.
It’s the March to Athens. “Hipipipeeeooo!”
On the little square we halt. People are surprised and dressed up in various shades of black. We mix with them and we drink beer. There’s sudden tension because of the tv-camera that came to follow us. The camera soon disappears, and it only returns when we exit the quarter half an hour later.
It’s the last metres to the square, along the artery where the big demonstrations pass. Mami is ahead with the map. She has been very diplomatic in the preparation of our arrival. To avoid troubles with comrade Mimo she wanted the members of the junta to be the first to enter the square.
At the last turn we are welcomed by the heavy cavalry. A batallion of Greek indignados on motorbikes. Their honking and the humming of their motors is the soundtrack of our entry in Syntagma.
Here we are. We drop bags, we park prolleys and we abandon ourselves to collective and individual embraces. This is the final square.
Music, immediately. The beat is good. The square is ours and it feels like home. All ages and styles come by, and many of them keep hanging around. The comrades who organised the agora had put up a little exhibition with fotos from the march, and the locals brought food and drink.
Police didn’t interfere in any way. They simply warned us that we can’t put up our tents.
A welcoming assembly is celebrated. We exchange courtesies and emotions in Greek and English. It’s a satisfying scene on an impressive stage, and it goes on and on. Darkness falls and then comrade Mimo decides that the time is right. He reclaims his position of supreme commander, he puts up his tent and he takes the square.
The generals of the junta gather around him, they toast to victory. Among other marchers, tensions go up. Fear for police is high. If we have to believe what we have heard, they are worse than animals, they are monsters.
Three officers have taken note of the tent. Soon, from the southwest corner, a dozen police start to move up to block the stairs on the side.
Syntagma is like a giant pool. From the upper side it’s easy to control. Even though they are only few, the presence of the officers causes a shock. For many of us, but not for the natives. The Greeks in the square don’t even notice the police. Young boys keep whizzing past the officers on their skateboards with complete disregard.
Mimo lifts his tent. An emergency assembly is called for to decide if we stay, if we move or if we camp.
Many people don’t bother to participate in the assembly. They have scattered in small groups on the various lawns to enjoy the evening. They don’t see what all the trouble is about. After the tent was lifted, the officers had taken off their helmets and stepped back.
The assembly tries to find a difficult consensus between resisting here, heroically, or going elsewhere to try and get rest. Most of the Greeks gave us the advice of going. They wouldn’t stay here with us, but in other places there would be many people to support us.
Field marshall Mimo was soon fed up with it, and he planted his tent, again. This time he wouldn’t lift it. He was going to sleep in his headquarters on Syntagma.
The second time it wasn’t even necessary for the cops to arrive in order to create tension. Nothing was moving, but the cry of “they’re coming” had immediate effect. After that, it was Mami herself, together with the other members of the junta, who forced Mimo out of his tent, and folded it up.
The supreme commander cried treason and hurled threats around, but Mami set him straight with one of her devastating explosions of fury. She is the smallest of us all, but she’s dangerous.
So the field marshall was betrayed by his own generals. Deeply embittered, he picked up his tent, he put me in charge of the square, and he left for the squat in Exarchia.
I walk around. I check the angles of Syntagma. Everything is okay. Little groups of people are smoking weed on the green. Others are passing by. A never-ending assembly is going on. I take a piece of cardboard, I put it next to the fountain in the center of the square, and I sleep. Like the first days in Puerta del Sol.
When I wake up, people are already preparing to retreat. Thirty odd police officers in riot gear entered the square from the side. With or without tents, they want us out.
It would be too much effort to arrest us all, so they just say we have to take our trolleys and they force us down, out of Syntagma.
We put up some lamentful vocal resistance, and we let ourselves be guided down to Monasteraki where there’s the saturday night crowd drinking in the square.
Visually, it’s quite a scene. The cops leave us in an urban desert of graffiti and bankrupcy, where people try to be hip in the bars that remain hip, even if decadence is fashion. The illuminated Acropolis is hovering over it, and we are in the middle, passing through traffic with our trolleys at half past one in the morning.
We move down to Thisio. In the park next to the ancient agora we put up our tents. The march is over, and it has already transformed into something else. But for now we are too tired to realise it.