Monday, June 25, 2012

beyond the tourist trap

In 1973 at the Polytechnic University, located on a street once dubbed the Silicone Valley of Athens, a large uprising was held in protest to current military rule. The three day battle, ending in multiple deaths due to a military tank crashing through the university's main gate where students hung in protest, changed the course of the government's history.  That day, November 17th, became a public holiday from that moment forth. The event also became the foundational backing of a rule later instated making every university in the country a sanctuary, only allowing police to enter the grounds by invitation from the dean.

Fifty meters (165 feet) from the Polytechnic University lies Anarchist Square. Although, that's not the square's real name. Nor is the square actually a square.  The triangular area known as Exarcheia gained its nick-name after a 15 year old boy was fatally shot by a policeman after a verbal exchange. Soon after, riots broke out all over the city, lasting for days.

As Panos, a friend of mine, was showing me around his hometown, he orally debated with himself whether or not he should take me there. "Should I? ... No... Well, maybe, yeah."

I had no clue what he was talking about. After he explained, I made his decision for him.

Nearing the square, there was a group of riot police at the start of the road entering the police no-go-zone.

"They can't get any closer due to the 2008 shooting," Panos informed me.
"Then... what are those guys doing down there," I asked.

Directly across from the square, a handful of armed riot police, dressed in hunter-green colored jumpsuits, stood stone faced against a wall plastered in anarchy posters. Panos looked genuinely confused.

"I don't know," he stated, "I've never seen them so close. But they definitely won't step across the street... otherwise there will be trouble."

We later learned there had recently been issues in the area, and more rumors were spreading about potential riots.

Due to the proximity of the square to the university, it has made it easy for groups of people, 200 strong, to storm the square, let off Molotov cocktails and rush back to safety behind compound walls before police interception.

We stood on the square, the one spot outside of universities police are forbidden to enter, and a small part of me secretly craved to see some action.

(I say small, but since I'm spilling secrets, I actually meant quite a large part of me...).

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