Monday, May 22, 2017

Anarchists Fill Services Void Left by Faltering Greek Governance

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Elly Antipa, right, a Greek anarcho-communist, with Syrian children in an abandoned school that was occupied by anarchist groups and is now a home for refugees in Athens. Credit Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Times
ATHENS — It may seem paradoxical, but Greece’s anarchists are organizing like never before.
Seven years of austerity policies and a more recent refugee crisis have left the government with fewer and fewer resources, offering citizens less and less. Many have lost faith. Some who never had faith in the first place are taking matters into their own hands, to the chagrin of the authorities.
Tasos Sagris, a 45-year-old member of the Greek anarchist group Void Network and of the “self-organized” Embros theater group, has been at the forefront of a resurgence of social activism that is effectively filling a void in governance.
“People trust us because we don’t use the people as customers or voters,” Mr. Sagris said. “Every failure of the system proves the idea of the anarchists to be true.”
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“People trust us because we don’t use the people as customers or voters,” said Tasos Sagris, a member of the Greek anarchist group Void Network and the “self-organized” Embros theater. Credit Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Times
These days that idea is not only about chaos and tearing down the institutions of the state and society — the country’s long, grinding economic crisis has taken care of much of that — but also about unfiltered self-help and citizen action.
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Yet the movement remains disparate, with some parts emphasizing the need for social activism and others prioritizing a struggle against authority with acts of vandalism and street battles with the police. Some are seeking to combine both.
Whatever the means, since 2008 scores of “self-managing social centers” have mushroomed across Greece, financed by private donations and the proceeds from regularly scheduled concerts, exhibitions and on-site bars, most of which are open to the public. There are now around 250 nationwide.
Some activists have focused on food and medicine handouts as poverty has deepened and public services have collapsed.
In recent months, anarchists and leftist groups have trained special energy on housing refugees who flooded into Greece in 2015 and who have been bottled up in the country since the European Union and Balkan nations tightened their borders. Some 3,000 of these refugees now live in 15 abandoned buildings that have been taken over by anarchists in the capital.
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A group of people in the kitchen of the former school. Credit Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Times
The burst of citizen action is just the latest chapter in a long history for the anarchist movement in Greece.
Anarchists played an active role in the student uprisings that helped bring down Greece’s dictatorship in the mid-1970s, including a rebellion at the Athens Polytechnic in November 1973, which authorities crushed with police officers and tanks, resulting in several deaths.
Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, anarchists have joined leftist groups in occupying portions of Greek universities to promote their thinking and lifestyle; many of those occupied spaces exist today, and some are used as bases by anarchists to fashion the crude firebombs hurled at the police during street protests.
Over the years, anarchists have also backed a spectrum of causes, such as opposing “neoliberal” education reform or campaigning against the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
The movement continues to be largely tolerated by the public at large, reflecting a deep distrust of authority among Greeks that has been stoked in recent years by the austerity measures imposed on the debt-racked country by international creditors.
In Athens, the anarchists’ epicenter remains the bohemian neighborhood of Exarchia, where the killing of a teenager by a police officer in 2008 set off two weeks of rioting, helped reinvigorate the movement and produced several guerrilla groups that led to a revival of domestic terrorism in Greece.
The police and the authorities tread lightly in the area.
The police have recently raided some buildings illegally occupied by anarchists, called squats, in Athens, in the northern city of Thessaloniki and on the island of Lesbos, a gateway for hundreds of thousands of migrants over the past two years. But the authorities have stopped short of a blanket crackdown, which would be difficult for the leftist Syriza party of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to condone.
In an interview, Public Order Minister Nikos Toskas said that the police sweeps were “systematic,” and that the raids were being carried out “where they are needed.”
The mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis, condemned the squats, saying they have compromised “the quality of life of the refugees.”
“No one knows who they are controlled by and what conditions people being put up in occupied buildings live in,” he said in a response to a reporter’s questions.
The anarchists say their squats are a humane alternative to the state-run camps now filled with more than 60,000 migrants and asylum seekers. Human rights groups have broadly condemned the camps as squalid and unsafe.
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Ms. Antipa, right, with Abdulah Arifay, a Syrian refugee, on the rooftop of the school, where a chicken coop has been set up. Credit Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Times
In Exarchia, one of the squats includes a former state secondary school that was abandoned because of structural problems. Established last spring with the help of anarchists, the squat is now home to some 250 refugees, mostly from Syria, who have set up a chicken coop on the roof. Many more refugees are on a “waiting list” for other occupied buildings.
The squats function as self-organized communities, independent from the state and nongovernmental organizations, said Lauren Lapidge, 28, a British social activist who came to Greece in 2015 at the peak of the refugee crisis and is actively involved with several occupied buildings.
“They are living organisms: Kids go to school, some were born in the squat, we’ve had weddings inside,” she said.
Another initiative in Exarchia involves anarchists and local residents who have moved a cargo container into the neighborhood’s central square, calling it a political kiosk, from which they distribute food and medicine and sell anarchist literature.
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Vassiliki Spathara is part of a group of anarchists who set up a cargo container in the main square of Exarchia, dubbing it a political kiosk. Credit Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Times
Vassiliki Spathara, 49, a painter and anarchist living in Exarchia, said the initiative was necessary because the local authorities would not intervene “even to replace light bulbs” in the square, known as a haunt for drug dealers, though activity has abated recently.
“The authorities want to downgrade the area because it’s the only place in Athens that has an organized, anti-establishment identity,” Ms. Spathara said.
Mayor Kaminis said the local authorities were cooperating with residents “to rejuvenate the area,” and insisted that Exarchia residents had the same rights as all Athenians.
Yet in Greece’s crumbling political landscape, anarchists appear to be styling themselves as a political alternative to the government.
“We want people to fight back, in all ways, from taking care of refugees to burning banks and Parliament,” said Mr. Sagris, the member of Void Network and the Embros theater group, which raises money to fund squats housing refugees. “Anarchists use all tactics, violent and nonviolent.”
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A memorial for Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Exarchia. He was 15 when he was shot by the police in 2008, setting off riots in Athens. Credit Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Times
He noted, however, that anarchists had a “moral obligation” to make sure that tragedies — like the deaths of three people in May 2010 when an Athens bank was firebombed during an anti-austerity rally — did not happen again. Though anarchists were blamed, none were convicted in a trial that ended with three bank executives convicted of manslaughter through neglect resulting from safety oversights. (They were released on bail, pending an appeal.)
Another anarchist group, Rouvikonas, is looking beyond violence, though its members have made a cause of raiding and vandalizing state offices and businesses.
Last week, members of the group, armed with large wooden sticks festooned with black anarchist flags, conducted a night patrol of a large park in central Athens, saying the police had not intervened to stop the drug trade and prostitution involving young migrants.
Mr. Toskas, who oversees the Greek police force, said the authorities had made a major dent in the drug trade in Exarchia. “Some anarchist groups want to say that they got rid of drugs in the area so that they can control it,” he said.
Rouvikonas members recently applied to a local court to found a “cultural society”— to help organize fund-raising events — and on Saturday the group presented its “political identity” at a squat in Exarchia. (Anarchists insist they are not forming a political party.)
“Anarchists obviously cannot form a political party,” said Spiros Dapergolas, 45, a graphic designer who belongs to Rouvikonas. “But we have our own means to enter the political center,” he said. “We want to get bigger.”
The group’s long-term aim is “militant unionism,” Mr. Dapergolas said. But, he conceded, it is not easy for people to organize themselves. In the meantime, he said, “what Rouvikonas is doing can be done by anyone.”

Monday, March 20, 2017

Comey Confirms F.B.I. Investigation of Russian Election Interference, Links to Trump Campaign

RIGHT NOW The House intelligence committee has begun its hearing into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
■ The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, publicly confirmed an investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election and whether associates of the president were in contact with Moscow.
■ The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence convened on Monday for the first public hearing on Russia’s efforts to influence the election.
■ The hearing’s featured witnesses: Mr. Comey and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency.
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Watch Live: Hearing on Russian Interference in the Election

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is holding the first public hearing on Russia’s efforts to influence the election.
 Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

Comey confirms F.B.I. Investigation into Russian Election Interference

The F.B.I. is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government — and whether there was any coordination, Mr. Comey said.
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Mr. Comey said that it is unusual for the F.B.I. to confirm or deny the existence of any investigations, but in unusual circumstances when it is in the public interest, the bureau sometimes will discuss such matters.
“This is one of those circumstances,” he said.
“The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investing the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” he continued, adding that the investigation included looking at whether associates of Mr. Trump were in contact with Russian officials, and colluded with them.
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Nunes: “There was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower”

The first hearing of the House intelligence committee’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election opened on Monday with Representative Devin Nunes of California, the committee’s chairman and a Trump ally, trying to split the difference between his hawkish view of Russia and his desire to deflect accusations that President Trump’s campaign benefitted from Russian interference in the election — or worse, possibly colluded with Moscow.
Shortly after Monday’s witnesses — Mr. Comey and Adm. Rogers — took their seats, Mr. Nunes opened by stating that Russia had a long track record of taking aggressive actions against its neighbors, and “its hostile acts take many forms aside from direct military assaults.”
Russia “has a long history of meddling in other countries’ election systems and launching cyber-attacks on a wide range of countries,” he said. “The fact that Russia hacked U.S. election-related databases comes as no shock to this committee.”
But in a nod to a claim pushed by Mr. Trump that he was wiretapped, Mr. Nunes said he wanted to know if there was improper surveillance of campaign officials. And he said it was important to find out “who has leaked classified information.”
“Numerous current and former officials have leaked purportedly classified information in connection to these questions,” Mr. Nunes said. “We aim to determine who has leaked or facilitated leaks of classified information so that these individuals can be brought to justice.”

Schiff: Collusion with Russia would be ‘most shocking betrayals of our democracy’

Representative Adam Schiff of California, the committee’s ranking Democrat, laid out the case that the Trump campaign was, at best, far too close to Russia — and far too eager to appease Moscow on Ukraine and other issues.
“If the Trump campaign, or anybody associated with it, aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of our democracy in history,” he said.
Mr. Schiff said the committee also plans to examine whether the raw intelligence substantiates intelligence officials’ assessment and whether the government reacted quickly and appropriately to revelations of Russia’s attack on the election.
It is “unknowable” whether Russian meddling altered the outcome of the election, Mr. Schiff said, emphasizing that it mattered more that Moscow succeeded in intervening and will do it again.
“If we do not do our very best to understand how the Russians accomplished this unprecedented attack on our democracy and what we need to do to protect ourselves in the future,” he said, “we will have only ourselves to blame.”

The president doth protest.

With the House intelligence committee set for the first public hearing on Russian election meddling, the president is posting his protests on Twitter — again.
The search for the real “leaker” is likely to be part of the questioning of the F.B.I. director, since Mr. Nunes has seconded the president’s opinion.
But Mr. Schiff asserted on Sunday that there was circumstantial evidence of collusion between Russian intelligence and Trump associates during the campaign. So protest as he might, Mr. Trump is not going to head off that line of questioning.
None of that is sitting well with the president of the United States. In a later offering, he went back to an oldie but goodie: Hillary Clinton.
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Here’s what to watch at the Intel Committee hearing.

■ Will Mr. Comey say definitively what he wanted the Justice Department to say for him, that Trump Tower was not wiretapped during the presidential campaign?
■ How hard will Republicans push Mr. Trump’s effort to unmask the leakers bringing Russia news to the media and thus to the public?
■ Will Democrats divert attention from the central issue of Russian election interference to demand a public explanation from Mr. Comey for why he publicly chastised Hillary Clinton for her handling of emails on her private server while keeping the Russia investigation hush-hush?

Another Republican to Trump: Just apologize.

While the president tweets, lawmakers from his own party are pleading with him to apologize for saying he was wiretapped — and move on.
The latest was Representative Will Hurd of Texas, a former intelligence officer, appearing on ABC.
It’s not as if Mr. Trump has nothing else to concern himself with. Beyond the intelligence committee, his nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil M. Gorsuch, begins his confirmation hearings on Monday; and as early as Thursday, the House will vote on its bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The fate of that effort will go a long way to determine the rest of Mr. Trump’s bold legislative agenda.