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Tracing and researching crisis-ridden urban public spaces

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état de siege: public space user manual (1 of 3)

état de siege [1]: public space user manual (1 of 3)

We shall reoccupy our cities and our neighbourhoods. We shall treat humanely all those who are in need. But Law shall return to the cities. And the feeling of security shall be reinstated among their residents. We shall, lastly, satisfy the common conception of Justice” [2]. On April 7th, 2012 the current prime minister of Greece, Antonis Samaras, used this ambivalent if explicitly martial declaration in order to demonstrate one of the main axes of his political agenda during the closing act of his most recent pre-electoral campaign.

His speech at his party’s cross-administrative council, a few days prior, was along the same lines: while talking of the consequences of the migration phenomenon in Greece, he stressed out that “we need to reoccupy our cities” [3]. These declarations’ martial connotations cause, unfortunately, little surprise. In an attempt to divert attention from current torrential socio-financial developments, and choosing to crouch together public opinion around the issue of public security, Samaras has focused on the imposition of a totalitarian political agenda – declaring that he shall reoccupy Greek cities. But who exactly will he take them back from?

The Greek Prime Minister envisions the reoccupation in question upon two main axes, based on which he now formulates a new dogma concerning public order. Both axes are presented as affirmative threats against social cohesion. The first, with the qualities and characteristics of an Enemy Within, concerns that notorious collective subject – created to a great extent by the media – that he terms as the “hoodlums”: the “koykoylofóroi” [4]. The second one, articulated through an invader discourse, that is, an External Enemy, relates to those migrant populations that do not hold legal documents and who nowadays make their presence strongly felt particularly around Athens’ central neighbourhoods. We will chose to ignore the first axis, since this would require analytical tools that would in turn require, for example, clarifying the wider context of political struggles in post-dictatorial Greece – let alone clarifying the political characteristics of what we could term as the anti-authoritarian/ anarchist movement. And so, it would appear more meaningful for us to ponder over the way in which this new dogma of public security deals with the issue of migration.

There is no doubt that the martial declarations in question are constructed upon an explicitly nationalist-racial discourse. References to “illegal migrant ghettos” that accompany the aforementioned declarations, the announcements of the construction of migrant detention camps and the simultaneous commitment by Samaras to abolish the so-called “Ragousis Law” (which allowed for the unhindered granting of Greek citizenship to migrants either following their birth in Greece or after they had attended a Greek school for six years [5]) evince that this comprises an operation to shield the Greek nation against dangers that may be abstract, but nevertheless carry an explicitly racial connotation. Within this political context, it becomes evident that neither the broad “residents” concept, nor that of a “common conception of Justice” – upon which the said declarations are articulated – concern non-Greek citizens. The notorious security feeling therefore carries some explicitly national-racial characteristics, whilst the notion of the public is hereby based upon a selective interpretation that presupposes the holding a particular citizenship – and therefore cancels out the unconditional nature of the public status. Any claim to civil rights relies de facto upon this selective usage – and any such claim therefore becomes near-prohibitive for the migrant subject [6].

Yet Samaras was not alone in banging the drums of war at the time. On April 1st 2012 Andreas Loverdos – then minister of Health – and Michalis Chrysochoidis – then minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection – used another weighted military metaphor in a joint press conference, referring to a “hygienic bomb” that was about to detonate [7]. They described, in this extreme way, the situation in the centre of Athens – once again in relation to the large migrant populations that inhabit it.

As part of this communicative technique of the emergency, they committed to the imposition of compulsory hygienic checks for all migrants, while they announced the introduction of a complaint line for all flats inhabited by large numbers of migrants [8]. They outlined, in this way, the responsibilities and the ambitions of a modern-day Polizeiwissenschaft. The Minister of Health in question, after all, did not break away from his norm, using as he did one of his beloved wordings: in November 2011 he had once again used a martial discourse to refer to a matter that had arisen regarding seropositive sex workers. As he had emphatically declared at the time, these workers comprised a threat for the Greek family [9].

Similarly, he had presented the Ypatia Megaron as a “hygiene bomb” a good few months prior. Ypatia was a building in the centre of Athens where 300 migrants, primarily from countries of the Maghreb, were temporarily hosted; after their years-long stay in Greece these migrants demanded legalising documents – and they commenced a hunger strike to this aim in late January 2011 [10].


by Christos Filippidis




[1]  état de siege: it was declared when a city literally came under attack. The history of the term in question takes us back to the declaration of July 8th, 1791 by the French Revolutionary Assembly. Yet its meaning edged close to the contemporary one following Napoleon’s decree on December 24th, 1811; a decree that stretched the meaning of the term – detaching it, in a sense from the actual military condition. This happened because as Giorgio Agamben explains, it was henceforth possible thanks to this decree to declare an état de siege even “whenever circumstances require giving more forces and more power to the military police, without it being necessary to put the place in a state of siege” See Agamben Giorgio, State of Exception, trans. by Kevin Attell, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London p. 4.

[2]  Newspaper To Vima (The Pondium), Saturday April 7, 2012, (in Greek).

[3], Thursday March 29, 2012, (in Greek).

[4]  For a clarification of the term see the Glossary in Vradis Antonis & Dalakoglou Dimitris (eds), Revolt and Crisis – Between a Present Yet to Pass and a Future Still to Come, AK Press & Occupied London, Oakland, Baltimore, Edinburgh, London & Athens, 2011, page 338

[5]  A commitment that was eventually honoured in November 2012, following a decision by the Council of State for the suspension of the citizenship granting procedure, deeming the law in question unconstitutional. See (in Greek).  It is nevertheless interesting to see that the Council in question convened in order to discuss and decide upon the matter following an appeal by Ioannis Andrianopoulos, a lawyer and international relations expert who infoms us, via an extensive article of his, on the process and the conclusion of his appeal via the official website of the far-right party Golden Dawn, on November 15, 2011. See (in Greek). It is also interesting to see that the Council of State evidently invoked – yet without explicitly articulating it – the notorious criterion of jussanguinis (right of blood), in order to rest its decision. In this way, it described the issue of safeguarding the state’s national homogeneity as this had arisen with the law in question. Regarding the notion of jussanguinis, see Agamben, Giorgio, HomoSacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford University Press, Stanford 1998, p. 77.

[6]  The pre-conditions for entering the political community and, by extension, the provision of rights that this belonging implies, inevitably come to the fore through the discussion on migration. And as Agamben has shown in regard to the refugee figure, we should not be surprised by the fact that the discourse around, and the declaration of any rights is unable to prevent the asymetries that methodically organise the devaluation of migrants’ lives. It is, in addition, due to this precise inherent ambiguity of the declarations in question that we can nowadays take the existence of second class citizens for granted. And it is precisely upon the basis of this ambiguity that we can “forgive” the prime minister when he asserts that “we shall treat humanely all those who are in need”. Because he makes mere use of the biopolitical legacy of the modern nation state, which allows him to talk of humanitarianism on the basis of structural discriminations and exclusions, yet without his discourse giving birth to any paradox whatsoever. And using the words of Hannah Arendt, Agamben clarifies: “The conception of human rights,” she states, “based upon the assumed existence of a human being as such, broke down at the very moment when those who professed to believe in it were for the first time confronted with people who had indeed lost all other qualities and specific relationships – except that they were still human” (Agamben ibid, p. 75). Based upon this logic, we can conceive the proposal by the prime minister for a legislative adjustment according to which when an illegal migrant is arrested for an offense by deception, the sentence imposed on them must be higher than the sentence foreseen by the Penal Code for legal citizens. See, for example, the newspaper To Vima, Monday September 17, 2012, (in Greek). In addition, we must place the statement by the government spokesperson within the exact same conceptual framework: when responding to the reaction caused by the abolition of the aforementioned “Ragousis Law”, he openly declared that “Greece is a democracy and the rights of her citizens cannot be equated with the rights of those that enter the country illegally”. See (in Greek).

[7]  Newspaper Ethnos, Sunday April 1st, 2012, (in Greek).

[9] The Minister of Health stated at the time: “the issue of the seropositive sex workers of Athens is a detonated hygiene bomb that threatens the greek family”. Source (in Greek). Loverdos and Chrysochoidis returned to the subject even more aggressively on the eve of the elections of May 6th, 2012. Following an extensive police-hygienic operation at “hangouts” of sex workers of the centre of Athens, they made a last-resort-type attempt to show personal achievement, at the penultimate moment, by claiming political gains from the merging of public health with public order – and so they went ahead with the arrest of 29 seropositive sex workers, prosecuting them under the charge of severe and intended bodily harm and violation of the law concerning female sex workers. This media-led operation was accompanied by the publication of their photographs and their personal data alike, while it was completed with the pre-trial detention of 26 of them (for more information see the website, in Greek). It is not the aim of the present article to comment upon the incomprehensible of the charges of intended bodily harm, knowing that the paid sexual contact without precaution is encourages or imposed by the clients themselves – the clients who, in the absurdity of the case in question, were presented as innocent victims. What the use of the example in question merely wants to illustrate is that the appeals and announcements by Loverdos, already from early last year, were methodically paving the way for a police intervention; or, to be precise, they were creating the entire path. See for example the article by Panagiota Karlatira, titled The AIDS-infected whores are a “hygienic bomb”, newspaper Proto Thema, Tuesday May 1st, 2012 (in Greek) and the article by A. Ntarzanos titled “Hygienic panic”, the forefront of PASOK’s pre-electoral campaign, newspaper Avgi, Sunday May 6th, (in Greek).



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City at the Time of Crisis is a research project tracing and researching the effects of the ongoing financial crisis on urban public spaces in Athens, Greece. Read more...