City at a Time of Crisis



Tracing and researching crisis-ridden urban public spaces

in Athens, Greece.


Radical Restructuring in Three Acts: Concentration Camps as Part of the Greek Crisis Management

by Lia Yoka, Aristotle University

Some years ago we were talking about Fortress Europe. Today we should be talking about KZ Europe. The spread of detention centers across the vieux continent does not only thicken the pattern of black dots on the map, it is also burning a deep fascist turn in the matrix of citizen consciousness.

The non-place of detention centers, which over the last twenty years has gradually taken on the historical charge and symbolism of traditional concentration camps, is now setting up a whole new anthropogeography of hate and exclusion.

Since their first appearance in the early 20th century in the Boer War, concentration camps have been a method of mass population management, drawing a clear line between the excluded and the incorporated, between those who no longer have a body and those who actually constitute the social body. Their function is at once to dehumanize both detainees and society at large. That is why they can easily be employed as a technique of mass extermination, as they were in the case of African rebels in western South Africa, African slaves in the Belgian Congo in the early 20th century, Jews (and gypsies, and others...) in WWII.

The shift in the function of detention reveals a profound broader change. During the period of prosperity in Greece, where social space was fully colonized by a blindly optimistic phase of commodity society, detention centers for migrants aimed at managing the workforce and the labor market favorably for Capital. They contributed to the creation of a class of illegalized workers, who would be cheap and without rights. Now, in the period of the so-called crisis, detention centers are turned into concentration camps, defining the excluded as prey, since manhunt, the actual chasing and hunting down of humans, is the only unifying practical ideology of governance on offer.

Hannah Arendt elaborates on the mechanism: "Despite their 'cynically avowed anti-utilitarianism', concentration camps are the key to maintaining total domination: The system of camps infuses society with an 'indefinable fear', necessary not only so that society remains under control by the spirit of totalitarianism, but also in order to inspire its attack squads with fanaticism."


I. Three acts: A vicious circle of profit and destruction

a. Immigrants as outlawed workers

“Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved” (Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, 1532)

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a large-scale looting operation was launched throughout Europe. Greece participated joyfully in the plundering, as hundreds of thousands of cheap workers (mainly Albanians) were crossing its borders. This round of primitive accumulation was hidden behind a curtain of nationalism. The name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia became a major issue of patriotism for the media, and with the breakout of the war in Bosnia, this strange nominalist patriotism was met with by a new type of "couch-nationalism": Tele-fascists started mixing conspiracy with Orthodox church journalism, and during the massacre in Srebrenica, members of the neonazi Golden Dawn were actually portrayed in the media discussing their reasons for creating paramilitary troops on the side of the Serbian army. A well-known talking head tried to even "broaden" their argumentation, by adding to the reasons for joining the war also the "shared Orthodox faith" and "our old friendship with the Serbs" (August 1985, Evangelatos, Sky channell). Joining the Serbian troops, he felt was "effort that comes straight from the soul".

In 1991, the government voted a law (entitled "Entering, exiting, staying, work, deportation of foreigners, recognition of refugees") which institutionalized and officialized the reproduction of cheap illegal labour power. In 1997 the PASOK government connected the legal status of the immigrant with the "needs of the market". With presidential bills 358 and 359 immigrants were also documented and the ratio of legals and illegals was taken into account for the first time. In 2001, Clause 2910 officialized the connection between acquiring a residence permission and having earned a high number of work stamps. The stamps were of course bought illegally, since most work on offer was illegal anyway.

This way the temporary character of their legal residence was emphasized: They were legal only insofar as there was a job. 'Broom operations' (sudden arrest sprees by the police) made sure Albanians knew they could be deported anytime. When they were deported, they soon came back and again found themselves trapped in a vicious circle of legality and illegality, the labyrinths of state bureaucracy and the sadistic attitude of the cops.

The temporary worker and the flexible worker were born.

In the first years of the new millenium security overrode any concern about human rights on an international level. Most crucially, it turned the issue of entry into the EU without papers into an issue of international terrorism. The EU set up the Schengen InformationSystem II, the Visa Information System, the EURODAC, a database for fingerprints of asylum seekers, as well as the FADO, a photographic database.

This was also the beginning of the process of externalization of the security borders of Europe. The construction of detention centers was promoted in Mediterranean countries. On the Eastern borders, the Ukraine was rewarded for its efforts in the war against illegal immigration, and so were Northern African countries, especially Libya, which for a while kept tens of thousands of sans papiers from approaching the European South.

More specifically: Dublin II was voted in February 2003 and Frontex started operating in May 2005. In the same year, hundreds of African immigrants tried to jump over the fences protecting the two Spanish clusters in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla. 15-20 immigrants (we don't know the exact number...) were shot dead, numerous others were pushed to the desert to die of hunger and thirst. This made the much-advertized need for the externalization of EU borders even more pressing. Spain sponsored Moroccan detention and Italy sponsored Libyan prisons in a series of unofficial agreements, which soon become official with Berlusconi's promise of 5 billion dollars to Ghaddafi in exchange for "managing the immigration problem" for him.

Towards the middle of the decade, entries from Italy and Spain decreased dramatically, and the Greco-Turkish border became the focus of efforts to get into the EU. In Greece detention spaces were improvised. After the escape in 2002 of hundreds of migrants from Venna, Sapes and Elaphochori, (all unofficial detention centers in the Evros are), there began the construction of organized places for detention. Official detention centers were built in 2003 in Pagani on Lesvos island, in 2006 on Chios, in 2007 in Fylakio (Evros) and on Samos. Unofficial detention centers continued to function in containers, old depots, defunct factory buildings and old hotels, redundant barracks, police stations across the country. In 2008, 90 such places were documented.


b. Immigrants as human surplus

“A nation cannot develop and become strong without a sense of urgency and a sense of crisis.” (Long Yongtu, China's chief WTO negotiator, Financial Times, 17 November 1999)

In 2005, Law 3386 was passed for the management of migrants, according to which there should be a yearly report on the needs of the market which would determine the number of permissions to stay and work (on a single document) that could be issued each year. Bureaucracy became even more complicated and the fines got higher.

This is the symbolic beginning of the treatment of migrants as human surplus. It marks the transition of migrants from cheap labor depot to human waste.

This change of status, from cheap labor force to waste, had been anticipated right after the Olympic Games in 2004. In December of that year, when an Afghani had run away after his arrest, special guards and police forces had launched a full scale attack against several Afghans, raiding houses and chasing them on the streets and beating them up wherever they could find them. Two Afghans were arrested, held at a police station and were systematically tortured by the police.

At this stage, while the naturalization of human waste was still underway, detention centers were still kept a dark secret. So were deaths at the EU border. In 2007 there were 280 deaths in the Aegean, while a report by the German NGO ProAsyl was openly confirming that torture methods were being systematically used by the coast guards. (ProAsyl 2007, "The truth might be bitter but it must be told":‎)

How did this transition take place? First on Samos, at the new "model" detention center bosses were allowed to have their pick every morning amongst the refugees for "tasks of the day". So they chose hands for the olive business and their only obligation was to return them to the detention center at night. On a lucky day, the sans papiers would have 15 € in their pockets - compared to the 50 € that Albanians would ask for. Exploitation continued with the full dependence of immigrants on the trafficking circuits that promised to pass them over to Northern Europe, to an extent that would allow us to speak of a fully developed parallel State, a Parastate of slavetrade and trafficking. In 2008, three quarters of all migrants who crossed external EU borders did so through Greece. They did not necessarily remain in Greece. The commodity "migrant" acquired great surpus value because of its illegality: The slavetrade networks made lots of money. There was a boost in the criminal side of exploitation: Migrants were kidnapped for ransom until they starved to death, minors disappeared, the organ trade thrived, drug trafficking and prosititution too.

This is a criminal dimension that did not reach the media. Meanwhile, a pilot "State of Emergency" was being manufactured in the center of Athens. By then, it was already clear: The refugees of the wars of the New World Order and the "War on Terror" were now becoming the protagonists of a "humanitarian crisis" in specific neighbourhoods that were turned into the breeding ground for fascists.

In Greece, already after the Olympics in 2004, the future had been predetermined. It was the methodical destruction of productive forces and of living labor, for a new round of capitalist accumulation: the game of destruction, devaluation and profit. The choice of accumulating "human-garbage" in the center of Athens has often been attributed to a systematic reduction in land values as part of a broader "gentrification" plan. This may be true, as it is also true that this "human accumulation" contributed to the expansion and multiplication of many types of mafia structures.

The core, however, of the "policy of human waste" is that it set an example for Greek society, an example which naturalized the necessity of totalitarianism, whether in the form of fascist assault squads or in the form of police raids.

With our description of the mechanism of "immigration chaos" we do not imply that the ruling elites designed it in every detail. They simply watched and encouraged the situation unfold in that direction. They reinforced what contributed to this direction and fought against what could prevent it. The attack against the lives of immigrants was not aimed at, or at least was not exclusively aimed at creating cheap labor depots. It also served to create a paradigm of devalued humanity, a kind of "naked life" unworthy of rights or protection. EU legislation, which the parliamentary Left is always appealing to, provided the legal justification for control through prolonged detention. Until December 2008, maximum's detention time in Greece was 3 months, with the EU "Shameful Directive on Return" it was extended to 18, as it remains until now.

The counterinsurgency that followed the December 2008 riots was realized through an attack against immigrants and refugees, which began in the spring of 2009. Until then, they had been relatively invisible. Now they were suddenly too visible and too many, they were "the greatest threat for Greek society".

Immigrants were criminalized a second time, this time also as victims deprived of their human existence. They were turned into a problem, which was presented to us together with its solution. In the summer of 2009, there was the first official announcement of the creation of concentration camps. The shift towards a full-blown fascist discourse and the transformation of society into a pro-fascist audience culminated in 2012, with the minister of Public Order Chrysochoidis announcing the creation of dozens of concentration camps in which 30.000 undocumented immigrants should be imprisoned.

On August 4th, 2012, Greek institutional racism celebrated the anniversary of the 1936 military dictatorship by launching the "Xenios Zeus" operation, a spectacular celebration of mass arrests of sans-papiers in the center of Athens... The police operation was named "Xenios Zeus" (what a wicked sense of humor!), after the god who protected strangers in Ancient Greece. The reasons justifying the operation went back to some contested conception of Bronze Age history: "From the Dorian invasion, 4,000 years ago, the country has never accepted such a large scale invasion ... migration might be a bigger problem than the economic crisis" (Nikos Dendias, Minister of Public Order, August 4, 2012).

The symbolism of concentration camps was a completely conscious choice within the framework of the publicly announced state of emergency, the public pronouncement of the politics of exception.


c. Immigrants as human prey

"State sovereignty is based upon the distinction between friend and enemy" (Karl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, 1927)

“The legitimation of violence against a demonized internal enemy brings us close to the heart of fascism.” (Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, 2004)

77,526: The number of immigrants captured by the Greek police since the beginning of the "Xenios Zeus" police operation, in the city of Athens mainly. The vast majority of them were "legal" immigrants, the number of undocumented migrants who were actually arrested in Athens is 4.435. This is a huge, military-style manhunt, in every sense of the term.

7,000: The number of sans-papiers immigrants currently detained in concentration camps in Greece. To that should be added an unreported number of undocumented imprisonments of migrants in police stations throughout the country.

50.7%: The percentage of policemen voting for the nazi party in the May 2012 elections in the special voting center for the (militarized) police motorcycle units ("Dias", "Delta" and "Zeta" squads) in Athens. If you add to this the 12.5% of them that voted for the populist far-right party "Independent Greeks" and the 5% that voted for the Le Pen style party "LAOS", you get a clear idea. The relevant percentages in the riot police voting center in Athens are: 46.7% for the nazi party, 10.7% for "Independent Greeks" and 5.5% for "LAOS".

40%: The decline of life standards in Greece in just three years.


II. The end of the circle and the beginning of a new one...

a. Getting rid of the surplus

The intensification of anti-immigrant policies was allegedly intended to "restrict immigrant population in the country". Immigrants however did not and do not leave Greece because of the fascist attacks, for hardship and insane violence is nothing new to them. They leave the country mainly because there are no jobs and no way to get by. In the last two years they have been returning to their countries, even going back to Turkey (where they are still offered the bitter privilege of brutal exploitation as extremely cheap labor force), or they get trapped in other Balkan countries (Serbia, Rep. of Macedonia) trying to reach the "European dream" and end up working in construction for some Russian mafia at Montenegro tourist resorts.

The decrease in the number of undocumented migrants entering Greece is not due to "anti-immigrant policies" but because of the policy of planned economic disaster. The sharp decline in the number of immigrants entering through the Greco-Turkish border in the Evros region is not due to the much-advertized fence. Before, this route was the choice of workers from northern and central Africa, the Middle East and Asia who could travel without a visa to Turkey and enter Greece crossing the river on boats and on foot. In the last years in Greece we are facing a systematic destruction of productive forces and living labor. So, simply put, migrant workers just do not come anymore - they know there is absolutely nothing to do here.

It might sound contradictory to even try to explain the decline in the number of incoming immigrants in Greece through the economic crisis, since most of them are "transit immigrants" and do not want to stay in Greece anyway. However, for the mere passage through Greece one needs money. If the undocumented do not have money, they must work to raise the amounts demanded by traffickers for the next part of the trip. If they have money, they should not spend it elsewhere. But as they are trapped in Greece, even if they do have money for the traffickers, eventually they have to spend it for their own survival. As there are no jobs, the passage from Greece is not a choice anymore, and the same goes for choosing Greece as a final destination.

Let us repeat this. The number of undocumented immigrants arrested on Greek territory had been in sharp decline before the launching of the "Xenios Zeus" operation in Athens and the "Operation Shield" in Evros: From 146,337 in 2008, the number of arrested fell to 76,878 in 2012. This number does not reflect the number of incomers, as only 60% of the arrests happen at the border. The total number includes many immigrants arrested again and again in big Greek cities: 28,558 of the 99,368 arrests of 2011, 27,541 of the 76,878 arrests in 2012 and 11,636 of the 31,050 arrests in the first 9 months of 2013. According to Greek Police data, the number of undocumented immigrants entering Greece fell from 90,000 in 2010 to 60-70,000 in 2011 and to 40-50,000 in 2012. In comparison, the number of undocumented arrested on an annual basis throughout the EU according to the website of the department of internal affairs of the European Commission is an astonishing 500,000. The overall decline in the numbers of undocumented in Greece is reflected by the fact that in 2013 the number of those who left Greece for central Europe via the Balkan countries was double the number of those who entered Greece from Turkey according to the Frontex Risk Analysis bulletin-second quarter of 2013. The passage through the Western Balkans also demonstrates the economic dead-end that undocumented immigrants face in Greece. Is not the only route out of Greece, but it is chosen by more and more as it is the cheapest passage, since there is no strong network of traffickers yet, and the passage is largely done impromptu.

The sad confirmation of the change of the entry route of immigrants into Europe comes from the hundreds of recent deaths in Lampedusa.

The passage to Greece through the Aegean increased sharply (505%), mainly because of the war in Syria. According to the Reuters agency (21/10/2013) more than 600,000 refugees of this war are now in Turkey. A comparatively small number of refugees from Syria (which has a land border with Turkey) cross Anatolia on foot and try to enter Greece through the Aegean. The tragic result: Dozens of refugees dead in ship-wrecks in the Aegean and mass graves on Lesvos.


b. Cheap workforce without rights, now "for Greeks only"

The new Greek "Immigration Code" attempts to regulate "legal" immigrants who, in the new context of the devaluation of workforce, are seen as "useless labour overaccumulation". The Code basically says to the "legal" immigrants: "Thanks for your cooperation, now goodbye". The new Code encourages "flexibility" in the conversion of previously "legal" immigrants into "illegal" ones (because of unemployment and inability to collect work stamps necessary for them to remain "legal"). This flexibility is accompanied by a new regulation, which promises to convert the immigrant status of "long-term residence" in Greece to a legal option of going to work in another EU country. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are threatened to become "illegals" because of the "economic crisis" are practically forced to move to another European country. As far as Greece is concerned, Greeks are now meant to occupy the position and the social status of immigrant workers. Both fascists and neoliberals agree on this: Cheap workforce without rights is now an option "for Greeks only".

The same goes for concentration camps: Greeks are intended to occupy the position of immigrants in the camps (or rather to obey, "or else the camps await"): Last spring Greek drug addicts were shut in the Amygdaleza immigrants detention center. Some weeks later, plans were (deliberately) leaked in the mainstream Press about the use of former military barracks for the imprisonment of Greek tax debtors: "After all", the report went, "you used to send your kids for military service there, it couldn't be so bad to spend some time jailed in a military barrack yourselves, or would you prefer immigrants to take advantage of this hospitality offer?" Dimokratia newspaper, 19 April 2013)... The intensification of anti-immigrant policies ultimately aimed mostly at the management of locals, not the immigrants.


III. Concentration camps as crisis management through the destruction of human


“…dominion can be established, that is, men can be unified only in a unity against - against other men. Every association of men is necessarily a separation from other men” (Karl Schmitt, Political Theology, 1922)


The politics of the Greek State, with fascism as the “extremist of the center”, is the politics of devaluation. It is the politics of permanent emergency, of constant exception and of sustainable, organized chaos. It attacks immigrants first as part of the management of the whole population.

With the sudden depreciation of life becoming the norm, a renewed totalitarianism needs its iconography. Now we know: The images from concentration camps in Greece were not "leaked" in order to denounce brutality, but in order to advertise it, just like the torture images from Guantanamo were publicized to assure American patriots that their army was doing its job.

"Concentration camps for immigrants" have became a flag notion in the dominant fascist rhetoric of the government. They are the symbolic place where the "unnecessary ones", people without rights (an expanding concept) are being discarded. They are a black hole of a simple dialectics of management - fear and hate: Fear of being dumped there, hate for those who are already in there. In the style of a generalized military camp, the "troops of sovereignty", whether the legal state security forces or the fascist "assault squads", are being trained on the naked bodies of those stripped of every human quality. Large-scale police operations are being conducted as military clearing operations. Hate spreads. Mixed with despair, it creates the kind of citizen that capitalism, the Party of Death, prefers to govern.




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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...