Before dawn on August 25th, Rafi jolted awake to the sounds of police outside Spirou Trikoupi, a building where he was squatting, in the Athens neighborhood of Exarchia. A muscular twenty-eight-year-old from Kabul, Rafi had been an interpreter for the U.S. military. In 2015, he made the punishing journey across Iran, Turkey, and the Aegean Sea, until he found himself in Exarchia, where anarchists and refugees were transforming abandoned buildings into self-organized sanctuaries. For two and a half years, Rafi had lived alongside ninety Eritreans, Iranians, Afghans, and Kurds, at Spirou Trikoupi, “like a family,” he said.
That morning, Rafi peered out his window. Police had massed on both sides of the street. He sat calmly on his bed, and listened to the clang of the bolt cutters on the locks. After a few minutes, Greek police, wearing black, with their faces covered, stormed in. Rafi recalled that when they entered the room, they pointed their guns at his head. Police herded the residents into vans, and then into police headquarters. The families waited hours without food; police demanded money for water. “When we asked what the fuck was going on, they told us, ‘Be quiet! Sit!’ ” Rafi said, mimicking their shouts. Late that night, police took the refugees to a hotel. After a few more days, they were sent to camps around Greece.
Rafi had been dreading this day since June, when Kostas Bakoyannis, a member of the right-wing New Democracy Party, was elected mayor of Athens. Bakoyannis had promised to bring law and order to Exarchia, and after taking power he quickly announced a five-year, ten-million-euro plan to subdue the neighborhood. Traditionally, police had stuck to Exarchia’s periphery, but Bakoyannis stationed police officers at major intersections in the neighborhood. Then he sent workers, guarded by riot police, to tear down banners, clean graffiti, and plant weedy shrubbery in Exarchia Square. Other incursions followed: friends told me about the beating of a bartender, and a late-night police raid on K-Vox, a squatted café and radical social center, that left the windows shattered and the interior filled with tear gas.