The Gallic village of Keratea

Demonstration in Keratea

A few days before Easter, the most important religious holiday in Greece, officials from the “Ministry for the protection of citizens”, the political commissars of the Greek Police, appeared before the TV cameras together with the bishop and the mayor of the municipality of Keratea, announcing the withdrawal of all police forces from the area, so that “everyone can have their holidays peacefully”.

This happened after about 4 months of military-style occupation by riot police, of a community of about 30.000 citizens, whose resistance over this period deservedly earned them the name of “village of undisciplined Gauls”. The citizens there, objected a decision for the creation of a landfill that would receive hundreds of thousands tons of waste from Athens (the Greek capital of nearly 4 million inhabitants) which is 50 km away from Keratea. 

During those months, Keratea has been the field of political action and discussions which overtook the “local” and the partly reactionary demands like “we want to defend the health of our families”.  These issues not only transcended the geographic  confines of Keratea (as it's citizens found support from all over Greece) but it also advanced the discussion further than mere talk about the specifics of landfill technologies. The fight of the citizens was an amazing opportunity for discussing the importance, in ecological and social terms, of waste management planning at scales other than the regional (which is the case nowadays) which so prominently fosters “private initiatives” in taking over and gaining huge profits from such activities.

The assertion of Keratea’s citizens advanced a change in the waste management model, moving on from concepts such as dehydration, burning or burying waste in huge landfills to a substantially more ecological management based on recycling, which would signal a departure from traditional consumerist habits  (on this subject, they were unknowingly close to a “degrowth”- like approach). This request stood against the state violence which was irrationally trying to impose its noxious and outdated waste management model only because of the huge financial benefits their chosen protégées would be able to make. It should be noted that the company that was about to benefit from all of this, is deeply connected to the government as one of the governing party’s prime financiers, but also owner of one of the major publishing houses in Greece.

At this very moment, we can say that Keratea has won an undeniable victory against the state. The citizens however are perfectly aware that the war is not over with this ceasefire. And most probably, the fight they should give now is more difficult than the one they fought against the repression forces. Formal discussions have started between state officials and representatives of the municipality of Keratea, but the outcome is uncertain as the citizens fear that agreements “under the table” could take place. Such a gimmick is something that the Greek version of the governing “social democracy” has proven very good at, as it was the case with the decision for the construction for the landfill, a project that was negotiated behind closed doors with the contractors and initiated without any prior consultation with the citizens.

Municipalism against parochialism

What has emerged in Keratea is the municipal identity, the identity of a small community rooted in its land and its solidarity links. It is this identity that defended the families, the land, the history and the natural environment, not using a sterile parochialism as the one expressed by a “not in my backyard!” rationale, but on the contrary, calling all Greek society to fight against top-down decisions. This explains how the specific fight of Keratea's citizens naturally connected with other social events and struggles in the country such has the immigrants' hunger strike, the “I don’t pay” movement, the ecologic movement or the anti-authoritarian movement.

Antistatism againt the repression's barbary

From the very first moment in Keratea, the state’s response was war. Policemen did not hesitate to take out their real guns on several occasions, fortunately without using them. However, shots with plastic bullets injured many citizens, breaking their arms and teeth. The policemen were literally fighting to enter the town and when they twice succeeded, they vandalized the resident's properties, breaking their cars and throwing tear gas through the open windows of houses. One night, at one of the two barricades the citizens had set up in the main streets, the barbarism culminated into the battery of five residents. Twenty men from the riot police took the five by surprise and started beating them, one by one. In several other occasions however, the citizens did not succumb to police brutality without responding accordingly. Beyond that, their real answer was the braveness, the solidarity and the belief in their righteous fight. In this framework, they carried out several actions, crucial to the goal at hand: they prevented the access to the landfill-to-be with barricades for four whole months, they trashed four machines belonging to the private company that intended to start building the landfill, they even dug two two-meter deep ditches on the main road leading to the town.

Direct democracy and the emergence of the municipality

What lies behind the victory of the people of Keratea is the almost total participation. Even the mayor and those around him, although essentially an integral part of the system, have exhibited large amounts of social responsibility, siding with the citizens and not with the central government. This is not irrelevant to the legacy the former mayor had left by organising information campaigns about waste management and disposal during all previous years. This way, citizens were fully aware of many scientific and ecological aspects of the issue at stake, a fact that has decisively strengthened their determination.

The current administration of the municipality of course, acted the way it did mostly because it felt the pressure originating from a large and very dynamic part of active citizens, who were pushing for initiatives employing direct democracy and was already influencing decisions at various levels. This important group of citizens is still active, antiauthoritarian and municipalist in character, without a leftist ideological stiffness or party flags. However, direct democracy in its revolutionary sense, as the exercise of power by the citizens rather than the patrons of the regime, has not blossomed in Keratea. There is probably no need to force facts in order to make them fit our own ideological aspirations. What did happen however, was that the current administration of the municipality did work together with a municipality of citizens convening in direct democratical assemblies. This particular element has been a very important and positive development and we feel we should welcome it as a step forward in the development of a revolutionary project.

The ecological consciousness

Keratea’s citizens carried out an unambiguous critique to the obsolete model of waste management promoted by the central government as well as to the western cultural model which produces and consumes trash instead of drastically limiting it. However, they didn’t succeed in providing any coherent critique to capitalism or any hints to suggest an overcoming of this system. Although Keratea became a symbol for all of us as well as for its own citizens, from the fight against the state to the firm  opposition to the raid of the IMF in Greece, Keratea’s residents apparently still believe in the system so much as to be waiting (rather in vain) for the rationalization of capitalism. 

The fight of Keratea is not over and it has already left a substantial legacy of social resistance in Greece, both as direct experience, as well as in the collective consciousness. The fights of the citizens of Keratea has already influenced the fight which has begun in Chalkidiki, an area in northern Greece. The residents of quite a few villages there, are fighting against the creation of five hundred meters in diameter open pits, hudreds of meters deep, in one of Greece's most beautiful mountainous areas in order to extract 0,8 grams of gold per ton of soil. This soil will then be disposed as waste, polluted due to the extraction process. Until now, plans for this have been stopped by the legal procedures started by the residents against the company, which strangely or not is the same one as the one that started building the landfill in Keratea. This fight has currently some of the direct-democratic aspects as the Keratea fight, however there are also many difficulties and contradictions. The gold extraction company has deployed a feudal strategy in the area, managing to buy-off the entire local government, to purchase vast areas of land and to trigger strife within the local communities.  Promises to create jobs in a poor area such as this, has pushed residents to choose between economic survival, their love for nature and social responsibility. It is probably still early for conclusions, but as a first report from this new battleground, we wish to ascertain the the continuous emergence and the criticality of issues that have to do with the self-managed, democratically organised local community fights against corporate governments. 

Editorial Comment

Here is a video accompanying this article. It is particularly valuable because it was produced by students of Keratea.