Academic journal article Social Justice

The Crisis before "The Crisis": Violence and Urban Neoliberalization in Athens

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Crisis before "The Crisis": Violence and Urban Neoliberalization in Athens

Article excerpt

Growth and Poverty

BETWEEN 1995 AND 2007, GREECE EXPERIENCED ONE OF THE EUROPEAN Union's (EU) highest rates of economic growth (Kaplanis 2011; Matsaganis and Leventi 2011, 5). However, a substantial portion of the country's population was partially excluded or had a very unfair share of the material benefits that were linked to that growth. The first victims of exclusion were migrant populations. Between 1991 and 2001, over 600,000 migrants moved to Greece, mostly coming from other parts of the Balkans--Albania in particular. Due to the political and economic meltdown of socialist countries, but also to the lack of migration control apparatuses in Greece, most of these newcomers migrated without documents (Kapsalis 2007a; Dalakoglou 2010a). The first serious attempt at a regularization policy in Greece did not come until 2001 (Kapsalis 2007b). Most of these migrants therefore spent several years in Greece either with temporary documents or entirely without papers, thus becoming an easily exploited and institutionally stigmatized group (see Katsoridas 2007). (2)

If in the 1990s most migrants came from postsocialist countries, in the 2000s increasing numbers came from the world's war zones, e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Palestine, and Kurdistan, or from dictatorial regimes such as Pakistan, Egypt, or Iran, to mention but a few. Being the most southeastern member of the European Union (EU), and with large sea borders on the east and south of the continent, Greece became the first stop in the Eastern Mediterranean for the flourishing undocumented migratory flows. These people often headed toward the urban centers to remain less visible, to leave the country more easily, or to find acquaintances or a job.

If part of the early migratory flows of the 1990s might be relatively settled today, many of the undocumented or semi-documented migrants who arrived during the 2000s have been living under extreme precariousness for many years. Financial austerity has exacerbated this situation. One indication of the increased institutional and social pressures endured by migrants was the collective hunger strike by three hundred semi-documented migrants in Athens during the winter of 2010-2011. Their demand was for a more sensible regularization policy for migrants in Greece (see Mantanika and Kouki 2011). As I will show, since that hunger strike things have changed a lot in Greece--for the worse. Soon after the strike, migrants in the country were to experience an increase in racist physical attacks carried out by the extreme Right and the police, especially against people of African or Asian origin (HRW 2012; Dalakoglou 2012, 2013).

If great parts of the migratory populations have experienced high degrees of precariousness and violence for over a decade now, after the outbreak of the 2010 crisis poverty and precariousness have extended well beyond the migrants. Authors such as Kaika (2012) have observed empirically the emergence of a distinction between the neo-poor (Greek passport-holder poor) and the old poor (the migrant poor). Eurostat3 figures reveal that some 20 percent of the population was living "at risk of poverty" throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, that is during the period of economic growth. Throughout this period, Greece had one of the highest rates of youth unemployment and underemployment in the EU (Mitrakos et al. 2010; Sokou et al. 2000). This trend intensified and was further institutionalized under EU and Greek employment policies that facilitated flexible labor. An example would be the EU-sponsored stage programs, which in fact were a generalized model of underpaid and uninsured internships. Stages, combined with other amendments in employment laws, normalized and institutionalized temporary underpaid labor (Kaplanis 2011); the underpaid youngster became so common that people started talking about the C700 generation. This soon fell to C600 and today does not even exist, since the youth unemployment (of 15-24 year olds) at the end of 2012 was over 57 percent (E1. …

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