Spata, Attica, February 1976, a flipped over police bus, officers of the newly funded riot police near the site where took place clashes with the residents who protest against the plans of the new airport. This road is today next to the Athens airport which was built eventually between late 1990s and early 2000s. (photo from the book: 'November 1983: These struggles are continued, were not redeemed, they did not find justice' Patra: Antipliroforisi )
By Dimitris Dalakoglou & Yannis Kallianos
One of the major uprisings of the early post-dictatorial period in Greece (1974-1981) took place in response to plans to construct a new infrastructure. The people of Spata, a town outside Athens, fiercely resisted government plans to build the capital city’s new airport within the boundary of their municipality. Following many months of protests in 1975 and 1976, the locals erected a ‘watchtower’ overlooking the site where the airport was to be built. The villagers took shifts in the ‘watchtower’ in order to prevent works from starting on the site and to alert those in the town of any suspicious activity. On 2 February 1976, however, the government decided to clear out the protesters. A large force of riot police was sent from Athens to take control of the territory. This resulted in a series of violent confrontations that lasted for many hours; 27 police officers and 10 Spata residents were injured. The protesters overturned police buses, and took a policeman hostage for several hours in retaliation for the arrest of five of their fellow villagers.
Although there are ethnographers working in the area (Gefou-Madianou 1999; 2014) there is not much information regarding the events around the anti-airport struggles. According to the local oral histories that we recorded in 2014, the majority of Spata’s population in the 1970s relied on farming as a major source of household income and they were not interested in losing their land for an airport that none of them would use. At that time, air travel was still exclusive and well outside the socio-cultural matrix of most Greeks. Thus, although the government had promised compensation, or had at least made abstract promises to farmers about establishing new export markets, the Spata residents remained unconvinced.
It is a testament to the seismic shift in the collective mindset over the following decades as, today, Athens International Airport ‘Eleftherios Venizelos’ is located precisely in Spata. Work eventually began on it in the 1990s and it was completed in 2001– with no resistance at a time of unprecedented infrastructural development under a national narrative of progress and modernization.
This enthusiasm – which reached its height from the mid 1990s to the mid-to-late two thousands – was short-lived, however. The advent of the euro-crisis, almost thirty-five years after the Spata protests, spurred people to deeper thought. The acquiescence or enthusiasm for large scale state infrastructure projects took on a new form of suspicion and resistance. Ironically, Messogeia in the wider Spata area, became one of the first places to demonstrate this second shift in public opinion when, in late 2010, Keratea, a neighboring town to Spata, rose up against the government’s plans to build a new waste management facility for Athens and its periphery. The project was supposed to be a completely new type of facility for the country's waste management standards, according to the government at the time. Greece's supreme court, where the municipality of Keratea had appealed the government's decision, had ruled that there are no environmental risks. The site selected, while a few kilometers away from the town itself, was well within the boundaries of the municipality. The struggle shared some very similar characteristics to those witnessed in Spata. Keratea was the first major grassroots struggle that the Greek austerity-governments faced following the signing of the initial loan agreement in May 2010.
As such it was also to prove indicative of the social movements that were to come during the crisis. It manifested the mobilization of critical masses locally and of groups that during the recent past had had no connection with social movements and activism. Keratea was paradigmatic not only in terms of qualitative characteristics, which one observes being repeated during the protests of the crisis (Dalakoglou 2012), but mostly because it indicated the concretization of a new period in the history of Greek politics where infrastructures emerge as one of the major arena of political and social contestation (Kallianos 2017).
infra-demos seeks to find what changed between the early stages of that post-dictatorial period (1974-1981) and the 1990s when the airport and the new Attica Expressway – that connects the city with the airport – alongside the Olympic facilities, the largest motorways in the country (Via Egnatia) and plethora of other infrastructural projects began to be built enjoying the consent of the critical mass? Furthermore what changed in the most recent stage of that period (2010-) where almost every Greek state infrastructural project has met with local resistance?
Dalakoglou, Dimitris (2012) Beyond spontaneity: crisis, violence and collective action in Athens. City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 16 (5). pp. 535-545
Gefou-Madianou, Dimitra 1999. “Cultural Polyphony and Identity Formation: Negotiating Tradition in Attica”. American Ethnologist 26(2): 412–439.
Gefou-Madianou, Dimitra. 2014. “Messogia, the new ‘Eleftherios Venizelos Airport’ and ‘Attiki Odos’ or, the Double Marginalization of Messogia”. In Jaya Klara Brekke et al (eds) Crisis-scapes: Athens and Beyond. Athens: Crisis-scape, pp. 18-21.
Kallianos, Y. 2017 Infrastructural disorder: The politics of disruption, contingency, and normalcy in waste infrastructures in Athens. Environemnt and Planning D: Society and Space