Immediately after the 12th February protests and riots, I collected evidence of as many specific incidents of property damage/destruction as possible. Here, I want to query the standard account of the attacks on property. I think it has three problems: it under-counts the number of banks attacked; it excludes the political buildings attacked; and it cannot take account of the places not damaged, not targeted violently, or not targeted at all.
The assessment of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry
The Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI(1)) and the National Confederation of Greek Commerce (NCGC(2)) produced the standard account of the burning and looting. 12 ACCI and 2 NCGC teams ‘recorded the destruction [κατέγραψαν τις καταστροφές]’. Their assessment was accepted by euro2day, and thereby ANT1; Kathimerini; Proto Thema, and thereby Greek economy and business and news blogs; and Stochos. (Rather unfortunately, their numbers were added up wrong by Hellenic Business.) So, it should be possible to have confidence in the ACCI assessment.
The ACCI/NCGC recorded that 45 businesses (of various types) were completely destroyed by fire, and that 125 businesses suffered damage:
- 70 clothing-and-footwear stores;
- 29 businesses of various types;
- 17 banks;
- 5 department stores and shopping centres; and
- 4 book shops.(3)
Significantly, this survey also affirms the impression that the attacks primarily happened in a rectangular zone roughly marked out by: parliament (Syntagma); the shopping/tourist district (Monastiraki); and the ghetto(s) of the dispossessed (Omonoia and Exarcheia, within which is Athens Polytechnic); the University of Athens is in the middle of that rectangle (Panepistimio).(4)
So, this survey is certainly very valuable. It may suggest different conclusions than the evidence of the attacks individually documented online. However, there are three significant problems: first, what it counted; second, what it did not count; and third, what it could not count.
Problem 1: what is counted – banks (5)
First, the ACCI survey appears to under-count the number of banks attacked; it recorded 17 in total, whereas I found 21 in my online research. I e-mailed the ACCI on the 1st of March and asked it for a catalogue or list of the 170 damaged/destroyed buildings; and I tweeted it on the 6th of March; but it did not reply.
This discrepancy raises important questions:
- Were more than 170 commercial buildings seriously damaged?
- Or were some of the unidentified commercial buildings actually banks?
- Did citizens and journalists inexplicably photograph and video the least serious incidents (the 17 banks officially accounted for, plus another 4 unaccounted for)? And if so, what constituted more serious incidents?
- Or did they document the most serious incidents? And if so, what constituted less serious incidents, but still ‘severe damage’: smashed front windows?
- Regardless, what are the real numbers? Is this survey an example of Greek statistics?
Problem 2: what is not counted – political and politicised properties
Second, the ACCI survey (naturally, but nonetheless) excludes parliamentary/party/bureaucratic buildings, cultural venues, police properties, public services and media offices.
I only counted targets that were specifically identified (by either name and address, or detailed description and location), and for which there was solid evidence (photographs or videos; multiple independent eyewitness accounts; or multiple independent journalists’ reports). Of the 69 targets in my records, the rioters damaged or destroyed:
- 22 “general” commercial properties;
- 21 banks;
- 13 parliamentary/party/bureaucratic buildings;
- 9 cultural venues;
- at least 2 police stations;
- 1 public service; and
- 1 journalists’ office.
Thus, at least 20 seriously damaged buildings (at least 10% of the actual total) have been excluded from the ACCI assessment; thus, they may be excluded from the public history of 12th February.
Similarly, the primary targets of violence on the far quieter 13th of February were politicians’ offices and banks.
Athens’ Deputy Mayor, Andreas Varelas, claimed that rioters targeted ‘emblematic buildings‘. The cultural policy chief of right-wing coalition party New Democracy, Thanassis Davakis, claimed that ‘[c]riminals targeted all that was best in the city of Athens, its neoclassical monuments’. And some of the reports (rightly) singled out the nine historic buildings damaged. (This can be confusing, as one historic complex contains three separate businesses; So, the 9 landmarks constitute 11 properties.)
However, the buildings were not targeted as historic sites; and some of them served various “practical” rather than “historical” functions (e.g. as banks rather than monuments); so it is unhelpful to count them as cultural heritage sites in the analysis. Furthermore, no historic buildings were damaged anywhere else in Greece. In Athens, some places were politicised, and legitimised as targets, by their status as political or economic symbols.
(A couple of sites were not thought of as targets, but they were used as “quarries” – sources of stone with which rioters could attack the police, or defend themselves from the police.)
The bookshops were only attacked in Athens; and they were damaged in the generic anti-commercial violence of anti-capitalist protesters run amok. They were not attacked as bookshops. (And they were not attacked as symbols of anything else – unlike Gay’s the Word, the bookshop victim to a homophobic hate crime during the English riots of August 2011.) So the Greek attacks on the bookshops were ugly, but insignificant.
More than three times as many political buildings (parliamentary/party/bureaucratic offices) were damaged as bookshops. Political buildings were attacked across Greece; and they were attacked as sites and symbols of the political and economic system. Their damage and destruction is significant; but it is entirely absent from the standard account of the violence of 12th February.
Problem 3: what cannot be counted – undamaged targets, untargeted places, non-violent interventions
Third, the ACCI survey fails to account for: places that were attacked but undamaged; places that could have been attacked but were not targeted; and symbolic sites that were changed in non-violent, non-destructive ways.
As I noted in my record of destruction, rioters tried to burn down Kotzia town hall, but riot police ‘rout[ed] [προσάγουν]’ them before they could fulfill their wish; and their petrol bombs did not explode in the King George Hotel. Those (and other) failed attempts to damage targets cannot be counted in any assessment of the violence.
Moutsakos reminded me that the German Archaeological Institute (Deutsche Archäologische Institut (DAI)) was over the road from the burned-out Atrium shopping centre (despite me having stayed at the German Archaeological Institute and eaten at the restaurant in the mall); but the DAI remained untouched. And Reuters noted that one of the ‘outposts of German culture’ in Athens, the Goethe-Institut, was left ‘unscathed‘. Particularly considering the German state’s perceived responsibility for the crisis, and the attack on the Greek state’s Directorate for Restoration of Modern and Contemporary Monuments, it is significant that the rioters chose not to attack German state institutions. Yet that choice not to target certain places may not feature in the standard account of the violence.
Protesters in Thessaloniki made a monkey out of (the statue of) former Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. These non-violent treatments of cultural property, these non-destructive interventions at cultural heritage sites, may hint at the truest targets of popular anger. Again, they will be discussed separately from the mass material violence (if they are even remembered at all).
All of these things need to be counted in any assessment, considered in any analysis. They would make significant contributions to understandings of the protests and riots, and thus of the mass and minority movements in the Greek crisis. It is only by thinking about these things (and policing justly) that society and the state will be able to reduce violence, destruction and suffering.
1: το Εμπορικό και Βιομηχανικό Επιμελητήριο Αθηνών (ΕΒΕΑ).
2: η Εθνική Συνομοσπονδία Ελληνικού Εμπορίου (ΕΣΕΕ).
45 businesses (clothes shops, shoe shops, mobile phone shops, kitchenware shops, household goods shops, jewellers, supermarkets, book shops, etc.) suffered complete destruction by fire. 17 banks, 4 book shops, 5 department stores and shopping centres, and 70 clothing-and-footwear stores, as well as 29 businesses of various types, also suffered damage.
[45 επιχειρήσεις (ένδυσης, υπόδησης, κινητής τηλεφωνίας, εστίασης, οικιακών ειδών, κοσμημάτων, σούπερ μάρκετ, βιβλίων κ.λπ.) υπέστησαν ολοσχερή καταστροφή λόγω πυρκαγιάς. Ζημιές υπέστησαν, επίσης, 17 τράπεζες, 4 βιβλιοπωλεία, 5 πολυκαταστήματα και εμπορικά κέντρα και 70 καταστήματα ένδυσης – υπόδησης, καθώς και 29 επιχειρήσεις διαφόρων μορφών.]
4: The attacks were concentrated in the streets of Akadimias, Vasilissis Amalias, Ermou, Filellinon, Mitropoleos, Panepistimiou, Patision (28th October), Karageorgi Servias, Solonos, and Stadiou. There were also attacks in the student district between the avenues of Syggrou and Pagkrati.
5: Furthermore, public reports of the survey were also contradictory: initial reports claimed that ‘around 50 historic buildings ha[d] been burned or completely destroyed [Περί τα 50 ιστορικά κτήρια έχουν καεί ή και ολοσχερώς καταστραφεί]’. (Rachel Donadio’s error was probably caused by this rumour of Athens’ 93 destroyed buildings including 50 historic ones.) Some newspapers claimed both that 50 historic buildings had been either burned or destroyed, and that 9 had ‘suffered serious damage [υπέστησαν σοβαρές ζημιές]’; and they listed the nine buildings seriously damaged (rather than the 41 other buildings imagined destroyed). Still, soon, the fifty claim disappeared without any acknowledgement of its previous existence. The media recognised the sad truth that ‘nine historic buildings suffered serious damage [σοβαρές ζημιές υπέστησαν [και] εννέα ιστορικά κτίρια]’.