Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Archaeology of Bread and Ashes

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Rosa Nera squat sits atop a hill overlooking a lighthouse built on ancient stone walls and a harbor’s mouth, which opens wide onto the seaside old town of Chania. One cannot believe the sublime vista, especially the sprinkling green-blue clarity of the water below. It’s no leap at all to see this city on the island of Crete as ripe, or at least right, for a utopic, autonomous community, especially because anarchists hold the key strategic building and best view in town, and have for eleven years now.

But this is the archaeology of Europe: today, an anarchist squat in rambling, magnificent, villa-like structure with a two-story, open-air plaza in the center of it; originally constructed in the Ottoman Empire for soldiers and elites; in the basement, during the time of Nazi occupation, after the pitchforks and guns of the Cretons failed to stop the fascist advance, the Gestapo did its work; after the fall of fascism, Communist prison and torture replaced Nazi prison and torture. It seems as if, occasionally, one can hear the ghosts moaning softly, mingling with ocean breeze and seabirds soaring high and low.

From the balcony of this most impossibly exquisite of squats, its two red and black flags waving merrily in the wind, one can make out the edges of the ancient city’s old Jewish neighborhood, with a synagogue still standing, all its Jews shipped off to be murdered back in the day when the Gestapo agents probably sat on this same balcony, taking in the same air, but calculating how to vanish that neighborhood efficiently, without trace.

But this archaeology of Europe is resistant to disappearance.

An anarchist in Chania tells me how deep-seated anti-Semitism is within the thinking of today’s antiauthoritarians. He bemoans that anarchists still too often critique capitalism as some sort of Jewish conspiracy, to note one of the many examples he provides. He turns to history rather than the persistent, fascistic-sounding logic that led to pogroms in the past and attacks on Jews and their buildings in Greece in the recent present, suggesting the words-as-beacons of Jewish philosophers as balm — mostly names of those exterminated, tortured, or driven to suicide by the Holocaust and its camps. I may be the first alive Jew who he’s met.

On returning from Chania’s magic to the mayhem of Athens this afternoon, the first sights on the drive into the city were: sprawling military hospital, several-story-high Golden Dawn offices across from the Greek state’s security offices; next, a huge Athens police station, where in December 2008, anarchists ended up outside in street battles with police on the day after the murder by cops of 16-year-old anarchist Alexis Grigoropoulos in the nearby anarchist neighborhood of Exarchia. All the banks and most other well-off businesses were burned in Athens center, between Exarchia and this police station, now humming with the “banality of evil,” to borrow from Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt, who filled the ranks of an earlier ocean of “refugee crisis” to avoid an earlier war and genocide across this same red-with-blood, black-with-horror continent called Europe.

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(Photo by Cindy Milstein, Rosa Nera squat, Chania, Crete, Greece, October 2015.)

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This entry was posted on October 20, 2015 by in Dispatches from Life, Dispatches from Rebellious Spaces.
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