Living next door to PASOK on Harilaou Trikoupi Street

Harilaou Trikoupi Street, home to PASOK headquarters, is also a place of work and residence for many people. «Say Harilaou Trikoupi and what’s the first thing that comes to mind?» asks Anna, 77, and a neighbor of PASOK HQ for three decades. «Politics and PASOK. I don’t know if our area is more politicized than others but it certainly is electric. There’s something about the geodynamic field here.» At No 50 there are journalists, cameras, party officials, groups talking, motorbikes, and the police van parked in the bus lane, as usual. A car with tinted windows stops down the road and out steps the party leader. For Evi and Costas, this street is where they live and work. They have a computer store a bit further down. They talk about everyday Athenian gripes: «Blue recycling bins shoved just anywhere, forgotten trolley lines, pollution, noise, damaged sidewalks and roads, parked cars and motorcycles, trash left by journalists… ugliness.» But they think the party headquarters gives the area life and color. «Would prostitutes ever stage a protest here if PASOK wasn’t here?» PASOK rented the building on November 1, 1976. Andreas Papandreou signed the contract in person, as party leader, assuming responsibility for the rental of 140,000 drachmas a month. Another Andreas, an actor, playing patience at a coffee shop on nearby Didotou Street, says «Harilaou Trikoupi is the neighborhood of PAOSK.» And of lawyers. Shoe-store owner Dimitris conveys the local rumor that lawyers claim to know ministers because they are neighbors. How does Dimitris benefit from the proximity? «I see police officers and I feel safe. The police van doesn’t bother me. We have free bodyguards, paid for by others.» Pantelis Kapeleris has been in the area for 52 years and an active member of PASOK for 32. He loves Harilaou Trikoupi. The neighborhood used to be more like Kolonaki, with leading doctors and lawyers, he says, «but it was a conservative area. In 1976-77, I took banners into the street. I lost half my customers, but later they accepted me.» Police van Cookery book writer Costas Samartzis came to study law in Athens in 1984 and has been living two doors down from PASOK HQ ever since. «I was a student when I fully realized I had a political party for a neighbor. My brother and I had gone up to the terrace to hang out blankets and it was full of washing, so we hopped over a wall on the same building to hang them out there. Suddenly we heard shouts and a commotion. Search lights were trained on us and we got a fright. We ran to the lift and saw armed men aiming at us. With our hands up, we started apologizing, without knowing what we’d done.» The police checked them out and the misunderstanding was resolved. «My father was a friend of [late prime minister] Georgios Papandreou and I always liked PASOK, even though I voted for another party. But after that I didn’t even want to walk past the building.» He had other dramatic experiences, such as the lethal attack by the November 17 terrorist group on a police van in Didotou in 1991, and five years later the shots fired at the police on guard at PASOK headquarters. What bothers him these days is the police van permanently parked outside with the engine running to keep the air conditioning on. «The whole house shakes from the noise; I can’t sleep or work. Then there are the tear gas fumes from ongoing fights between anarchists and police. I can’t even park here. Didotou is for party members. I left my car in Patras. And when I bring back shopping by taxi, sometimes they won’t let me stop outside the building. It gets on my nerves. I think I’ll soon need a psychiatrist.» Fanis Sgouropoulos and Maria Fedorova run a coffee shop at 54 Harilaou Trikoupi. «I’ve always voted PASOK. I like George [Papandreou], his style, that calm easy manner,» says Sgouropoulos. He and his wife live in the same building as their business, on the fifth floor. Publisher Costas Costopoulos has worked nearby since 1976 and lived in Exarchia since 1963. «It was completely quiet here when PASOK was in power. It’ s only now that they’re in opposition that they gather here. I’ve seen history being written before my very eyes.» Though he wishes the party would rent a car park for their motorcycles, and the police van is a nuisance, he says he’d be sorry if PASOK were to move: «We share a past, a history.» (1) This article first appeared in Kathimerini’s weekly supplement K on November 4, 2007.