The Kypseli Citizens’ Initiative is an unprecedented success

Something unprecedented – at least for Athens – has been happening in Kypseli’s municipal market (Agora) over the past 18 months. What had been an abandoned and closed-off site with an uncertain present and an even more uncertain future has recently been brought back into the life of the neighborhood in a series of initiatives by local residents. They have succeeded in creating an independent cultural center in the heart of Fokionos Negri, the busiest street in this densely populated central Athens district. Similar attempts to revive the site in the past failed because they never managed to get locals involved. The difference with this latest effort is that it began as a grass-roots movement, without any organized political guidance. The only political group involved, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), had the maturity not to try and make political capital out of it. The result is a lively, diverse and extremely active undertaking like nothing else in the Greek capital. In the Agora, visitors can have a tea or coffee, watch a debate or a film or play, listen to live music, shop at the Saturday organic food market, learn chess or brush up their German. At the end of the month is a film tribute to the events of May 1968 in Paris, organized by the Nikos Poulantzas Institute. The Citizens’ Initiative, as the group administering the Agora is known, has kept an emphasis on the social aspect of the events held there. Greek lessons for foreigners have built a bridge between locals and the large immigrant community. In a play staged there this week, the leading role was played by a schoolboy of Albanian origin. There is a Children’s Room and a lending library every Tuesday and Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The Agora’s opening hours depend on what events have been organized, usually on a daily basis, but it is open every day from 6 p.m. and that has made it a focus of the neighborhood. The site belongs to the Municipality of Athens, which has taken a discreet backseat approach. One month ago a joint committee was set up to discuss the future of the site. However, some representatives of the Citizens’ Initiative, such as Mitsi Vrasivanopoulou, have taken a dim view of the committee. «We want the local residents to have the last word,» she said.