Activism is not cost-free

A few months ago, residents of the Athens neighborhood of Kypseli, backed by so-called progressive activists, took a stand at the crossroads of Kyprou and Patission streets. They blocked the construction of an underground parking lot in that densely populated district. They did not have faith (their mistrust was perhaps justified but this is a different issue) in the municipality’s promise that the structure would be topped by a park and they subsequently occupied the lot. Following the usual clashes with riot police, the progressive forces, as it were, prevailed and went on to plant a few small trees in what became, in their words, a «self-run» park. Even if we assume that this was all good, there still was a problem. A park needs watering. After amassing a 10,800-euro bill, the Athens Water Company (EYDAP) cut the water supply. This naturally enraged the activists, who found support in Alexis Tsipras’s Open City party. «Who cuts water supplies amid the heat wave… threatening the trees that have been planted there in a citizen initiative?» a statement said, while calling on the municipality and EYDAP to take responsibility and restore the water. That’s all nice and rebellious but the problem remains: EYDAP is not responsible. It sells water and it supplies water as long as it gets paid for it. When it’s not, the water stops running, even if that concerns a sacred, self-run park. The same goes for the municipality. The site was, for better or worse, destined to be turned into a garage and, following the clashes, it is now under occupation. What is the 10,800 euros? Is it some sort of military compensation? The trees were planted without municipal consent – in fact, no one was even asked. What if someone wanted to set up an amusement park? Should a third person be footing the electricity bill for it? Unfortunately, sit-ins and self-organized initiatives are not cost-free happenings. There’s always a bill at the end, even if it’s just an EYDAP bill. The perennial question in this country is «Who pays?» and the standard answer is «Well, not me.»