Sappho Square: Geo-trauma or a place of resistance and creation of commons? Contested habitus in the heart of Mytilene. No2

From March 2015 onwards, Sappho Square has been marked by many events.[1] From a meeting place – a refuge for refugees to find temporary shelter in tents and a place of solidarity action (food, music) it becomes a place of permanent repression. In particular, immediately after the uprising of the residents against the creation of a large detention center on the Island (February and March 2020) in the Square, hundreds of women from Moria came to protest the miserable living conditions and the delay in issuing their asylum decisions where they were under attack by police and paramilitaries. For the next 3 days, the police were asking passers-by to leave in order to clean the Square by throwing tear gas. “From whom will you clean the square, from me?” asked a student. During the covid19 pandemic, the police checks for exit notes in the square were multiplied. The square is empty during the day, and at night, as soon as the shops close, it is full of young people and puppies …


Sappho Square is very popular in all tourist guides, in all the references to the city of Mytilene. But in recent years it seems that something has begun to change. Indeed, in an unpublished survey conducted by students of the Urban Analysis course through mental maps in June 2019, the square appeared as the place with the most signs of fear of being approached at night by first-year students. Qualitative research showed that fear is socially constructed and is due in large part to what they have heard about the square before coming to Lesvos rather than to what they themselves have experienced. In the area around the square, some incidents of violence against young girls were reported, which makes many female students avoid approaching her [the square]. In the same area, the constant checks and persecutions of refugees have led many, many of them, in search of other routes to return to their place of temporary residence. In, previously, published surveys the square was a landmark and was surrounded by a sense of security and common space. What has changed? The most popular posts on the internet talk about pogroms.

20/4/2018 In the Square, on the entry of an Afghan refugee in the intensive care unit due to living conditions in Moria, the (third in a row) hunger strike of asylum seekers takes place with a request for quick asylum registration and better living conditions while waiting. During their stay in the Square, they pray for their release. The symbolic image of prayer (in a religion other than that of the host country) was used by the authorities to stigmatize the actors and intimidate the crowd. Racist calls for emptying the square followed. An important landmark in the square acquires a twofold role: the Greek flag. Since 2016, on the occasion of a false news of its desecration, nationalist rallies are taking place around it, while at the same time the established national holidays continue. In the same direction as in 2016, the call is repeated: “Desecration of the square”.

On 22/4/2018 fascist organizations organize pogroms with mass attacks on women and children, which are protected by a chain of refugees’ bodies and people who stand with them. The event is shown by the news. At the end of the attacks, the police arrested 120 refugees and released 25 perpetrators. Many bodies and parties issue convictions[4].The anti-racism observatory notes: “We call on the local community to isolate the political protagonists of racial and religious hate rhetoric that leads to such heinous acts”[5]. This is the day he sealed the Square with a geotrauma. Since then, Sappho Square has dominated journalism as a place of pogroms. The Refugee Crisis Observatory later notes: “… The events in Mytilene seem to reflect a shift in relation to the ‘solidarity’ attitudes towards the refugee population, which developed mainly in the period 2015-2016 and seem to be absent at the present juncture. “Tolerance of asylum seekers’ and migrants’ presence or even rhetorical support for refugees is being replaced by tolerance of aggressive, xenophobic violence against them”[6].

As long as the perpetrators of these episodes are not brought to justice[5], the veil of silent complicity spreads in the city and the suppression of any social resistance or solidarity action is legalized. The e-newspaper “The press project” presents a detailed report on the fascist-racist actions related to the pogrom in Lesvos[6]. The Golden Dawn trial took place, when will it take place in Lesvos?

The anti-fascist initiative against the detention centers prints a poster with the question: “How long will we live in fear? Do not get used to daily fascism. Think, speak, act” and calls on people to recover the square, with daily actions[7].

During the pandemic, poverty on the island increases and beggars appear in the square. “Misery is a sad thing, an evil that cannot be tamed; with its sister, Embarrassment, it enslaves even a great people” (Alkaios)[8].


Christy Petropoulou
December 2021




[1] For instance

29/11/2017 Businessmen, employees and residents of Lesvos gathered in Sappho Square and demanded the suspension of the VAT increase on the islands

27/10/2017 “In the name of the only one who created freedom”

The second mass hunger strike of Afghans-Syrians-Iranians begins in the Square

11/2/2015 Breath of dignity towards the memoranda (call of Antarsya)

[5] “In the drawer” are the pogroms carried out by Golden Dawn supporters in Sappho Square. Two and a half years later, 26 people accused of a felony for the attacks against refugees and immigrants in Sappho Square have not even been summoned for questioning – Writes ATHANASIOS CHARALAMPOUS From NEWSROOM Published 11/10/2020

[7]Αντιφασιστική-Πρωτοβουλία-Λέσβου-108140561044061/ 3 Νοεμβρίου 2020


απ. 364 Lobel-Page

ΑΛΚΑΙΟΣ: απ. 364 Lobel-Page

ἀργάλεον Πενία κάκον ἄσχετον, ἀ μέγαν

Photos: Christy Petropoulou