THE BLOG

The Battle of Thessaloniki

02/07/2015 11:48 BST | Updated 30/06/2016 10:59 BST

We drove around the squalid periphery, passing by the village of Kalochori, home of many construction sites left unfinished from pre-war times when the housing bubble burst and the financial crisis hit the city. The interstitial spaces between the abandoned buildings were full of slums-like houses. Electricity and sewage never arrived here.

The idea was to build a new district to rival the waterfront of Miami. Russians had major plans to invest money in casinos. But then the money never arrived. The financial crisis of 2007-2008, also known as the Global Financial Crisis and 2008 financial crisis, was considered by many economists to have been the worst ever. It threatened the total collapse of large financial institutions, which was prevented by the bailout of banks by national governments. Stock markets still crashed worldwide.

In many areas, the housing market suffered, resulting in evictions, foreclosures and prolonged unemployment. All the empty skyscrapers now looked like skeletons of monsters and giants. It must have been a nightmare to drive here during the fights, as the upper floors were ideal shelters for snipers. I was quite shocked by this landscape. I spent three days locked in a conference hotel and a night in the Rover Bar without realising the hotel was located exactly a few hundreds metres away from the battle site and how it really looked.

The 15th battle of Thessaloniki was probably not the most pompous but definitely came with heavy consequences. In the same place, the Goths defeated the Roman Army in the year 380. In 995 the Bulgarians were victorious over the Byzantines. In 1014 the Byzantines in turn defeated the Bulgarians. Then again the Bulgarians succeed to overrun the Byzantines in 1040, but eventually lost again later that same year. Funny destiny of a city of battles, sacks and sieges.

At 11h35 am of the 9 November 2009 a group of young activists took Alexi Papastratis - the owner of Remax, the largest real estate company in then Greece - hostage following accusations of raping a teenage boy found in the industrial harbour close by. Papastratis built 80% of the new construction in Thessaloniki and in the rest of Former Greece; his legacy is still visible throughout the region. The ugliest, tasteless post-modern pastiches were built by his corporation, who turned out to have a deal with the national government and with the Russian mafia.

The youth activist group brought him to the 25th floor of one of these unfinished hotels in Kalochori and forced him to fly out of it.

The protest against Papastratis suddenly became a symbol of the revolt of young people against the system and against the bursting of the housing bubble that contributed to the big economic crisis. It soon spread all over Europe. First as a series of riots, it quickly became a large-scale civil war when real estate companies were permitted under national laws to use snipers to defend new construction sites. The situation escalated when they gave employees of building sites guns with which to defend themselves. The worst transpired when similar legislation was passed in all European countries. It was not uncommon to have people on both sides in the same family, real estate workers and people revolting against companies. It was a horrible war and it lasted one long year.