Stray dogs are the unofficial cartographers of the streets of Greek urban centers. They roam the cities and form a relationship of belonging only with the spatial parameters that describe a vague outline of home. Most of them are not feral, however, they stand in a league of their own, marking their difference from the contained cuteness and cuddliness of domestic pets. In recent years, some stray dogs have risen to the status of the urban hero, transcending any limitations speciecists might ascribe to them.
May 11, 2010
Such a canis heroicus was Kanellos, who died as a legend in the summer of 2008. Since the 1990s he had been a permanent fixture of the downtown campus of the National Technical University of Athens, commonly known as Polytechneio. Kanellos was extremely popular with the student body of Polytechneio, and he came to be recognized as the guardian angel of the school. The campus of Polytechneio alone stands as a symbol of uprising and resistance, its ground evoking the memories of November 17, 1973, when the Greek military junta, in an attempt to suppress an anti-establishment student protest, ordered a siege of the campus that resulted in bloodshed and death. Kanellos, his name referring to his cinnamon brick-brown color, made Polytechneio his home and the broader neighborhood of Exarheia his stomping ground.
In an area ravaged with continuous protests and rich in counterhegemonic discourse and actions, Kanellos, dignified and mangy at the same time, stood out as the four-legged embodiment of radical resistance. Stories about his anti-establishment activity abound, forming a dispersed log of anecdotal history that can be traced on various online fora and blogs (most of which are in Greek). The legend has it that when undercover police officers, in their effort to monitor illegal drug deals, tried to mingle with the general student populace of Polytechneio, Kanellos was the one to sniff them out by barking at them and exposing their true identity. Kanellos earned the title Comrade for his dutiful participation in street protests and marches throughout the years. He always sided with the demonstrators, irrespective of their cause, showing his aversion for any kind of authority by directing his threatening bark to and hounding the members of the special Police unit, known as MAT, while he remained unfazed by the tear-gas emissions or the Molotov bombs thrown around him.
In his old age, when he was nearly crippled by arthritis in his back legs, the administration decided to expel Kanellos to a dog asylum miles away from the downtown campus, a move that was hugely unpopular with the people who took care of him. It took them a signature-collecting campaign to bring him back to his natural habitat, his adopted ‘home’ that came to be his final resting place.
The slogan “Narcs, back off — march on forever, Kanellos!” adorns one of the walls of Polytechneio. It is dated July 2, 2008, the day Kanellos passed on to immortality.
Recently, however, Kanellos seems to be making the news again, or, more precisely, it is one of his doppelgangers and successors who is the cause of the buzz. Loukanikos, roughly translated to sausage or Mr. Sausage, follows in the paw-steps of Kanellos, joining protesters and revolting against police authority. In the last few days, pictures showing him in various states of rioting have been posted in the Guardian, Newsweek, and other publications. According to the Greek daily Ta Nea, Loukanikos is not the only anarchist mutt showing his teeth to the police. From personal experience, having grown up in Athens, I am positive that Kanellos’ spirit lives on in the scabby bodies of the numerous stray dogs that comprise an alternative geopolitical force of Greece.
[Editor’s note: Stefanos Tsigrimanis is a doctoral student at NYU. Rania Astrinaki’s related article from Social Text 101, “(Un)hooding a Rebellion: The December 2008 Events in Athens” is now available for free download via Duke University Press Journals.]