Greece Unrest Continues: A Personal Account

by Ret Marut for Libcom

(Original title; Short presentation of the recent events in Athens through the eyes of some proletarian participants.)

ATHENS, Greece (RushPRnews)12/15/08-Rundown and analysis of the recent events in Athens, from a proletarian perspective by the TPTG group and others. Shooting by police on Saturday 6th of December has triggered off the fiercest riots in decades in cities all over Greece. What follows is a first – and incomplete – presentation of the recent riots in Athens, which are still going on, based on our own experiences and on what we have heard of. On the one hand, the fierceness of the riots and the determination of the rioters and looters and on the other hand, the unfolding strategy of the state certainly need more time and closer attention to be adequately estimated, something that we are honestly not in the position to do at the moment, because we participate in several local activities, demos and assemblies.

Saturday, 6th of December
At about 9.10pm, a police special guard shot dead a 15-year-old boy, Alexis-Andreas Grigoropoulos, in cold blood, in a quite usual bickering near Exarhia Square. Immediately after that, lots of people –mainly anti-authoritarians– gathered in the area to find out what’s going on and to express their rage against police brutality. Hundreds of policemen attempted to seal the area in order to suppress any reactions, but with no result. Spontaneously, people started to attack the police in the streets around the square with every means possible. In less than two hours, more than 10,000 people had taken to the nearby streets to communicate the event and clash with the police. Some anarchist groups occupied the historical building of the National Technical University, which lies a few blocks away, and the Faculty of Economics, which is situated 1km away to use them as centres of struggle. The same was done by leftists at the Faculty of Law, less than 1km from the point where the murder took place. At this district, clashes with the police and attacks against banks and stores lasted until 4am, as far as we have witnessed.

The news concerning the murder spread rapidly to many people through mobile phones and the internet. As a result, about 150 people, who already were at Monastiraki Square, spontaneously attacked and looted almost all the stores at Ermou Street, the world’s 11th most posh street. There, lots of passers by joined in from nearby pubs and clubs.

In the centre of Athens that night, some people attacked the police station near Acropolis causing severe damage.

It has to be noted that the news concerning the murder of the young boy immediately spread to several cities (Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Irakleio, Volos) where attacks against banks, police stations and stores also took place.

Sunday, 7th of December
The Faculty of Law squat called for a demonstration at 2pm outside the Archaeological Museum which is right next to the also squatted historical building of the National Technical University in Patission Avenue. Many people gathered and at about 3.30pm the demo towards the Athens Police Headquarters begins. We already knew that the police would never let us approach their Headquarters, but we were determined to arrive as close as we could. Bank-smashing and stone-throwing against the cops started immediately after we had left the square. As we turned right to Alexandras Avenue standing at the end of the demo, we realized that the participants amounted to approximately 4,000 people, of all ages. There were attacks against every store in sight, mainly luxury car shows and banks. At the beginning, police stood at a safe distance from the rioters and didn’t let themselves become a target. Then, as they came closer, the rioters attacked them mainly with stones. The police made a first attempt to break the demo with teargas near Argentina Square, but with no result. After ten minutes, at the corner with Ippokratous street, they made a second fiercer attempt with lots of teargas which finally proved successful: the demo broke into several parts and its main parts headed to the right towards Neapoli. Attacks against stores and banks kept going on, also accompanied by car-smashing. Lots of people chose to keep on marching towards Police Headquarters by a parallel street, but after some time it became clear that there was no way through: a small street perpendicular to Alexandras Avenue is the spot that the already famous photo with the gun-holding riot policeman was taken. Tension was high. We decided to move back and return to Exarhia Square to see what was to be done next. At the way back, clashes with the police were still taking place but to a lesser extent. Some people attacked the 5th police station which is located nearby and the police responded with plastic bullets.
Later in the evening, there began clashes with the police again –and to a lesser extent attacks against stores– around the National Technical University and the Faculty of Economics, which would last until late at night.

Monday, 8th of December
In the morning, youths from several high schools gathered spontaneously in front of the Police Headquarters to protest. Many youths from the northern, east and western suburbs moved to the city centre making a spontaneous demo. Youths from the schools of Pireaus (a port at the south-west part of the city) attacked the central police station overturning police cars.

At 6pm, the Faculty of Law squat called for a demonstration at Propylaia, a central Square of Athens. Our estimation is that more than 20,000 people, mainly young people, participated in that demo. Lots of them, maybe more than 1,500, were walking “in and out” of the demo smashing banks and destroying the luxurious shops of the city centre. They started to destroy or loot the commodities almost from the first moment of the demo. The youths destroyed banks at Omonoia square and attacked more than half of the shops of Stadiou Avenue and Filellinon Avenue. Also, severe looting took place at the shops in the first blocks of Piraeus Avenue. People were walking slowly and nobody really tried to stop either the attacks or the looting. Some even stood by and cheered the attacking youths. At the same time, youths were also attacking the cops, the banks and the shops in various parts of the city all the way down to Syggrou Avenue, a street leading to the south of Athens. Up until now, the real extent of the damage caused to private property that night has not been estimated. The media says it amounts to 10 billion euros, which could be true since dozens of stores were attacked, looted or burnt down mainly by greek and immigrant “uncontrollable youths”.

Although one could say that the greek youths (students and precarious workers) had the initiative and the immigrants followed it, we have to admit that it was very difficult to distinguish the one from the other in the streets. As far as immigrants are concerned, Albanians of second generation participated mostly in the attacks against cops and buildings and immigrants of other origin – mostlyAfghans and Africans – confined themselves to looting. Riots and looting covered approximately half of the city centre. Although the police made several arrests that evening, it would be untrue to say that they could even think of controlling the situation, because there were so many people in the streets, acting in small groups of ten or twenty people.

Tuesday, 9th of December
Teachers of primary and secondary education went on strike that day against police brutality. At noon, the demonstration began from Propylaia Square and headed towards the Parliament, but there were no more than 3,000 participants. After the end of the demo, and despite the fact that they were small in number, 150 youths hurled firebombs, rocks and other objects at riot police.

The so-called Communist Party (KKE), scared by the prospect of a generalized riot, showed once more its counter-revolutionary, reactionary nature. They declared the rioters and looters as secret agents of ‘foreign dark forces’ and called for the ‘people’s movement’ – an imaginary subject of which they are supposedly the rightful representatives – to stay away from the fight. History repeats itself: this party for the last 35 years has been chanting the same monotonous and dangerous mantra about ‘provocateurs’; in 1973 they had done the same against the students and workers who had occupied the National Technical University; a riot that had led to the overthrow of the dictatorship. Once again, they are trying to save the state and restore public order.

At 3pm the funeral of the dead boy took place in the cemetery of Palaio Faliro, a suburb in the south of Athens. More than 5,000 gathered there to bid Alex the last goodbye and to shout once more against police murders. During the funeral, about 200 young people were involved in attacks against the riot police, who stood a few blocks nearby. This confrontation lasted for more than an hour, in the course of which some stores and banks were attacked; stones were also thrown against a police car. After an hour, young people headed towards the Palaio Faliro police station, but the police stopped them a few blocks away. During this riot, three police motor bikers shot more than ten times in the air to “scare” the rioters.

During the night, fascists appeared in the streets around the National Technical University and the Faculty of Economics where fierce clashes with the police were taking place. At Victoria Square, immigrants attacked the police and tried to loot 3 stores, but undercover police and “civilians” brutally arrested one of them. Generally speaking, this was the day that the state unofficially pushed forward the so-called “social automation” and encouraged the collaboration between shop owners, fascists, “civilians” and the police against the rioters.

Wednesday, 10th of December
This day was a day of general strike, and its aim had been predetermined over a month ago: it was mainly “against the state budget 2009”. Due to the ongoing riots, the chief unionists spoke against police brutality, separating at the same time the “rioters” from the “responsible quiet demonstrators”. More than 7,000 people attended the gathering at Syntagma Square. Some protesters threw fire bombs at police during a general strike which paralyzed Greece and piled pressure on a doddering government.

Small scale riots took place at Panepistimiou Avenue. After the demo, many people attended the assembies at the National Technical University and the Faculty of Law to talk about what is going to be done in the coming days. Later on, there was a big assembly of the anti-authoritarian milieu at the Faculty of Economics. Earlier in the morning, high school students attacked the local police station in the suburb of Kaisariani. At night, clashes with the police took place at Tritis Septemvriou Avenue, in the center of Athens.

The riots have spread to some 42 prefectures of Greece, even in towns where not even demos had taken place before. The pattern is the same: mainly students and young people attack police stations, banks, stores and state buildings. They gather spontaneously, after communicating with each other over mobile phones. Anarchists and politicos are just a small part of the rioters and in many cases they are taken aback by the fierceness, the spreading and the duration of the riots.
It is mostly in Athens and Irakleio (Crete) that a big part of the rioters are immigrants and so this riot can be rightfully called a multinational one, the first of its kind in Greece. Against this totally new situation, the media have tried to change their propaganda and talk of ‘greek protesters’ and ‘foreign looters’, in an effort to inflame racism.

Up until now, about half of the arrested people in Athens are immigrants and the main charge against them is looting. The vast majority of the arrested throughout the country are young people.

Thursday, 11th of December
On Thursday, high school students abandoned their schools and gathered outside police stations all over Athens. Some of them were attacked with rubbish bags and stones and the police threw tear gas and in some cases … threw stones back. All in all 35 police stations were blockaded in Athens and at some places other people participated as well, mostly parents. The entrance of the prison in Korydallos was also attacked by students.

The media said that 4,500 tear gas canisters have been used by the police these 5 days. They are running out of tear gas and thinking of importing some from Israel!

In the morning a group of libertarians occupied the Town Hall in a suburb in the south of Athens. A lot of people from the neighborhood participated in the evening assembly and the municipal workers who supported the occupation issued a communique which can be found in the appendix of this chronology. The Town Hall has been used since then as a gathering place and a counter-information centre.

In several universities assemblies took place and university occupations spread. Militants from the student organization of the Communist Party (PKS) tried to block assemblies in order to prevent the occupations (Panteion University, School of Philosophy in the University of Athens). Their attempts were unsuccessful as occupations expanded throughout Athens and Greece.

Early in the evening there was a big demo (maybe 5000) in the centre of Athens called by an assembly of mainly leftist trade unionists and organizations who gather at the occupied Faculty of Law. At the end of the demo clashes began with the police, in the centre of the city and around the occupied Faculty of Law, which lasted for some hours.

In Komotini, a town in the eastern-north, near Turkey, a demo of mostly university students was attacked and chased into the university by many fascists and far right thugs who infest the area to protect … national security.

There is a general feeling of hostility towards cops and of being fed up with everything. Police brutality in an increasingly police state after the 2004 Olympics, lousy wages and working conditions, high school student overwork and pressure, university students’ discontent with a life that is increasingly characterized by insecurity and fear, government and church high officials’ corruption, immigrants’ overexploitation and a society torn apart by deepening class divisions: a explosive mixture where the murder of the kid was just the fuse.

The publication of extracts from the testimony of the cop who murdered the kid caused general outrage. He ‘accused’ the student of having ‘deviant behaviour’ because ‘he was expelled from the private school he was attending’ (which is a lie, to say the least). His lawyer, a notorious TV celebrity, made an even more provocative statement: ‘It is now only up to the Greek justice to decide whether the young boy was justly killed, or not’. The ballistic examination report was expected today. “Leaks” in the media the previous days have been suggesting that the report will claim Alexandros was killed by a ricochet and not a direct shot (which is against what every single eye witness says). However, such provocations are at least answered in the streets. Among other things, new imaginative slogans are invented every day: ‘We did not throw stones; they were ricocheted’, ‘The right thing is for the lawyer to be killed by ricochet’.

Friday, 12th of December
Seven hundred high schools and one hundred universities are occupied and their number is expected to jump up. A big student demo was called in Athens (10,000 or more). Students and other demonstrators attacked the police and some banks were smashed. During the demo two hundred anarchists trashed the lawyer’s office. The riot cops arrested several students (some of them are 13-14 years old).

Saturday, 13th of December
A sit-in was organized in Syntagma Square at noon by the coordinating committee of student university occupations as well as by political groups. More than 1000 people of all ages participated: university students, high school students as well as workers. The sit-in went on until the end of the night. After midnight the police attacked the peaceful protest with tear gas and dispersed the gathered crowd. Protests and demos were also organized in suburbs around Athens: Nea Smirni, Peristeri, Zografou.

In the evening the Ministry of Environment and Public Works in Patission street was attacked by a crowd of two hundred people. At 9 o’clock about a thousand of people gathered in Exarhia to protest against the murder of Alexis-Andreas Grigoropoulos near the spot he was murdered. Some people attacked the local police station while others clashed with the riot police. There was a demo heading for Monastiraki and Gazi, neighborhoods where many people go clubbing on Saturday night. The demo was attacked by the police and few people managed to continue. The conflicts went on in Exarhia but the attacks of the police forced the people to disperse into various directions. A large part of the crowd was pushed into the premises of National Technical University. Riots continued in the streets around National Technical University during the night.

People who managed to follow the demo passed from Monastiraki, Thisseio, Gazi and then they tried to return to the centre marching on Piraeus street. Some banks and surveillance cameras were attacked by the demonstrators. The police attacked again the demo near Omonia square and there were more than 50 arrests. The arrested people were let free without any charges. During the day several banks were attacked throughout Athens.