Saturday, 13 December 2008

Who is protesting, how and why (3)


State violence exercised upon and killing a boy, innocent by all accounts, and the rage caused by it have been powerful triggers. Trying to make sense of the extent and the persistence of the rage is another story altogether.

Early on I was dismayed by the reporting of the international media. The point that the Greeks are 'feisty' is as essentialist and ridiculous as it goes. The other point was the issue of problems the Greeks face. How to approach this issue is very complicated. Both Greeks and non-Greek colleagues have mentioned economic factors, iincluding inflation and the credit crunch. Goverment corruption is another big factor. The thing is, focussing on economic factors can be simplistic and steroetyping. Greeks have not been crawling in hunger and extreme poverty as a total. To depict Greece as a thirld world country which inevitably erupted conveniently helps other Western countires keep their distance from the events.

Economic factors cannot be seen separately from social and political factors. I have been commenting on how Greeks have been whining but never moving from the couch. Scandals of the current government have been also linked to the rage - but again, you can be angry with the current government for being incompetent and corrupt, or you can see how the system encourages, condones and rewards corruption. The majority of the Greek society is middle class, which is not surprising. The lower strata of middle class, plus working class, farmers, pensioners, are routinely hit by free-market measures. This is also not surprising. But Greece also has an overblown state sector, where the dream of everyone (or of everyone's parents) is to get a job for the state, with a regular if insufficient salary and eventually guarantee of permanence. This can later be complemented by semi-legal additional private work. So you have a combination of evils of a state-driven system and a free market system.

The majority of Greeks have not been galvanised with the virtues of free economy and can see, feel or suspect how this leaves the people unprotected (uninsured, jobless, or with a job that might be lost at any point), they can see how working in a low-paid job in the private sector involves not privileges whatsoever. The incompetence, clumsiness and harshness of introducing more capitalist measures has only made this more obvious, together with the scandals of governments (especially the current one, but also previous ones) abusing public money, bribery etc. There is no faith in the system, whatever the system is or is trying to be.

There are two ways to see this, the bright side and the dark side. This uprising, unlike in France, is not the indignation of the very lowest. It is much more unanimous.
If you want to be optimistic, you will see this as a victory of anarchy/left wing ideologies over the capitalist system, and believe that something is changing (but it is not yet clear what) - see (in English).

But 'the uprising of the middle classes' creates questions... Is it that the masses have awoken? And are they angry for the right reasons? (Because the reasons of the rage are crucial to what outcome we are working for).

Interesting commentary in (in Greek).

Also see

Is it just the middle class losing its comfort? How is this going to evolve? Are we superficial, or are we finally realising that a rampant capitalist system involves all (but a few) losing their comfort, losing security, and making it a matter of degree how much discomfort one will suffer (up to breaking point)? Are we finally seeing the structural problems of our mindlessly introduced capitalist system, are we going to stop trying to wiggle through difficulties on an individual basis? The middle class youth has had the education (and free time) to sympathise with the major and extreme victims of the system (including the racism and other discrimination the system needs, apart from economic issues). They have also seen the mismatch between their hard earned education and job prospects. But is this all, and is this enough?

Who is protesting, how and why (2)


It is being repeatedly noted by Greek and international media that this is the most widespread and violent protest in the recent years of Greek history. I just want to have a closer look at the ways this protest is actually taking place:

- Peaceful ways of protest are veastly downplayed. People are having peaceful marches and conducting peaceful 'sitting protest' e.g. in front of government buildings, or sit-ins/occupations of buildings (broadcast media buildings which they use to transmit a message and then leave peacefully, schools and universities - in the Greek embassy in Berlin protesters peacefully went in, hang a banner protesting about the murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos by the state, and left also peacefully).

- Different groups of people take part in marches and deminstrations, where some of them are involved in material damages and some are not.

- Material damages: the main targets are government buildings and banks, followed by banks and large chain stores. There have been damages of smaller stores as well.

- Fighting with the police.

- Fights with civilians.

It is important to account for and explain all this.

First of all, media will focus on the violent aspect of the protest for obvious sensationalist reasons. Clearly a violent protest is more spectacular than a peaceful one. But there is more to it than that. You can see ideologies at stake in every single form of protest and protest reporting. Many have blamed the media for also blowing up police violence, who also makes for better news stories, and thus rekindling people's rage and thus indirectly motivating conflict. The problem with this is that it is a game of attracting audiences as opposed to genuinely deconstructing and criticising police violence.

The media are also fond of overplaying the danger caused by these 'uncontrolled anarchist mobs', 'hoodies' and 'masked men'. I was initially excited to see for once the protesters being represented as 'young people' and not as 'anarchists'/'masked men'/'known-unknowns'. This was during the first days of the rioting, when it would have been reidiculous and unacceptable to link both the dead boy and the protesting groups to any political group or planning which would potentially be interpreted as sympathy for the killer. This is not so now. Slowly we see the reporting shifting to the usual blame of anarchist groups for all evils, away from state violence. Unanimity is threatened as the days go by.

Damaging selected capitalism temples is more controversial. Not everyone shares the critique of the capitalist system as the groups attacking these buildings. There are two ways to go with this on the micro-level: local managers and lower rank employees of these companies who cannot work now because these buildings are burnt. OR shrug it off - irrespective of whether you are happy with these damages or not, this is immaterial and the point is to focus on the causes of the trouble, including why this boy has been killed and why people are so angry.

Smaller shops ruined is a shore point for everyone. There is evidence by now that provocators have been engaged in such damage to turn the public opinion against protesters. There are also claims that some of these small shops were damaged by the same groups who attacked larger shops and banks, and that these groups engage in blind violence. Comparatively, the number of small shops damaged is small. What you think on (provided that you accept that even one small shop was damaged by anarchists and not fascists and provocators) this depends on how much you sympathise with the cause of the anarchist groups. What I mean by that: if you see the police still as an institution which protects you, you are more willing to see the shooting of Alexandros Grigoropoulos as an isolated incident of one untrained and violent cop. Likewise, if you see the cause of protests as overall justified, you are more likely to see material damages (or the ones you would see as unjustified) as a side effect, and not redirect your anger towards the few who cause these damages but still towards those who caused the indignant protests in the first place. As someone put it in the early days online 'this is war, and it will have collateral damage'. I cringed to see the phrase 'collateral damage' by an anarchy sympathiser/anarchist, but this is true. In a war (metaphorical or literal) you never have one side displaying saintly behaviour and only one side being violent. It goes both ways, and the question is, who is right.

Rage is a big factor. Even without ideology, rage can cause people to break things. Now I am referring to the not-so-strongly politicised masses outraged by the killing of the boy (and more...) I saw early videos of schoolchilrden throwing stones at policemen and yelling at them for killing this boy - are these organised anarchists or brainless vandals? None of these - naturally the police would be the first target of the rage. One facebook poster mentions that a relative who was a policeman quit soon after the incident, embarassed to be a member of an institution who behaves so brutishly. There are debates about whether there are honest policemen or not - this is beside the point. The honest ones should have quit their jobs, or refused to participate in stifling the demonstrations (at the risk of losing their jobs). Psychologically, it takes an inclination to violence to be an efficient cop.

Fights with civilians again include fighting with plain clothes policemen, fascists and provocators. But sadly there are also reports of attempts to lynch 'anarchists', the anarchist being any unsuspecting passer by or teenage protester. Witch hunting. These angry mobs may not necessarily be well-indoctrinated fascists, but are definitely influenced by the ideologies depicting anarchists and leftists as trouble makers, worrying about their shops more than the state of their country and possibly fearing for their lives for no reason - but brainwahsed by the sense of danger pushed forward by the government and the media.

Questions about unanimity and heterogeneity of the protest are raised once again. But the protests are continuing for a second week and they are clearly not the isolated efforts of scattered groups of anarchists and/or 'troublemakers', however defined. There is more to it than that.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Who has been protesting, how and why?


The night of the boy's murder the anarchists of Exarhia started the protest, but also residents and passers-by.

People on the streets in the past days:

- Anarchist and Leftist groups routinely protesting about the injustice of the capitalist system. Obviously this was one of the times of the largest mobilisation and organisation of the members. They believe in symbolic violence and in injuring the system at its heart (government buildings, banks, chain stores).

- 'Simple people', who have nothing to do with politics. You can see various gradations there:
Those who share a left wing ideology but have not been actively involved in any political group, for various reasons including that they couldn't be bothered or that they saw that political parties and other groups may be using their base for political/personal benefits. Those who have not worked out quite clearly the interconnections of the system but acknowledge that the event was not an isolated incident but reflects the inherent violence of the police as an institution, the lack of control over the police to restrict its power abuse, and the necessity of fascist ideologies for a body like the police to justify its existence to itself and work. Those who don't even go that far, but still believe that the event indicates criminal inefficiency in the lack of training of and control over the Greek police - even upper middle class citizens have seen that this has caused the death of 'one of their own', they have seen the very state of affairs that has been benefiting them and generating their profits can get out of hand and turn against them.

- Students and young people belonging to any of the above categories, with the additional outrage for being handed over this mess to deal with for the rest of their lives.

- Pupils - here I'm not sure to what extent full-blown ideologies are a mobilising force, when it comes to socio-economic fineties, but I daresay most of even the youngest get the message. Even the most politically uninitiated ones cringe (or rather, throw stones) at the idea that 'talking back to a cop' can cost them their lives, despite their young age and altough they may 'have done nothing wrong' whatsoever.

- Party political groups. Anybody not voting for the goverment had already gathered resentment which turned into anger. However, I would not say that any of these voters went on the srteets completly indifferent to emotion and with the sole purpose of changing government - with the exception of party political leaderships (who can afford to be guarded by said police), I want to believe that they too share the rage across party lines. Interesting is the case of the Communist Party, which seemed to resent that this is not 'their' protest, tried to appropriate it and 4 days after the beginning of the protests conflicts took place belween Communist Party youths and other leftist.anarchist groups. Communist party members and anarchists have long term rivalry - this is not the time for it.

On the other side you have the police (special forces), fascist groups, plain clothes policemen and provocateurs. A Facebook group was created entitled 'Honour and golory to the cop who killed the anarchist'. It was reported so much that by Tuesday 8 Dec. it was closed.

Of all the categories the most interesting ones are the people who would not otherwise participate. They have very different backgrounds, have all been united by the rage for the death of the young boy but may have quite different agendas. A spark was all it took to light the fire, but how long will it keep burning (and to what end)?

Greek police-fascist collaboration

Very good and detailed post:

I remember reading in the mainstream media 'citizens went out on the streets in order to protect their homes and property from the vandalisms'. Two questions:

- Do the mainstream media represent provokators and plain clothes policemen and fascists as the 'citizens'?

- Even if citizens indeed went out on the streets with this intention of protecting their homes from anarchists and provokators alike, doesn't it prove that the trained and armed police have not been doing the job unarmed civilians were doing? Because they did not even bother to pretend they are preventing material damages to keep up appearances, but clearly focussed on instigating conflicts in order to 'prove' that the outraged demonstrators are brainless vandals and tear apart the public opinion?

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Photo depicting 'special force' policeman pointing a gun at demonstrators

The photo leaked on the internet and international media.

I am translating from (where you can also see the photo):

Exclusive: The photographer of the best picture of the days got fired

The photographer of [the newspaper] Eleutheros Typos Kostas Tsironis, who took the photos of the policemen aiming at demonstratoes gor fired from the newspaper. The photographs were taken on Sunday afternoon on Alexandras str. K. Tsitonis handed them in a litle later to the editor in chief of the newspaper Serafeim Kotrotsos. According to what the photographer said to Tvxs, Mr. Kotrotsos declared at the beginning that this is a major journalistic success. Then, howevr, he told him that he wanted to make sure that it was a shooting gun and not a flashbomb pistol. The photographer assured him that indeed this was a gun [specifies the make] 9mm., of the ones that don't have a safety catch. In order to confirm this, he showed him one more photo in which one could see the [part of the gun]. In communication Tvxs had with him, Mr Kotrotsos stated that he could not publish them before he was assured by specialists, since it had to do with an explosive political issue.

On Monday specialists were asked, who confirmed that this was a shooting gun. On the same day in the afternoon, K. Tsironis was informed by the graphic designers who were designing the paper that the photographs had been withdrawn from the first page of the issue they were preparing for Tuesday. He complained to his supervisor at the photoreportage department, who told him that the photos 'would perhaps be published in the inside pages'. The conversation took place in the presence of many journalists who confirmed it to Tvxs. In the same conversation, the photographer siad that the news that these photos existed had already leaked and that, if they were not published on the first page, the newspaper would miss a great journalistic success.

Eventually, the photographs were published on Tuesday on the inside pages of the paper, while they had already leaked to international news agencies and they were circulating on the internet. The photographer was notified not to cover the funeral of Alexis Grigoropoulos and a little later he was informed he was fired. S. Kotrotsos stated to Tvxs that he intended to publish the photos and that the photoreporter was fired because he violated his exclusive contract with "Eleutheros Typos" by leaking the photos. However the photographer maintains that it is an attempt of political censorship. He says that he is not personally responsible for the leak, since many employees in the newspaper had access to the photos after he handed them over. He added that, if they hadn't leaked, "they would never get published".

After the publication of the photos, the police announced that they are investigating the incident. Nobody [from the police?] has been in touch with the photographer.

Dec 10 Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

Academics of the Aristotle Univesity of Thessaloniki stood between demonstrator groups causing material damages and violent police 'special forces' (MAT). (info from Pan Panayotopoulos)

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Eye witness testimonies

The testimony of the eye witness journalist Mr Papadimitriou on Mega Channel:

"A police car comes to the corner of Tzavela-Navarinou str. The police car stops and looks down the street. As if they were looking for something. From inside the police car they [the policemen] are having a verbal argument with a group of people. They [the people] had not covered faces [reference to groups with covered faces taking part in violent demonstrations]. There were coffee shops there and these were the kids. 50 metres down the road the policemen get off the police car, a few minutes after the verbal argument. No attack took place and there was no physical contact. The police car was not attacked either. Only a group of people started shouting. 2 plastic bottles of water were thrown and the policement were in place [i.e. they didn't try or have to leave].
They go back to the police car and leave towards Charilaou Trikoupi str. and go back on foot with a quick stride and arrive at the same spot again. The group with which they had argued was on str. Tzavela and Mesologgiou. The [the group] did not move towards the policemen. The distance between them was more than 20 metres. The didn't reach hand-to-hand [fight]. Only verbal duels from 40 m. distance. After shouts and swearing he RAISES HIS GUN AND SHOOTS IN THE DIRECTION OF THE KIDS. I saw the extension of his hand. He was not shooting in the air."

this has been posted on numerous Greek speaking sites, among them comment section:

The below videos are from Mega Channel, numerous eye witnesses verify the above testimony, incuding the facts that there was only verbal conflict, the shooting was from a distance and in cold blood, and then the perpetrators turned around and left walking...

Michalis Kaltetzas 1985, Alexandros Grigoropoulos 2008

I am translating from the blog

'This is the first page of the newspaper 'Ta Nea' of 18/11/1985 which went round the world. Michalis Kaltetzas (1970 - 17 November 1985) was a pupil who was killed during demonstrations on the anniversary of the Polytechnic uprising in 1985. [note: the uprising was on 17th Nov. 1973]. The policeman Athanasios Melistas, award winner for his "aiming abilities", shot Michalis Kaltetzas on the back of his head as the young man was running together with other demonstrators in Exarhia square.

At the link you can see the front page of 'Ta Nea' from 1985 and the youTube video from the shooting of Alexandros Grigoropoulos.

The policeman Athanasion Melistas was never punished.

The accidental death of an anarchist

The 15/16 year old pupil Alexandros Grigoripoulos was sitting with his friends at a coffee shop in Exarhia, central Athens. According to eye witnesses, a police car was driving by 'driving slowly and looking around, as they if were looking for something'. Eye witnesses report that the boys 'atacked them verbally', they exchanged angry words and some plastic water bottles were thrown. Reportedly a couple of plastic water bottles were thrown. The two policemen parked the car down the road and went back on foot. One of them threw a 'sound-light bomb' and the other shot the boy twice at the chest. A video by mobile phone on YouTube shows the two men walking away on their own.

It was then that people gathered around and the demonstrations and incidents began.

Initially the perpetrators claimed that they were cornered by 30 people and the shot was necessary for their safety. It is clear that this is not the case (even if it was, they should have driven on and called for reinforcement). Their defense lawyers quit for 'personal reasons' - it is reported that one of them quit because he did not agree with the 'defense line', or, more plainly put, because they lied to them about the facts.

Exarhia is an area where anarchist and left wing groups often hang out. It is also an area with coffee shops and bars frequented by young people, not necessary of the same political beliefs. From the events it is evident that these two policemen were driving deliberately by looking for trouble (police is not very popular in Greece, least of all among leftist groups), and they created trouble. Alexandros Grigoropoulos was not an anarchist, he was not involved in any left-wing group, and at the time was celebrating with his friends, not involved in any political activity (much less a violent one). He was the son of an upper middle class family residing in Palaio Psychiko, a suburb of Athens.

Here you can see the YouTube video, recorded by mobile phone from a nearby house:

Riots in Greece

Written on 8th Dec:

On Saturday night, 6th Dec. a Greek 16-year-old was shot dead by a policeman. A police car with two policemen passed by and he threw stones at them. According to the police, he was part of a group of 25-30 people who attacked them. I would say that if there were 30 people, the policemen would have called for reincorcement, Instead, reportedly they parked the car and went back to arrest them. They threw a 'light bomb' and one of them shot the boy. (The policemen are now under arrest).

According to other reports, it was 5 boys initially and as the incident evolved more people gathered. The area where this happened is considered 'anarchist nest' - there are other, informal reports that it was the policemen who provoked the boys (ragrading them as 'anarcho-communists') and initiated the conflict.

It is also informally reported that the boy had nothing to do with political activity and was only considered an anarchist because he was in that area (not that being an anarchist would justify killing him, but maybe for the police it would).

These two policemen were part of a 'special force', with a history of violent treatment of demonstrators. The Greek police (regular and 'special') is also known for the right-wing to extreme-right wing beliefs and behaviours of its members (with few exceptions), some of them sympathisers with the 'ideals' of the 1967-1974 dictatorship in Greece, and the foreign-imposed post-Ottoman empire monarchy which was also abolished in 1974 with the fall of the dictatorship ( As is often with the police, they have been more concerned with abusing immigrants. arrested demonstrators, Roma and other 'others' than with protecting citizens' rights.

Greece is in riot in the past 3 days (there are reports from literally every major city). Apart from hard-core fascists (unfortunately they exist), everybody is enraged with the unacceptable killing of the boy. Not everybody is sympathetic to the rioters as some are more concerned with material damages, the safety of people in the riot areas, or don't sympathise with the political beliefs of the anarchists who are reported as the sole source of the riots - despite the numerous demonstrations of pupils and students. the focus of the media is on the most spectacular, violent clashes, which are at a larger scale Greece has seen since 1973.

The police has made arrests and some fighting is reported between police and demonstrators. It appears that they are more reluctant in beating up people due to the incident of the boy's killing, but there are still reports of 'cornering' teenage demonstrators and beating them up instead of arresting them in Athens ( Apparently this happens mainly in Athens and not so much in other cities. Police are also generous with tear gas and other similar modern methods.

The CNN and BBC reports are at best unsympathetic (occasionally essentialist and stereotypical - see BBC commentary), but there is some factual information as well:

CNN report of some of the facts

BBC's explanation

Reporting and explanation from CNN