"We chose this monument to democracy, this global monument, to proclaim our resistance to state violence and demand rights in education and work. (We did it) to send a message globally and to all Europe." — Protestor to Reuters reporter on December 17th, 2008.
Protesters stood atop the Acropolis. Huge banners draped the stone wall in front of the Parthenon. One proclaimed in four languages: RESIST! Another requested solidarity demonstrations throughout Europe. That was on day 12 of the 15 days of insurrection in which the citizens of the ancient birthplace of both democracy and anarchism sent the government and people everywhere a message. The catalyst of these events was the death of an anarchist teenager at the hands of the police.
On December 6th, 15 year old Alexis (Alexandros) Grigoropoulos was enjoying the evening celebrating a friend's birthday outside a shop in Eksarhia, Athens. The neighborhood of Eksarhia is one where shop owners and residents are known for their love of freedom and self-regulation and their disdain for the often brutal hand of police authority. It is an area where the police presence is minimal and suspect. Alexis met his friends to eat and talk as teenagers do, but somehow this evening of comraderie ended with Alexis shot dead by an officer a Greek policeman. Accounts of the officers and witnesses vary on the circumstances of the shooting.
According to news reports, two special guard policemen exchanged insults with a small group of young people outside of a shop. The officers contacted their superiors and were apparently told to leave. The two guards left the scene, but returned on foot. The officers say they were attacked by an angry, violent mob. Epaminondas Korkoneas, the 37 year old policeman who killed Alexis, claims the crowd assaulted him and his partner with rocks, and other items including molotov cocktails. He testified that he fired warning shots into the air while his back was turned to the crowd in fear. He claims that one of the bullets must have ricocheted, killing the boy. His partner, at some point, threw a concussion grenade at the crowd. Discrepancies in information available regarding the ballistics and forensics reports makes it unclear whether the bullet was a direct hit or a ricochet. Both officers were arrested in connection with the shooting. Korkoneas was charged with murder, while his partner was charged as an accomplice.
Eyewitness accounts are uniform in their failure to report an attacking mob. Some eyewitnesses say the officers confronted and verbally provoked the group. Some report that the officer who fired took aim at the young people. Most recount a strong verbal dispute. In an interview, Alexis' friend says that the he and Alexis moved to the center of the street to get a better view of a disturbance after hearing a loud noise, which may have been the concussion grenade. He says that someone located behind them threw an empty water bottle toward the police. This is when, he says, one of the officers turned and fired a shot toward them. As Alexis lay in the street, the two officers turned and walked away without offering assistance. In a video, captured from a nearby window with a limited view of the area, no mob is apparent. We see the two officers, unmolested, calmly walk away from the scene, which is not visible.
The Outraged Response
Personal accounts say that within minutes of the boy's shooting, protesters, including many cell-phone-networked students and anarchists activists, began arriving in the streets of Athens and cities all over Greece. Mere hours later, their molotov cocktails arced through the darkness and set the capital alight. In the hours and days that followed Alexis' death, banks, police stations and vehicles, government buildings, and shops in the city were set aflame or damaged. What began as a reaction of fury at the unjust death of one of their own children grew into a national uprising. The anarchists and students were joined by other political activists, workers, marginalized gypsies, immigrants, and other community members. As the protesters' outrage exploded in a three-week long clash with riot police, supportive residents threw water to them from balconies. The flames and heat helped to disperse the chemical fog. The country nearly ran out of tear-gas. This was a stand of oppressed against oppressor.
During the insurgency, the rebels took brief occupancy of radio stations and a government TV station urging people to leave their televisions and come to the street. A major union was peacefully occupied by workers. Approximately 1000 high-schools and universities were occupied by students. Peaceful protests and demonstrations were held daily throughout the country by tens of thousands of protesters and students, joined by parents and teachers.
Counterinsurgency tactics were employed by the state, "Even during the height of the insurrection, in its effort to create a climate of terror and uncertainty, the state had been spreading rumours about busloads of anarchist (sic) and immigrants traveling to provincial towns with the intention to burn their commercial centres down." A popular television program exposed police officers, dressed like Anarchists, destroying property.
The response was further protests, demonstrations, and some occupations across Europe and beyond. A website details a map of protests in solidarity with the Greek insurrection as activists responded throughout the world. Even here in the U.S., students occupied the New School in New York d anblogged messages in solidarity with the Greeks.
The "Hooded Youth"
One blogger observed that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. He recounted witnessing two of the hooded, masked anarchists, holding molitov cocktails, waiting to set a bank on fire. A woman at the ATM didn't seem to notice. The rebels waited politely and patiently for the woman to be safely clear before continuing their mission. He saw an elderly woman admonishing some protesters for the destruction. They were joined by more rebels, and all engaged the woman in a passionate plea to explain their cause. In this video, a tourist gives an outsider perspective of the Athens revolt. It's a walk through the scene. The observer initially shows fear of the protesters and later decides it's safe to be there.
Police brutality has become widespread in Greece. "Shootings, beatings, intimidation and torture – it sounds like the script for a Tarantino film. But in fact it is the kind of treatment the Greek police are accused of using, especially when dealing with minorities and immigrants", wrote BBC Greece Correspondent Tamsin Smith in 2002. The same is true today. Violence against students, immigrants, and the homeless are caught on video and played over the news or posted to websites. A British expatriate businessman contacted the BBC with a report of brutality against peaceful demonstration participants, reporting strip searches and handcuffing. The witness stated that police told the students, "We have you now. You are out of your universities now… We are going to kill you." Journalist James Horrox writes of the wave of violence and racism unleashed by police and courts against immigrants since the revolt. Just two weeks ago, police were investigated in connection with the "Abu Ghraib" style torture of up to 30 Afghan immigrants at a police station in Athens.
It is against this backdrop of state brutality, along with deepening despair over the economic crisis and diminished prospects for the future that the uprising occured. Students are faced with enormous debt for college degrees that cannot be expected to result in a living wage. But the nature of the discontent is larger than these things. It is a rejection of a way of life that brutalizes and divides. It is the demand by citizens to determine their destiny and own their own lives. It is a stand being taken to reject what is corrupt and dehumanizing. The uprising is a rejection of democracy, with its rule by the oligarchy. The revolt is a movement toward anarchism, which offers the possibility of a community based on cooperation and respect.
The mainstream media speculated, with some confusion, about the reasons for the extended eruption. In the U.S., Time Magazine reported on December 18th that, "No one is certain yet why the riots continue to flare up." The Economist's take: "Perhaps because it is easier to say what Greece’s malcontents are against than what they are for, the word 'anarchist' is an accepted catch-all term for the anti-establishment rebels who form the hard core of the Athenian protesters." One can only wonder if the reporters for these publications do not have access to the internet. What can be said of the investigative skills of their journalists? As the media seemed to bumble in the dark, occupied universities published communiques detailing their positions, which the mainstream press ignored.
Students of the occupied Athens Polytechnic University pronounced in a communique entitled "Their Democracy Murders":
"Lethal violence against the people in the social and class struggle is aiming at everybody’s submission, serving as exemplary punishment, meant to spread fear."
"It is part of the wider attack of the state and the bosses against the entire society, in order to impose more rigid conditions of exploitation and oppression, to consolidate control and repression. From school and universities to the dungeons of waged slavery with the hundreds of dead workers in the so-called “working accidents” and the poverty embracing large numbers of the population… From the minefields in the borders, the pogroms and the murders of immigrants and refugees to the numerous “suicides” in prisons and police stations… from the “accindental [sic] shootings” in police blockades to violent repression of local resistances, Democracy is showing its teeth!"
Students of the occupied Athens School of Economics stated:
"The democratic regime in its peaceful façade doesn’t kill an Alex every day, precisely because it kills thousands of Ahmets, Fatimas, JorJes, Jin Tiaos and Benajirs: because it assassinates systematically, structurally and without remorse the entirety of the third world, that is the global proletariat. It is in this way, through this calm everyday slaughter, that the idea of freedom is born: freedom not as a supposedly panhuman good, nor as a natural right for all, but as the war cry of the damned, as the premise of civil war."
In Athens alone, one thousand Anarchists spent New Year's Eve forsaking clubs and parties to gather outside prisons where their comrades were incarcerated. Throughout Greece, they remained close to those who were alone and locked away, trading chants of solidarity with the prisoners.
Much, but not all, of the insurrection activity has settled for now. Further student demonstrations in Greece are set to renew in early January. The rebellion is expected to continue and may take on new forms. The starting gun has been fired.
"And by anarchist spirit I mean that deeply human sentiment, which
aims at the good of all, freedom and justice for all, solidarity and
love among the people; which is not an exclusive characteristic only
of self-declared anarchists, but inspires all people who have a
generous heart and an open mind…"—Errico Malatesta, Italian anarchist, agitator & theorist.