By Nikos Raptis
December 12 2008
As always, to understand what is going on today (Dec.11, ’08) in Greece (or any place) one has to go back in time a few decades. Let us make the effort.
A few weeks after the “departure”, in 1974, of the US-supported dictatorship in Greece, I was in the luxurious ground floor of the Bank of Greece where I was filling some forms to secure the necessary exchange for the purchase of a book from a US publisher. I was sitting at a long heavy table. It was early in the day, there were not many people in the huge ground floor and the two security policemen there came and sat at the other end of the table and started chatting. I was wearing a US-made sport jacket. They took me for a foreigner and started talking freely. The older (fat) one says: “So, Karamanlis came from Paris [after the dictatorship] and instead of giving us money, the asshole bought helmets and riot gear for us”. That, Karamanlis, was the uncle of the (rather rotund) present Karamanlis, the Prime Minister of Greece. Karamanlis, the uncle, is referred to as the “Ethnarch” [the “father” of the nation]. Actually, he was a US-chosen rightist proxy to administer Greece on behalf of the US in the early 1950s. He died a few years ago and he demanded that his corpse be buried in a private lot on which a memorial building was erected mimicking the building of the usual “presidential library” of the US Presidents. The burial in a private space is illegal in Greece.
Six years after the above dialogue, between the two policemen, in November 1980, the riot police attack the demonstrators that were marching towards the US Embassy during the yearly march commemorating the 1973 uprising of the students against the dictatorship. The Karamanlis [uncle] police kill 26-year-old Iakovos Koumis and Stamatina Kanellopoulou, young workers, by crushing their skulls.
In 1981 the “socialists” (PASOK) win the elections. Andreas Papandreou, the US educated professor of economics at Berkley, becomes Prime Minister. His first act: he DOUBLES the salaries of the policemen! Four years later, in 1985, the Papandreou police kill 15-year-old Michael Kaltezas by shooting him in the back of his head, again during the yearly demonstration of the uprising. The killer is acquitted. That same year, Catharine John Bool [spelling?], a 22-year-old American is killed by the Greek police, for refusing to have her car searched by them. Around that period a young Turkish man is beaten to death in an Athens police station. The Greek press never includes his name in the usual list of persons killed by the Greek police. This list consists of the names of about one hundred persons killed by the “socialist” or the rightist police, from 1974 to this day. Not a single policeman was ever convicted. The latest murder is that of the 15-year-old Alexis Gregoropoulos, son of an upper middle class family, six days ago in Athens.
The Greek people, early on, had adopt the “battle-cry”: “Coppers Pigs Murderers!”
For 34 years, from 1974 to 2008, the Greek politicians, both “socialists” and rightists, as expected, have stolen millions of dollars from the money of the state [that is of the Greek taxpayers]. The latest scandal, in the tune of tens of millions of Euros, involves the government of Karamanlis [nephew] and the pious monks of a monastery on the “Sacred Mount of Athos”. It is quite interesting [or quite amusing] how the “professional” Christians bestow sacredness to all kinds of material entities. For example, the above monks, besides living on a sacred mountain, they claim to have the “Sacred Belt” that belonged to the Virgin Mary mother of Jesus, the son of God.
Today these Greek politicians, mostly US-educated and some of them from Harvard or the London School of Economics, have managed to bring the young Greeks who have a university degree in engineering, or in medicine, or in law, etc to the point of a yearly income of about US $ 12,000, if they are lucky to have a job. While life in Greece is as expensive, if not more expensive, than life in Berlin or Paris.
Inevitably, the killing of the teenager was apt to cause an “explosion”. The important new development, compared to previous “explosions”, was that it spread as a revolt all over Greece. Usually, in the past, the violent demonstrations took place in Athens and Salonica.
Here is a very brief recording of what happened after the killing of the 15-year-old Alexis:
– On Thursday, Dec. 4, there are country-wide demonstrations by students protesting the attempt of the rightist government to downgrade the state-supported public universities. The police, in Athens, beat severely a student who is hospitalized with heavy injuries. On the same day, 3,500 farmers of central Greece block with their cars and their trucks the main North-South highway of Greece, cutting the country in two, protesting the policies of the government that have turned them into heavily debt-ridden paupers.
– On Saturday, Dec. 6, Alexis is killed 25 minutes after 9 p.m., in cold blood, according to half a dozen eye witnesses. One hour later a violent reaction by the direct-action faction of Greek anarchists is initiated in Athens and eight more cities in Greece. The fight against the police goes on all night long.
– On Sunday, Dec. 7, around midday a crowd assembles in front of the Athens National Archaeological Museum [a building visited by millions of US citizens during the last 50 years]. The call to assemble was done through the Internet and SMSs. The crowd starts marching peacefully. After a little they clash with the police and the crowd starts burning mostly banks, car dealerships and big businesses. This goes on all night.
– On Monday, Dec. 8, around 6 p.m.a huge crowd of thousands of people gather at the central building of the University of Athens. Even before the crowd starts to march there are violent contacts with the police. Burning and breaking of shop windows goes on all night long. The same happens in 19 more cities and towns of the country.
– On Tuesday, Dec. 9, around 12 noon a huge crowd of pupils, students, high school teachers, university professors start to demonstrate. There are clashes with the police. Later in the afternoon the funeral of Alexis is attended by about 4,000 people. The police attacks them. Riots go on all through the night. Looting starts, mostly by immigrants, who do not take part in the riots, and by some Greeks. The same holds for most Greek cities and towns.
– On Wednesday, Dec. 10, there is a General Strike all over the country. The rioters this time are mostly pupils and students. They attack mostly police stations hurtling, eggs, tomatoes, bitter oranges [also known as Seville oranges], and stones.
– Today, Thursday, Dec. 11, it is mostly pupils and students (14 to 17-year-olds, boys and girls) attacking police stations again with the above mentioned missiles. A few blocks from my place at Halandri, in Athens, the police station is being attacked by high school kids Also, today, there is a tally of the damage done during the riots. Around 565 shops were damaged or completely destroyed, hundreds arrested (half of them looting immigrants), an estimated US $ 1 billion plus in damages, and (most important) 4,200 units of police chemicals spent indiscriminately against Greek citizens, raising the need to buy more chemicals from…Israel!
Now let us try to find out the meaning of this revolt:
But first an important parenthesis:
[Parenthesis: In the central hall of the police station of the Athens neighborhood that I was raised, there is a huge slab of white marble fixed on one of the walls with about a dozen names engraved on it. The names belonged to policemen who were executed in the police station the very first day of the December 1944 uprising of what is known as the “Greek Civil War” after the end of the Nazi occupation of Greece. The executed policemen were anti-communist Nazi collaborators and brutal torturers of members of the anti-Nazi Resistance, mostly communists.
To try to persuade people about the existence of police brutality is rather redundant. Recent cases as the sodomizing of the young black in a Manhattan subway station, or the revelations about the master-torturer police officer in Chicago are a minuscule recording of what is going on in police stations all over the face of the earth. So, no wonder that the first people to be punished during an uprising are the brutal policemen. The above marble slab is just a simple example.]
The groups that took part in the uprising after the murder of the 15-year-old kid are the following:
– A minuscule part of direct-action anarchists.
– A group of non-violent anarchists spread all over Greece, numbering in the hundreds.
– The usual police “plants” in the anarchist groups.
– A very dangerous group of police officers, of the Blackwater-type of individuals [assisted by neo-Nazis], masquerading as anarchists. [See below].
– The “KKE” (Communist Party of Greece), “traditional” communists, numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
– The “Coalition of the Radical Left” (“Coalition” from now on). A formerly Eurocommunist split from KKE, numbering, now, in the hundreds of thousands.
– The “Greens”, numbering in the thousands
– University students, numbering in the tens of thousands.
– High school kids, numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
[The numbering refers to the power of each group in general and does not refer to the number of persons that took part in the uprising.]
The burning and breaking was done by the direct-action anarchists, the Blackwater-type pigs [assisted by the neo-Nazis], and some students and pupils.
The KKE masses demonstrated in the traditional way of marching in extreme discipline and departed. They carried the usual red flags, however the flagpoles were of the size and strength of baseball bats. This was a warning to the pigs and their political choreographers, that they meant business. The pigs got the message.
The Coalition people and the Greens demonstrated in the traditional way but they were there to assist the up-risen youths.
The uprising was carried out by the students and the teenagers, especially the teenagers!
What is of paramount importance is not the journalistic reporting or the burning, the looting, etc, but the incidents, events, and statements that show what is happening in the Greek society now. Here are some of these events:
– The head of the National Federation of Traders, Demitris Armenakis, representing the owners of the shops that were destroyed said: “No (material) damage can be compared to the life of a young man”. This moral statement, coming from a person that suffered material damage, has impressed most Greeks.
– From some police stations the information leaked out that some of the policemen demanded and succeeded to take the guns out of the hands of their violent-prone colleagues.
– At some point ordinary citizens of all ages who usually are fence-sitters were so angry with the behavior of the police during the demonstrations by the young that they tried to intervene and protect the kids. Some of the parents of the younger kids did the same, placing their bodies between their kids and the clubs of the pigs.
– Today, a deputy of the Greek parliament, belonging to the Coalition, walking with two friends on a side-street of the area of the riots spotted two muscular men wearing hoods who were holding stones and carrying sticks. The deputy asked them if they were policemen. They answered angrily that they were policemen, so what. The deputy and his friends chased them, but their age did not allow them to catch the young braves. This was described, publicly, in the evening news.
– In a very unfortunate moment, the General Secretary of KKE accused the Coalition that they “caress the ears ” of the hooded persons that burn and destroy. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the KKE and the Coalition leaderships have a decades long enmity that is based partly in personal antipathies.
– The usual 1/3 of a any given population, that consider themselves conservative, that is crypto-fascist, still consider the up-risen kids and the murdered child as “punks”, “brats”, “dirty bastards”, and regard the murderer policeman as a hero.
– Two well known lawyers initially accepted the defense of the murderer, but after talking to him they declined to represent him. Eventually, a lawyer, by the name of Alexis Kougias, who has been in the forefront of the news for various reasons for almost a decade, accepted the job. Kougias stated publicly that the death of the kid was a “misinterpretation”, that the death was the “will of God”, and it is the job of the court to decide “if the death should have happened”. We think that the case of Kougias is of great interest not only for the Greek society but also for the international community of intellectuals, university students, and ordinary people. We suggest that the Kougias case should be followed closely by all.
The conclusion drawn from the incidents of these six days in Greece : The uprising was in reality the uprising of the Greek teenagers. It was a Greek “intifada”. The “weapons” used by the teenagers in this “intifada” were their burning anger, their maturity, and predominately… Seville oranges, the traditional Greek student weapon against the police. Their targets were the police stations. The police stations, whose historical meaning was touched briefly in the above parenthesis.
What might one expect after the “intifada” of the Greek teenagers? The rightist government of Karamanlis (the nephew) is mortally wounded. The “socialists” have been so corrupt during their two decades-long governing of the country that the young Greeks are repelled by them. What the kids are looking towards, are: the anarchists, the Coalition, and the KKE. Also, to a lesser degree towards the Greens.
A year ago the Coalition’s voting power was a little above 3%. A few months ago it rose to almost 16%. Now it is back at about 9%. The KKE for years was constantly around 5%. Now it is close to 7%. The Greens seem to reach close to 3%. It is reasonable to expect that in the next elections the Left (Coalition, KKE, Greens) could achieve a total voting power of around 20% and even much more.
If the above estimates are correct, then the “intifada” of the Greek teenagers will give a hard time to the CIA analysts in Langley. These analysts initiated the 1967 dictatorship of the colonels. The result was that in 1974 the Communist Party was legal after decades of being outlawed. The murder of Alexis by a “copy” of a US “Rambo”-policeman that initiated the “intifada” of the Greek teenagers, could give birth to a new Left in Greece. Also, this is a very good opportunity for the Parecon vision to be promoted among the Greek teens. It seems that the Coalition has an affinity to the Parecon vision.
We shall see what happens. Let us hope that my estimate is correct.
Uprising in Greece: Protests, Riots, Strikes Enter 6th Day Following Fatal Police Shooting of Teen
Protests, riots and clashes with police have overtaken Greece for the sixth straight day since the fatal police shooting of a teenage boy in Athens Saturday night. One day after Wednesday’s massive general strike over pension reform and privatization shut down the country, more than a hundred schools and at least fifteen university campuses remain occupied by student demonstrators. A major rally is expected Friday, and as solidarity protests spread to neighboring Turkey, as well as Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, Denmark and the Netherlands, dozens of arrests have been made across the continent. We speak to a student activist and writer from Athens.
Guest: Nikos Lountos, Greek activist and writer. He’s with the Socialist Workers Party in Greece and a graduate student in political philosophy at Panteion University in Athens.
AMY GOODMAN: Protests, riots and clashes with police have overtaken Greece for the sixth straight day since the fatal police shooting of a teenage boy in Athens Saturday night. One day after Wednesday’s massive general strike over pension reform and privatization shut down the country, more than a hundred schools and at least fifteen university campuses remain occupied by student demonstrators. A major rally is expected on Friday. And as solidarity protests spread to neighboring Turkey, as well as Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, Denmark and the Netherlands, dozens of arrests have been made across the continent.
On Wednesday, two police officers involved in Saturday’s shooting were arrested, and one was charged with murder. But anger remains high over the officers’ failure to express remorse at the student’s death. The police officers claim the bullet that killed Alexandros Grigoropoulos was fired in self-defense, and the death was an accident caused by a ricochet.
The unrest this week has been described as the worst since the end of the military dictatorship in 1974 and could cost the already weakened Greek economy an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s also shaken the country’s conservative government that has a narrow one-person majority in Parliament. The socialist opposition has increased calls for the prime minister to quit and call new elections, ignoring his appeals for national unity.
I’m joined now on the telephone by a student activist and writer from Athens. He’s with the Greek Socialist Workers Party. He’s a graduate student in political philosophy at Panteion University in Athens.
We welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you lay out for us exactly when this all began and how the protests have escalated and what they’re about right now, Nikos Lountos?
NIKOS LOUNTOS: Yes, Amy. I’m very glad to talk with you.
So, we are in the middle of an unprecedented wave of actions now and protests and riots. It all started on Saturday evening at around 9:00 p.m., when a policeman patrolling the Exarcheia neighborhood in Athens shot and murdered in cold blood the fifteen-year-old schoolboy Alexis.
The first response was an attempt to cover up the killing. The police claimed that they had been attacked. But the witnesses all around were too many for this cover-up to happen. So, all the witnesses say that it was a direct shot. So even the government, in just a few hours, had to claim that it will move against the police, trying to calm the anger.
But the anger exploded in the streets. In three, four hours, all the streets around Athens were filled with young people demonstrating against the police brutality. The anti-capitalist left occupied the law school in the center of Athens and turned it into headquarters for action. And on Sunday, there was the first mass demonstration. Thousands of people of every age marched towards the police headquarters and to the parliament. And the next day, on Monday, all this had turned into a real mass movement all around Greece.
What was the most striking was that in literally every neighborhood in every city and town, school students walked out of their school on Monday morning. So you could see kids from eleven to seventeen years old marching in the streets wherever you could be in Greece, tens of thousands of school students, maybe hundreds of thousands, if you add all the cities. So, all around Athens and around Greece, there were colorful demonstration of schoolboys and schoolgirls. Some of them marched to the local police stations and clashed with the police, throwing stones and bottles. And the anger was so really thick that policemen and police officers had to be locked inside their offices, surrounded by thirteen- and fourteen-year-old boys and girls.
The picture was so striking that it produced a domino effect. The trade unions of teachers decided an all-out strike for Tuesday. The union of university lecturers decided a three-day strike. And so, there was the already arranged, you know, the strike you mentioned for Wednesday against the government’s economic policies, so the process was generalizing and still generalizes.
AMY GOODMAN: Nikos Lountos, when you have this kind of mass protest, even with the beginning being something so significant as the killing of a student, it sounds like it’s taken place in like a dry forest when a match is thrown, a lit match, that it has caught on fire something that has been simmering for quite some time. What is that?
NIKOS LOUNTOS: Yeah, that’s true. Everybody acknowledges that even the riots, the big riots—you may have seen the videos—they are a social phenomenon, not just the result of some political incident. There were thousands of angry young people that came out in the streets to clash with the police and smash windows of banks, of five-star hotels and expensive stores. So, that’s true. It was something that waited to happen.
I think it’s a mixture of things. We have a government that’s—a government of the ruling party called New Democracy, a very right-wing government. It has tried to make many attacks on working people and students, especially students. The students were some form of guinea pigs for the government. When it was elected after 2004, they tried—the government tried to privatize universities, which are public in Greece, and put more obstacles for school students to get into university. The financial burden on the poor families if they want their children to be educated is really big in Greece. And the worst is that even if you have a university degree, even if you are a doctor or lawyer, in most cases, young people get a salary below the level of poverty in Greece. So the majority of young people in Greece stay with their families ’til their late twenties, many ’til their thirties, in order to cope with this uncertainty. And so, this mixture, along with the economic crisis and their unstable, weak government, was what was behind all this explosion.
AMY GOODMAN: Nikos Lountos is a Greek activist and writer. Nikos, the protests have been picked up not only in Greece, but around the world. We’re talking about the Netherlands, talking also about Russia and Italy and Spain and Denmark and Germany. What does it mean to the workers and the students in Greece now? How significant is that? Has that changed the nature of the protests back in Greece?
NIKOS LOUNTOS: It’s very good news for us to know that many people around the world are trying to show their solidarity to us. And I think it’s not only solidarity, but I think it’s the same struggle against police brutality, for democracy, against war, against poverty. It’s the same struggle. So it’s really good news for us to hear about that.
I think you should know that the next Thursday will be the next day of action, of general action. Every day will have action, but next Thursday will be a day of general action. The students will be all out. And we’re trying to force the leaders of the trade unions to have a new general strike. So I could propose to people hearing me now that next Thursday would be a good day for solidarity action all around the world, to surround the Greek embassies, the consulates, so generally to get out in the streets and express your solidarity to our fight. And I think workers and students in Greece will really appreciate it.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the issue of civil liberties overall in Greece? Has this been a matter of controversy over time?
NIKOS LOUNTOS: Yeah. This government has a really awful record on civil liberties. It all began during the Olympics of 2004, aided also by the so-called anti-terrorist campaign started by George Bush after 9/11. During the Olympic Games, we had the first cameras in the streets of Athens. And there are now proofs that many phones were tapped illegally at that period, among them the phones of the leaders of the antiwar movement here in Greece, such as the coordinators of the Stop the War Coalition.
And then came the biggest scandal of all. In 2005, tens of Pakistani immigrants were abducted from their homes by unknown men. They were hooded and interrogated and then thrown away after some days in the streets of Athens. The Greek police, along with the British MI5, had organized these illegal abductions in coordination with the then-Pakistani government of Pervez Musharraf.
During the student movements and the workers’ strikes all these years, hundreds of beatings and more police brutality have covered up. Just one month ago, a Pakistani immigrant called Mohammed Ashraf was murdered by riot police in Athens when the police dispersed the crowd of immigrants waiting to apply for a green card. And the immigrants in Greece in general are mainly from regions hit by war—Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan. And they are treated in awful conditions by the Greek state and police. Many people have died by shells in the borders or in the Aegean Sea, trying to get into Greece and then Europe. So it’s really an awful record for the government on civil liberties.
AMY GOODMAN: Nikos Lountos, finally, as we travel from Sweden to Germany, one of the things we’re looking at is the effect of the US election on the rest of the world. In a moment, we’ll be joined by the editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel, the largest magazine in Europe. When President-elect Obama was elected, their headline was “President of the World.” What is the effect of the election of Barack Obama on people you know in Greece? What has been the reaction?
NIKOS LOUNTOS: Well, you know, all these years we had a slogan here in the antiwar movement and the student movement that George Bush is the number-one terrorist. So, many people were happy when they learned that these will be the final days of George Bush and his Republican hawkish friends like John McCain. But, of course, people in Greece have experienced that having a different government doesn’t always mean that things will be better. If the movement doesn’t put its stamp on the changes, changing only persons will have no meaning. But people have appreciated the change in the US administration as a message of change all over the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Nikos Lountos, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Greek activist and writer. He’s with the Socialist Workers Party in Greece and a graduate student in political philosophy at Panteion University in Athens.