The anarchist movement in Greece is world-renowned, especially now. Anarchist neighborhoods throughout Europe – such as Copenhagen’s Christiania neighborhood or Athen’s Exarcheia district – have battled with governments to maintain autonomy. Each time agents of government suppression target the neighborhoods, the anarchists strike back. But this time, all over the world.
The bullets that killed Athenian boy Alexis Grigoropoulos this week “may have hit one person, but it was meant for us all,” a German anarchist banner read early in the week. The “birthplace of democracy,” some people are saying, “has descended into anarchy.”
Greek politicians – from military colonels to business leaders – since the 1970s have denounced Greek rebels as “anarchists,” “nihilists” and, in classic Greek disparagement, “barbarians” with no aim whatsoever. The same mantra again this week. But Greece, often considered the birthplace of democracy, is also the site of an ongoing struggle against fascism. The fascists who lost power in the 1970s did not disappear – they simply work behind the scenes. Today’s political structure in Greece – “Athenian democracy” for whatever it is worth – owes itself to an anarchist and student movement which organized in the 1970s against a US-backed military regime.
In the early 1970s students barricaded the National Technical University in Athens, law students used radio transmitters to broadcast anti-state communiques, and workers throughout Greece joined the General Strike. The city was in revolt and people gathered around radios to hear students broadcast from the occupied university, “This is the Polytechnic! People of Greece, the Polytechnic bears the standard of our struggle and your struggle, our common struggle against dictatorship and for democracy!”
The military, furious, crashed through the University’s barricades with tanks, then beat and killed students and workers near Exarcheia and the campus premises. The military regime was eventually overthrown, in large part due to the student-worker organizing from the campus. Since then Greek campuses were deemed off-limits to government police and military. It is illegal for police to be on campuses.
What did it take to topple this regime? It was the anarchists, students, and workers who toppled this regime.
But much of what was reported then sounds like what is happening today, and the media is constantly dismissing the youth as hackneyed, easily-angered, aimless etc. Even the BBC wants things to return to normal:
“In Athens, too, shopkeepers are fed-up… there must be something in their head.”
But what is in their head – who dares to ask?
While some Greeks may be confused about how this situation exploded out of thin air, the media is telling them which side of the barricades they should be on. They complain that students are “exploiting a legal loophole” to occupy university campuses where police cannot go. What does that mean: People are “exploiting”? the fact some places where the state cannot go exist. Aren’t the police exploiting a legal loophole which allows them to be everywhere else?
It isn’t only who the media calls “self-styled anarchists” getting rowdy this entire week. Workers began an Athenian General Strike early on, and the Association of Employees in the suburb of Agios Dimitrios released a statement urging all Greeks to take to the streets, saying profoundly, “Don’t watch the news, consciousness is born in the streets!” and “We are in Civil War: with the fascists, the bankers, the state, the media wishing to see an obedient society.”
Comparing reports from Greek media via the New York Times in the 1970s to 2008, three artifacts stand out in similarity.
- Tens of millions of dollars in property damage caused by rebels;
- Police shot and killed people in the street;
- The government essentially took control of the media and gave the impression that anarchists were a “minority” fueled by “the communists”. (This was a US-backed regime, by the way, so anarchists had to be controlled ultimately by communists. Today, of course, anarchism has to be controlled by hormones and nothing else.)
NYTimes abstract archive, April 28th, 1972:
“400 Greek physics students, in open defiance of martial law in Greece, stage silent march from campus at Goudi to main univ bldg in Athens in protest against discrimination in examinations procedures; police attempt to disperse illegal march half-way, but students persevere, advancing in small groups; police forces step in at univ, forcing marchers to flee.”
NYTimes abstract archive, November 18th, 1973:
“[President Papadopoulos] asserts that he tried to lead nation toward normality, but that ‘anarchist elements, aiming at overthrow of all lawful order and exploiting naivete of unrealistic people as well as self-interest of politicians,’ have created dangerously explosive situation; declares his determination to take all appropriate measures for consolidation of law and order; decries Greek politicians for siding with ‘subversive demonstrations of nihilistic minority‘; invites politicians to recant and think of their responsibilities to nation“
NYTimes abstract archive, November 25th, 1973:
“mil judiciary is carrying out thorough investigation of events that led to student-worker riots; asserts that police estimates of damage caused to private and public property during riots are in ‘tens of millions of dollars‘; [the secretary of information] says he does not know when martial law will be lifted.”
NYTimes abstract archive, December 12th, 1973:
“Greece’s mil police asserts on Dec 11 that former politicians instigated Nov student revolt but then lost control to anarchists who attempted to seize power“
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Western bloc – specifically Britain and the U.S. – admitted that it had puffed up the military regime in Greece, which bloodily suppressed the student movement. Bill Clinton gave an apology for this in 1999. He said in Athens,
“When the junta took over in 1967 here, the United States allowed its interests in prosecuting the cold war to prevail over its interest — I should say its obligation — to support democracy, which was, after all, the cause for which we fought the cold war. It is important that we acknowledge that.”
Each year there is a commemoration on November 17th to honor the rebellion. Athenian students and anarchists – even some politicians – pay their respect to the Polytechneio students killed in struggles mainly from the 1940s through the 1970s, but also to remember recent struggles. A march that begins every year at the Polytechnic university ends at the United States embassy compound, where the people shout anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist slogans. This picture is from 2008:
There is an old saying. Winston Churchill said “History is written by victors”. The revolutionaries who successfully ousted a dictatorship in the 1970s are, because victorious, celebrated in Greek society. They faced a spectacle powerful enough to control the soldiers and the police, but the people revolted. Today that spectacle is even more powerful.
When state police entered the anarchist district of Exarchia looking to murder some anarchists earlier this week, it was as if the shots were “heard ’round the world”. This brought loosely-connected anarchist groups in dozens of cities beyond the Aegean out into the streets.
Here is what happened.
Witnesses shown on this Greek news channel several days later said the police had walked down a street in Exarcheia with their guns drawn. A translation is available here. The police cussed at some young people, telling them to “Come here punks, come and settle this.” When some kids approached, “Suddenly, without any other intervention, the patrol car abruptly departs and some time later the officers return. They stood in front of the kids and gunshots were heard. One of the kids, fell.” They fired three shots to make sure they hit him, since they missed at first. Someone shouted that he was wounded, but “The police turned their backs, as if nothing had happened, and left.”
“They will get away with impunity in the courts,” echoed anarchists around the world, “but not on our streets.”
If this murder was by “by accident” as the police said then I find excerpts from the murderer’s 11-page testimony extremely contradictory. The testimony builds a case against Grigoropoulos’ personal and moral character. It is a moral justification for his murder. They condemn Grigoropoulos and provide information on his family background, his education, and his friends. They say he was a corrupted youth.
“Justice is”, according to Thrasymachus, Socrates’ interlocutor in The Republic, “nothing other than the advantage of the stronger.”
The defense lawyer for the police – whose office was burned down after this testimony – stated, “It is now only up to the Greek justice to decide whether the youth was justly killed, or not.” Juridical tactics in Greece have not changed much since Socrates – who was tried and executed for “corrupting the youth of Athens”.
The photographer who snapped this picture for Eleutheros Typos and the Associated Press, Kostas Tsironis, was also fired from Eleutheros Typos for publishing it. The original site (in Greek) where I found that information is here, and a blogger on this site has translated it.
Firing photographers in a time like this is “police news management”. In a democracy, you see, the police don’t have to actually be looking over your shoulder during rebellion because even moderate sympathizers and the media will police themselves and each other. The obedient society will also look the other way as police collude with fascists.
Neo-nazis and “far right supporters” have disguised themselves as anarchists in order to get amongst them and stab people with knives this week. Most seem to be members of the neonazi group Golden Dawn, a group which kidnaps and murders migrants. Some protesters have been stabbed in Patras, Athens and elsewhere as detailed on Athens Indymedia. Yahoo! News apparently gathered some photos from the wire, but does not provide any further insight.
These unreported provocateurs, instructed by police, also destroy small shops in Exarcheia and Patras, blaming it on the students and anarchists. But those people in red and black have targeted only banks and large corporations. Members of Golden Dawn were also encouraged to go ahead and stab demonstrators, many of whom are high school students.
In Patras, before demonstrators had thought about erecting barricades, members of Golden Dawn in collaboration with the police threw rocks and chased people through streets with clubs. “For this reason,” says a Patras student in this account, “rudimentary barricades were put together in the streets around the University of Patras”. Then: “the neonazis were running with clubs & knives towards the demonstrators.” People ran away in terror. The Greek media is calling the neonazi group “infuriated citizens,” (implying that the citizenry has sided against demonstrators.)
Another account says that Golden Dawn and the police were “perfectly coordinated”, and that the media has also called the neonazis “local business owners” who are “taking the law into their own hands”. In the picture below (via Athens Indymedia) the man holding the blue flag is alleged to be a member of Golden Dawn, and minutes later he enters a crowd of Athenians to stab people.
In just one night “normality” can die in any society.
Greece is filled with fire. Some are saying that democracy is merely an easier way to lie to people, to give them false representation. “Democracy died because it was built on the backs of slaves. In the country in which democracy was born, a grand apology and solution is being given to the world it poisoned.”
If normality dies in other societies around the world, will the shadows take over under the banner of patriotism as they have in Greece? Can’t fascism be disguised and rationalized? Who is the shadow? Who can you trust?
Students, future engineers, future doctors, are Greece’s future. But they do not want the same future as the rest of Europe; their vision is for a better world. Now Exarcheia is barricaded, streets are barricaded, some 15 universities are barricaded. Athenian hearts, as well as over seventy police stations, burning…
A wall in Athens reads, “We are the image of the future”.
The International Anarchist Conspiracy, communique #5: