The Greek Insurrection


On Dec. 6, 2008, the Athens police’s murder of 15-year-old anarchist Alexandros Grigoropoulos sparked a broad social uprising that raged all month, has been simmering ever since, and is now flaring up again. Before the killing, Greece was already a heavily polarized country. On one side, anarchists strongly influenced workers and youth, maintaining entire "free neighborhoods," such as Exarcheia in Athens, where Alexandros was shot. On the other side, there was a far right-wing government, and police – including the one who shot Alexandros – who were often members or supporters of fascist organizations like Golden Dawn.

 

The shooting of Alexandros occurred when Greek Special Forces entered the "free neighborhood" of Exarcheia to instigate residents, drawing protests from teens who threw stones at them. The police responded with bullets. Within a half hour of the murder, thousands of anarchists mobilized and attacked police stations with Molotov cocktails, rocks, and other improvised weapons. By the end of the night, protesters filled the streets of every major city, targeting banks and chain stores in intense riots. The next day, students poured out of schools, organizing marches and demonstrations in the tens of thousands. The cops attacked the enraged youth with tear gas and other implements of social control, exacerbating their thirst for revenge.

 

In the following days, the riots grew into an uprising. Students occupied their schools, workers called a general strike, and immigrants joined in on the streets. Attacks continued against police, banks, and government ministries. Protesters even torched Parliament’s massive Christmas tree in Athens.

 

The New York Times reports that by December 12th, police had fired 4,600 tear gas canisters, and, after exhausting their supply, ordered more from Israel. Throughout the following week, anti-authoritarians occupied dozens of media stations, including four major radio stations and three university stations.  On December 16th, anarchists burst into Greece’s state-run news TV studio, interrupting the Prime Minister’s speech, and held up a banner that read, "Stop watching, get out onto the streets." On December 17th, radical workers occupied the headquarters of the General Confederation of Workers in Greece, accusing the union bureaucrats of them selling out, denouncing the media for "the myth that the workers were and are absent" from the insurrection, and calling for the "self-organization of the workers," as well as a general strike. The "Liberated Workers’ Zone" held an "Open Workers’ Assembly," and long red and black banners hung from the roof down to the bottom of the four-story building. Workers also occupied the "Labor Center" union building in Patras. CNN reported on December 19th, "At least 800 high schools and 200 universities remain shut as thousands of youths have seized the grounds and campuses in protest." One common thread throughout the uprising, shared with the other big revolts of the decade, was that in the occupied schools, town halls, union buildings, social centers, and in the neighborhoods, people formed assemblies. The assembly at the occupied Polytechnic University of Athens – a long-time center for anarchist organizing – released a statement announcing nightly meetings, declaring, "In the barricades, the occupations, the demonstrations and the assemblies, we keep alive the memory of Alexandros, but also…all the comrades who were murdered by the State…Our actions, our attempts are the living cells of the insubordinate free world that we dream, without masters and slaves, without police, armies, prisons, and borders." While the anarchists found themselves at the helm of this insurrection, with their influence swelling enormously, they made up only a fraction of those involved in the revolt. More importantly than the anarchists’ numbers, however, anarchist ideas were manifested in hundreds of calls for assemblies and strikes, scrawled on thousands of banners and sides of buildings. The anarchist ideals of self-determination, community power, freedom, and economic justice were widely spread across the struggling populace in the form of a strong anti-authoritarian sentiment.

 

According to a December 14th poll in the conservative paper Kathimerini, only 20 percent of respondents thought conservative Prime Minister Karamanlis could end the uprising, while even less (17 percent) supported the Socialist opposition party. A Chicago Tribune article on the Kathimerini study said, "The most popular choice of those polled…was the option of ‘nobody.’ By Sunday afternoon, there were jokes in Athens cafes about the appeal of Mr. Nobody." In occupied schools, banners read, "Greece is the birthplace of democracy. It will also die here." Police, unable to contain the brewing rebellion, panicked and continued their violence, engaging the support of fascists from Golden Dawn in attacks on demonstrators. The Center for Strategic Anarchy reported that, "a leaked police report revealed official fears that the current crisis will fuel a recruitment drive for Greece’s anarchist movement."

 

 

 The End Of December and the New Year

 

A few days before Christmas, many of the young rebels called for a break, promising to return to struggle on Jan. 9. For immigrant workers and others, however, another assault by the rich and powerful on the poor and struggling meant the rebellion would have no Christmas vacation. On Dec. 22, Konstantina Kouneva, a militant syndicalist, active feminist, and the general secretary of the Cleaners’ Union of Athens, was attacked by thugs of her employer, Oikomet. The company has close ties to the Socialist Party (PASOK) and contracts cheap labor to banks, to government buildings, and to the metro system. Kouneva, a Bulgarian immigrant, had been demanding that her fellow workers receive their Christmas bonuses. She was also very active in the Assembly of the Occupied General Workers’ Union, and had received a series of threats. The hired goons assaulted her with vitriolic acid, destroying one of her eyes, threatening the other eye and her vocal chords, and putting her in a coma. Her comrades held a protest on Dec. 26 outside Evangelismos Hospital, attacking a police car with rocks. The next day, the Assembly for Solidarity to K. Kouneva occupied the headquarters of the state-owned Athens-Piraeus Electric Railway Company where Kouneva had worked.

 

At midnight, as the New Year began, "hundreds of protesters gathered outside the central prison of the country in Koridallos, SW Athens, where," according to Libcom.org, "the majority of arrested insurgents are kept pending trial." With fireworks, songs and chants, the protesters and the imprisoned reveled in shared solidarity. In Athens, the rebels again tried to attack the Syntagma Square Christmas tree, disrupting the Mayor’s celebration. Marches in solidarity with arrested comrades occurred in Salonica, and in Chania, Crete, and municipal Christmas trees were torched in Heraklion, Crete and Larissa City. As Libcom.org reports, many more actions rang in the New Year of struggle: "A barrage of attacks against banks and state organizations rocked the country. According to the media, minutes after midnight, eight banks and four car expos in Salonica, and five banks, six shops and one mall in Athens torched down."

 

On Monday, Jan. 4, the leftist urban guerrilla organization Revolutionary Struggle shot and killed a Riot Police officer in Exarcheia. State forces occupied the anarchist neighborhood and unleashed a massive wave of repression. The police closed the area’s bars, attacking patrons, harassing and questioning workers, and detaining 72 people. They surrounded and shut down the Polytechnic school for the next two days. According to Libcom.org, after they released all 72 detainees for lack of evidence: "The police shifted its strategy of intimidation by arbitrarily breaking in[to] houses in the wider area and detaining scores of people based on their ideological profile as anarchists," charging five "with ridiculous accusations of ‘arms possession’ for Swiss knives and decorative Chinese swords."

 

On Jan. 7, the police broke into the Exarcheia home of Stavroula Yannakopoulou, a lawyer who frequently defends radicals. The people of Exarcheia marched through their neighborhood, against the police and what they called "the return of Nazi occupation."

 

On Jan. 9, the vacationing rebels kept their promise and 10,000 poured into Athens for a march. According to the Greek mainstream media, 8,000 police officers confronted the demonstration with tear gas and other weapons, and the protesters retreated to a university.

 

Demonstrations and attacks on police stations occurred in Athens, Patras, and Thessaloniki that day. Kouneva’s comrades ransacked her bosses’ headquarters in Thessaloniki. The headquarters of the Lawyers Association in Thessaloniki was also occupied, and the city’s Labor Inspection Bureau was attacked in solidarity with Kouneva. In Athens, protesters outraged at the repression in Exarcheia, according to Libcom.org, occupied "the Municipal Cultural Center of Byronas…demanding total disarming of the police, immediate release of arrested insurgents, abolition of the anti-terrorist law, end of bosses’ terror…and an end to forest demolition for the construction of a bypass in the area."

 

Radical journalists and other media workers occupied the Athens Union of News Editors, transforming the reformist union’s building into a space to confront the capitalist media’s control over the truth. "Our main goal is to prevent the bosses from imposing their views about the events," they said on Jan. 10.

 

During this period, Israel brutally besieged Gaza. A Jan. 10 letter from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called on the Greek workers to prevent a shipment of US arms from the port of Astakos to Israel, including, "Three hundred and twenty-five 20-foot containers of ammunition, over 3,000 tons, in an emergency shipment of arms to aid the occupation in its ongoing war crimes against the Palestinian people in Gaza." The next day, the Greek Anti-Authoritarian Movement, the anti-war Internationalist Movement, and the Astakos assembly issued a call for protesters to flood the port. Only one day later, Jan. 12, the Greek government called off the shipment.

 

From rebel media workers in the occupied building of ESIEA on Jan. 10: "The thousands of protesters that filled the streets in Greece on Friday, Jan. 9, proved that the fire of December won’t be put out, not by bullets and acid against activists, nor by the ideological terrorism spread by the media these last few days."

 

 

December Approaches Again

 

The unrest continued throughout the year, ultimately leading to the downfall of the conservative government. The October 2009 Presidential Elections brought to power the socialist regime of George Papandreou, the son of the founder of PASOK, the Greek Socialist party. Papandreou publicly claimed that his government is "antiauthoritarians in power," and, Michalis Chrisochoidis, Minister of Public Order, claims that he is ‘good friends’ with numerous anarchists and they agree on many things. However, the day after assuming power, according to Libcom, "the Socialists launched a massive invasion of Exarcheia…with mass detentions and brutal intimidation of locals." At 1:30am that morning, 1,000 officers commenced an ongoing occupation of Exarcheia and Downtown Athens. Soon, students began occupying their schools again. When the State Persecutor in Salonica charged high school students for an occupation, students all over the country claimed their campuses, occupying 35 high-schools in Salonica alone. The high school occupations all across the country, and the fascist attacks on several in Salonica, have been blacked out of the media, a fact the Nuclei of Fire claimed as the reason for their November bombing of the ex-Minister of Education’s house. The students have the backing of the National teachers union, and Policemen have publicly refused to arrest occupiers, saying it "would only inflame the situation, leading to an automatic reaction on the part of pupils at the mere sight of policemen." One student at a boycott rally at the gate of the school said, "The results of our mobilisation have encouraged us, as they proved that with collective action nobody can beat us."

 

On November 17th, the 36th anniversary of the anarchist-led Polytechnic Uprising against the colonels’ right-wing 1973 junta, police tried to repress the largest march in recent Greek history, headed toward the American Embassy, an institution blamed for the junta. After the march was attacked by police, an anti-authoritarian bloc of 4,000 retreated toward Exarcheia, and on the way besieged the Athens Police Headquarters Tower and the Supreme Court. In Exarcheia the bloc, joined by residents, tried to break through the police cordon around the Polytechnic school and built barricades. The police kept all media out of the area and attacked the bloc, detaining 290. At least 13 police officers were wounded. Though the media blackout of Exarchia was perverse, a few days later the anarchists broke the siege and drove the police from the free neighborhood.

 

According to Reuters one banner read, "Remember, remember the 6th of December." It is plain to see that the battle for Greece is not over, as the new leftist government finds itself in as much trouble with the people as the previous one. It is up to the anarchists, anti-authoritarians and other free-minded people of the world to support the ongoing movement in Greece.  They will repay us by giving the world a brilliant living example of how to make a free and equal society.

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