Simmering social and material tensions in Greece were detonated by the police killing of 15-year-old Alexandros Gregoropoulos earlier this month on December 6th. The past three weeks have seen daily and nightly tumultuous clashes between those rising up and the Greek state. Demonstrations, protests, barricades, and riots have rocked the streets. TV stations, universities, high schools, workplaces, and city halls—overall hundreds of institutions—have been occupied.
Last Saturday was an international day of solidarity with the Greek uprising. Labor and student demonstrations are scheduled to continue early in the new-year.
Nikos Raptis is a resident of Athens and also a long-time contributor to Z, which happens to be named for the Costa-Gavras film, also titled Z, that is about resistance and repression in post-war Greece. Raptis’s article, "Greek Teenagers," provides background to the uprising. Z collective member Chris Spannos interviewed Nikos for an update on the current status of the revolt. The interview took place between December 17-23.
The Greek Populace
Chris: First, moving into the third week of rebellion, can you give an overview of events this week and into the foreseeable future? What is the mood of those protesting and of broader society more generally?
Nikos: Chris, allow me, before we go ahead with the interview, to make a few comments on the mood that I [or any other person] find myself in these days. For example, in the morning of December 18 I read in the news:
First: In the New York Times of December 17 we read: "Jose and his brother Romel [two Ecuadorian immigrants] appear to have been misidentified as gay as they walked home, arms around each other, on a predawn morning in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Romel managed to escape the three men who emerged from a passing car wielding a baseball bat and shouting anti-gay and anti-Latino epithets.
Jose was struck on the head with a bottle, then kicked and beaten into unconsciousness… and expired last Friday night, one day before his mother, who was traveling from Ecuador, could reach him".
Second: In today’s Greek press we read: Alexis Gregoropoulos, the 15-year-old Greek, was murdered by a Greek policeman on December 6. Yesterday, 12 days after the murder of Alexis, around 11 am, a group of about 10 high school kids, members of the Coordinating Committee of their school, were assembled at an open public space at Peristeri [a rather downgraded part of Athens] discussing the program for the demonstrations of the next day. A shot was fired from some distance and a 17-year-old kid was hit on the palm of his right hand. The kid was operated upon this morning and a 38-caliber revolver bullet was extracted. According to the other kids a second shot was fired 10 minutes later from a closer distance.
The government covered up the incident for 14 hours. Whoever did it, he scared the lights out of the parents of the uprisen Greek teenagers. The police have already leaked the "information" that it was a "crazy" [neighbor] that did it. My estimate is that it was done by one of the neo-Nazis that the government uses to do its dirty work. Again, this is my guess.
Third: Again from the Greek press: The policeman that murdered the 15-year-old Alexis and the policeman with him during the act, were not jailed in the main Athens prison, as there was fear that the other prisoners might harm them. So, they were imprisoned in a small prison away from Athens. They were put in the same cell. Yesterday, after midnight, the murderer cop attacked his partner-cop in the cell, shouting that he [the partner] was a "demon" and that he [the murderer] wished to have a religious "confession" [to a priest]. The general feeling is that this is "theater" aiming to plead insanity for the pig. Also, as expected, it might be that the cop who did not use his gun is about to start "singing" and therefore the attack was in earnest.
One can claim that the reference to the existence of murderous assholes in any society is a truism. That is correct. However, what needs to be answered is: why these murderous assholes feel that in our "order-and-security" societies they will [tacitly] have the protection of the police and of the [by definition conservative] judiciary? This is not an exaggeration! Any honest observer of what is going on in our societies will come to this conclusion.
Now to answer your question:
The above items concerning Greece give you the answer for the most important events up to Wednesday, December 17. The wounding of the high school kid, in Peristeri, is taken very seriously by the ordinary Greeks. They are almost certain that whoever shot at the kid was shooting to kill. There is one eyewitness, who has not testified officially, yet. He attests that the shooting came from people dressed in civilian cloths in a car [a white "Citroen"] with a big radio antenna that sped away in a flash after the shooting. The police used to have this kind of car and antenna. This event, naturally, has increased the anger in the populace, especially of the revolted teenagers. On the other hand, after the shooting the parents will try to keep the kids out of the streets. Yet, the name of Peristeri, the site of shooting, is becoming an important word of the uprising. Already there has been a peaceful but massive demonstration at Peristeri to protest the shooting.
From December 17 to this day [Dec. 22] there were demonstrations but there were no burnings and damage of banks, shops, etc. in the downtown Athens area or other cities, as in the first days of the uprising. All these days since about December 17 the action has been precisely targeted and, in general, away from the center.
Chris: What were the targets and how significant were they?
Nikos: The choice of targets is very revealing and of great sociopolitical significance.
The targets were:
The headquarters of the riot Police.
The Police Academy, in New Philadelphia, in Northern Athens.
The French Institute, where the Greek youth acquires French as a second or third language. My estimate is that it was targeted because of the Sarkozy "phenomenon".
A government building where the data for people that have trouble paying, taxes, loans, etc. are stored.
Sit-in by laborers at the General Federation of Workers of Greece. A US "constructed" labor syndicate, since 1947.
Occupation of the law offices of Kougias, the "famous" lawyer who defends the policeman that murdered the young Alexis, and "tidying-up" of the establishment. Also, two attacks against Kougias at the city of Patras, this time the "illustrious" barrister was defended and saved by the police from possible severe "disciplining" by very angry youngsters.
Attack against the police unit that guards the central complex of court buildings in Athens.
Invasion of the National Theater and stopping of the show.
Pelting of the [perennial] rightist Mayor of Salonica, a former M.D. and a track and field athlete, with candy, bon bons and castor sugar. The verbal reaction of the "cultured" mayor towards the young people that "offered" him the sweets: "You social outcasts!" The bystanders approved of the act of the…young people.
One of the most important acts of the youths of Greece these last few days is the "creation" of the saga of the Christmas Tree at the very center of Athens, the Constitution Square. By the way, the Preamble of the US Constitution starts with the words "We the People". Article Three of the Greek Constitution dictates: "The established (used to be the "official") religion in Greece is the religion of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ. The Orthodox Church of Greece, that recognizes as its head our Lord Jesus Christ…", and so on. No wonder that the mayors of Athens, "socialists" or rightists, always strived to erect the most glorious plastic Christmas Tree in Europe. As most of the people in the world have seen on their TV screens the huge Grecian Orthodox Christmas Tree [a.k.a. Tannenbaum] was burned by the Greek teenagers et al, in the first face of the uprising. The rightist mayor of Athens, a certain Nikitas Kaklamanis [also an M.D.], with zingy energy managed to erect a new glorious plastic Orthodox Christmas Tree, in record time. A few days before that, the personnel [doctors, nurses, etc.] of one of the most important hospitals in Athens stepped out of the hospital on the street and started cleaning the windshields of the passing cars [symbolically] asking for money to buy gauze for the operation rooms of the hospital as there were none in the hospital because of lack of money. In the previous rightist government Kaklamanis was Minister of…Health.
On Saturday, Dec. 20, a group of boys and girls, of the Superior School of Fine Arts [of University level] went to the central meat market in downtown Athens and asked the shopkeepers to "donate" to them all the spoiled meat available. The shopkeepers were more than enthusiastic and they added a half-boiled pig head to the donation. Then, securing and a sufficient number of plastic bags full of garbage, they proceeded to the Constitution Square and the Christmas tree. Where they started improving the decoration of the tree. The ordinary citizens present at the time encouraged the students. Finally, the riot police, and the firefighting trucks arrived, beat the hell out of the students and from then on the heroic policemen stand guard in full combat-gear all around the Orthodox Christmas Tree.
The "joyful" saga of the Christmas Tree was accompanied by a characteristic act of police brutality a few blocks from the Christmas Tree. A young soldier in mufti walked down a main Athens street with his girl friend. For no reason at all a group of policemen on the sidewalk attack them and beat the young man hurting one of his eyes. An eye-witness, a lawyer, intervenes. He gets rough treatment by the police. The young man is arrested and he is now accused with very serious crimes. The "soldier-case" has become a very serious case of police brutality for the Greeks.
About the foreseeable future. It seems that the present "intifada" of the Greek teenagers will not end as the youth uprisings of recent history [May ’68, etc]. One new development that corroborates this view has been the spread of support for the Greek youth all over the world. My estimate is that the kids are very serious in the pursuit of their aims. Yet, no one can be certain. The most important future event is the nation-wide demonstration, on January 9, in memory of the murder of Nikos Temponeras, the young high school teacher of mathematics in the city of Patras years ago [in 1991], by the leader of the [rightist] Youth of New Democracy, the party of the present Greek government, who crushed the skull of the young teacher. This rather forgotten murder came back in the forefront because of the murder now of Alexis. My sense that is that the name of Temponeras, the martyr of Patras, will play a significant role with the teenagers as things develop. The 9th of January 2009 is a date to be studied with interest.
As to the mood of those protesting and the broader society, Chris allow me to dwell a bit on this subject.
As I have written in my previous ZNet Commentaries I think that in any given population, 1/3 of it, for a "strange" reason are people who consider themselves "conservative", that is "cryptofascist". Whether these people [mentioned as the "1/3" from now on] are born or "made" this way is irrelevant. This, naturally, holds also for the Greek population. These "conservative" Greeks think that the murderous armed policeman that killed Alexis, was defending himself, in the presence of half a dozen teenagers, and that he was right in killing the kid, whom they consider to be a bum. Also, they think that Kougias the "famous" lawyer is defending the policeman effectively, by claiming that the death of the kid was the "will of God" and that the "courts should decide if the death was necessary". If I may add a remark here Chris, this "1/3" of reactionary individuals might be the root of all evil in he world.
The Minister of Justice, one person named Chatzigakis, or something, in the Greek Parliament stated that the British Government not only forgave the policeman who killed the Brazilian youth during the attack against the London subway a few years ago, "but reinstated him to active service". Therefore the Greek government should, etc.
In the notoriously extreme rightist Sparta area, in Peloponnesus, there is a movement to raise money for the family of the murderous policeman!
A group of "intellectuals" signed a declaration that confirms Noam Chomsky’s opinion about them. The tenor of their text was that the kids were not doing the right thing.
The worst reaction about the uprising of the teenagers was that of the Secretary of the central Committee of KKE [the Communist Party of Greece], Aleka Papariga. She insisted that this was not an "uprising", no matter how many the demonstrating youths. She claimed that revolutions happen only when the workers revolt under the guidance of the communist leadership. Also, she insinuated that the "Coalition of the Radical Left" [a formerly eurocommunist split from KKE] was condoning the burning, etc. An accusation that is not only incorrect but dishonest.
The most dangerous group in the events of these past weeks was that of the neo-Nazis. The demonstrations, the burnings, the lootings, etc. gave them a golden chance to mix with the demonstrators and carry out their horrid work. [By the way, they call their Nazi organization the "Golden Dawn"!]. During the first days of the uprising they found the opportunity to mix with some shopkeeper that tried to protect their shops at Patras and did what some people called a "Kristallnacht" chasing people and breaking even into their houses. Similar acts by neo-Nazis were performed in the northern Greek city of Komotini.
This behavior thrives through the protection of the neo-Nazis by the police. It seems that in the police corps there is a significant number of neo-Nazis of the "Golden Dawn". One of the most significant events during these days has been a video showing neo-Nazis [or policemen dressed as demonstrators] wielding crowbars, etc., walking out of a group of regular policemen and starting to break glass windows of shops. One of them using a regular…sledgehammer.
However, what is of greater importance is the fact that the neo-Nazis, who operate in the fringes of the above 1/3, have managed to enter in the Greek parliament as an acceptable political party with a percentage of 3 to 4 % of the votes in the parliamentary elections. Most of the time in the parliament they try to present a "populist" image using the language and the arguments of the…communist party! However, yesterday their leader, bearing the Turkish [!] name Karatzaferis, a former journalist [and amateur boxer], asked the Parliament to vote for a new "special act". The history of the "special act" ["idionymo", in Greek] is one of the most sinister pages of the political life of Greece. This was a law "constructed", in 1929, by the famous "father" of the Greek nation, the "great democrat" Eleftherios Venizelos", whose innumerable marble or bronze statues are dispersed all over Greece. The "special act" was designed to start a brutal persecution of the Greek communists and anarchists, who "intended to overturn the established order". This was the beginning of a pogrom especially against the Greek communists that included, imprisonment, torture and later, after Venizelos, executions in the thousands, that lasted up to 1974. When Venizelos was told that the Greek fascists of that era were intent in overturning the established order, he declined to include the fascists in the "special Act"!
Of course, all this shouting by Karatzaferis, the "representative" of the neo-Nazis in the Parliament, is simply posturing, because more than anyone else he knows that if the hoods are removed many of the faces under them will belong to "Golden Dawn" thugs or policemen.
Chris, here at this point, I have to describe a situation that is of great importance in the political life in Greece. There are a few persons that dominate the news in the Greek society almost on a daily basis. These are the following:
There is an upper level Orthodox Christian priest in Salonica [I don’t know his rank but in his rank they call them "Saint"!] that goes by the name of Anthimos. For years now he delivers from the pulpit an incredibly extreme right wing and warlike political preaching that is very dangerous. For example, he threatens the Macedonians [the name, etc.] with invasion by the Greek army, or dares them a la W. Bush "let them (the Macedonians) come!" Who supports him in this kind of behavior?
Again in Salonica, there is a guy by the name of Psomiadis, a rabid rightist, who plays the role of the prefect, who is the non-cassocked twin of Anthimos the priest. Although, once he came close to the black-cassocked priest when he donned a black "Zorro" costume and rode a horse. For years and years he appears on the TV screens from early in the morning. What might be his role?
Then, there is Theodore Pangalos, a 70-year-old heavily overweight man, who is proud of his weight as is attested by the story that once with the microphones in the European Union[?] forgotten in active state he attacked Angela Merkel verbally by saying: "Has she ever been fucked by a fat man?", intending thus to show his prowess as a fat man. Pangalos is the grandchild of a military general with the same Christian name, who was a dictator [!] of Greece in 1925. As happens in some cases with the progeny of dictators Pangalos, the grandchild named himself a leftist and enter politics. Actually in the 60s he managed to be close to Mikis Theodorakis, the great composer and heroic figure of the Greek left. When the "socialists" won the elections in 1981 Pangalos joined them and for almost two decades he held ministerial positions in the "socialist" governments, mostly in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The "peak" of his career came when in 1999, as a "socialist" Minister of Foreign Affairs, he delivered Ocalan, the leader of the Kurds, to the Turks who is rotting in the Turkish prisons since then. A couple of days ago Pangalos attacked the "Coalition of Radical Left" as "political bums" who supported the hooded rioters that burned, etc. The accusation is so blatantly false that one should ask himself where is Pangalos aiming, why, and who is supporting him in this provocative behavior for almost a half of a century? The fact is that for the last 48 hours all are talking about the word "bums" that Pangalos spat out of his mouth.
The two other persons in the above category of "what-is-their-role" in the Greek society, are Kougias the lawyer and Karatzaferis the Leader of the extreme rightists in the Greek Parliament.
There is one more new factor in this uprising in Greece; the immigrants. At first they did not participate in the riots. They only did most of the looting. However, in some cases they participated in the riots. This was a natural and expected thing to do. Most immigrants that were lucky enough to be dragged to a Greek police station, leave it as rabid haters of everything Greek. Sodomizing with broomsticks or clubs is the "mundane" procedure by the brave Greek policemen. The most tragic "description" of the procedure was offered by a young Albanian man, who, years ago, after declining to answer to the insistent questioning by Greek journalists he said that the Greek policemen did to him "what is done to women". The young Albanian was murdered in Albania, by the Albanian police, after having commandeered a Greek Bus. The most recent procedure by the Greek police, captured also on video, was to have an Albanian immigrant torture another Albanian for the enjoyment of the Greek policemen, members of a superior race.
Chris: So what about the remaining 2/3 of the population?
Nikos: For the first time ordinary Greeks started throwing flower-pots against the police from their upper-floor apartment balconies. For the first time the ordinary Greeks took videos of the actions of the police from these balconies and distributed them to the media making public the brutality of the pigs. Actually the video with the sledgehammer is in black and white, which might mean that the camera was of an older era. Also, a young woman captured with her camera the scene of the departure of the two murderous policemen walking away from the murder scene of Alexis. A bit of information that is going to be used in court.
The most proper word to describe the mood of the 2/3 populace is: "participatory". As for the teenagers and the students it is heartening to listen to them stating that they fight for "dignity", that they do not approve of barbaric "competition" in society, that they want real education and not cramming of their minds simply with "information". Also, it is heartening to see students and teenagers trying to extinguish fires or prevent destruction of small shops, while the "disciplined" demonstrators of the KKE were passing by in indifference. It seems that this time in their struggle is very serious.
Chris: Is there anything particular about Greek society, history, or relations across generations that may help explain the revolt?
Nikos: There is a Greek "particularity" that might help in this struggle. The Greek family is still a very close-knit entity. The present teenagers are two generations away from the generation that experienced the Nazi occupation of 1941-1944 and the bloody revolt of the Left against the British and the US up to 1949. Yet in most Greek families there is a "residue" of that experience which, given the strong bonds in the family, enables the Greek teenagers to understand quite accurately how the world runs. This was corroborated, now, by the maturity of their views, as articulated during the last days.
Chris: Could you outline some of the material conditions please, the ones affecting those rising up and calling for rebellion, for the youth, students, workers, migrants, etc.?
Nikos: The most important aspects of the material conditions are the joblessness, the salaries of what by now is called the "generation of the 700 Euros" [about US $ 970 per month], the University degrees that are almost useless, the flight of Greek companies to neighboring countries in search of cheap labor, the "flexible" treatment of hiring and firing, the unbelievably high prices in the Greek supermarkets much above the ones in the rest of the European Union, the scandalous treatment of the money of the taxpayers by the Government, the unbelievably bad condition of the National Health System, the exorbitant profits of the Greek banks, and finally the "strange" insistence of the Greek governing elite to follow the "neo-liberal" economic model after what has happened worldwide.
The State and Legal Situation
Chris: Tuesday (Dec. 16) Prime Minister Karamanlis said he accepted "a share of the blame" in the scandal involving a monastery which exchanged tracts of farmland in northern Greece for state-owned property in Athens. How has this affected the credibility of Karamanlis and his New Democracy party? Is this crisis of credibility extending beyond the politicians and parties who hold positions in the ruling apparatus, to a critique of the political apparatus itself?
Nikos: Karamanlis has received a savage ridicule from all quarters, except the "strange 1/3", who have invested in him a lot [material and immaterial]. However, even his people consider him as a not very capable "manager", that is they consider him as incompetent. That has been discussed confidentially even among his ministers.
Almost all scandals in Greece are swept under the carpet. The principal factor in this rampant dishonesty, beside the politicians, is the extremely corrupt and reactionary judiciary, originally "constructed" by the CIA since 1947 [as most institutions in Greece] and undergoing the necessary "maintenance", ever since. The fact that the judges "used" by the dictators are still powerful in the judiciary is indicative of the truth of this.
The "2/3" of the Greeks, as above described, know what is going on, but a part of them is trapped by the "socialists" in a client-relationship as voters, for economic reasons and the rest that are on the "real" left have an animus that has its roots in historical reasons. One way out of this impasse is for the leadership of the KKE [the "traditional" communists] to depart and the base of KKE, the ordinary members, to have the honesty to recognize past faults and join forces with the rest of the Left. The same holds also for the base of the "socialists".
Personally I think that the teenager "intifada" will play a role, as the kids have gained a right to a dialogue with the adults in their families and society in general.
The legal situation has reached the following point: The bullet that killed Alexis was examined in "Demokritos", the most important research center in Greece, and the findings show that there were traces of "silicon dioxide", which might mean the bullet hit some construction material before entering the body of Alexis. However, all eyewitnesses insist that the shots were horizontal, not in the air. That the fatal shot was horizontal has been confirmed by the in situ investigation by technical experts. The general consensus is that even if the bullet ricocheted, the use of a gun was criminal.
Kougias, the defense lawyer, continues to provoke the entire Greek population in a queer way. Many people are really angry against him. It seems that his bravado is based not on courage but on some unfathomable motives.
As for the policemen in prison, after the violent "theater" or real attack, there is nothing of importance about them.
Chris: The police officer who shot dead Gregoropoulos has been charged with murder. How has this affected popular disaffection with the police? How has it affected the broader concern with worsening social and material conditions, and the need to change society?
Nikos: The public disaffection of the majority of the Greeks with the police has been a given for almost half a century. What is new is the reaction of the teenagers.
The concern about the police during this period is minimal, in contrast to previous decades when the police could effect the ruining of lives or could bring about everyday misery for a part of the population.
Chris: The Greek police have a history of violence and brutality. Do you think the Greek state is holding back repression of the uprising for fear of instigating even more militancy and revolt, for example, imagine the consequences if there was a police raid of the Athens Polytechnic University?
Nikos: The state is not holding back repression. The impression of the first couple of days, that the police acted "defensively", is inaccurate.
Chris: How far can the uprising go? How is the Greek ruling apparatus responding? Do you think there is reason for them to be concerned about losing control? Do elites share a common strategy for how to deal with the uprising or is there differing opinions and fragmenting within their ranks?
Nikos: The uprising can go a long way. The crucial factors are the base of the KKE and the base of the "socialists" [PASOK]. There is no reason to be concerned about losing control. The Greek elites have always been dependent on the favor of the White House. The ones that have reason to be concerned are the people of the CIA station in the US Embassy in Athens. A strong, united Greek Left has historically been a nightmare for the US.
Chris: Thank you Nikos.
Nikos: Thank you.