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Updates From a Santa Cruz Anarchist in Greece
A Santa Cruz anarchist has traveled to Athens, Greece ahead of Mayday and a general strike. Here are some observations to provide insight and inspiration for folks back home.
From Insurgent Photo Blog.
Exarchia, Crisis, and a General Strike
26 April 2011
The streets of Exarchia are nearly empty. Most Athenians have left town for Easter, one of the biggest holidays of the year here, so these regularly bustling streets are dead. The shops and cafes have their security gates locked down, revealing colorful anti-authoritarian spray painted art. Images of rioters wearing gas masks, slogans against capitalism and government, and tributes to imprisoned militants cover the walls of nearly every building, revealing a glimpse into the counter-culture that usually thrives here.
Exarchia is known throughout Athens as the center of social struggles. This densely packed neighborhood has a reputation as being anti-establishment and is home to students, anarchists, artists, and leftists of all stripes. A month of nationwide rioting was sparked in December 2008 when a 15 year-old local high school student and anarchist was shot and killed by police near Exarchia Square. Most Athenians hate the police, and when this young boy was murdered the whole country exploded. On the corner where Alexis was shot, his mother has mounted a memorial plaque which has his photo as well as the following words (translated from greek):
"Here on the 6th of December 2008, without any reason, a child's smile was extinguished from the innocent fifteen-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulous by the bullets of unapologetic killers."
Signs of the December 2008 riots can still be found here. A government building that housed the Ministry of Finance stands empty; a burned out shell of what it once was. Windows are still cracked on other buildings, political slogans are not fully washed away, and spray painted stencils of Alexis can be found on marble pillars throughout the city.
This neighborhood is home to the Polytechnic University, where many confrontations between students and police have taken place. In Greece, cops aren't allowed on universities. On November 17, 1973, dozens of students rebelling against the military government were gunned down by troops at the height of a massive protest movement. Only a few months later, the government fell and was replaced by a modern Democracy. Greeks have not forgotten this event and are on guard against attacks on their freedoms. They are especially sensitive to police incursions onto universities, and are often forced off by students and anarchists who refuse to let history repeat itself.
Mayday is just around the corner, and only ten days later is a general strike. The Polytechnic campus in Exarchia will undoubtedly be at the heart of many confrontations that will take place in this coming month. The Greek economy is in shambles, workers are under attack, and the people who live in this country are furious. Everyone here is talking about the general strike as something that has the potential to start a revolution. Many are comparing the current crisis to the crashing of the Argentinian economy in 2001, which lead to massive rioting by all sections of the population. Ten years have passed since then and the Greek government is in a very similar situation. They are trapped by the high value of the Euro, and are being forced to financially attack their own people by the IMF and the European Union. Greece is a powder keg. Will the May 11th general strike be the spark?
Some Context for Social Upheaval in Greece
30 April 2011
By anyone's standards there are a lot of anarchists in Athens. Upwards of 5,000 in fact. Every single one of these people knows they are a small minority compared to the city's overall population. For any drastic changes to society that they hope for, in fact work towards, they know that their ideas need to spread. When the country exploded into riots back in 2008, a huge portion of society rose up against the police and the government. Back then the economy was much stronger than it is today.
Right now the Greek government is being compelled by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to enact a number of 'adjustments' in order to get the country's finances back in order. Workers here are taking huge pay cuts, losing benefits, pensions are being plundered, and social programs are being slashed. The people here are also facing devastating rising costs. Taxes are up, gasoline has doubled in price over the past year, and the price of food is rising. The EU has asked the Greek population to 'tighten their belts,' as the faltering economy drags the value of the Euro down.
"We'll tighten the belt around your fucking neck" is scrawled across the a building in Athens. A fitting response, considering all of the pain the people here have been feeling. Perhaps it was an anarchist, but perhaps not. As you might imagine, there is a considerable amount discontent with the government. There have been huge, violent demonstrations in response to the economic crisis over the past few months as anger has started to boil over into rage.
Residents from the Athenian suburb of Keratea have been fighting off government plans to start construction of a landfill, which is an IMF mandated infrastructural project. Locals contend that there will be massive environmental damage, contamination of the local groundwater, devastation to local archeological sites, and simply don't want to be a toilet for Athens. The plans went forward without input or consent of the locals, and as a result the town erupted into a full-fledged rebellion. When riot police were sent in from the capital to enforce the plans, the locals made a decision that was obvious to them: they called the anarchists. This led to a powerful alliance between experienced militant demonstrators and an infuriated community. Together over the next four and a half months barricades were erected, street battles were fought and won, police stations were attacked, and construction was successfully prevented. Less than two weeks ago, the occupying army of Athenian riot cops abandoned the city. While the official plans for construction are still in place, most people believe they are unwilling to carry them out.
The state is afraid of the Mayday demonstration. Just yesterday the police carried out a publicity stunt and arrested three anarchists, claiming they had something to do with the firebombing of a bank that took place one year ago a few days after Mayday, which made international headlines as three bank employees were killed. After the news picked up the story last night, the three were released and told to return for questioning on May 5th, the anniversary of the deaths. Most anarchists here believe this operation was carried out solely for the purpose of scaring people from attending the march. Everyone already knows it will be small this year, perhaps only a few thousand, because Mayday falls on a Sunday and there will be less people in Athens.
One thing is certain about this demonstration. Anarchists and anti-authoritarians will be there in droves. A group called "High School Students With Memory" has put out a call for demonstrations. There was an entire generation of 14 and 15 year-olds who cut their teeth street-fighting with police during the December 2008 riots, and these people are now young adults who feel that their future has been stolen from them. These students will march alongside thousands of anarchists, workers, and unemployed in a city where protests regularly turn violent. Mayday is just an appetizer for the feast that tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands more will enjoy together on May 11th at the general strike. The police and the media will do everything they can to marginalize anarchists and shift the rage of the Greek people away from the government and towards one another. The bonds that have formed between anarchists and non-anarchists have been growing quickly over the past several years, and work is being done to make sure that the State's strategy of divide and conquer is transparent and ineffective. All of the pieces are in place for a confrontation that has the potential to drastically alter the future for capitalism in this region.