Posted by: MadSciLabz | December 18, 2008

Inside Account of Activism in Greece

This is a letter forwarded by D&S collective member Amee Chew (sent to her from a friend of hers), with more details about the situation in Greece:


I don’t know if others have been following the daily news of what is unfolding in Greece. The press here has mostly reported events as another explosion of “riots” in response to a police killing, without context.

In fact, what is taking place in Greece is much larger than that. In its immediate context, the uprising of the last 10 days comes on the heels of a rising oppositional movement: recently, the Greeks managed to achieve a general strike with support from 80-90% of the working population against privatization of national industries and other neo-liberal policies, and for doubling the minimum wage. A broad hunger strike among Greek prisoners, with mass solidarity from Greek society, has also compelled the government to agree to the release of about half the prison population (and the movement declared that this would not be enough).

The “spontaneous” anger of young people against police violence has beneath and alongside it long-standing movement structures that are allowing it not simply to “discharge” and dissipate, but to grow, strengthen itself and expand into new political areas. It is taking place in a population that is highly politicized and has a history of resistance to draw from.

But it’s extraordinary to see the mass mobilization of very young people–high-school students between the ages of 11 and 17, taking to the streets, taking over their schools, developing a politics that addresses their lives directly. It’s not just resistance to police repression now, but a wider discussion is taking place about education social organization–with students holding mass assemblies in their occupied schools, trying to decide what the meaning would be of an education that is part of the life they want for themselves, and not the life that is being prepared for them by the existing society.

At this point, hundreds of schools, colleges and universities have been occupied and are being transformed into centers of organizing. They are running their own radio stations, some of which are private stations now under occupation. They are occupying public buildings; attacking police stations and government ministries.

Yesterday, students occupied the central state-run television station during its news broadcast of the Prime Minister’s speech and stood with a banner saying, “Stop watching and go out into the streets!” Two smaller placards read, “Freedom for all those who have been arrested,” and “Immediate release for all the arrested.” (Video here.)

In a separate action, another group attacked the central Athens headquarters of the MAT, burning vehicles and a portion of the building. The MAT (Monades Apokatastasis Taxis “Units For Restoring Order”) are the “riot police”–a specifically political branch of the police force developed to suppress “civil unrest.” They were developed by police who received training in the US. (Greece has been a central recipient of US police training and technology for repression.) The dissolution of the MAT is one of the central demands that has come out of the assemblies of occupied schools and universities. (This also has a particular topical appropriateness: the MAT were first introduced by Konstantinos Karamanlis, father of the current Prime Minister and leader of the same right wing party Nea Dimokratia, in the years following the fall of the Greek junta. The leader of the junta would later write in his memoir that if the MAT had existed at that time, the junta might not have fallen.)

A video from this past weekend shows a battle with MAT police in the Exarchia neighborhood–the area in which the police murder took place that sparked the current uprising, and a center of left organizing–in which youths defending their neighborhood are using laser beams to blind the police and also to pinpoint them as targets so that they can maximize the effect of their crude firepower (molotov cocktails and stones) by focusing a barrage on one target at a time. (Video.)

At the center of the battle in Athens is the historic Polytechnion–the university famous for the events of November 17, 1973, when the junta attacked protesting students with tanks. As a result of that history, the police are constitutionally unable to enter the university, making it a protected enclave for political organizing and a tactical base of operations. Every evening now, after the protests and street battles, students and other active members of the movement gather for a general assembly. The Coordination of the General Assemblies and Occupations in Athens has given the movement both a political face and a structure of continuity for building, planning and deepening its political consciousness. (Website and blog.)

The uprising in Greece has a particular relevance at this moment in history. If you read the military manuals and strategy papers of the US architects of empire, Greece is a centerpiece of “counterinsurgency” doctrine. In the immediate postwar period, the US and England fought an extended counterinsurgency war to suppress the left (communist and anarchist), which had become the most powerful political force in the country through the years of resistance to the German occupation. The strategy was to brutally repress the armed resistance (80,000 British troops and the arming of domestic fascists to kill, imprison, and torture left guerrillas), while at the same time promoting elections and including a legitimate “socialist” opposition, which supported surrendering arms and using the parliamentary system.

This is the “handbook” which the US uses in its imperial wars of conquest and occupation. It’s called “promoting Democracy.” Appropriate then, this declaration of the Greek uprising: “Their Democracy murders…” (here).

This is a translation of the statement put out by the students who occupied the national TV:

Our action is the result of an accumulated pressure which is robbing us of our lives, and not only an emotional explosion based on the murder of Alexis Grigoropulos by the police. We are one more collective, a piece of the revolt which is taking place.

Against pacification by the mass media, we are carrying out an intervention-interjection in the flow of the program of ERT [state television]. It’s our view that the mass media systematically cultivates fear. Rather than informing, they misinform. They are presenting a multifaceted revolt as a blind release.

They are explaining the social explosion in penal rather than political terms. They are selectively concealing the actual facts. They are representing a revolt as another spectacle which we should simply follow until the next soap opera begins. The mass media is daily turned into a means of suppressing free and public thought.

Let’s organize ourselves. No authority can offer solutions to our problems. We need to meet with other human beings. To turn our public places, the streets, the squares, the parks, the schools into places of unmediated expression. To find ourselves face to face so that we can transform together our thought and actions.
Let’s not be afraid. Let’s turn off our televisions, go out of our houses, continue to lay claim to our life, to take it into our hands.

We condemn the police violence and the immediate release of the arrested demonstrators. For human emancipation and freedom.

Contributed by Amee Chew –


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