The general strike in Greece on October 5th was yet another frustrating affair, where many tens of thousands of protestors gathered in good faith to protest the current direction of their government. It all started out with an air of anticipation in Syntagma Square where life was going on as normal in the inner square, with the café’s and street sellers plying their trade as usual. Heading up to the road leading into Syntagma just after the 11pm start time, the strikers marched and could be heard chanting less that positive one liners about Finance Minister Venizelos. Meanwhile, at the entrance to Syntagma Square, the usual black clad individuals were positioning themselves ahead of the strike, dodging the amassing world media that had collected there for their money shot….until the violence erupted.
The lead group of protestors then made their way into Syntagma, all under the close watch and organisation of the police.
They then quickly filled the outer ring of the Square and started protesting in front of the government building.
Concurrently, in the inner ring, which was still empty by comparison, a number of youths (aged between 15 and 25) started to form, all with gas masks in hand and a look of excitement about what was to come. They were uninterested in joining the rest of the protestors above them and seemed to be coordinating their activities, which involved checking their back packs to make sure they had the necessary materials for what they knew was coming. Congregating around visibly older men in their thirties, they appeared to be ready. Within a matter of minutes, their chance came when the police placed a gas masked line of riot police splitting the bottom of the inner and outer ring, as seen in the distance below, just beyond the people cooling down by the fountain.
Almost instantaneously, the youths, who had gathered just to the left of the above photo, descended on the police, where the first shopping trolley and missiles got pushed policewards. Seeing themselves surrounded, their presence had two effects. Firstly, it is a frightening sight seeing police in such attire and almost predicts what is to come. Secondly, it outrages the crowd…especially the youths who cranked the atmosphere up by chucking stuff.
The police, seemingly trapped, then made their way around the upper road towards the government building whilst the youths below pelted them with missiles, many of which missed the police and landed amongst the protestors standing behind them.
With the youths now gathered at the entrance to Syntagma metro station and the police above them looking down, things were going to start getting ugly. The youths instructed the people stood at this quick getaway point to go down into the metro because there was going to be trouble.
A metro official tried to tell them to go elsewhere.
Upon engaging with the police above with rocks and bottles, a split had been caused. The protestors above were still outside the government building chanting, with ones closer to the youths telling them to stop. Within such hostilities, a bald-headed man ran down the above steps chased by the youths, with one holding a huge stick, as shown in the photo below. Upon entering the first tier of the metro, they caught their man, with this stick coming down on the back of the mans head, sending a clear streak of blood onto the Perspex screen covering a wall display. Somehow, and to me a miracle it didn’t poleaxe him, he then managed to keep running, with all his pursuants following him up the opposite stairs back into the Square
The first hit of the day had occurred (see here for the results: http://www.newsbeast.gr/greece/arthro/239921/fotografies-apo-ta-simerina-epeisodia-/ ), something I am told encapsulates these protests and eventually leads to the quick dispersal of the genuine protestors and therefore the legitimate protest. Interestingly, he is also clad in the black associated with the Agents Provocateurs, but I am not labelling him as such. Watch this report to see insinuations of the use of Agents Provocateurs at previous Greek protests:
The point is that the youths anger the peaceful, chanting protestors, creating a split between the two groups…which then leads to the police taking their cue and sending in the tear gas, something which quickly disperses the majority of protestors, as shown below just 5 mins after the man was hit, when a tear gas canister descended to the youths’ position.
Not wanting to be exposed to chemical warfare, rather generously given by the government to its people too frequently, I made like a tree and decided to leave. Passing numerous people with stinging eyes and coughing, I was preparing myself for the following day’s mandatory nosebleed when exposed to this horrible substance. I later learnt that this was the point when all hell broke loose in the Square and tear gas started being fired into the metro station and up above
This all raises a more important issue because these youths created the flashpoints, given the opportunity to do so by the police positioning themselves in provocative locations, something that has been happening with regular frequency. It wouldn’t have been hard to surround these kids and isolate them but instead it appeared as the excuse the police needed to launch the tear gas and disperse the protest. One thing is clear, especially now with the global protest movement gathering steam to end this corporate control of our world, is that there is nothing more provocative than peaceful protestors all standing around for a long period of time, waiting to be heard. It may have appeared in the past that this methodology has been ineffective and that nothing will change unless people fight physically for their rights, but today it is the most successful and most provocative approach that garners sympathy and respect from those afar. In the Greek case, if these youths continue this approach (which they will because they like the ruckus, evidenced by their smiling and willingness), or are allowed to by the protestors, Greek protests will be a very short-lived affair. The protest in Syntagma lasted a very short time and the focus was on the violence again and not the concerns of the general Greek population.
The protestors need to isolate these individuals themselves and I do not hesitate to say, albeit with a strong tinge of sadness, that at the start of any protest, some well-built men need to grab the masks off these idiots, give them a kick up the backside and personally escort them away from the scene of the protest. With so few spoiling it for so many, at such a crucial moment in our history as a global society, we cannot allow the police to have an excuse to disperse such righteous protests. Standing up and being counted seems so simple but unless these idiots are expunged from the locality of a protest, nothing good will come of it and chaos will ensue. The protest in Syntagma didn’t even really get started because no sooner had people arrived (and not all had made it to the square at this time), within an hour it had been dispersed and the road separating Syntagma Square and the government building was opened and traffic allowed through, which is highly dangerous as a police tactic because some of the youths were still pelting the police in front of the government building over the top of the traffic, something I saw on the one Greek TV channel covering the protest for a few minutes.
The Agent Provocateur phenomenon has been captured in London, Canada and Egypt on camera recently and serves as a quick means through which the police can act. Protests are hard enough to organise and a serious event when they do, so if there is evidence that the powers that be are trying to dictate the way a protest progresses, one cannot help but think that this will inevitably lead to further violence when voices go unheard and when protests are deemed unsuccessful, forcing more peaceful people to literally take up arms. Considering the right to protest is a democratic right in many countries, the idea of a protest being manipulated by the police or whoever is a very serious issue and needs to be addressed immediately. In the case of the general strike of October 5th 2011 in Greece, one can only despair at how successful it must have been for anyone wanting a quick end to it. All the protesters had yet to fully gather in the square when violence erupted and the collective voices of all were not heard echoing around the whole of the Square and side streets. Make no mistake, those that ‘have’ are doing everything they can to keep those that ‘haven’t’ from having their voices heard, with the age-old method of discrediting legitimate voices and concerns from being heard in even more controlled form that they ever have before. We need to get smart and fight just to get that middle space where people can collect and protest because devious forces are now at work and sharing information. This Athens strike will, I am sure, be the poster child for how these things will be handled in the future, evolving as they do in accordance with the degree of mess that our chosen leaders usually get us into.
And just to conclude, I think this photo below adequately captured the spirit at the head of the protest just before the protestors entered Syntagma Square, so lets hope it can be bottled in the future because we can either be civilised or watch all hell break loose!
I would like to thank greek gadfly for this report.