Earlier this year, the Greeks perfected their recipe for pandemonium: First, fill a city square with thousands of angry people. Then, get a few loopy communists to charge at the horde with massive logs and flank them with anarchists wielding Molotov cocktails. And finally, when the crowd is panicked and people are crushing each other in terror, get the police to pelt them with tear gas.
The Greeks were protesting against an austerity bill presented to parliament by the Willy Loman of the European Union, Greek prime minister George Papandreou, who has been desperately trying to persuade the rest of the EU to bail out his completely bankrupt country. When we arrived, huge piles of rubbish filled the streets, and everyone was visibly depressed.
The march was a shoddy confederation of factions: the communists, who always march alone; union workers, who had been occupying various state buildings for a week; the students and “Desperados” - average Greeks who don’t have much of an ideology but would like to live in a country that isn’t run by corrupt morons. Last, but certainly not least, were the anarchists, who were late after being impeded by the communists.
Fans of violent upheaval know that no one riots quite like Greek anarchists, and if I were pressed to identify a superstar faction out of the various groups of protesters, it would be them. Lots of people hate the anarchists, but an equal number see them as the front line in an ongoing war against oppression - a snot-nosed infantry division of teenage crust punks.
The anarchist “movement” was given a shot in the arm in 2008, when a 15-year-old anarchist was killed by police. Anarchism, however, has influenced Greek politics since the student uprisings of 1973, when the army drove a tank through the gates of the protester-occupied Athens Polytechnic, killing 18 people who had tied themselves to the university gates and sparking a national movement that would oust the right-wing junta.
Today the university is occupied again, and the anarchists and socialists toast one another around the country with the conviction that Greece will soon explode in a blaze of indiscriminate violence, just like those glory days of ’73.
Helping the cause is the fact that the Greek police force is one of the most hated in all of Europe. Everyone I spoke to claimed that the MAT special services (aka riot cops) were connected to local fascist gadabouts the Golden Dawn.
On the first day of organised strikes, it seemed like every street was full of protesters. It may sound romantic, but it felt more like a revolution than a protest. There was no united cause, just a common assumption that life would be better without this government (which seems to be the common thread of protests around the world this year).
The whole lot marched toward parliament in Syntagma Square and tried their best to literally break into the halls of government. They never got close - the police used their armor, flash grenades, shields, truncheons, and lots and lots of gas. It seemed that most of the people fighting were chubby middle-aged guys who probably cut their teeth in ’73 - they broke massive rocks into chuck-friendly pieces like pros. The police were throwing the rocks back at us, but it was still an uplifting and kind of communal experience.
The second day wasn’t so cheery. PAME, one of the many communist subsections, lined up in front of parliament to protect it, refusing to let any other protesters pass. The anarchists took offense and responded by lobbing rocks and firebombs at anyone with a face.
After a few hours of ugly battling, the MAT cops removed - and replaced - the PAME guys in front of parliament. Desperados and anarchists backed off, walking around aimlessly and muttering something about “civil war.”
One anarchist, pausing for breath after a round of battle with the police, shouted, “There is no tomorrow!” At that moment, it sounded profound as shit, but unfortunately, he was very, very wrong.
Photos By Henry Langston