People Are Burning Alive on the Streets of Athens
Oct 21 2011
“Tomorrow? There is no tomorrow!” I knew how that anarchist felt. He was screaming it across a battlefield, the police were in retreat, I was standing between them and I knew why he felt so miserable.
Today was mad. Really bad. Yesterday I wrote about the togetherness of the crowd, the way old people and young radicals bonded with people of every political persuasion. But clearly I’m a fantasist moron. We saw the complexities of Greece blow up, quite literally, in our faces.
Obviously, today the Greek parliament voted to approve the new austerity bills. What else were they going to do? God knows where they did it, though, because I was stood outside of their building and, for the second day running, it was gory. Men were burning alive.
It all began so well. Thousands of people gathered for the second day in Syntagma Square in the sun and chanted mildly for the death of a regime. We flitted around, secretly underwhelmed after yesterday’s nightmare of rocks and gas, interviewing positive young people galvanised by the good vibes. Frankly, with our blood up, we wanted a mess to report on.
Explosions started around 2PM in the middle of the large crowd. Panic spread quickly and in moments that familiar noxious fog was arching over our heads. The anarchists were throwing explosives; the police rushed them and in one dramatic flanking move, the communists charged from the front of Parliament to corner the anarchos. Gas flew, people scattered and in minutes the Red Cross camp in the centre of the square was full and panicked.
So, yesterday I credited the communists with trying to protect the protesters but now I feel like a chump. I’ve been criticised on Twitter for condemning them, but fuck whoever it was who attacked the crowd waving red flags. Twenty minutes after the first brawls, Elektra Kotsoni, Hugo Donkin and I were regrouping at a corner of the square; Elektra – a Greek – overheard the chatter: “the communists are coming”. Round the corner charged god-knows how many young men in helmets. They were holding long, thick wooden staffs and red flags; roaring. They smashed through the crowd – anarchist, democrat, bystander, journalist, whatever; they were swinging at us.
Yesterday it seemed as though there was conscience within the crowd. There was safety for those who wanted it. Today, whoever the red flag waving tosspots were with the sticks, they destroyed it. “Now, it’s civil war,” said some friendly passing guy to me. He wasn’t the only one using that term.
I doubt it’s civil war. As I write this, everyone else has gone home to bed, and taking naps never seemed to me like something you'd be able to do in the midst of a civil war. But when an angry gang of communists joined with the police to charge us, it felt like a big fucking deal. Hundreds of us were crushed into one corner. Screaming women, pushing men, etc. Then some prat from the police lobbed a gas grenade into the mess. I broke my goggles. Elektra and I were pushed down a dead end, and it all seemed like it would be a tragic end to two stellar careers before we fought our way out and sat on a church step with a Coke, feeling meek.
The day passed in a series of cat and mouse fights. The commies formed a line in front of Parliament pushing people down the streets. At some point, it seemed to me, they casually swapped their position with the riot police. One man bawled: “It’s the ultimate treachery.”
24 hours ago, I thought Greece looked like one organised mass waiting and fighting out the collapse of an unpopular leader. That’ll teach me to historicise on the spot. Nevertheless, this will happen again, clearly the EU’s cash isn’t going to end this and now there’s a death for someone to avenge.
In 2008, a teenager was killed by Greek police and it lead to a riot that lasted longer than a week. Today, a middle-aged man died. Anarchist rumour has it that the trade unionist, Dimitris Kotsaridis, fell from the glass awnings over Syntagma Square and had a heart attack. The word inside the square was that he was fighting with the authorities. Just rumours, not fact. Nevertheless, that’s what we were hearing, true or not. Either way, rumour is spreading and anger will probably follow.
WORDS: ALEX MILLER
PHOTOS: HENRY LANGSTON