Europe's On Fire Again
Nov 16 2012
This past Wednesday – the 14th November – marked Europe’s first coordinated anti-austerity strike action, drawing millions onto the streets across the continent. Spain, Italy and Portugal witnessed violent clashes, during which the police were pelted with bottles, stones and firecrackers, and protesters had rubber bullets and tear gas fired at them in return. You win some, you lose some, but you basically always lose against the police and their actual weapons.
Unsurprisingly, not many people turned up to protests in countries less affected by the debt crisis. What was a suprise, however, is how tame the protests were in Europe’s riot capital, Athens. I guess they're getting tired of nursing bruises and and washing noxious gases out of their eyes.
The morning after the pan-European havoc, headlines announced that the Eurozone has fallen back into recession. So, until Europe’s leaders come up with a way to crawl out of the EU debt crisis – and I wouldn't bet a grain of lint on that happening anytime soon – it looks like austerity and privatisation will prevail, leaving Europeans to wonder where the hell all their tax money’s going. Oh yeah – to pay off government debts for decades to come.
Did Europe’s workers, unions, students and protest groups taking to the streets on this first European Day of Action and Solidarity do anything in terms of halting the austerity squeeze? Probably not. But hey, at least the disgruntled masses were given an opportunity to let off some steam. And who knows – maybe November 14th will become the crisis generation's new May Day?
Below is a roundup of the protests that took place in all the cities where we have offices.
Tens of thousands of angry union workers and students protested in Rome, Milan, Turin and most of Italy’s towns and cities. In Milan, the protests consisted mostly of high school and college students in Guy Fawkes masks.
Instead of organising a single parade to the official meeting place at Milan’s Largo Cairoli square, the protest was split into factions to surprise and confuse the police and better spread the disorder. Only a few workers were present and most of them were shop owners trying to prevent their window displays from getting smashed or spray-painted.
The protesters marched from morning until early afternoon through large portions of the city and left a trail of smashed windows, tagged walls, vandalised banks and overturned planters. Oh, and – as expected – they also got into several violent confrontations with the riot police stationed throughout the city, all involving smoke bombs and protesters and police getting beaten up.
In Rome, protesters threw stones, bottles and small homemade cherry bombs at the police, who responded by shooting tear gas at the crowd and forcing them back with the help of their armoured cars. They then went on to arrest eight people and bash them in the face with batons while they lay defenceless on the floor. It's nice to see the police protecting and serving.
The protests in Turin consisted mainly of students and the NO Tav, a group of locals fighting against the creation of a high velocity train between Turin and Lyon that would cost £16 billion, not exactly a priority in times of recession.
The march began at the Region of Piedmont’s headquarters, where protesters threw smoke bombs and vandalised and burned anything that looked like it could do with being destroyed. Then they set fire to furniture and documents at the Internal Revenue offices and hurled bottles, more smoke bombs and garbage cans at the police, who quickly covered the area in tear gas. Some demonstrators hit a police officer with baseball bats and a pickaxe handle, eventually breaking the officer’s arm. By the end of the day, a former police station was occupied and the offices of the provincial government and the police were stormed, injuring two police officers. Eight demonstrators were arrested.
By Rui Marçal
Protests in Lisbon were pretty chill during the day, but kicked off at night, when demonstrators started tearing down the barricades surrounding Parliament and hurling bottles and rocks at the police.
One of the bottles broke right next to me and shards of glass were flung up towards my face. The pelting went on for an hour and a half before the police retaliated with grenades, bangers and baton charges. I was stuck directly in the middle of the protesters, getting crushed from all sides, but luckily the masses acted as a shield against the poluce beatings, with officers screaming "Don't say you weren't warned!" while violently swinging their batons, because that's apparently the best way of justifying completely needless violence.
When I finally got out of the crowd, I ran until I found a random building to take cover in and listened to the sound of rubber bullets firing off outside.
After the friendly sound of gunfire had died down, I took a stroll around the city, following the path of the flaming rubbish bins that were blocking cars from driving down any of the streets. At one point, I walked past one of the state-owned banks, Caixa Geral de Depósitos, and saw a bunch of people getting arrested. By the end of the evening, nine people had been arrested and 48 were injured.
Photos by Felipe Hernández.
The Spanish unions estimated that millions took part in Spain’s general strike, but the police played down the figures – claiming only hundreds of thousands turned up. Only hundreds of thousands. I mean, that's hardly impressive.
While police in Madrid were keen to show off their new crack squad of specially-trained riot police, the protesters had their own tactics – barricading and setting fire to the streets.
The police’s rubber bullets were met with bottles, stones and fireworks from the protesters, much like the rest of Europe. Clashes, police beatings and battered bodies filled the central Neptuno square, before Madrid woke up the next morning to columns of smoke, shattered windows and debris.
Text and photos by groundpress.org.
In Barcelona, the masses gathered at Plaça Catalunya, the meeting point set up by the major Workers’ Unions, and at Jardinets de Gràcia, which was the starting point of an alternative demonstration with the slogan “Stop the Europe of capitalism. We don’t owe, we don’t pay.”
The protests started out peacefully, but tension grew as the afternoon progressed, ending in protesters clashing with the police and the riot squad being called in to fire blanks and rubber bullets into the crowd.
However, it didn’t take long for the protesters to fight back. Two police vans were set on fire, along with the garbage scattered in the streets of Barcelona’s Borne neighbourhood. Clashes went on in the streets of the old quarter until all the crowds had been the dispersed.
During the small demonstration at Berlin’s Pariser Platz, the only angry faces belonged to members of the press stepping on each other's toes while they were trying to photograph the few signs protesters had brought along. The Greek solidarity committee and the German Federation of Trade Unions organised the protest and were joined by members of the left wing party, Antifascist Revolutionary Action Berlin and, merely by coincidence, refugees who’d been protesting against the racist German asylum legislation.
The protest then marched towards the Federal Ministry of Finance, where representatives of the left party and people from the Greek/Hellenic community discussed the crisis, capitalism and Germany's new imperialism in front of a small assembly.
Police were scrambling to action, looking all kinds of busy while they calmly ordered coffees inside a cozy Starbucks.
In Sweden, no more than 150 lefties gathered outside of the European Commission’s headquarters in Stockholm. The speakers warned about a future similar to that of southern Europe, bringing up rising unemployment and the consequences of privatised education and healthcare.
The protest, organised by a group called Välfard Utan Vinst (Welfare Without Profit), lasted for an hour. Unlike the rest of Europe, the protesters were actually greeted by the head of the Swedish EU Commission, Pierre Schellekens.
He asked the representatives from VUV to sign a document proving he’d heard their critique and then – very awkwardly – expressed how thankful he was (it was unclear for what, exactly) and promised the group that their opinions were going to be dealt with on a higher level. In return, the protesters sang him "The Internationale".
In Paris, somewhere between five and 15,000 people marched peacefully from Montparnasse to École Militaire. The crowd was a mix of student syndicates, union members, anarchists, dudes in Guy Fawkes masks, a video game company making a promo video for their latest release, French Indignés dressed up as vampires and lots of grey-haired lefties who looked like they’d been out protesting since May ‘68.
Some of the people gathered told me they wished France would make the same ballsy move as Iceland did – telling the liberal economy to go fuck itself before cancelling the national debt. Then they proudly announced, “This is how the French manifest. We walk together and the atmosphere is friendly.”
There are too many VICE staffers and freelance contributors to list, but thanks to all of them for risking getting arrested, tear-gassed or shot to put this together.
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