Lemon Juice Vs Gas Grenades: Athens Is Crying Again
After Tuesday's protests, Wednesday was to be the day that Greece finally rioted itself into a hole in the ground. Finding angry people willing to write a few sentences about what went on in the streets of Athens yesterday was quite hard. Half of the phone calls we made were greeted with an assortment of moans. “I don’t know man,” they’d say. “I’m kinda tired/scared/wounded/unable to breathe.” Luckily, there was one soldier who agreed to sit down and scribble a few words while tear gas streamed through his window.
Every memory I have of yesterday is a little hazy, since the whole experience was extremely disorientating. I’ll do my best to describe it coherently.
I needed a few crowd scenes for a film I’m working on, so I met up with Giorgos, an actor and friend of mine, with the aim of shooting the footage in Syntagma Square. We left my house in Exarcheia and reached the Square at around 2.30pm. By then most of the crowd had dispersed, so it was basically the extremists fighting the cops. Molotov cocktails crashed into tear gas in mid-air above us, and rioters lobbed slabs of marble at the armoured cops.
We moved to the area where the former Houses of Parliament are. The streets were full of people, both normal people – the Indignados – and strikers, trapped by the Special Forces. At some point, the platoons got bored of lobbing tear gas at us, and started pushing us towards Klafthmonos Square. We thought we’d stand there for a while and try to plan our next move, but it was no use. Giorgos could not stop crying because of the gas, while lemon juice kept dripping from everyone’s faces, (smearing lemon juice below the eyes makes tear gas slightly less horrible).
The craziest thing about yesterday for me was the blockades. You couldn’t move anywhere, cops were taking up every corner, every pavement and street, beating anyone who crossed their path. And in the midst of all this, Pakistani immigrants were selling Greek flags, water and diving glasses to the few who hadn’t brought a gas mask of their own.
We were ambling around with no specific purpose, witnessing random beatings here and there, when a throng of motorcycles suddenly closed in on us from behind a department store and started attacking the crowd for no reason at all. One of them, a giant, got off his bike and came striding towards us with his baton raised. Luckily, I was carrying a press pass from a recent film festival. I waved it in his face. I’ve heard and seen videos of cops deliberately harassing journalists, but to his credit, the moment he saw it he turned, got on his bike, and drove away.
We walked on to Karageorgi Servias street. We saw more beatings, and even more blockades. Having had enough, we decided to take refuge in a nearby building. It was pretty intense. I bumped into friends of mine – actors, artists, writers – all drained from all the running around, the beatings and the chemicals, which kept going until midnight.
That was basically it for me. I came back to Exarcheia, had a beer and a lahmacun at the square. Later on, as I got home and began working on the day’s footage, I heard a bang and then saw flames shoot up right outside my window. I live on Bouboulinas Street, where the main riot van is usually parked. This time the wagon was gone but a few smaller vans had taken its place. Anarchists had thrown a bomb at them. As expected the cops retaliated with tear gas, which seeped through the cracks in my windows while I slept. When I woke up my nostrils were still stinging.
WORDS: THEO PRODROMIDIS
PHOTOS: ACROPOLIS NOW