Hey, remember when we went to Athens back in October and had a riot? Well yesterday, the Greek Parliament – eager to get their hands on another round of foreign financial aid – voted to make things even more austere, and the festivities in the city promptly resumed. Only this time gangs of hooligans turned up to loot shops and burn down cultural landmarks.
My friend ‘Adam’ (we've spoken to him before) went down to the protest last night, so I called him up today to get the latest.
VICE: Hey Adam. How are you?
Adam: I've been better, thanks.
What happened to you last night?
I got cornered by a platoon at some point on Panepistimiou Street – two Molotov cocktails exploded to the left and the right of me, and that’s when the riot police caught sight of me – they thought I was a journalist because I was carrying my camera. There must have been about 15 of them. One of them beat me to the ground – I was wearing a gas mask, so it hurt. He then kicked me and told me to get lost. As I was leaving, I managed to get a few kicks from the rest of the gang, too.
Ouch. How did it all start yesterday?
There were thousands of people protesting yesterday - the numbers I heard started from 20,000 and reached 200,000. But hooligans came down, and they operate in a completely different way to the other protesters. They don’t believe in anything but the law of the street. So, buildings were burned and shops were looted. They burned Attikon cinema, for God’s sake [a cultural landmark for Athenians] – the owner was injured trying to save it and is in the hospital now.
This morning I was told that somebody had died.
No, I don't think that's the case. I haven’t heard anything like that and I’m pretty sure we all would have if it was true.
People on Twitter were also saying that foreign police forces had been called in to help out.
Nah. This is all bullshit. I mean, you can't really find better cops than Greeks. These guys have a Masters in riots. Can you imagine what a Frenchman would do if he was faced with thousands of black bloc guys throwing marbles and Molotov cocktails at his head? He'd be running back to Paris in no time.
Isn’t that kind of what the Greek police did yesterday, though?
Yes. For the first time in my life, I saw the police acting really scared. They were running in retreat, I’ve never seen that before. They ran out of gas, and began throwing stones. It was ridiculous. I think about a hundred cops ended up in the hospital, half of them are probably getting prepped for surgery as we speak.
OK. So, let’s take things from the start, shall we? The Law School has been occupied since Thursday and that’s where the call for people to meet at the Square at 5PM came from.
Yeah, by 4PM the whole place had started to fill up. I parked my motorcycle outside the Metaxourgio station and took the tube to Panepistimio. The Law School building got circled by the police so as not to let those inside come down to the protest, but at about 5PM some hooligans attacked the human barrier and managed to break it. That’s when things kicked off. I’ve never seen more Molotovs in my life. I think I must have seen about 100 of them flying through the hair over the course of about six hours. There wasn't one person in the streets that wasn't armed.
How did the police retaliate?
Well, at first they tried to push everyone towards the bottom end of the square like they do every time. They succeeded, so it spread towards Panepistimiou and Stadiou Street. Four platoons were guarding each of the two “frontiers” and putting pressure on the black bloc for a couple of hours. The anarchists got divided into smaller groups and spread all around the city, hitting certain targets like the town hall – which got occupied – and then circled the police who still fighting at the two frontiers. At that time, the police ran out of gas. I remember I was standing next to their captain and he was crying for backup.
I can’t believe they had no backup.
At some point, this one platoon appeared, and they had gas and they also had a sort of shotgun which looked like a rocket-launcher that fires teargass. These guns are supposed to be used only from a distance and aimed upwards, but the guy that was holding it yesterday was shooting straight ahead. Someone got hit by it and fell on the ground. I hear he’s not in a critical condition but is probably going to lose his eyesight.
How does the hooligans' behaviour differ from the anarchists'?
Hooligans shouldn’t be mistaken for the anarchists. The anarchists fight symbolically, in order to express their opposition to the measures taken by the State. They only hit banks, or places like Starbucks. The hooligans raided small shops. I was even prevented from driving through a street on my bike by a guy who warned me that they were stopping motorcycles so they could take the petrol and use it for bombs. At one point, I was following a group of about 50 anarchists – they were all dressed in black and armed to the teeth – and as they were passing through the smaller streets which are filled with shops and cars they’d shout, “Do not burn or break anything! Οnly break the roads and the stairs for ammo.” That’s what an anarchist does and they have my respect for that. I could be mistaken, but that’s what I saw.
I went to bed at about 11PM – 1AM your time. Just before I did, I checked Twitter one last time and it seemed that things were still going on.
That’s when it started dying down. I went home around that time too, because everyone I knew had already left and I was barely able to walk. I guess it was about that time that people got tired. It is when you are tired that you are more likely to get arrested or beaten up. So after midnight people started to head home.
So, what’s the feeling been like today?
Well, the centre basically looks like it's been bombarded. They said the Law School will stay under occupation, so that last night can be repeated. But I don’t see it happening, at least not immediately, because I doubt the hooligans will want to go down again.
And how do you feel?
I completely disagree with the looting and that kind of stuff. I can’t believe that at this point in time, young people have chosen to act this way against their own people – basically against themselves. On the other hand, we need to look at the bigger picture and see that people are now choosing to act unlawfully because this government is illegal.
Two years ago they asked us to choose between a couple of years of austerity measures or Papandreou's plans for a "fair tax system". The people voted for Papandreou who was promising them better salaries and more jobs. It’s been chaos since then. In just two years, debt has increased and so have the taxes and the unemployment rates. And on top of that, we now have a coalition government which the people haven't voted for. We've got actual fascists in government and a banker for a Prime Minister. Which is like putting a drug baron in charge of a rehabilitation centre.
All photos from www.babylonia.gr