A crowd marching through Athens in remembrance of murdered teenager Alexios Grigoropoulos. Photos by Vassilis Mathioudakis.
December 6 is going to be one of those dates that eventually finds itself emblazoned on anarchist memorabilia and tattooed all over the hands of Athens' most radical left-wing activists. Because it was on that day in 2008 that Greek police shot 15-year-old Alexios Grigoropoulos dead in the centre of the city, sparking the violent protests that would tear through Greece's capital for the next month and revitalise a sense of political activism among the country's youth.
Protesters marching past riot police in Athens
Last Friday, on the fifth anniversary of Grigoropoulos' death, over 2,000 protesters—most of them high school students—marched past the Greek parliament buildings in Athens chanting, "These days belong to Alexis." Of course, there was also some obligatory police-baiting thrown in for good measure, with demonstrators shouting one of Greece's most popular protest cries, "Cops! Pigs! Assassins!"
Grigoropoulos has become a symbol for Greece's politically active youth—a martyr in the fight against heavy handed policing and what protesters believe to be an increasingly authoritarian rule—and the annual commemoration of his life has become a ritual initiation for those wanting to join the street battle against social injustice.
Fittingly, it also attracts a good deal of those police each year. This time around, after people left flowers at the site of Alexandros's murder, officers contained the demonstrators near the steps to the University of Athens. There hadn't been a hint of violence—or any real reason for the large police presence—but cops kept the crowd cornered off for hours, only letting them leave one-by-one after they'd been physically searched.
Protesters clashing with police in Athens
Ten people were arrested during the police operation and 55 were taken to police stations, but the arrests and lines of riot police weren't enough to discourage people. Later on Friday evening, a crowd of over 6,000 people—including SYRIZA members, communistsm and anarchists—marched peacefully through Athens, before a contingent of the demo split off and began clashing with police in Exarcheia's narrow side streets.
The police employed a liberal use of tear gas, doing their usual thing of drowning the neighborhood in a chemical cloud. In turn, the crowd of protesters did their usual thing of responding with a barrage of stones and Molotov cocktails.
According to several Greek media outlets, the clashes lasted for a couple of hours before police brought an end to proceedings, taking 136 people to police stations and arresting seven.