A Close Look at the Greek Insurrection

By Jake Carman

On Dec. 6, the murder of 15-year-old anarchist Alexandros Grigoropoulos by the Athens Police sparked a broad social uprising that has raged ever since.

Greece was already a heavily polarized country, as Nick, a Greek anarchist, told the Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement. On one side, anarchists strongly influence workers and youth, maintaining entire "free neighborhoods," such as Excharcheia in Athens, where Alexandros was shot. On the other side, there is the far right-wing government, and police – including the one who shot Alexandros – who are often members or supporters of fascist organizations like Golden Dawn. Decades of unrest, conflict and direct action set the stage for the drama that is now unfolding.

The incident that unleashed the insurgency occurred when Greek Special Forces entered the "free neighborhood" of Excharcheia to instigate residents, drawing protests from teens who threw stones at them. The police responded by shooting Alexandros, inciting the uprising that has brought the Greek government to its knees and quickly spilled out across the rest of the world.

Within a half hour of the assassination, thousands of anarchists mobilized and attacked police stations with Molotov cocktails, rocks and other improvised weapons. By the end of the night, protesters filled the streets of every major city, targeting banks and chain stores in intense riots. The next day, students poured out of schools, organizing marches and demonstrations in the tens of thousands. The cops attacked the enraged youth with tear gas and other implements of social control, exacerbating their thirst for revenge.

By Dec. 8, the riots grew into an uprising as students occupied their schools, workers called a general strike and immigrants joined in on the streets. They continued to attack police and banks, but also government ministries, and in the evening, protesters torched Parliament’s massive Christmas tree in Athens.

By Dec. 12, according to the New York Times, police had fired 4,600 tear gas canisters, exhausting their supply but failing to contain the protests. They had to order more tear gas from Israel. That weekend, though the world’s mainstream media reported "lulls" in the "riots," the uprising became a general insurrection against the government, boldly declaring a new vision of society.

While the anarchists find themselves at the helm of this insurrection, their influence swelling enormously, they make up only a fraction (albeit a large one) of those involved in the revolt. More importantly than the anarchists’ numbers, however, their ideas of self-determination, community power, freedom and economic justice have spread across the struggling populace in the form of strong anti-authoritarian sentiment, manifested in hundreds of calls for assemblies and strikes, and scrawled on thousands of banners and building-sides.

On Dec. 13, residents occupying the Agios Dimtrios Town Hall in Athens held a popular assembly according to their call “to break through the silence, to take over our lives!” Students also began occupations of over 100 schools, adding their own assemblies to the hundreds forming in towns and cities. The assembly at the occupied Polytechnic University of Athens – a long-time center for anarchist organizing – released a statement announcing nightly meetings.

"In the barricades, the occupations, the demonstrations and the assemblies, we keep alive the memory of Alexandros, but also...all the comrades who were murdered by the State...Our actions, our attempts are the living cells of the insubordinate free world that we dream, without masters and slaves, without police, armies, prisons and borders," they said.

On Sunday, Dec. 14, rebels occupied four major radio stations and three stations in universities to broadcast their messages, cracking the capitalist media’s stranglehold on the truth and setting the tone for the weeks to come. Insurgents took over and operated dozens of media stations, spreading their ideas. According to a poll in the conservative paper Kathimerini that day, only 20 percent of respondents thought conservative Prime Minister Karamanlis could end the uprising, while even less (17 percent) supported the Socialist opposition party. A Chicago Tribune article on the Kathimerini study said, "The most popular choice of those polled...was the option of ‘nobody.’ By Sunday afternoon, there were jokes in Athens cafes about the appeal of Mr. Nobody." At the end of the day, the youth occupied more than 400 schools. Banners read, "Greece is the birthplace of democracy. It will also die here."

School occupations (estimated at 600 on Dec. 15) and assemblies continued, and media occupations spread to the islands of Lesbos and Ioannina. The next day, anarchists burst into Greece's state-run news TV studio, interrupting the Prime Minister’s speech, holding up banners that read, "Stop watching, get out onto the streets." The Center for Strategic Anarchy reported that "a leaked police report revealed official fears that the current crisis will fuel a recruitment drive for Greece's anarchist movement."

On Dec. 17, Athens awoke to two giant banners hanging from Acropolis Hill, and radical workers soon occupied the headquarters of the General Confederation of Workers in Greece. In their call, they accused the union bureaucrats of selling out the workers, denounced the media for "the myth that the workers were and are absent" from the insurrection, and called for the "self-organization of the workers" and a general strike. With the help of anarchists from the Polytechnic, the union bureaucrats trying to reclaim the building, the "Liberated Workers' Zone" held an "Open Workers' Assembly," and long red and black banners hung from the roof down to the bottom of the four-story building.

In the city of Thessaloniki, anarchists raided a grocery chain and gave the food to the people at a nearby farmers’ market. According to Occupied London, a free anarchist journal in the UK, “the municipal radio of Tripoli, ‘Nea Tileorasi’ TV in Chania, Politeia FM in Sparta, and ‘Star FM’ and ‘Imagine 897 FM’ in Thessaloniki were occupied,” along with the “Labour Centre” union building in Patras.

Also that day, an unknown assailant shot another young protester, this time a 16-year-old student, the son of a union leader. The rebels responded with expected rage, with thousands protesting at Parliament and the French Institute in the next few days. Students’ banners read, "Their Terrorism Will Not Work." CNN reported, "At least 800 high schools and 200 universities remain shut as thousands of youths have seized the grounds and campuses in protest."

A few days before Christmas, many of the rebels on the streets or in occupied buildings called for a break, promising to return to struggle on Jan. 9. For immigrant workers and others, however, another assault by the rich and powerful on the poor and struggling meant the rebellion would have no Christmas vacation.

On Dec. 22, Konstantina Kouneva, a militant syndicalist, general secretary of the cleaners’ union of Athens, and active feminist, was attacked by – what she and her comrades claim to be – agents of her bosses at Oikomet. The company has close ties to the Socialist Party and contracts cheap labor to banks, government buildings and the metro system. Kouneva, a Bulgarian immigrant, had been struggling to demand her fellow workers receive their Christmas bonuses. She was also very active in the Assembly of the Occupied General Workers’ Union, and had received a series of threats. The thugs assaulted her with vitriolic acid, which destroyed one of her eyes, threatened the other and her vocal chords, and put her in a coma. In response, her comrades held a protest on Dec. 26 outside Evangelismos hospital, attacking a police car with rocks. The next day, the Assembly for Solidarity to K. Kouneva occupied the headquarters of the state-owned Athens-Piraeus Electric Railway Company, which subcontracts to Oikomet, where Kouneva had worked.

At midnight, as the New Year began, "hundreds of protesters gathered outside the central prison of the country in Koridallos, SW Athens," according to Libcom.org, "where the majority of arrested insurgents are kept pending trial." With fireworks, songs and chants, the protesters and the imprisoned reveled in shared solidarity. Meanwhile, in Athens center, the rebels again tried to attack the Syntagma Square Christmas tree, disrupting the Mayor’s celebration and forcing riot police to defend the tree. Marches in solidarity with arrested comrades occurred in Salonica and Chania Crete, and municipal Christmas trees were torched in Heraklion Crete and Larissa City. As Libcom.org reports, many more actions rang in the New Year of struggle: "A barrage of attacks against banks and state organizations rocked the country. According to the media, minutes after midnight, eight banks and four car expos in Salonica, and five banks, six shops and one mall in Athens torched down."

On Monday, Jan. 4, an armed assault on the riot police – claimed by the leftist urban guerrilla organization Revolutionary Struggle – left one officer dead in Excharcheia, where Grigoropoulos was shot on Dec. 6. State forces occupied the anarchist neighborhood and unleashed a massive wave of repression. The police closed the area’s bars, attacking patrons, harassing and questioning workers, and detaining 72 people. They surrounded and shut down the Polytechnic school for the next two days. According to Libcom.org, after they released all 72 detainees for lack of evidence: "The police shifted its strategy of intimidation by arbitrarily breaking in[to] houses in the wider area and detaining scores of people based on their ideological profile as anarchists. Five of the detained have been since charged with ridiculous accusations of ‘arms possession’ for Swiss knives and decorative Chinese swords."

On Jan. 7, the police broke into the Excharcheia home of Stavroula Yannakopoulou, a lawyer who frequently defends radicals. The people of Excharcheia responded by organizing a march through their neighborhood against the police and what they called "the return of Nazi occupation."

On Jan. 9, the vacationing rebels kept their promise and 10,000 poured into Athens for a march. According to the Greek mainstream media, 8,000 police officers confronted the demonstration with tear gas and other weapons, and the protesters retreated to a university.

Demonstrations and attacks on police stations occurred in Athens, Patras and Thessaloniki that day. Before most of the participants woke up, Kouneva’s comrades were busy ransacking her bosses’ headquarters in Thessaloniki. The headquarters of the Lawyers Association in Thessaloniki was occupied, and the city’s Labour Inspection Bureau was attacked in solidarity with Kouneva. In Athens, protesters outraged at the repression in Excharcheia, according to Libcom.org, occupied "the Municipal Cultural Center of Byronas...demanding total disarming of the police, immediate release of arrested insurgents, abolition of the anti-terrorist law, end of bosses terror...and an end to forest demolition for the construction of a bypass in the area."

Also in Athens, radical journalists and other media workers occupied the Union of News Editors, transforming the reformist union’s building into a space to confront the capitalist media’s control on the truth. "We don’t fool ourselves about what the media, a crucial ideology apparatus of the State, will do to force the people to leave the streets and go home; they’ll do everything," they said in a statement on Jan. 10. "Our main goal is to prevent the bosses from imposing their views about the events..."

Alongside this beautiful outpouring of revolutionary passion and determination has been Israel’s brutal occupation of Gaza. A Jan. 10 letter from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called on the Greek workers to prevent a shipment of US arms from the port of Astakos to Israel: "Three hundred and twenty-five 20-foot containers of ammunition, over 3,000 tons, in an emergency shipment of arms to aid the occupation in its ongoing war crimes against the Palestinian people in Gaza." The next day, the Greek organization’s Anti-Authoritarian Movement, the anti-war Internationalist Movement and the Astakos assembly issued a call for protesters to flood the port on Jan. 15. Only one day later, Jan. 12, the Greek government called off the shipment. Meanwhile, the rebellion continues.

From rebel media workers in the occupied building of ESIEA on Jan. 10: "The thousands of protesters that filled the streets in Greece on Friday, Jan. 9, proved that the fire of December won’t be put out, not by bullets and acid against activists, nor by the ideological terrorism spread by the media these last few days."

With no end in sight, it seems that the Greek insurrection can only grow, while the government struggles to stay afloat. Though this uprising won’t likely bring a Greek revolution, it has brought tens of thousands into the anti-authoritarian movement and taught them how to fight in the streets, created thousands of popular assemblies as well as strengthened existing groups, and shown both the insurrectionary populace and the government and capitalists that the power truly does lie with the people. The Greek people have a taste for revolution, and their struggle against authority – one that has continued unabated for hundreds of years – can only continue.

The uprising is the first proper response to the global recession, caused by the failure of capitalism and the mismanagement of governments. Already, workers and revolutionaries across the world are taking their cue, starting with solidarity demos at Greek consulates and spreading to the institutions of their own oppression. The shot fired on Dec. 6 has echoed across the globe. In some places there are ripples of discontent, while in others, vast seas of riot and rebellion. One thing is for sure: A brand-new left was born in December and this New Year is ours. The power is swinging and the world will never be the same. Capital, beware; we are coming for you.

A valuable interview:

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