Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Tales from Athens

On Saturday 6th December, 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot dead by police in the Exarchia area of Athens. The teenager was part of the area's strong anarchist community, and his death provided the catalyst for riots that continue to grip the city, motivated by far more than just this one murder, as explains;
Public anger at the slaying - only the most recent incident of what is habitual police brutality - has intersected with widespread discontent at neoliberal reforms and the widening gap between rich and poor, being exacerbated by government policy.
The shooting, and the mass unrest in response to it, is the pinnacle of dischord that has been growing against the state for some time. In October, over 300 high school campuses were occupied by students in opposition to conservative education eform, including the arrest of pupils in Karditsa who protested against an iron fence being erected around their school. That same month, workers staged a 24-hour General Strike against the bail-out of collapsing banks, laid-off textile workers were brutalised by riot police when protesting at being denied four months of pay, and those protesting at the murder of an asylum seeker in an attack by riot police on those queing to register asylum claims had to raise barricades against a second onslaught. In November, prisoners on hunger strike forced the government to give in to their demands for better conditions, protesters against construction of an open refuse dump were met with the use of force by riot police, and a protest against police brutality attacked the police headquarters in Volos. And at the start of this month, nurses on a 48 hour strike occupied the health ministry and students clashed with police in another protest against unwanted educational reform that culminated in the deputy Minister of Health being held hostage.

The current riots, however, have opened the eyes of the world to the level of discontent that has been brewing in Greece. It has also demonstrated the enviable strength and solidarity of the labour movement there, in particular of the anarchist movement, in the face of far greater state repression than can be seen here in Britain. As the students occupying Athens Polytechnic noted, in a statement released to Athens Indymedia;
Contrary to the statements of politicians and journalists who are accomplices to the murder, this was not an “isolated incident”, but an explosion of the state repression which systematically and in an organised manner targets those who resist, those who revolt, the anarchists and anti-authoritarians.
It is the peak of state terrorism which is expressed with the upgrading of the role of repressive mechanisms, their continuous armament, the increasing levels of violence they use, with the doctrine of “zero tolerance”, with the slandering media propaganda that criminalises those who are fighting against authority.
The level of anarchist influence and worker solidarity currently present in Greece is on a level that has previously been unmatched since the social revolution in Spain during the civil war between communists and fascists, and it is an example that anarchists in the rest of Europe would do well to heed.

The current anarchist movement in Greece has its roots in opposition to the US-installed military dictatorship of Georgios Papadopoulos that reigned in the country from 1967 to 1974. They have made Athens' Exarchia quarter a stronghold against the authoritarianism of the ruling party, and remain a central part of a vibrant and unified labour movement, one that, even as the rioting continues, remains committed to launching another General Strike in opposition to cuts in public spending and the undermining of the pay and pensions of workers.

As nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and even pogroms emerge across the continent, and a movement dedicated to dividing the working class along racial lines in order to achieve power, we need a strong anarchist and trade unionist response now more than ever. One that is not afraid to incur the wrath of the State in its struggle. We need to organise the working class so that they are willing to throw the infrastructure of a country into chaos in defence of freedom or protest against inustice, to stand tall against attempts to divide us, and to fight with determination if and when governments resort to state terror against their own people.