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Who is burning Athens?
December 9, 2008 4:27 AM   Subscribe

"Night of terror - Madness and lunacy in Athens" reads the headline of one Greek newspaper this morning; "Night of agony and terror - Athens, Pireaus and Thessaloniki at the mercy of hooded individuals" reads another, and the rest follow suite. Three days of mass protests, demonstrations... and finally rioting, rampage and looting across Greece have followed Saturday's fatal shooting of a 15-year-old boy by police in Athens' bohemian/anarchist neighborhood of Exarchia.

#griots posts on Twitter have been following events as they unfold (and if you check out last night's twitter history from blogger thibet you can get an idea of the chaos as it occurs as he makes his way through central Athens). Many are also photoblogging on Flickr with the tag "griots".

Live streaming news from Skai Channel (in Greek, but lots of street action; requires windows media plugin for FF)

Not a few voices on the left theorize that official action (or inaction) are calculated to push the citizenry, historically wary of police action, into welcoming, even demanding repressive measures:

As I write, parts of the historic center of the Greek capital remain a battle zone with police forces chasing demonstrators and several buildings set ablaze. This writer cannot help the feeling that the police is actually permitting, if not leading, ‘extreme elements’ to create mayhem in order for it to have a perfect excuse to impose a state of emergency or some similar package of ’security’ measures. - blogger st3pp3nw0lf

Leftists protests and demonstrations are common occurrences in Greece, and even more dramatic anarchist actions are mostly tolerated explains former U.S. diplomat Brady Kiesling: "Greek police have limited power to use force against these groups because public sentiment will not tolerate it. This has resulted in a delicate balance in Exarchia, with neither pushing the other too far. Many Greeks cite the events of November 17, 1973 – a day that is still commemorated, when the army stormed the Athens Polytechnic University and killed a number of striking students – as a reason why the police must be restricted. ... The police stay out of certain areas, unless there's a major emergency, and the anarchists don't trash things badly unless there's a good reason," Mr. Kiesling says. But "once someone gets killed, the doctrine is massive retaliation."

Others suggest that the relative savagery of this storm of rioting has been exacerbated by desperate asylum seekers who exist on the fringe of a society that is on the front lines of European countries inundated by refugees, but which has few resources for (and some say little interest in) supporting this unprecedented influx of humanity at even the most basic levels.

Managing editor of the Greek Newspaper Kathimerini lets no one off the hook in his scathing and cautionary op-ed on the incident and its aftermath, in which he warns that all interests and factions, left and right, will try to make capital of "Anger's Teen Martyr" :

The rising tide of anger and despair of the past few years now has its martyr, a 15-year-old boy whose blood will be used to bind together every disparate protest and complaint into a platform of righteous rage against all the ills of our society (endemic and imported). ... If Greece had already appeared difficult to govern, it will now be out of control, as we can ascertain by the government’s grovelling and the police force’s spiteful inaction in the face of widespread rioting across the country over the past two days.
posted by taz (66 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for the great post - well researched, well written, well put together. Lots of good links.
posted by billysumday at 4:48 AM on December 9, 2008


Funeral of the dead lad tomorrow and a general strike scheduled for Wednesday, isn't it? That should keep the momentum going.
posted by Abiezer at 4:58 AM on December 9, 2008


Panagiotis Sotiris, 38, a spokesman for Uniting Anti-Capitalist Left, a coalition of leftist groups that helped take over the Athens Law School on Monday, told Reuters that the violence was not only connected to the killing, "but is a struggle to overthrow the government's policy." "We are experiencing moments of a great social revolution," he said.

"We are also," he continued, "experiencing delusions of grandeur!"
posted by billysumday at 5:18 AM on December 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


How to stop a Greek riot: Tell them they're acting like Turks.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:23 AM on December 9, 2008 [6 favorites]


The funeral is happening right now, Abiezer (afternoon here). I fear for the coming night... last night it seemed that the National Library was being targeted, though it turned out (as far as I know) that the building next to it (or an annex?) was burned, and there was some threat to the Archeological Museum... I am terrified for the city's historic and cultural treasures, and the neighborhoods and businesses in the hot zones.
posted by taz at 5:25 AM on December 9, 2008


Has there been no method in the madness at all? I'd read reports elsewhere of only high-end shops being trashed/looted and smaller businesses left untouched. perhaps that was wishful thinking by the author.
The case made at the blog you link for a deliberate holding back by the authorities to encourage calls for emergency powers seems convincing. I was reading about the legacy of the massacre of students at Athens Poly during the fall of the Colonels and how it lead to widespread hostility to the police and constitutional provisions limiting their power to act against the students but this obviously goes much further than that.
Hope you and yours are safe and well, taz.
posted by Abiezer at 5:53 AM on December 9, 2008


Op-ed: The riots in Greece are symptomatic of a society deeply disillusioned with the failures and dishonesty of its political class.
billysumday - It's happened before.
posted by adamvasco at 5:54 AM on December 9, 2008


The government has charged one police officer with premeditated manslaughter in the case and another as an accomplice.

Wow, that was quick.

Thanks for taking the time to do this, taz; I was hoping someone would post something smart here, but the historical context in your links is perfect. "A similar event in 1985 sparked months of daily clashes." "Greek law bars police from university buildings." Great stuff, thanks again.

Please keep us posted, and stay safe.
posted by mediareport at 6:04 AM on December 9, 2008


adamvasco, I'm sorry but I'm not buying this. The Polytechnic uprising was a whole different kettle of fish, against a non-elected military junta backed by foreign influence. Attempting to equate it with the situation today is disingenuous at best.

As an aside, I found Guardian's reference to Stanleybet very amusing --- I have never heard of it until today, yet I'm sure one of the reasons people are rioting is for more variety in the gambling market.
posted by ghost of a past number at 6:05 AM on December 9, 2008


Here's more on the 1973 Polytechnic uprising.
posted by acro at 6:11 AM on December 9, 2008


As an anarchist, I'll say rebellion has its merits for bringing about change, but sure as hell I take issue with the kids who think destroying just anything is revolutionary.

I remember when I called the cops on a drunk jock who kicked in a window of a mom and pop shop. Someone asked me later, "well, how do you know it wasn't a protest against capitalism?". Idiot.

The criminal justice system is way out of hand, sad to say it's probably going to take people standing up and things getting really ugly before it gets any better. I sure hope they manage to have something good come out of this.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:14 AM on December 9, 2008


As an anarchist, I'll say rebellion has its merits for bringing about change, but sure as hell I take issue with the kids who think destroying just anything is revolutionary... The criminal justice system is way out of hand, sad to say it's probably going to take people standing up and things getting really ugly before it gets any better.

That's a bit contradictory, no? It's sort of the theory of "addicts need to hit rock bottom before they can get better" theory applied to whole societies. In that case, rioting and destroying stuff would theoretically force the issue. They'd either need to deal with it by completly cracking down or fixing the underlying problems.

Not that I buy into that whole "rock bottom" theory myself, but by making the current situation untenable, you clearly are going to push it to some kind of resolution.
posted by delmoi at 6:36 AM on December 9, 2008


I agree dunkadunc. Rebellion is far more effective through blogs or buy-nothing days. Government should be confronted by those flown on private jets or driven in hybrid cars.
posted by larry_darrell at 6:44 AM on December 9, 2008


Abiezer, typically banks, government institutions, and multinational businesses are targeted, while smaller and/or private businesses and residences are left alone, but this wave has evolved to be a lot more indiscriminate, it seems.

It's very difficult to describe the relationship between the urban citizenry and the anarchists, but it's mostly somewhat... respectful? Or there is a certain amount of trust, at least, that the enemy/threat is mutual, in the sense, let's say, of: Multinationals are greedy, bloodsucking parasites that force small business owners out of the market; the government is grasping, corrupt, and ineffectual, and the only thing keeping it from being even worse is the threat of anarchic retaliation; we've lived through a fascist regime and will be ever alert and resistant to such a threat...

The idea of cultural treasures or residential neighborhoods being at risk from the traditional form of anarchism as practiced in Greece is pretty much unheard of; destruction and violence threatening ordinary people is extraordinary.

But, in my opinion, the paradigm of the radical left, the government (whichever it may be, right-wing or left), the populace at large, and the uneasy, extremely fragile balance that has been maintained amongst them in the last 30-40 years is changing, and the ideological anarchists can no longer control events spiraling out of control. As the socioeconomic and ethnic landscape changes, there may no longer be a sort of "gentlemen's agreement" about what is and isn't out of bounds.

I am not qualified to comment, honestly very, very honestly, as an American living in Greece, and not a political wonk, or even enthusiast, but to me a lot of what seems to be happening now reminds me of how a hallowed political concept can be turned on its head to essentially promote its evil opposite as demonstrated by the U.S. constitution's second amendment. The "right to keep and bear arms" was established (I interpret) as an insurance that an armed citizenry could act as a de facto militia that would rise up against oppression... but instead, the general population is now at the mercy of armed criminals, gangs, and idiots shooting trick-or-treaters on their lawns. Likewise, I'm afraid that this may be the turning point for Greece, where radical civil unrest that has always been understood as (for the most part, not always) a safeguard acting within fairly recognized, expected parameters for the overall benefit of the society may find itself an enabler for more wanton violence (that also has its reasons and causes that must be addressed, but which does not deign to "safeguard" traditional Greek society).
posted by taz at 6:54 AM on December 9, 2008 [8 favorites]



Has there been no method in the madness at all? I'd read reports elsewhere of only high-end shops being trashed/looted and smaller businesses left untouched. perhaps that was wishful thinking by the author.



I read that too ... on the BBC I think. Can't remember the exact wording but I do remember chuckling after reading something to the effect that rioters were sparing all the kebab/imbiss stands.

Even anarchists need a little fuel for the fire.
posted by mannequito at 6:57 AM on December 9, 2008


I agree dunkadunc. Rebellion is far more effective through blogs or buy-nothing days. Government should be confronted by those flown on private jets or driven in hybrid cars.

I don't think you could have said anything further from what I meant.
If they're going to be burning anything, I'd rather it was a real target like the police station or government offices, not treasures like the National Library or the Archaeological Museum.

Of course, I don't trust the media to be telling the truth as to what's going on, either.
I remember when a NPR reporter for the anti-free trade protests in Canada said that "The crunchy granola set seems to be here in full force"-- and then there were the completely fake stories about protesters throwing shit at cops in Seattle.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:59 AM on December 9, 2008


Thanks for the back story and commentary taz. May you, V., and Skye remain safe and sound through whatever plays out over the coming days.
posted by netbros at 7:08 AM on December 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sobering stuff. Hope everyone in Athens is okay, insofar as &c &c. Thanks for this FPP - lots of food for thought...
posted by Cantdosleepy at 7:24 AM on December 9, 2008


Thank you so much for this post. All the English-language articles I've seen have been so devoid of any real information about why this is happening. And I can't help but be angry at the anarchists. Destroying the public space and other people's property is just the absolute worst way of making your argument.
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:48 AM on December 9, 2008


Destroying the public space and other people's property is just the absolute worst way of making your argument.
As a general point (I don't pretend to knowledge of the specific details or historical background of this particular ongoing series of events) I think you could make a strong case for many if not most reforms of any consequence even in the liberal democracies to have been won in the wake of social violence or against the background of its threat. First you riot, then they crack down, then if that's the way the wind is truly blowing concessions are made. Otherwise the status quo continues and the violence and fear is confined to less visible members of society, like the immigrant woman raped in the police station.
posted by Abiezer at 8:00 AM on December 9, 2008


I hate it when people riot wrong.
posted by srboisvert at 8:03 AM on December 9, 2008


Destroying the public space and other people's property is just the absolute worst way of making your argument.

As per Latour, Technology is society made durable, which is to say that buildings, stores, parks and what-have-you solid city objects reflect, I would even say compose, the society. If one has a serious grievance with society and a desire to truly replace a civilization, the solid aspects of it that make it real must be destroyed. Consider property destruction the melting down of AK-47s (or turning them in to wicked awesome guitars)

Of course, I admit that these rioters are probably not thinking the same way as I. I am just giving my justification for the destruction of property.
posted by fuq at 8:09 AM on December 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, but Greece has so many problems, political, social, economic, you name it. This is the last thing they need right now.

And generally, wanton destruction of the public sphere is the worst way of bringing about any positive social change anarchists want (whatever that may be), if only because it makes non-anarchist liberals and other natural allies of progressive politics -extremely- resistant to any platform the anarchists put forth. I hate hooliganism and I hate it even more when it puts on a political mask and pretends to be more than it is. Massive peaceful marches would be a much more powerful statement instead of this insane and wasteful violence.
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:11 AM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


There have also been massive peaceful demonstrations, I should add. The extremism is only one element of a multifaceted protest that has included disparate and sometimes opposing factions. It is unfortunate that these less violently dramatic demonstrations don't receive as much attention, but they are really the majority of the Greek citizen voice, and constantly active.
posted by taz at 8:24 AM on December 9, 2008


If one has a serious grievance with society and a desire to truly replace a civilization, the solid aspects of it that make it real must be destroyed.

You can't blow up a social relationship. Unless people's affection for, desire for, and reliance upon those solid aspects is transformed, they will rebuild them, and punish you for destroying them. The emotional infrastructure is what really does the heavy lifting. Have you ever tried to get someone out of an abusive relationship? Until they can admit the reality to themselves, they will keep going back.
posted by regicide is good for you at 8:28 AM on December 9, 2008


Massive peaceful marches would be a much more powerful statement instead of this insane and wasteful violence. are completely worthless and accomplish nothing, being an advanced form of asking nicely.

Fixed that for you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:38 AM on December 9, 2008


billysumday - It's happened before.

Yes, it happened in 1973. But surely you must acknowledge that the late 60s/early 70s were a different time. This young fellow who believes that taking over an academic building and burning down a few shops will somehow overthrow the government is in serious need of a reality check. It's not 1973 anymore. It seems to me, from my vantage point, that the actions of the anarchists will only fuel sympathy for the police and a desire to contain the violence.
posted by billysumday at 8:45 AM on December 9, 2008


Yeah, I'm sure all the civil rights marchers would agree with you, Pope Guilty. Peaceful protest is for suckers.
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:51 AM on December 9, 2008


"Night of terror - Madness and lunacy in Athens"

Madness? This...is...oh. Athens.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:00 AM on December 9, 2008


Greece on the verge of revolt via Newsvine.
posted by adamvasco at 9:05 AM on December 9, 2008


Thanks for posting this, taz.
posted by homunculus at 9:26 AM on December 9, 2008


One of the flickr users posting photos under griots, I've noticed, has gone thru and blurred out only some of the faces. I wonder what the criteria is for getting blurred. Are they all people (s)he knows?
posted by nomisxid at 9:31 AM on December 9, 2008


How exactly do you people think that protest marches work? Do you think that when a lot of people get together and protest, the ruling class goes "Oh, hey, those people really sincerely believe that what we're doing is wrong. Let's totally change it and not be evil assholes anymore."? Peaceful protest is asking nicely. "Oh please, ruling class, don't do what you want to do." Why should the ruling class care? What impact does a peaceful protest march have on anything except the protestors and the people who they inconvenience, people who are just trying to get to work or school? Why do you think "making a statement" is anything but worthless, self-glorifying liberal claptrap?

Newsflash: the ruling class does not give a fuck what you think. If they cared what you think, they'd ask you. You can "make a statement" all you want, but they're not listening. The only expression of public opinion that matters to them in the slightest is the one that happens in November. Violence forces them to care. When shit's being broken and the cops are being prevented from making arrests, then the ruling class notices.

If you want change in a liberal democracy, you have two options- the uncertain and uneasy path of political action or the self-affirmation of violent protest. While protest marches might have had some minor effect on public opinion, they didn't change government policy. This is how social change happens: the Martin Luther King, Jrs can be safely ignored until a Malcolm X shows up to provide an incentive for the ruling class to negotiate. Without the threat of violence, the civil rights movement would have been a blip on the radar of history.

The greatest insult is the way this is forgotten; in school we teach children that the gains of the civil rights movement were the product of peaceful protesting, as if the racists and bigots would give up their power because a bunch of people "made a statement". Civil rights legislation didn't get passed because the ruling class thought MLK had some great ideas, it passed because the alternative to dealing with MLK was the violence of the Black Panthers and other violent radical groups. This is part of why pacifism is such a despicable ideology: it says to the disempowered, people who do not have access to the political system in any meaningful way, that they must forswear the only other means they have of changing the society that abuses and exploits them, or else be condemned with the same language and the same logic as the . Furthermore, once changes have been made, the pacifists swarm about to claim victories they didn't win, as if the white man would have listened to MLK without Malcolm X, or the British left India because Ghandi asked them to and not because British troops were subject to steadily increasing attacks by armed Indian insurgents. History is rewritten to say that peaceful protest is an effective tool for the disempowered to use against the powerful- and why should the ruling class object to such mythology?

The proponents of peaceful protest practically embody liberalism as leftists see it: useless, self-righteous, and all too eager to take credit for the gains won by others while condemning in the harshest language both those who fought for the gains and the methods by which they were won. To lionize peaceful protestors and demonize violent protestors is to tell the powerless to sit down and shut up; you'll get a better world when we're ready to give it to you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:31 AM on December 9, 2008 [13 favorites]


Some good higher res photos here.
posted by taz at 9:38 AM on December 9, 2008


Thanks for the post taz; I was ready to compose something for MeFi myself (I live in Thessaloniki, albeit far from the center of the riots).

One element that would be hard for foreigners to understand is that the far left never lost its romantic appeal in Greece: it's always been the underdog, as the country has been dragged (forcibly a few times) behind the Western chariot for the last century or two, and Greece was pre-occupied with other matters when the Wall fell down in the late '80s and early '90s. And although I don't claim that these riots are politically motivated or guided, the rioters use a leftish ideology at best as motivation, at worse as a disguise.

The core of the problem, in my very humble opinion, is that the Greek youth has been completely disillusioned and stripped of any goals or dreams or hopes for the future. For every middle-class kid (and yes, most of them are middle-class according to more than one study; these events have nothing to do with the French riots) that is throwing Molotov cocktails at riot police there are ten that want to but don't dare and a hundred that sympathize. Unemployment rates among 25-40 years olds is ~20%; most of those that do work are overqualified for the work they do, and thus unhappy. The Greek private sector is non-competitive, relying on squeezing labor costs to maintain slim profit margins --which the Greek public very often decries as 'excessive', despite ample proof that Greece is falling behind in every economic and financial metric that matters.

We can argue as to the causes of this for ever (and Greeks do, at length, as we are wont to), but having lived and worked abroad for most of my life, I'd like to point to a very,very large and discontent middle class from which it's almost impossible to rise (providing little motivation) and very hard to fall from (so no real fear of consequences either).
posted by costas at 9:55 AM on December 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


One thing that hasn't been communicated at all well in the media that I've been reading: what do the protesters want? What action can the government take that will make things right?

Are they just smashing shit because it's fun? Or are they trying to actually accomplish something? If the latter, what is it that they're trying to accomplish?
posted by Malor at 9:59 AM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


There have also been massive peaceful demonstrations, I should add. The extremism is only one element of a multifaceted protest that has included disparate and sometimes opposing factions. It is unfortunate that these less violently dramatic demonstrations don't receive as much attention, but they are really the majority of the Greek citizen voice, and constantly active.

Basically sums up in one paragraph why violent protesters, be they anarchists or what have you, piss me off. They suck all the oxygen out of the room and totally screw over the people on their own side.

Pope Guilty: your interpretation of the civil rights movement is not unique, but without MLK and other pacifists, the Black Panthers and other advocates for violent change would all be dead or in prison and blacks would still be second-class citizens. But it's always more fun (and so much easier!) to knock down the blocks than to build them up, I suppose.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:17 AM on December 9, 2008


I partially disagree, Pope Guilty. The first civil rights act was passed in 1964, the second in 1968 soon after MLK was assassinated. The Panthers, formed in 1966, not as a civil rights group, but as a self-defense and self-sufficiency group. Not until the violence used against them by police did they themselves turn to violence and splinter into factions, one of which was the Black Liberation Army.

Much violence that is attributed to radical groups has been shown to be the work of agent provocateurs. It's an easy trap to set, unfortunately. Even going back to Haymarket in the 1880s, the single bomb that set back the 8-hour movement might have been thrown by an agent provocateur.

Violence may be a proper strategy to affect change. In this case, I fail to see the strategy in the Greek riots.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 10:17 AM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Blog of eyewitness reports; latest has shots fired in Athens.
posted by Abiezer at 10:37 AM on December 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Here is some background that may help you understand the situation better than simply evoking the civil war, the junta or the killing of Kaltezas, important as they may be.

The police in Greece has a long history of killing people, with the culprits either being punished lightly or not at all. There have been eight dead in the last 14 years and one man permanently paralysed. Up to 2003, there were two laws ordaining police self-defense, passed during the German occupation in WW2 and during the junta. Only in 2003 did the law recognise three degrees of response (a: shot in the air b:shot to incapacitate c: shot to kill). See the face of the poor Cypriot in the jardinière case below; the most severe punishment was a cop being paused from his job for six months.

The social capital of the police was pretty bad to begin with even before the change of government in 2004, owing to behaviour like countering a demonstration of pensioners with tear grenades and use of their globs. However, since the government changed, things have deteriorated. During demonstrations, there has been documented, extreme police violence against students, a policeman shooting on air, another one flashing brass knuckles and professors in the University of Thessaloniki witnessing men with their heads covered (who are usually considered to be anarchists) coming out of police vans to join the demonstrators (and supposedly riot later).

There's also been the jardinière case (NSFsqueamish), a student lying on the road with a wound on his head (NSFW/squeamish), a student was arrested because his green shoes "identified" him as a culprit while he was captured on video at the party when he was supposed to have been engaging cops. Furthermore, videos such as a cop instructing two men held under arrest to hit each other, with him urging them to hit harder (vid) made the rounds of the country.

The Minister of Public Order declared "This is a chore; I'm doing time" on his job and a year ago, after about 11% of the country's forests was burnt with his ministry unable to effectively intervene, he lost a third of his votes and stayed out of the Parliament. Before he was voted out, instead of fortifying the Fire Service, the government opted to reinstitute the -needless- Field Guard so that they could offer jobs to their voters. When the government declared all passports null and void, so that new ones would comply to EU specifications, the issuing was taken from the "Centers of Citizen Service" and was relegated to special P.D.s. People swarmed the P.D.s for months while there were too few policemen for the -clerk- job. After that Minister was substituted, there's been coverage of the police allowing fascists to pass through their ranks and fighting with them against anarchists (!).

However, there is more to the situation than that. During the past nine years, wealth has been redistributed in favor of the wealthy and inflation has been eating away ordinary people's wealth while most banks' earnings have been locked in the double digits. The law is significantly more lenient for certain big businesses; a fact which ties into the interdependence of part of the political spectrum, the state and big business. The modernisation of the country is trailing and certain achievements like an impersonal system of government hiring or a closer involvement in EU politics seem to be rolled back while the economic prospects aren't good: the debt is high, the Research and Education budgets stagnate, the Health system is being dismantled, pension funds face the usual challenges and we can't even absorb money allocated from the EU budget. We do buy high-end military equipment regularly though.

The policeman in this case defied orders and went back to seek some folks that attacked his car. He provoked ("asshole, grab my balls") some other children that had nothing to do with the incident, one of them threw an empty plastic bottle at him and the cop killed him.

This is an outrage. This.

A representative of a police group outright called him a murderer. He was. He should have known how to act as he used to be in the Special Forces and had spent his whole career in the local P.D. Most policemen lack in training and the psychologists introduced by the 2003 law are only now joining the police. The policeman says he shot the kid because he imagined his kids acting like that. But while he defied orders, the police need to control their own who we, as a society, have entrusted to carry firearms. The politicians who cultivated the attitude of policemen being above the law and ensured special treatment in court, the people who clapped while the Minister called the chieftains of the police a praetor urbanus or "leader" as he translated it, shouldn't act surprised.

It will probably get lost in the other news, but there have been massive demonstrations by school students and their teachers, by university students, unaffiliated citizens and the two major left parties. The opposition leader called the Greeks to demonstrate.

It was a given there'd be riots. There were degrees of the violence and different targets have a different evaluation, but faultless people still suffered. I disagree with this way of expressing rage or with the random looters. The burning of the University's reading hall pissed me most -you don't fucking burn books- and there is later on a discussion about what's considered fair retribution, the distribution of power and whether targeting places because of their location resembles the police treating people walking through Exarchia with contempt or as "anachists".

However, there is a major difference. I didn't vote any rioters into power and no one else did. The government represents me and they allowed the rioters to go on long after the other demonstrators had left, they responded disingenuously by muttering the usual excuses (compare to the thoughtful response of the President) and not accepting the resignations of the ministers, they did not exhibit any interest in reforming the police despite the protests and they were the ones that cared only to retain power and never mind the quality of government. I don't accept the government/rioters dichotomy because they are not on the same level; the government derives its legitimacy from me and the citizens and no one gets to cheapen that.

On preview: 15 shots in the air and dubbing all the rioters anarchists is a great way of showing you have no idea what's going on, gee. /gov
posted by ersatz at 10:45 AM on December 9, 2008 [11 favorites]


wow, well for all their political naivete, those crazy greek kids sure got you all talking about it. for all their ignorance - so carefully catalogued by the armchair liberals half a world away - they have a government on the brink of collapse, a country on fire both literally and politically, and a world talking seriously about the issues they have been hollering about for ages.

so, for all the "civil protest" or "dialogue" types who cringe more at the broken window than the murdered child, who somehow never manage to notice that their brand of political discourse does precious little to advance their agenda, take a case in point, one of the darling issues of the global liberal left: the iraq war. biggest worldwide demos in history. biggest demos in US history. way bigger than whats going on in greece right now... and my point? if they had looked even 10% more like whats going on in greece, the iraq war would not have happened.
posted by mano at 11:08 AM on December 9, 2008 [7 favorites]


Pope Guilty, I understand your argument, but its hard to envisage a popular movement that's strong enough to be considered that isn't therefore big enough to have both peaceful and violent wings. We could point to either as being responsible for success: you're pointing at the violent arm. What about the Great Reform Act, or the creation of the Welfare State in the UK? Was Women's Suffrage really accomplished through suffragette violence?
posted by alasdair at 11:18 AM on December 9, 2008


But it's always more fun (and so much easier!) to knock down the blocks than to build them up, I suppose.

Look at this right here. This is how it starts: the marginalization of those who use violence. In the 1960's, violent resistors were pushed out of the discourse by the powerful and their pacifist collaborators by characterizing them as wild and out of control; in the modern era those who use violence are marginalized and pushed out of the discourse by infantilizing them. They are not legitimately angry human beings trying to force the ruling class to make concessions, but instead children having "fun". They must not be taken seriously or treated as people with a legitimate problem (because after all, the legitimate way to address grievances is to ask nicely for them to stop), but as children who must be spanked and ignored.

The Panthers, formed in 1966, not as a civil rights group, but as a self-defense and self-sufficiency group.

For a population in the position of American blacks in the 1960's, a self-defense and self-sufficiency group is a civil rights group.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:22 AM on December 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Taz & Ersatz, thanks so much for the in-depth background. Watching this live at the mo and was bewildered. Hope you're both safe & well.
posted by Wilder at 11:32 AM on December 9, 2008


We could point to either as being responsible for success: you're pointing at the violent arm.

Both sides have their purpose. To my mind, the purpose of the violent side is to push the ruling class into making deals with the peaceful side. My problem is not with non-violent activists; they have a necessary role to play. It is with those who claim that any use of violence is illegitimate, those who insist that peaceful demonstration is in and of itself a useful act. Successful social change requires a peaceful side that the authorities can work with and a violent side to force the authorities to work with the peaceful side. Peace alone, or violence alone, are useless.

What about the Great Reform Act, or the creation of the Welfare State in the UK? Was Women's Suffrage really accomplished through suffragette violence?

Reform that comes about primarily through legislative action, without demonstration and protest, is nice, I'll agree. There are two problems with it, however. The first is that legislature-driven change is fairly rare; while it does happen, it's incredibly vulnerable to being wrecked by bought-off legislators, and it doesn't happen very often- generally it occurs in unique circumstances, like the British welfare state being created at a time when they were receiving massive monies from the US. The second problem is that it has an essentially disempowering effect; one legislature-driven change gives ammunition for a million arguments of "Trust the government, they'll take care of it." I am suspicious of anything which serves to either prevent or discourage people from becoming involved in changing their world, and I fear that legislature-driven change like the Great Reform Act or the institution of National Health may serve as a discouragement when the time comes that direct personal involvement is called for.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:32 AM on December 9, 2008


so carefully catalogued by the armchair liberals half a world away

Ah, it's so easy to presume, isn't it? I've visited family and friends in Greece many times over the past two decades and have people I love living there now. Seeing Athens in flames just makes me physically ache. Just because I condemn the rioters for fucking destroying the city they live in and for making a mockery of their causes as a result, doesn't mean I support the corrupt government and its many many sins. And you are pitifully naive if you think rioting in London and New York in 2003 would have stopped the Iraq War. It would just have made it easier to dismiss -all- protesters as violent thugs.
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:37 AM on December 9, 2008


ersatz, thank you very much, that explains a great deal.
posted by Malor at 11:38 AM on December 9, 2008


They must not be taken seriously or treated as people with a legitimate problem (because after all, the legitimate way to address grievances is to ask nicely for them to stop), but as children who must be spanked and ignored.

The rioters are marginalizing themselves. If they want to act like children with molotovs, you really shouldn't be surprised when they and the causes they pretend to advocate are written off.
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:40 AM on December 9, 2008


they and the causes they pretend to advocate are written off.

Yeah, they don't actually believe in anything, 'cause if they did, they'd be petitioning the government peacefully and going to peaceful demonstrations. Nobody could possibly honestly and sincerely believe that violence is necessary for cultural and political change, and the very use of violence invalidates anything they have to say about their beliefs. If they were mature adults like me, they'd restrict their political involvement to voting and using the internet to talk shit about people.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:47 AM on December 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Did you read this post or its links at all, Pope Guilty?

This writer cannot help the feeling that the police is actually permitting, if not leading, ‘extreme elements’ to create mayhem in order for it to have a perfect excuse to impose a state of emergency or some similar package of ’security’ measures. - blogger st3pp3nw0lf

You can "honestly and sincerely" believe that violence is necessary in this case, but you'd be wrong. The government is going to crack down, and it will do so with the support of the public, because the latter will be afraid of the people who think that burning buildings and cracking open ATMs is the way to effect change.

using the internet to talk shit about people.

Have you looked in the mirror lately?

Taz and Ersatz: thank you for the informative post and comments.
posted by longdaysjourney at 12:00 PM on December 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is a great post. Thanks for the insight and the opinions.

Pope Guilty: I hear what you're saying with a lot of your arguments (seriously, I do), but you’re being awfully presumptuous when you claim the “useless, self-righteous” proponents of peaceful protest simply take credit for the work of violent resistors when the exact opposite could be argued in many, many case. Really, I think your history of peaceful protest has a convenient sheen to it: Peaceful protest is about a lot more than “asking nicely”; the power of public discourse has proven itself invaluable in our evolution and if violent resistance were the only way to provoke change and/or get a reaction from anyone we'd still be living in caves.

As an aside (and as it's already been mentioned), what’s going on in Athens is about way more than some romanticized coming-to-a-college-dorm-poster-near-you musing of ‘Anarchist Freedom Fighters vs. Fascist Pigs’. But this story just makes me sick all over and my heart goes out to everyone involved.

As a third aside, I laughed when I read the earlier reply from the dude who refers to himself an ‘anarchist’ who then admitted calling the cops on a drunk vandal. Good one.
posted by tiger yang at 1:06 PM on December 9, 2008


Massive peaceful marches would be a much more powerful statement instead of this insane and wasteful violence. are completely worthless and accomplish nothing, being an advanced form of asking nicely.

Fixed that for you.


Thank you for bringing retarded SomethingAwful memes instead of an argument. You've dramatically improved the quality of the site.

Also, you're wrong.
posted by rodgerd at 1:57 PM on December 9, 2008


Comparing this to 1973 is a bit much. The dictatorship of the Colonels was almost an example of totalitarian self-parody. Along with torturing dissidents, they banned everything from the New Math to a number of popular singers. The "conservative" (actually center-right) government has not committed any such acts. Their two biggest faults are largely cultural, that is they have existed in every other Greek government of the last few decades: corruption and inefficiency.

There is a tremendous amount of discontent in Greece, no doubt. Unfortunately, Greeks have come to look to the government for assistance in too many spheres, and their sense of entitlement is sky high. Just as we will have tremendous issues funding our entitlement programs in a decade or so, Greece is in the same place but a few years ahead of us, with larger social programs, a weaker economy, an aging population, and one of the lowest birth rates in Europe.

Greeks continue to emigrate, and parents work like dogs to get their kids in universities outside of Greece, because the economy is stagnant. It's very difficult to make it as a small business. Who you know counts for a lot. College graduate unemployment is 25%. Unfortunately the popular response to these difficult conditions is to demand that the government do more.

But this isn't about policy. This is an excuse to indulge one's rage at low risk. While police officers deserve some criticism for being heavy handed, they are also remarkably ineffective. They do little to protect private property, some of their investigations into militant groups (esp. Nov. 17th) have been poorly handled, and public demonstrations are handled with kids' gloves. It's rare for the police to venture into Exarchia and they are treated with contempt when they do. As a result they get little support from any sector. It should also be said that they have occasionally over a thirty year period faced direct attacks by terrorist groups. In 1985, a busload of riot police was bombed. It's a tough job.

The government is wary of antagonizing the extreme left and does not want to be seen as similar to the military dictatorship, and so angry youths are free to act out with little fear of punishment. It's important to keep in mind that full on Socialism is mainstream in Greece, and that the Communist party (and associated splinter groups) is actually taken seriously. One of the ways this lack of respect for private property shows itself, is in the anemic government responce, both to this riot and to the annual parade / riot on November 17th.

My Mother's apartment is about a block and a half from the National Museum and maybe half a dozen from the PolyTechnic. When I'm in Greece, I walk through Exarchia all the time. My uncle just moved out of the neighborhood this Spring. In the few years he lived there, his car was firebombed three times. I have another uncle and aunt a bit more than a quarter mile away. If you've never been to Athens, this is the heart of the city. When I read about gangs of youth throwing stones at police cars (this is before the riots), I imagine some ghetto in Palestine with dirt roads. But little distinguishes Exarchia from the surrounding neighborhoods. Watching this makes me sick. Even worse is seeing the Socialist party using this opportunity to pander. The future that Greece is creating for its children will continue to get bleaker and couples will have fewer children as it becomes even more difficult to prosper.

Greece over compensated as it came out of the dictatorship. Political protest and the freedom to assemble are valuable rights. However refusing to allow the police onto a university campus, and the hands off approach to riots has made it too cheap and easy for discontents to act out in the name of politics. The youth that gather in Exarchia aren't acting in anyone's best interest but their own. And the refusal of a large segment of the population to distinguish between social malcontents and political activists (granted, for many years there were times it wasn't easy) has led to such stupidities as the police rarely venturing into Exarchia and then watching youth destroy small shops all along Patission, doing nothing to stop them.
posted by BigSky at 2:00 PM on December 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, taz.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:23 PM on December 9, 2008


Stay safe, taz, and thanks for the headsup. One of my students asked me about this last night, and I didn't really know what was going on. Now I do.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:04 PM on December 9, 2008


Thank you taz, and I was thinking about you today, and hoping you were okay.
posted by jokeefe at 5:15 PM on December 9, 2008


Reading various reports of fascist youth operating in concert with the police now.
posted by Abiezer at 2:31 AM on December 10, 2008


and public demonstrations are handled with kids' gloves.

This is arguably false. The two NSFW pics in my previous comment are the result of this "kids' gloves" handling of previous demonstrations. It isn't exactly a secret that the police makes liberal use of tear gas and doesn't mind landing an extra hit or two on arrested demonstrators. A few minutes ago costumed people having a coffee at Starbucks tried to stop the policemens from using excess force against the demonstrators and they were gassed. During the last few days several reporters have had problems with the police as well.

This time it isn't just the "usual suspects" at Exarchia. Schoolchildren are massively demonstrating and many of them have become rioters. Tens of thousands of citizens who demonstrate don't like the current state of affairs. Beating indiscriminately schoolchildren is not the answer. Standing back and doing nothing is not the answer. This is a social problem and should have a social solution. You know how it goes - now is the winter of our discontent, but there is no son of York in this story.

It's amazing how quickly the "flexible" part time jobs and lopsided pension programs that disfavour the youth are being reconsidered by some of their former advocates.
posted by ersatz at 4:04 AM on December 10, 2008


Some of them seem to be 14-16 years old and many do not even have their faces covered. Hello, this is the failure of the educational system returning to lay its legs.

People are leaving the coffee shops to chant anti-police slogans and they got the police to get out of there.
posted by ersatz at 4:12 AM on December 10, 2008


Ha, and then the coffee-shop guys got the rioters to stop. Case in point: social solutions.

Sorry for the multiple comments.
posted by ersatz at 4:16 AM on December 10, 2008


Thanks for giving us another perspective, BigSky.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 4:51 AM on December 10, 2008


I laughed when I read the earlier reply from the dude who refers to himself an ‘anarchist’ who then admitted calling the cops on a drunk vandal. Good one.

You completely missed my point, but then maybe you wanted to.

In a close-knit community, the group of people I was with would have tracked the guy down and made him fix the window, because reputation would mean something. In a college town where everyone's passing through, that doesn't really count, and any confrontation with the guy would have received a big 'fuck you' on the drunk's part.
It would have been a real shame for the lady (only person who worked at the shop) to have to replace the plate glass because some frat kid thought kicking it would be funny.

I don't really think hashing out what anarchism means to me here in this thread would really go anywhere, though. If you want to ask me, there's MefiMail or Metatalk.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:57 AM on December 10, 2008


Live stream from Syntagma square --- Things looking quiet for now.
posted by ghost of a past number at 7:39 AM on December 10, 2008


This is arguably false. The two NSFW pics in my previous comment are the result of this "kids' gloves" handling of previous demonstrations. It isn't exactly a secret that the police makes liberal use of tear gas and doesn't mind landing an extra hit or two on arrested demonstrators.

I'm not making light of this, and I don't ignore it. Yes, the Greek police have been observed to be overly physical and needlessly rough. I acknowledged this in the earlier post. Perhaps what I did not make clear is that I see the weak response in handling these riots to largely be the fault of the government in not backing the police and in restricting their ability to respond.

Rioters openly stockpiling fire-bombs in the PolyTechnic? Not allowing the police to use firearms in the face of wide civil unrest? Refusing to protect private property? Charging the police officer with murder days before the ballistics test has been finished? This kind of nonsense is tough to find anywhere but Greece.

It will be a shame if New Democracy falls because of this. Karamanlis is not the problem. Preventing privatization of the universities and trying to maintaining unrealistic pensions won't change the economic outlook.
posted by BigSky at 11:16 AM on December 10, 2008


This kind of nonsense is tough to find anywhere but Greece.

Don't care about the larger point, but this kind of nonsense is easy as hell to find everywhere.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:40 PM on December 10, 2008


Greek-inspired protests spread across Europe
posted by homunculus at 8:59 PM on December 11, 2008


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