Fragments on Athens

GREEKXMASI received lots of mail on Athens, and of course thought the xmas tree stuff was very seasonal. Ho Ho. The best detailed message (quoted below) came from a close friend whom I’d visited there years ago, en route to Cairo. This year, having enjoyed one of the few Christmases I’ve had in Europe (usually in India or Australia in December, somewhat warmer, though of course not escaping the commercialism) I think the Athens events amount to a jolly expression of hope that says more than the fantastical scenes that will grace the start of 2009 after the Democratactic election in the USA. So, rather a Greek Christmas than the Israeli attacks on Gaza for holiday cheer: 2008’s last post goes to a Greek who says:

“I have to confess that I did feel that the world can’t be so wrong when all these people (of different ages, backgrounds, perceptions) went out in the streets and started going mad (and here I refer to the hoodies smashing banks – to the crowd’s applause – as well as to the grannies who swore at the police). I always remain anti-violence but pro-outrage…”

The original message reads:

“Sorry for the late reply; I returned to Athens a week after the shooting of the 15-year-old and it was still a havoc. I don’t know how one feels when living in a state of war but it did feel like being under siege. I just couldn’t go anywhere; the shops were closed, cars would no longer circulate in the streets, the police were spreading tear gas in a frantic fashion… On top of that, there was the bitter realisation of my age: I am now 30 so there is for the first time in my life the full conscience of “the gap” between myself and the people I grew up with. Half of my friends earn crazy money working for the banks and chains that the other half are smashing with a rage. It was like -apart from the crowd/”anarchists”/hoodies/

terrorist elements and police divide- standing amidst two completely different worlds, one pro-order  and the other against it (both parties with different -and mostly ego-driven if I may say- agendas). So after a few days I decided to leave Athens and make an experiment, that is to switch off my phone and remain phoneless and webless, having the TV news as my only link to what was going on in my neighbourhood (also branded as a “bohemian no-go ghetto area” – please!!!).

It has been a shock, John. The power of the screen, yet again. And the filtering of points of view. And the careful selection of words, demonstration of feelings, sonic accompaniments for the events… I came back to Athens yesterday and started talking to friends and neighbours, checking indymedia and relevant greek sites (btw, for the description of the events indymedia is pretty fair once more), only to realize that the “reality” was completely different to the one propagated by the media.

Apart from the serious bits that we can of course discuss when we see each other next, some trivial observations are these:

– It all started round the corner from where you were photographed next to the “colour TV, black and white life” writing on the wall. Ironically, ten days after the beginning of the events, a group of people occupied the set of the national television’s 3pm news with black banners in white letters reading “Stop watching and go out in the streets”. Which also reminded me of this conversation you had in Athens (back in 2002/3?) with a so-called anarchist who was saying to you “we have to go out in the streets, man!” to which you had impressingly replied at the time “no, we have to get into television! Look around you, people are not out in the streets, they are watching TV”. And this is where the reversal takes place here: people occupy publically-funded TV time to urge us to go out in the streets.

– The police ran out of tear gas (!!!), thus started using expired one. The latest I’ve heard was from a friend who, during a rally, discovered a used tear gas can that had expired in 1987! Also, two days ago the syndicate of Exarcheia residents decided to officially sue the greek government for the inconsiderate and extreme use of tear gas in the area.

– Old people went out in the streets and “attacked” the police with their walking sticks while swearing at them for misuse of authority. And this is partly the images that we never get to see on TV or the internet: the maddening “crowd” is not just teenagers and 20somethings that want to smash everything but also middle-aged and old people who are simply outraged.

– Thirty members of the police force constantly guard the Christmas tree in the centre of Athens (Syntagma square) after the previous one was intentionally burnt. Quite ironic too, come to think during last summer thousand of acres were burnt thoughout the country (an act of arson, in order to get planning permission to build in areas previously designated as forest conservation areas) and nobody was there at the time to extinguish the fire.

I still have no clearly formed opinion about what is going on. It definately started not as an act of violence but as one of outrage, that has its roots in events and situations that are only partly related to the work of the police. However, it now feels more like a “revolution for the sake of it” more than anything else. The hoodies smash shop windows and people flood in to get free laptops, shoes, clothes etc. Luxury cars are left in the midst of the police/”anarchists” war in order to get them burnt so that they can claim their full money back from the insurance (whereas if they sold them they would only get half the money). Shop owners state huge damages in order to make some money on the side. In general, it tends to become a repetition of the greek attitude of “let’s earn something out of it at least”. I am not saying that there is no meaning in all this any more, only that the more it becomes institutionalised (if one can say that) the more its initial focus is lost”

I of course asked if I could post all this here. Good reply:

“you can post a version of this “report” but please make it clear that I am not attempting to interpret things or offer the general picture (I ‘ve had enough of people giving their own and only valid general picture of the events -while promoting their own agendas and even living in different cities while pretending to have a very clear opinion of what “Exarcheia at war” [sic] feels like- and my aim here is definately not that), only to share the way I see some fragments of the situation”.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year


One thought on “Fragments on Athens

  1. Sorry Hutnyk, but being a Greek immigrant in Amsterdam I just HAVE to look at this from the viewpoint on an immigrant in the West. I cannot side with the Greeks without siding with the other category I belong to, the immigrants (wherever they are), at the same time.

    When the Greek police was beating up and what was essentially torturing immigrants (“those” Albanians, “those” White Russians) no one batted an eye. It was considered normal for the Greek police to torture “others”, immigrants, just as long as they kept their hands off “our boys”.

    Well, my fellow Greeks, as an immigrant living in the racist West (where I am repeatedly “mistaken” for one of “those” immigrants the Dutch love to hate so much) I just have to lay it to ya straight: “Police, keep your hands off our boys” is bullshit when it’s coupled with the racist premise of “but do whatever the hell you want with “those” immigrant Albanians” – the latter unstated but implied, considering the Greek public’s inaction so far towards such police crimes.

    Why is it that Greek people only riot when the police cross an ethnic line?
    Why does the ethical line coincide with the ethnic line?

    Where were all these people when the police were torturing “those” Albanians, “those” immigrants?

    Next time the Greek police are caught using “those” immigrants as punching-bags, as a training-ground for all the stuff they plan to inflict on the autochthon population, try having a riot at the police station in order to stop THAT. Then I might believe Greek claims about progressivism.

    I have look at this through the lens of an immigrant. And when I do, I see opportunistic racism all over the place. And this Greek racism and carelessness towards the rights of immigrants reminds me just too much of Dutch racism and carelessness towards the rights of immigrants.

    If the Dutch police shot dead a 15 year old Moroccan right now, no one would give a flying fuck. Just like the Greeks did not give a fuck them the police were torturing immigrants. We’d have a few riots here in Amsterdam, but the overwhelming majority, the white population, would say “good riddance, the little Muslim punk probably provoked the cop”. As in Greece, police brutality against a youngster would only be a scandal if the Dutch police shoot dead a 15 year old white kid. (And he’d better not be from a so-called “probleemwijk”, cos then people might still say “good riddance”).

    Instead of burning Xmas trees, I recall a recent time when in the Netherlands we had so-called illegal immigrants burning in their cage while the foreign police wouldn’t let them out. Rita Verdonk was pardoned for allowing these people to die burning in their foreign police cages. It’s only a matter of time before the Dutch police tries a similar trick on Dutch prisoners. So-called Illegal Asylum Seeker Centers in the Netherlands are already used to lock up autochthon political activists. These Centers are now used to lock up political prisoners. They are the local equivalent of the American FEMA camps (also built under the pretext of housing illegal immigrants, but, as in the case of Pier 57 in NYC, used to warehouse political activists).

    A country that doesn’t give a fuck about the police abuse of immigrants, and only springs to life when the same methods are tried on the locals is simply a RACIST country. It’s an affirmation of opportunistic racism, not of a populist desire for real progressivism.

    Oh, and if you are one of those Greeks who doesn’t like “those” immigrants, then by all means shove your racism where the sun don’t shine, stay inside your house and keep watching (whitewashed Greek commercial) TV. Imagine the horror of one of you Greek racists going out in the streets for the first time, and meeting not one of your “fellow country men”, but instead one or (shock horror) several of “those” immigrants, who were beaten up by the Greek police while you did nothing at all.


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