Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Right wing students try to disrupt 17th November commemoration in Thessaloniki

At first glance it looks remarkably like some kind of college graduation photo shoot, the students stand lined up on the steps outside the admin building all waiting for what's about to come.

However, some details do not gel, many are wearing motorcycle helmets and those in the front two rows are carrying flag poles as thick as a man's fist.The paving stones in front of them as slick with a slimy substance which makes them treacherously slippery, a trap designed to fool anyone unwise enough to rush the central entrance of the Polytechnic block.

A few hundred metres away right wing student groups have gathered on the corner, they too wear helmets and carry clubs.The sound of their taunts and insults cross the central highway that divides the two groups rousing the anarchists who quickly assume battle formation, using upturned desks and sheets of plywood as makeshift shield against the hail of stones and bottles that have started to land inside the university grounds

Cautiously, the student supporters of the youth wing of the conservative New Democracy party or Dapites as they are known in Greek edge forward, hurling invective along with hunks of paving stone,empty beer bottles and even oranges.

They dare those inside the university grounds to come out and fight them, and as if in a gladiator movie a lone anarchist casually strolls out to meet them, arms outstretched, palms up, the classic Greek gesture meaning, "come and get some." In response a hail of missile are hurled in his direction but he continues, oblivious to it all, taunting them with insults about their manhood.

As he walks back to his comrades, the braver Dapites advance, urging on the more reticent among their ranks and suddenly they rush forward, seizing the initiative and charge those nearest the campus entrance. Their advance however, is quickly halted as communist and anarchist students counter attack, forcing the invaders to retreat to the relative safety of the opposite side of the boulevard.

Today Greece commemorates 17th November 1973 when the then ruling military junta sent army tanks into the country's top technical university in order to crush a student revolt. The ensuing bloodshed and loss of civilian life set in chain a series of events that would eventually led to the downfall of the Regime of the Colonels in 1974.

Every year the day is remembered with a series of wreath laying ceremonies, marches, concerts and violent confrontations between police and left wing student groups.

This morning's clashes between different student factions is simply a skirmish in what will later on today be the front line in the constant battle between the authorities and Thessaloniki's powerful anarchist movements. As the police are forbidden from entering universities the area around the Aristotelian campus is often the site of clashes between the riot police and protesters.

Although in previous years this conflict had become almost ritualistic in its adherence to tactics and targets, the massive wave of protests which hit Greece last December following the death at the hands of the police of a 15 year old in Athens means that the rule book has been ripped up and nobody can be sure that neither side will be content to settle for the symbolic victories of past encounters and not hunger for something more substantial.

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