Sunday, July 24, 2011

Shot by shot capture of Greek riot police attacking a demonstrator - Athens 3.50pm 29 June 2011

This was just one of the hundreds of acts of police violence commited by Greek riot squads during the 29th June, the vast majority of attacks were directed at peaceful protesters who'd gathered in Syntagma Square, central Athens to show their disagreement with the latest round of Government austerity measures which has brought the country to its knees economically.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Like serial hacker Richard Nixon before him, UK prime minister David Cameron is not a crook.

Greek members of the Indignant protest movement spray swastika outside German consulate, Thessaloniki

Despite the onset of Summer Greek protests show no sign of dying down despite the witheringly high temperatures of a Mediterranean heatwave. In Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki members of the local anti-government "Indignant" movement this afternoon picketed the city's German consulate, shouting anti-German and anti EU slogans and spraying swasitikas on the pavement outside the main entrance.

Demands including the repayment of unpaid war reparation from Germany for the destruction caused by the Nazi occupation of Greece from 1941-1945. In addition German insistence of tough austerity measures has seen a massive upswing in anti-German feeling from across the political spectrum, a sentiment flamed by the repeated acusations that German corporations such as Siemens and HDW systematically bribed leading Greek politicians in order to win lucrative arms and security contracts

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Welcome to Athens

Welcome to Athens by Teacher Dude's BBQ
Welcome to Athens, a photo by Teacher Dude's BBQ on Flickr.
Dedicated to the Greek riot police who have done so much lately to promote Athens as a premier tourist destination.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Embedded with Greece's Los Indignados

Occasionally, things happen that takes time to process or require distance to filter them through memory till they start to take on the contours of anything that can be explained in a meaningful way.

It has been over two weeks since I went to Athens to take part in the anti-government rally on the 29th June. Tagging along with a group of 400 "indignant" as the Greek protesters call themselves I found myself waiting at midnight outside the White Tower in the centre of Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki with a bunch of people who resembled less a group of serious demonstrators than over aged participants in a school trip. The joking and jostling for position, who sits next to whom, brought back memories of similiar journeys as a kid.

Arriving in Athens the next morning we wasted no time and no sooner had we clambered off the coaches than a banner was unfurled and people took to the road to march and shout out chants, announcing to all who cared to listen that the northern contingent was in town and looking to join their big city counterparts in Syntagma Square. The Square which faces the houses of parliament has, for much of modern Greek history been the focal point of clashes between disgruntled citizens and their rulers.

As soon as we entered the square than many of us were overwhelmed with tears, though this was less to do with any emotion than the residue of tear gas that had been used the previous day and which still coated much of the area. Luckily for us, one of the leaders knew exactly where we could equip ourselves with gas masks and goggles that later would prove so vital for anyone who wanted to stay in Syntagma.

In the crowd that was massed in front of the parliament the atmosphere was a strange mix of carnival and demo, on the one hand people were in a upbeat mood with some present dancing to music played by drummers yet the underlying feeling of tension and anger was apparent to anyone familiar with Greeks and Greek culture.

Another interesting point was the "ideological" composition of the rally, which seemed to embrace a wide, if not contradictory range of political opinions. In the centre where trouble would later start were the "patriots" as I termed them, who were convinced that the entire Greek debt crisis was the result of American born prime minister, Giorgos Papandreou's collusion with the Jewish banking nexus, with a measure of masonic conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.

On the other hand every shade of left wing opinion including the anarchists also had their own blocks. In the middle, a mass of others who identified with none of the available political choices but were convinced that the austerity law being debated was a disaster for the country and wanted send a message to those inside parliament.

The real panic began at 1.30pm when news that the austerity vote had passed became known, leading to a group of about 100-200 next to the barriers outside parliament to rush the police. The charge was quickly stopped when riot police units started firing tear gas and the demonstrators quickly retreated. Taking this as a cue a group of about 50-100 youths started pelting police lines from nearby the Grand Bretagne hotel and and the police intervened effectively the violence would have probably been over within a few minutes.

However, riot police units then took the attack as an excuse to lauch a concerted assault on the rally from five different directions, using thousands of tear gas cannisters, flash grenades and other weapons. The result was a generalised onslaught on anyone still remaining in Syntagma who were all perceived by the police as rioters, even though the vast majority were protesting peacefully and had nowhere to flee to.

Assualts by the police continued inside Syntagma and throughout much of the centre of Athens for the rest of the day, with hundreds being hospitalised with breathing problems or the result of beatings by the police who in many situations acted more like football hooligans than the agents of law and order.

How to describe the horror of seeing a pack of 10 officers kick and beat a man in front of my eyes, or the anger generated when a protesters who talked back to a policeman was repeatedly punched in the face by a another cop. It was scenes like these that infuriated many present and created a much wider circle of people, many older men and women willing to throw stones and other objects at the police.

I repeatedly saw demonstators plead with riot squad units to stop attacks and who intervened to calm down fellow protesters but often their attempts to play peacemaker were thwarted by the police themselves who lashed out at anyone who approached them or grabbed people, seemingly at random.Each time this happend yet another wave of anger rippled through those nearby.

This pattern of violence and over reaction repeated itself through the day and lead me to the conclusion that the violence of the police was not simply a lack of self control but part of a plan by the authorities to empty the square and put down the Indignant movement at all costs. I doubt if anyone in government uttered those words but I'm pretty sure that the police leadership was left with no illusion about what their political masters wanted done about the situation.

Another infuriating aspect of the day's events was the foreign coverage of the rally which seemed to misunderstand the gravity of the situation, For most of the foreign press crews the story as yet another clash between Greek "anarchists" and the police so ignoring the wider implications of a massive police surpression of a mainly peaceful protest movement.

I'm not sure if this was simply journalistic laziness or the result an agenda that much of the mainstream media often bring to news stories.I remember arguing with some smug US TV anchorman next to me who was waffling on about how futile the protests were as if it was a tired theatrical show that has outstayed its welcome rather than the desperate fight by ordinary Greeks for a viable future. This unwillingness or inability to look beyond the dramatic images to get to a deeper truth has marked much ofthe reporting from Syntagma and the Greek crisis in general.

Later as the day wore on my nerves and stamina dwindled the constant threat of attack by the police or injury by flying objects from both sides plus the experience of being tear gassed took its toll and even the adenaline jolt of being in a highly charged conflict wasn't enough to keep me going . So I went to a cafe to send off pictures and comment to Demotix. yet even there the atmosphere was heavy with tear gas and I ended up sitting at a table in a mall wearing a mask while tapping out my story.

Towards midnight I carefully made my way back  to Syntagma Square which now resembled a war zone with fires burning and the much of the surrounding area looking as if it had been used for target practice to get to the subway station to meet up with the other protesters from Thessaloniki who were going back by coach from Monestiraki.Even inside the station the regular thud of flash grenades going off near the entrance gave the impression that we were in an air raid.

Even though I have seen lots of upheaval in Greeece, including the violent uprising in December 2008 the level of violence I witnessed in Syntagma was of a new order of magnitude and it seemed that it was ushering in a violently different relationship between the Greek government and the people they are supposed to represent.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Is this UK media's Waterloo?


With the News of the World phone hacking scandal knocking over its own set of dominoes,  a real debate is kicking off in Britain over the state of the country's mainstream media and in particular the uncomfortably cozy nature of the way in which big business, journalists and politicians work together to decide upon what the rest of us get to consume as news.

In many respects the situation in Britain closely replicates the situation here in Greece as far as the media is concerned. In both countries media conglomerates are owned by the very rich who do not hesitate to use their position to set the political agenda in order to ensure their interests are either protected or extended. In this they are assisted by both journalists and politicians eager to curry favour with owners in return for the kind of publicity that will advance their careers.

As for the rest of us, we are just treated as rather silly children who must be seen but not heard, occasionally a few of us are asked our opinion on the issues of the day but this is little more than window dressing, and is no way is allowed to interfere with the media's real job which is promoting the views of the wealthy and powerful.

I suppose those living in Greece should be thankful that the local media corporations are less practiced in the dark arts of spin than their UK counterparts and so their efforts often fail to convince, either that or Greeks, long accustomed to the constant media drone of state and non state propaganda are less credulous than UK consumers and so more cyncial about whatever claim or counter claim the media chooses to make.

Following the flame out at News International it is time once again to look at the simmering conlict between old and new media or perhaps more accurately between corporate embedded media and those operating outside the hermetically sealed world of political reporting. For too long those of using the new, powerful tools offered by the internet have taken traditional journalism's claims about superior accuracy and professionalism for granted.

What is emerging now in the wake of News of the World/ Times debacle is cold, hard truth is that much of commercial journalism is deeply corrupt and has no real claim to being better than the work done by bloggers and the like. When the slick presentaion is removed what really distinguishes media players from their independent counterparts? It certainly isn't integrity if the stories coming out of Wapping are to be believed.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

When those who think words can change the world meet those who know that weapon will.

A leaflet for the "I won't pay" campaign lies on the pavement outside parlaiment in Athens, next to a used tear gas grenade, a particularly vile weapon that once lit fliesoff in all directions leaving a trail of disabling gas.

I saw several of these used by riot police last Wednesday by riot police and was always relieved when this hunk of metal which travels in the air at 50-60 kph managed not to hit anyone.

I thought the juxtaposition of the leaflet and the grenade encapsulates so much of what happened later that day. In essence a peaceful protest movement was drowned in a wave of violence and tear gas by a government terrified that it would develop even further and threaten their pwer.

Using a violent actions of a few demonstrators the police launched a sustained and savage attack on all sections of the rally leaving in its wake over 500 injured and the centre of Athens looking like a war zone, an especially damaging image for a country as dependent on tourism as Greece is. In contrast to most riot situations when the police use about 100 tear gas cannisters police sources admitted that 2860 cannisters were used on Wednesday alone.

The sense of outraged felt by those witnessing the casual brutality of the Greek police was paliable and goaded many , normally law abiding citizens to pick up whatever came to hand and fight back.

With the Indignant movement shattered, or at least geatly weakened, a false feeling of calm has decended upon Greece as people no longer take part in mass demonstrations. This is partly due to the time of year (Summer is traditionally a slow period politically) and partly a sence of futility as people have been unable to stop the austerity measures. But do not count on such emotions lasting indefinitely, with the coming Autumn the Greek government is likely to be faced by a large number of political challenges both from within and without parliament.

Already rage against the ruling PASOK party and politicians in general has lead to a series of over 90 attacks on MPs, a number which is set to rise as they return to disgruntled constituencies for the summer recess.

Welcome to the Greek economic miracle.

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Battle for Syntagma Square in pictures.

The Battle for Athens. The day after.

When I got back from Athens the first thing I did was take a shower to wash away the stench of tear gas, Maalox and fear that had hung around me since the morning. Although I have seen my fair share of violent clashes here in Greece, including the uprising in December 2008, nothing had prepared me for the sheer level of savagery shown by the Athens riot police. More than once I saw them act like wild animals, pouncing upon anyone foolish enough to stop to plead or remonstrate with them

Time and time again the police sent vollies of tear gas into packed crowds and it's only by a miracle that no one got crushed under foot as thousands of people ran panic striken from the gas and flash grenades. Nor did this stop throughout the day, from the moment the trouble started at 1pm till after midnight Syntagma Square smelt and sounded like a war zone with an almost continous series of loud explosions and renewed tear gas attacks on the Los Indignados encampment.

Even as far away away as Monesteriki (a neighbourhood about 1km from parliament) rampaging motocycle officers created havoc as they attacked peaceful protesters in cafes and tavernas and gunned their bikes along narrow streets packed with tourists drinking coffee outside.

At no point did the level of police response correspond with the threat they were facing, instead of calmly dealing with a small group of stone throwing trouble makers they launched an all out attack on five fronts against demonstrators which succeeded in provoking a furious reaction from a much larger section of the rally who had outraged by the scenes of uncontrolled police violence they were witnessing.

If such violence had been restricted to an handful of officer or units then perhaps you could talk about rogue officers acting unlawfully, but the scale and the duration of the operation left no doubt that police were under direct ordrs to do everything in their power to break up the demonstration and make sure those taking part would not regroup. In that way the country's political leadership and ultimately, prime minister Giorgos Papandreou took the decision to surpress the anti-government protests in manner more befitting the brutal regimes of Egypt and Tunisia than any EU member.

This is a decision that may buy the ruling PASOK administration some time as people reel in shock from the violence but in the long term has severely damaged, perhaps irreparably the credibility of Greek parliamentary democracy and probably will be the final nail in the coffin of PASOK as a viable political force in future elections.

In a country where folk memories of previous state violence run deep, sometimes going back generations the events of the 28th and 29th June are not likely to remain fade any time soon..

Greek protester recovering from effects of police tear gas attack.Syntagma square, Athens