As 2013 drew to a close, and the protest movement across Europe took stock of its accomplishments, demonstrators in Greece turned their attention to the recent heavy handed nature of the country’s policing. As Chloe Thanopoulou investigates, the events of the 6th of December could irrecoverably change the nation’s future.
The 6th of December has a special meaning for Greeks. It marks the death of Pavlos Sidiropoulos: the Prince of Greek Rock as well as being the day Alexis Grigoropoulos – the 15-year old boy who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time – was murdered by a police-officer.
It is also the day a revolution started – one that marks the country’s consciousness. In a certain way, the events are interconnected. Although Pavlos lived in a entirely different time, the circumstances were in many ways similar to those today. Through his songs, he reprobated the corrupt state and the philistines and showed the anger of the people towards the system. Alexis was another victim of the power of the authorities. He, as well as many others, have been victims of the political situation often talked about in Pavlos’ songs.
Protesters or Terrorists?
A social “explosion” of dissatisfaction and unrest followed Alexis’ death. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back; a full-scale collision with authoritarianism. Yet this was not reflected in the media, whose reaction to the protests – and the protesters – was largely a negative one. Activists were often characterised as terrorists; meaninglessly trying to burn cities down. This viewpoint quickly became widespread, distorting the image most people had about what was going on. Though the chance for change had been born, many people preferred long discussions at the local café’s – based on misleading information provided by the big news agencies – over the action a revolution requires. It kept many people away from demonstrations.
Demonstrating is even less appealing when police reactions are taken into account. In an attempt to appear effective demonstrators are arrested so the police are able to announce the numbers of arrests the next day. It is considered a way of proving its capabilities, but in reality denies citizens the right to demonstrate peacefully.
An example of the attitude shown by police towards the politically active is an event that took place last year year when a local Greek group Laiki SynelefsI Papagou-Holargou (the people’s assembly of Papagou-Holargos) saw a series of arrests made against their members. For no apparent reason, two of their members were firstly accused of theft and – when these charges could no longer be justified – the charge of arson of two ATM’s appeared. In a statement released by the group, they describe: “The autocratic behavior of the state and the “terrorism” against everybody who is fighting is obvious”.
Arresting people without a clear reason – especially in demonstrations – is a common tactic of the police: highlighting their unwillingness to find the real wrongdoers. Not only have politically and socially active people become a target of the authorities while facing continuous mistreatment, but they also appear to be the scapegoats of everything the police cannot cope with. The need to show the public that justice is being served by targeting people who fight and have strong political views, serves the need to control potential reactions which could lead to a revolution . So far, this tactic seems to be successful: the consequences of demonstrating seem severe, which in turn deters people from standing up for their rights.
Yet, the yearly demonstrations in the memory of Alexis have had some impact. This is primarily because people believe that, 5 years on from the murder, ‘nothing has changed’. A revolution does not play by the rules and cannot calculate the costs. It may come only when there is no other choice – it knocks existing structures down to subsequently rebuild them. Yet, this does not have to be led by violence. It must start by changing minds, by changing perceptions of what is ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ and what is not. It may happen when someone sees his or her fathers’ store closing or his or her uncles’ house being taken away because of an unpaid debt. It could happen if allegations that as many as half of the police force vote for the far-right party Golden Dawn turn out to be true. Or it could be when someone’s desperate neighbour commits suicide, as occurred at the beginning of the Arab Spring. It may happen in the heads of the many people that work continuously for 300 euro a month, with no hope for a better future. We cannot forget the symbols of Pavlos and Alexis, because they have foreseen what the country is going through now. Silence, distortion and fear are not the way to change it.
Original article by Costas Papantoniou