As many of you know, a protest movement in Greece against their failed government has been going strong since May 25. The protesters gather every evening in Syntagma (Constitution) Square. Their anti-government rhetoric is heated but they have been peaceful. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for the government, the media likes to show photos of youths hurling molotov cocktails and to call them the “protesters.” Add to that the snickering over retirement ages and benefits, all appealing to stereotypes of Mediterraneans as “lazy”, and the appeal, to those who live and breathe in stereotypes, of Germans imposing “painful austerity” ( a phrase often used in connection with Greece) on the Greeks, and you have a simple, easy-to-digest news story. The article below from USA Today is an example of one that would be offensive to anyone who has read about the police brutality endured by the protesters on June 29, let alone someone who had to live through it. From USA Today:
There are the young street fighters who strut and preen in a kind of mating ritual that, if successful, goads police into an inconclusive charge.
This is a real protest by people who experience economic hardship, not a summer game. The young men often portrayed as protesters are either paid agents of the police or hooilgans. If one only focuses on them and their interaction with the police, then it does appear to be a game. That is because they are really working on the same side. The genuine protesters, if provoked by police throwing tear gas, may pick up an object and throw it at the police. But they do not come armed with explosives and clubs. They do not tear apart the sidewalk so they can throw it in store windows. These are the actions of criminals, pure and simple. These are the same type of folk who might riot after a sports game.
Here is some proof that the violent ones, often referred to as the “hooded ones,” who keep their faces covered even when there is no tear gas, are working with the police. This video shows them, including one carrying an iron bar, talking with police in a familiar manner, and being allowed behind the barricade around Parliament, an area where civilians were not permitted.
Regardless of whether they are in fact working with the police, these rioters serve the interests of the police, and more importantly, the governing party. Rather than arrest these people, the police choose to hurl incredible amounts of tear gas. They become an excuse for police to go around hurling tear gas everywhere and beating anyone in their way. The presence of these hooded people guarantees that the even best planned, best intentioned protest, will end abruptly, with protesters fleeing the area, and gasping for breath.
That is what occurred on June 29th, which just happened to be the day the austerity measures were to be voted on in Parliament, which is in Syntagma Square. Here is an excerpt from a first hand account by a Greek journalist and award winning documentary filmmaker, Yorgos Avgeropoulos , which I highly, highly recommend reading:
I have covered conflicts of protestors and police in various places around the world outside Greece, such as in Argentina, Italy, Bolivia, and Mexico. Especially in Mexico the police, as many know, are considered savage, untrained and corrupt. However, what I lived through and recorded along with my co-workers yesterday Wednesday 29/6 at Syntagma, surpasses all limits in savagery. The Greek police rightly, and by a wide margin, gets the prize for barbarity. A barbarity which has no relation to repression but which was a constant flirt with death.
Avgeropoulos describes how the police behaved in a manner unacceptable even by the rules of engagement in war:
Why didn’t the police respect the medical centre of Syntagma Square? Professional doctors, pulmonologists and others, all of them volunteers, were treating those injured during the entire duration of the attacks. They were not “hood-wearers”, they were doctors. They shouted at the police “this is a medical centre” but the police paid no attention. Fanatically, the police threw tear gas and beat them. As one doctor said to us “These things don’t even happen in war. Even in war, there is a truce, so that the wounded can be picked up and treated.” The doctors gathered everything up in haste and set up the medical centre down in the metro, but they didn’t escape the chemicals which were thrown in down there either.
Here is a video of the police chasing the peaceful protesters from Syntagma Square, for no apparent reason, down the steps of the metro, lobbing tear gas bombs at them, and not allowing them to come out. At approximately 2:18, one policeman strikes the head of a metro work while he is out cold and lying on the ground:
A chilling video shows an officer striking the head of a young man after the young man demanded that the police “Get out of the Square.”
For more videos, see an excellent article by Jerome E. Roos.
Currently, there is an investigation by a prosecutor in Athens into whether chemical weapons, unlawful even in wartime, were used by the Greek police. If proven, will that get media attention? Will the Greek government be condemned as strongly as was Saddam Hussein?
It would be interesting if the use of chemical weapons becomes what brings down the Papandreou government. There are two Greek lawyers, Mr. Noulas and Dr. Tobras, who are working, against the odds, to prove economic wrongdoing by the Greek government and the banks, which led to the current economic plight. The arguments are difficult for someone who is not an economist to understand. There is also a suit alleging that the agreements entered into by Papandreou with the EU are unconstitutional. Again, these arguments may not be easy for a lay person to understand. I wish success to both suits, but I fear there is political pressure for courts to dismiss the cases. But the unlawfulness of a government using chemical weapons on peaceful protesters is something that cannot be hidden from the people. If proven true, it will lead to an immediate overthrow. Then, finally, I hope Greeks elect a government that will do the right thing for the Greeks and not the banks– which is to default and return to the drachma. Or at least to threaten to do and be willing to carry it out, as Mark Weisbrot had suggested.