Today was the second day of the 48 hour general strike in Greece. Yesterday I made it to the center only after the violence had started. Today I decided to go early and observe the protests during their peaceful phase. I want to underscore here that this protest (and others) was peaceful (and had something of a fair-like atmosphere) for the majority of the day. From shortly before 9am until 2:45 there weren’t any violent incidents in Syntagma Square. Tens of thousands of Greek milled about there, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and chatting with friends. Souvlaki, nut and koulouri vendors tended to a hungry crowd, while immigrants sold water, whistles, and tissues. Bouzouki-based laïka music blasted from loudspeakers, interspersed with rallying cries: No to plutocracy; no to poverty; workers, everyone, together on the streets, unite. The first group to arrive (all of this is choreographed) was PAME, a trade union affiliated with the communist party in Greece, KKE. They took the high ground, right in front of Parliament (and their intent was to cordone it off, to prevent today’s vote). The next groups to march into the square were, mainly, public sector workers represented by ADEDY (their umbrella union). Some private sector workers were certainly there, too, since GSEE (their union) co-sponsored the strike. In any case, by 11:30 or so Syntagma was completely full and remained so for several hours. The cafes, bars, and shops surrounding the square (in the Plaka and Monasteraki direction) were open (with few exceptions) and had plenty of customers. And in other neighborhoods in Athens, life went on as usual, in most respects (taking into account some inconveniences). It’s simply not the case that Greece “comes to a stand still” when these strikes happen. They’re in fact very contained.
But around 2:45 the first stun grenade went off, somewhere on Panepistimiou near the Grande Bretagne Hotel, and the crowd reacted. Some started to leave immediately, while the majority remained in place. Others, the young anarchists, shed their street clothes for black hoodies and gas masks. The stun grenade was like a siren calling them–bad policy, Greek riot police. But even at this point the Square remained full. Another 6 or 7 stun grenades went off, but nothing really changed. Around this time I wandered to another part of the square and stumbled upon the group that would start the large-scale riot–a bunch of 20-something men, dressed in black, gas masks in hand, with freshly broken marble chunks in several piles at their feet. They seemed tense, but prepared and ready to do something–soon. So, I turned around and headed back. Within minutes this group had engaged the PAME unionists on the upper tier of Syntagma and a rush of people fled the square. Like water running downhill, everyone went wherever there was space as these two groups engaged one another. I left at this point (yesterday’s tear gas was enough, thanks) and worked my way down Perikleous St. From there I could see the remainder of the crowd leave Syntagma and the square turned over to rioting anarchists. I have no idea why they attacked PAME, but PAME fought back with their (large) flag sticks and many had motorcycle helmets on hand for protection. (Images of today’s rioting here)
Since it’s my impression that we very rarely see pics of the peaceful end of these protests in the media, I’ve included many below, which give a sense of the grievances most Greeks (at least, those who organized the event and participated) have with their government and the troika today and the consequences of yesterday’s violence (materially). Click to enlarge the photos.
Finally, a brief survey of some of yesterday’s damage: