Monday, November 17th: Riot police attack citizens during a march
According to news reports, over 20 000 people marched on Monday in Athens to commemorate the student uprising in 1973 while 7000 police officers were deployed to ‘protect’ the crowd. The night was not uneventful since police officers have been caught on camera to engage in punishable offences, such as property damages, looting and assault against protesters.
Nine victims of police brutality, which included two journalists covering the events for VICE were transfered to the hospital. Many protesters were injured during the vicious attacks by riot police and according to statements after 9:30 the sitatuation was out of control in Exarcheia district in Athens, as officers were assaulting citizens with batons, chemicals and tear gas. A 17 year old girl had a severe asthma attack when an officer sprayed an entire bottle of tear gass onto her face and was urgently transfered to the E.R.. The following footage shows a man left lying helpless in the middle of the street, after being beaten up by police officers who take off on their bikes
VICE issued the following press release:
‘A female VICE reporter has sustained injuries on her back and was pulled by her hair by riot police during the march. A little later, VICE journalist, Antonis Diniakos (who was in Exarcheia at the time along with the editor Thanasis Trompoukis and journalist Lefteris Bintelas), was attacked at Themistokleous and Soultani Street by officers of Delta Squad, who injured his knee and arm with their motorcycles. After they got off from the motorcycles, the four police officers assaulted him, by throwing him on the ground. At the same time, Delta Squad units were driving recklessly through the side streets in Exarcheia, intimidating locals returning to their homes and journalists covering the events. When a woman asked ‘What are these things you are doing?’ they replied with ‘We are going to fuck you bitch!’ and exposed their butons.
Members of the Anarcho-syndicalist Initiative Rocinante, were kettled early in the march for no apparent reason and were attacked with flashbangs and chemicals, while the police were particularly ferocious in using batons on younger members. According to a statement by Rocinante: ‘The obvious aim of the attack was to dissolve our bloc and to create panic which would escalate the tension and allow the police to justify its brutality as ‘necesssary’ for restoring the peace’. The unprovoked attack of riot police on protesters is shown in the following video.
Despite the attacks on protesters and journalists, individuals that did not participate in the march were also targeted by the police. An exchange student from Germany watching the march from afar was attacked by riot police despite, according to his statement, having his face uncovered and his hands in the air to prove he was not holding a weapon. While he was lying helpless on the ground, more officers came to ‘assist’ their colleague who had already caused injuries to the student. Moreover, riot police raided a small kiosk at the side of the road, while the employee who attempted to stop them from looting the store, was assaulted by a number of police officers using batons. There is footage of the incident in the following video.
Picture of the German student who was attacked by riot police
There is a long history of violence against political activists in Greece, resulting in the criminalisation of marxist and anarchist ideology, while governments and the justice system have maintained a very lenient treatment of perpetrators, since the beginning of democracy in the modern history of the country. By 1989 the state had gathered 16.5 million files on the political ideology of Greek people and despite their ‘destruction’ (1), penalisation based on political ideology still continues. This is evidenced in the recent case of Tassos Theofilou, an anarchist who was convicted to 20 years in prison for armed robbery, when his conviction was solemnly based on an ‘anonymous phonecall’ despite the lack of DNA, finger prints and witness recognition that could confirm his presence on the crime scene.
After the dismantlement of the fascist regime and the establishment of democracy in the country, New Democracy which was the new ruling party and member of the current coalition government, was supported by a considerable number of dictatorship participants, many of which were made government officials. Gradually, tactics were followed by political elites to create a flexible legal framework, protective of perpetrators of torture against anti-fascist activists who had struggled for democracy. These tactics, comprised of delayed prosecutions to the introduction of an unnecessary 1976 bill which set strict deadlines on the filing of lawsuits for torture. The new government, aimed at protecting ‘their own’ since 2/3 of the caseload of over 1000 incidents of torture against political activists were dismissed by the courts and only 49 individuals have ever been found guilty (2). In spite of that, many of those convicted, managed to avoid imprisonment for testifying against other perpetrators. The majority of the accused were able to maintain their positions as civil employees (in the police or the army).
Anti-fascist students during the uprising in Athens, 1973
The military force murders the uprising students at the Polytechnic School of Athens, 1973
The Greek state has perpetuated and intensified a militarized culture of policing and employed mass media to cultivate a general understanding that this kind of violence is ‘expected’ and ‘necessary’. The manipulation of public opinion through moral panics is a tactic commonly used to justify the incidence of police brutality against protesters. This is achieved by the presentation of lefist/anarchist activists as ‘extremists’ or ‘terrorizing the public’, the use of an ‘appropriate’ vocabulary during media commentary on the ‘dangerousness’ of protesting and the repetition of carefully selected imagery that criminalize the struggle against oppression. These create a fearful emotional response from the masses and act as mechanisms of dissociation from class consiousness and political activism. This ‘meaning’ created by mass media, surpasses its semiological significance as is transformed to a product for cultural consumption that shapes class identity, class-consciousness and class struggle itself.
However, the understanding of political activism and police brutality through the lens of mass media is problematic on three levels: first it is ahistotical, second the images are selected by those who work to preserve the interests of media moguls and third the political context that generates them is intentionally not included.
Officer from the Delta Squad lifts his baton to intimidate residents
East African scholar Wambui Mwangi wrote in a recent article: ‘All systems of oppression require daily iterations of an aggression that normalizes contempt towards the victims and creates a context in which more spectacular violence against the oppressed can occur.’ In Greece, riot police attacked protesters on a day that symbolizes uprising against oppression. The attack against unarmed protesters, journalists and passers-by acts both as a spectacle and as a means of inflicting a more severe form of violence: not one characterized by brute force, but one that exists in law reforms that have wrecked the country’s welfare state.
These reforms have increased suicide rates for women by 122% and for men by 24% in only 2 years. They have caused over 34% of the total population in Greece to live below the poverty level. They have worsened the living conditions of ethnic minorities as they constitute a stark 30% of those who resort to soup kitchens for their daily sustenance. They increased unemployment to a total 27% which extends to 52% for 25 year olds and under. Homelessness has increased by 25% since 2009. These conditions, are not portrayed as ‘violence’, as ‘terrorizing’ nor as ‘life-threatening’ by mass media, distorting the meaning of purely political events by branding them as ‘necessary measures’ for the economy. However, their effect can be measured in poverty, hunger and human lives.
Exarcheia district, a symbolic space of dissent and anti-fascism, was raided by riot police on Monday in an effort to repress political activism. Police brutality remains the tool by which the ruling elite controls the masses, until the masses can no longer be contained.
(1) Murtagh, P. (1994) The rape of Greece: The killing, the colonels and the resistance. London: Simon and Schuster
(2) Close, D.H. (2002) Greece since 1945: Politics, economy and society. London: Pearson.