There is a ritual to Greek rallies. They start out quiet, then get rowdy, and then violent. this ritual jumped gear when violence broke out before the rowdy stage as thousands marched against austerity in Athens during a general strike triggered by tomorrow’s parliamentary vote on some of the toughest economic measures in modern Greek history. Witnesses said it began on Filellinon street just after midday.
“Without any provocation riot police began firing off rounds of teargas,” said Fotis Fieris, a student holding a handkerchief to his mouth. “They fired and fired until we had to disperse.”
So ferocious was the volley that soon pungent smoke had wafted down through the alleys of Plaka, the ancient district beneath the Acropolis, sending teary-eyed tourists running for cover. By then, the action had moved to Syntagma Square, site of the Greek parliament and seat of the people’s assembly, the body behind the growing movement of “indignant citizens” that has been the focus of protests for the past month. Within minutes the square resembled a battlezone, plumes of acrid smoke rising from burning rubbish bins as youths in bandanas, hoods and crash helmets lobbed marble slabs, rocks, broken bits of pavement, incendiary devices – anything they could find – at police.
“Our aim,” said Pavlos Antonopoulos, a ponytailed teacher who had marched through Syntagma Square with thousands of trade unionists hours before, “is to demonstrate peacefully.
“If there is violence it may well be deliberately provoked because we have heard that the aim of the government is to clear the square before Wednesday’s vote on the measures. “That’s when we will fight the big battle, when we will try to blockade the parliament, when we will do everything humanly possible to stop parliamentarians voting through the measures.”
A new spirit is stalking Greece. Chaos, too, is also present amid power cuts (engineered by militant trade unionists protesting the partial privatization of the public power corporation), lawlessness and a growing sense that the debt-stricken country is not only headed for economic collapse but social disarray. Increasingly, Greeks fear there is no one to turn to, no leader or moral authority that they can trust. In the absence of hope, solidarity has grown.
Eighteen months after the crisis erupted and barely a year after Athens received €110bn (£99bn) in emergency loans, in exchange for draconian budget cuts and reforms, Greeks are united as never before in the battle against further austerity. Many believe the latest €28bn package of spending cuts, privatisations and tax increases – deemed vital if Greece is to secure further aid from the EU and IMF – will wipe out society’s great connector, the middle class. “After a year of austerity where have we got?” asked Antonopoulos, who in 1990 staged a 25-day hunger strike in an attempt to improve teachers’ rights and standards in schools.
“What have politicians done to earn this debt? We live in a country with no productive base, whose economy is in tatters, which after 30 years as a signed-up member of Europe has no infrastructure to speak of. That’s why we’re now demanding that the government goes, that the debt be written off and that Greece leaves the EU. Otherwise generations will be forced to live under a regime of austerity on the poverty line.”
from the guardian, uk