Posts Tagged ‘police violence’

The right to disobedience (or Of Greece’s squats)

In News on January 10, 2013 at 1:49 pm

In December 2012, Hellenic police evicted squatters in the Villa Amalias building in central Athens, located at the crossing of Acharnon and Heyden str. The building belongs to the Hellenic Schools Buildings Organisation. The squat has been going on for 22 years. On 9 January 2012, the squatters re-occupied the villa (video) and the police arrested them. They are taken to court today, 10 January.

Later on 9 January, Hellenic police raided a second squat, located at the crossing of 61 Patission ave. and Skaramaga str., the Skaramaga squat. This building belongs to the Sailors’ Pension Fund (NAT) and had remained empty for 10 years. The squat began in 2009. Here are pictures from the squat in the building, which includes a bike workshop, a dance room, a library, a sewing workshop and a rock climbing training board.

Greek mainstream media are framing the issue as if the squats were army headquarters for terrorists, with one journalist caught live calling the squatters “little shits” (video in Greek). The main angle adopted by mainstream journalists is that the squatters had no right to be in the building(s) in the first place, that this is illegal and that the squatters are destroying these neighbourhoods and the buildings.

Naturally, there are many who are convinced by the “legal” argument. Now, here are some other facts:

George Papaconstantinou is an ex-Finance  Minister who has been accused of manipulating the so-called Lagarde list, a catalogue of Greeks that hold accounts in Switzerland (and could be tax evaders) and removing the names of members of his family (more here). He has not been arrested.

Meanwhile, Greeks are called upon to pay exorbitant taxes each year, additional taxes, leading many to poverty, migration or homelessness.

In addition, there have been hundreds of incidents which implicates the police in exercising unwarranted and excessive violence to demonstrators and to immigrants – the latest one today by BBC (here and here) . These are often not investigated and if they are, it is after years. The Minister for Public Order, Nikos Dendias has promised to look into the issue but no progress has been made (more here).

One can support or not the squatters.

But there comes a point where you have to take a stand.

And in Greece 2013, you can either be with the current government or against it.

All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable.

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience (1849)


Greece and the Shock Doctrine

In News on February 15, 2012 at 11:54 pm

In the weekend leading to Sunday 12 February 2012, Greek politicians were debating the necessity of the latest austerity package. The austerity plan was to be approved, as a condition for Greece to receive a second-bailout package by the IMF-EU of €130 billion and to a debt restructuring. The majority of the Greek people are against further austerity measures, which come on top of previous tax increases and public spending cuts. The government knows this and is defying the will of the people.

According the Greek government, represented by appointed and unelected Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and its ministers:

  •  The dilemma facing Greece is “austerity package” versus “leaving the eurozone” – no middle ground exists
  • “Leaving the Eurozone” would entail social and economic disaster, which would see Greece’s standard of living reduced to that of thirty, forty, fifty years (number vary, depending on the emotional state of minister/speaker)
  • As a result, the austerity measures are the “only alternative” to a catastrophic default (more about this here) and should be approved, as it is the only way for the country’s growth and prosperity.

The facts:

  • The bailout package is a loan  and most of its funds will be used to pay previous loans.
  • In line with the neo-liberal agenda of the previous memorandum, the austerity plan foresees: reductions by 22% of the national minimum wage to €600 per month (before social security payments); Employees made easier to be fired (these two measures are known in neo-liberal-speak “reform of the labour market”; Reduction in the supplementary pensions; Reduction in public health expenditure
  • Greece is now in the 5th year of recession, starting in 2008. Its unemployment levels have reached 21%, with youth unemployment at 48%.

During the ten-hour debate in parliament, there was a large demonstration in Athens and other cities of Greece. In Athens, the riot police kept trying to push protestors outside Syntagma Square (where the Greek Parliament stands) and was throwing tear-gas, unprovoked, to  peaceful demonstrators. At some point, riots erupted which ended up in looting and fires across Athens during the night.

In the early hours of Monday 13 February 2012, the Greek parliament approved the austerity plan, with 199 out of 283 votes.

The mainstream media in Greece focused on the destructions that followed the demonstration; the violence; the fire in a historic theatre “Attikon” in Athens; the fact that the Greek government needs to implement harsher measures to gain its lenders’ credibility; the reactions of European officials to the result of the vote.

Not a word was said in the Greek mainstream media about the size of the demonstration, not a word about the fact that demonstrators were shouting “We are not leaving” amidst clouds of tear gas. Not one commentator questioned the legitimacy of the government or even bothered to wonder aloud whether this demonstration was any different from previous ones.

Over the past two years, the Greek people are being bombarded by mainstream media with falsified information that Greece is on the “brink of disaster”, scare-mongering speeches by their politicians about the future of the country, insulting comments from foreign commentators and politicians about Greeks and their “overspending”. Over the past two years, the Greek parliament passes law after law, entailing cuts, tax increases, and anti-social measures at great speed, before it has any time to recover.

Sunday’s events were no exception to this pattern. Is there anyone who still thinks Greece is not under the Shock Doctrine?

Athens, Greece a.k.a. Tripoli, Libya

In News on July 1, 2011 at 2:21 pm

On 29 and 30 June, Greece’s parliament voted in favour of the austerity programme requested y its creditors and then passed a second vote on a law which was needed in order to implement its austerity programme. On 29 June, the centre of Athens was the stage for riots and violent protests, the air was toxic from the extensive of tear gas and police brutality reached unprecedented levels against demonstrators.

On 30 June, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou hailed the second vote as “a crucial step” for Greece. The Financial Times reported that “Greece cleared the way for fresh international financial aid to avert a damaging default”. The EU welcomed the approval of the implementing legislation for the economic programme, as a “decisive step Greece needed to take in order to return to a sustainable path” and “act of national responsibility”.

As European and national leaders sighed with relief, Greek citizens at the centre of Athens could not breathe. The atmosphere had been unbearable following the riot police’s extensive use of tear gas. According to eye witnesses and street reports, the brutality shown by the riot police on 29 June against demonstrators was unprecedented and unprovoked.

Members of the riot police were captured on video terrorizing passers-by on Mitropoleos street off Syntagma (Constitution) Square, as they cruised on motorbikes at high speed. They were reported to have handled violently any arrest or identity check, and damaging people’s personal belongings. They were repeatedly photographed holding marble rocks to throw at protesters. They were reported and photographed hitting journalists, photographers, and demonstrators. They were recorded on cameras throwing tear gas at the entrance of metro station at the Syntagma Square (a video from the inside of the metro station and one from the outside, where a member of  the police hits demonstrators). They were seen throwing tear gas and inside coffee shops, a journalist  from Greek SKAI TV station reported. In this video, they are attacking demonstrators without any provocation outside Hilton hotel, while in this one, a member of the police hits a demonstrator right after the latter has asked him not to (its at 0.06′)

According to Greek journalist George Avgeropoulos, around 1.30pm the police started firing tear gas and pushing the crowds towards the centre of Syntagma square, without any provocation at all from demonstrators. On his video footage, doctors report how the police fired tear gas in the emergency room in the metro Syntagma square, while they were providing first aid services to demonstrators. George Avgeropoulos comments that “it was a miracle that nobody lost his life”.

According to the news website Protothema, the police had clear orders to break the bulk of the demonstration on Syntagma Square at any cost. Where “at any cost” presumably means disregarding the damaging effect of tear gas on people’s health (which could appear at later stages in their lives), violating human rights, and using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators and citizens, whom the state is supposed to protect.

Amnesty International has in the past urged the Greek government not to use excessive force during protests. In its latest press releases, it reports that on 29 June there was “repeated use of excessive force by police […] , including the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of tear gas and other chemicals against largely peaceful protesters”. Eye witnesses and demonstrators report that the tear gas that was thrown by the police was very potent, creating not just the usual runny eyes, but a burning effect on the skin, as well as serious breathing difficulties. There are some who claim that what the police used was toxic gas, which is even forbidden at times of war ( a picture of a tear gas can be found here), while the president of the Athens Medical Association, George Patoulis reports that the tear gas used by police expired in 1979.

When European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen was asked to comment on the excessive force of state authorities in Athens and whether the member of the troika had any responsibility, she replied that while a manifestation of violence is unacceptable, this was the responsibility of the Greek authorities and the Commission was not authorized to comment.

Right, just as Western leaders did not comment on the brutality used by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi ‘s regime against its own people for thirty years till up to a few months ago.

P.S. More pictures from the demonstration can be found here and here.

P.P.S. A big Thank You to everyone who took and uploaded these pics and videos.

A day of no surprises

In News on June 29, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Today at 2pm (UK time), the Greek parliament voted in favour of the austerity measures, which are requested by the EU and the IMF as a condition to release the next instalment of the €110 billion bail-out that Greece received in May 2010. Without this payment, Greece would probably have to default on debt payments due on 15 July (the alternative would be to borrow from the international markets at very, very high rates).

In the 300-seat parliament, 155 MPs voted in favour and 138 against. In the run-up to the vote, members of the Greek government and administrators, as well as European officials have made dramatic political statements to heighten the sense of urgency and stress the need for an approval of the measures by the Greek parliament. George Provopoulos, governor of Greece’s central bank, said that a “no” vote would be suicide. The president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy said “the impact of the Greek vote would be felt worldwide said”, while the economics Commissioner Olli Rehn said that Greece has two options “pass the mid-term package or default”. While Christine Lagarde, the new head of the International Monetary Fund, called on the Greek opposition party (New Democracy) to support the government in pushing through a new austerity plan. Finally, the deputy prime minister Theodoros Pangalos, continuing his dangerous scare propaganda declared: “A return to the drachma would mean that on the following day banks would be surrounded by terrified people trying to withdraw their money, the army would have to protect them with tanks because there would not be enough police.”[1]

However, anyone who knows the Greek political scene, knows that there was never an really issue of a “no” vote. Party discipline has been at the heart of the Greek political system and the new Socialist government secured a majority of 155 MPs out of the 300 parliament seats last Wednesday. There were really no surprises there. The only surprise today was a negative vote by a Socialist MP (Panagiotis Kourouplis, who was immediately expelled from the socialist party as a result). However, this was matched by a positive vote by Ms Elsa Papadimitriou, MP of the opposition New Democracy party (again, officially no longer belong to the New Democracy party whose official line was against the measure).

As the MPs were voting inside the parliament, there were violent clashes outside the parliament building in Syntagma (Constitution) Square. This is the second day of violent clashes, following yesterday’s demonstration and violence, as there is a nationwide 48-hour strike in opposition to the measures. According to eye witnesses, there was a unprecedented use of tear and gas stun/smoke grenades by the riot police, which created a cloud of chemicals in the centre of Athens, making it impossible for anyone to breathe. According to reports from the Red cross tent at Syntagma Square, there were over 100 people with respiration problems and 40 injured (burn, bruises etc). The riot police used tear gas indistinctively, targeting demonstrators (there were reports from a SKAI journalist that tear gas was fired within a coffee shop), as well as journalists and reporters.

What followed was the usual cat-and-mouse game, played by the riot police and the “hooded” rioters who threw sticks, stones and self-made bombs. There were some arrests and some people ended up in the hospital. The people in the hoods who caused the violence were not arrested. Riot police in Greece is well-known for its lack of training, absence of professionalism, aggressive arrests, abuse of power in general and excessive use of tear gas and den bombs. So again, no surprises there.

The Greek parliament’s approval of the austerity measures was welcomed by European leaders who sighed with relief and markets picked up. According to the common statement issues by the Presidents of the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, “the country has taken an important step forward […] but also a vital step back – from the very grave scenario of default”. Again, no surprises there.

[1] Anyone how knows about the military dictatorship in Greece (1967-1974) knows about the tank which run over the entrance of the National Technical University of Athens killing  Greek students in 1973, and can understand that this statement will deeply anger many Greeks and that such words are simply fuelling an already very tense social situation in Greece.