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October 9, 2012
October 9, 2012

Merkel in Athens

Author: Yannis Christodoulou Translator: Anna Papoutsi
Category: Protest
This article is also available in: elesfr
Merkel in Athens

In spite of the prohibitions and the Draconian security measures (7,000 police officers in service and “prohibition of gatherings of more than 3 people” in a large part of the centre until 22:00 o’clock) announced for the day of Merkel’s visit to Athens, tens of thousands of people managed to finally get to the, inaccessible by tube – because of the usual by now police order – Syntagma square. The neighbouring streets, from Syntagma to Thisseio, were infiltrated by secret police who were conducting strict stop-and-searches on passers-by. Besides, it was one of those times that the police authorities had officially announced that there would be preventive detentions throughout the day.

The main criterion for the stop-and-search was appearance; back-packs, “suspicious” looks, young age. Face control, that is. My sense was that it was pretty much a matter of luck for someone to manage to get that day to Syntagma –and of course a matter of looks and age.

The protesters began gathering early. At about 13:30, time of arrival at Syntagma of the head of the major opposition party, Alexis Tsipras, the gathered crowd was counting thousands and the detentions several dozens. Indicative was the detention of the entire block of the Network for the Political and Social Rights (!) in Exarchia, a block of high-school students and a member of Syriza[1]. A little after 14:30 the head of the march of PAME[2] arrived at Syntagma and for the first time united with the rest of the protesters.

Among the peculiarities of the day was the appearance of a naked British protester that began running naked in King George Street through riot policemen waving at the multitudes, a SUV “march” with protesters dressed up like Nazis officers, as well as the burning of the Nazi flag in front of the parliament.

At about 15:30, the first stun grenades were heard from the upper part of the square, when some protesters tried – even symbolically – to bring down the fence that the police had put up to restrict access to the side entrance of the Parliament. After a while, in front of the Great Britain Hotel the first clashes between protesters and police broke out, and the police made use of chemicals at the streets around the square. People were pushed towards Ermou and Mitropoleos St. A little after 17:00, numerous riot police forces invaded the square chasing away the remaining protesters in order to evacuate it. During the violent chase of protesters, the police made excessive use of chemicals and new riots broke out in the surrounding areas.

During the evacuation of the square operation, a protester was beaten and arrested; the police brought him to the Red Cross volunteers for the provision of first aids. From a video it seems that his head wounds were caused by the policemen themselves during the arrest and not because he was resisting.

Until 17:30 Syntagma square, Amalias St and the neighboring streets had been occupied by the riot police and the demonstration was breaking up. Final account: 220 detentions and 24 arrests.

Leaving Syntagma surrounded by a discouraged crowd on their way home, I wondered whether this terrorism and slew of prohibitions (for the enforcement of which a forgotten article from the Dictatorship period was used) had met their goals, which was to frighten people and prevent them from participating in the organised manifestations. I also wondered whether this whole operation had a pilot character, whether it functioned as an experiment for the Authorities to ‘poll’ people’s tolerance to prohibition, in the light of a “hard” winter. However, the experiment seems to have worked. I remembered that the first time – this time last year – I heard about closing down the tube stations “on police orders” I was surprised and outraged by the arbitrariness of this order; it sounded natural this time.

The last bitter aftertaste was waiting for me at home when I saw on the news the quiet stroll of the prime minister with Merkel in the curfewed streets of the centre while a few blocks apart stun grenades and protesters cries were sounding and I wondered whether in the police operation plan of the day, there had been a provision for a secret sound-proofing device.

[1] The left-wing party constituting the major opposition after the June 2012 election.
[2] The syndicate of the Communist Party

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Merkel in Athens by Yannis Christodoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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