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November 27, 2012
November 27, 2012

Greece: The timeline of a revolution, 2008-2012

Author: Anna Papoutsi Translator: Maria Floutsakou
Categories: On the crisis, Protest
This article is also available in: freselpt-pt
Greece: The timeline of a revolution, 2008-2012

The Christmas tree in Syntagma Square was burned down during the December 2008 riots

It all begins in 2008. The crisis has broken out in Europe but it seemed at the time as if it wasn’t concerning Greece…

On December 6th 2008 at Exarchia a policeman raises his gun and kills in cold blood the 15 year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos. The news spread through the city and within a few hours riots erupt as people spontaneously come out in angry protests.

A whole generation of teenagers, who until then seemed languid, came out in the streets to protest for the unjust loss of a 15 year old and end up politicised, self-organised and demanding much more; Justice, equal opportunities, some kind of a better future. These demands were embraced by people of all ages. This has been a social reaction capable to move people all over the world and become a symbol along with the cases of Rodney King (LA 1995) and Mark Duggan (London (2011).

These were the first uncertain steps of a movement in Greece which left an important legacy for the future.

In 2009, the financial crisis hits Greece in the most dramatic way and is in fact converted into a public debt crisis. G. Papandreou, uses K. Papoulias[1], in view of the Presidential election, to cause the fall of the incumbent right-wing government in a move that many consider a “parliamentary coup”. He declares that he will not support the renewal of Papoulias mandate as President of the Republic. However, on the 4th October 2009, right after winning the election with the unprecedented promise that “there is money[2]”, he shamelessly recommends Karolos Papoulias who does not seem to be bothered by this mockery, as President of the Republic. Besides, this is not the first time he is doing this family a favor… he was after all the one who “lent” the 10,000,000 drachmas to Andreas Papandreou for the so called Pink Villa[3] back in the 90s.

After 6 months of refutations and backstage games, in April 2010 Papandreou announces that Greece is resorting to the IMF, EU and ECB support mechanism.

The citizens, however, disagree and on May 5th 2010 a massive demonstration takes place in Athens with more than 150,000 people protesting against the austerity measures announced by the PM on May 2nd, which are now known as First Memorandum. The demonstration is marked by the tragic death of three people at the Stadiou branch of Marfin Bank. Many blame provocateurs, others black-hooded anarchists and protesters obstructing the firefighters. One thing is certain though: 2 ½ years later there has been no information on the identity of the perpetrators; those who burned 3 people alive and blocked the reaction of society at the exact moment when 172 MPs were voting in favour of the First Memorandum in order for Greece to borrow 110 billion Euros from the IMF and the ECB on burdensome terms. Estimates suggest that only Germany and only from this first loan has earned 400,000,000 Euros!

It took one year since the tragic events at the Marfin Bank for people to come out in the streets again and only under the peaceful calls of Aganaktismenoi (Occupy movement). The 25th of May 2011, under the influence of a buzz that in Spain there were banners saying “Shhhh, quiet, the Greeks are sleeping!”, constitutes the first gathering of Aganaktismenoi occupying Syntagma Square. Assemblies are taking place every day at 21.00, several working groups and services, such as the first aid station, are established. The persistence of Aganaktismenoi to non-violent protest really appeals to people, who seem to wake up from the inertness, overcome the disappointment caused by the First Memorandum and come out in the street more dynamically and massively than ever.

On June 15th 2011, the Syntagma Assembly decides to cordon the Parliament and prevent the MPs from entering and submitting the Medium Term Fiscal Strategy 2012-2015. The cordon of course fails and the crackdown is brutal. The riot and motorcycle police seem to be out of control and with unprecedented brutality attack protesters and journalists using excessive violence, chemical gases and stun grenades. This is however only a preview of what is to follow.

The real shift towards ruthless suppression and conspicuously autocratic and excessive violence comes on June 28th-29th 2011 during the two-day blockade of the Parliament to prevent the Medium Term Fiscal Strategy 2012-2015 from being voted. The same rash of repression is replicated while now it is obvious that there are specific orders to evacuate at any cost the square squat. Immediately after the announcement of the vote in favour of the Medium Term Fiscal Strategy 2012-2015, police attacks the demonstrators in order to push them away from the square. Despite the desperate attempts of the police, the square is reoccupied the very same evening, is cleaned and assemblies take place as normal from the following day.

That June was a milestone for police repression. Those who are experienced realise the occurring shift. It is now obvious that the government has decided to use repression and police force and violence in order to curve social reaction. That is why it is so overt and so needlessly and without reason excessive. The discussion about violence now starts and the majority of people, due to their active participation begin to understand the conditions that give rise to violence in demonstrations.

Autumn finds people without the Aganaktismenoi movement because the government, in close cooperation with the Mayor of Athens, taking advantage of the summer indolence, has dismantled by force the occupation of Syntagma Square. There is an absurd tranquility despite the recession and poverty. On October 19th-20th 2011 a new 48-hour strike is organised. Demonstrations are massive. PAME protests alone as always but for the first time they remain in front of the Parliament. In a move that justifies the label KNAT[4] the helmeted protection cordon of the Communist Party prevents other protesters from approaching the Parliament. The heat results in fierce clashes between protesters and PAME. The second day of the strike, although the incidents of the previous day did not happen again, is marked by the death of one PAME unionist from a heart attack.

Among announcements for a referendum and threats of expulsion from the EU, resistance once again subsides as people seem to be literally stunned. The submission, however, of the second Memorandum by the non-elected government of Papadimos brings again people out in the streets on February 12th 2012 in the largest gathering of recent years. Foreign media are talking about 1,000,000 protesters! However, 199 MPs vote in favour the memorandum and Athens is burning. Brutal police crackdown and widespread clashes between protesters and police result in a gloomy report for the city. However, the mourning for the burned banks and cinemas is greater than the one for the voting of the second Memorandum which seals the country’s fate.

As of then and until today, almost no massive protests are recorded and the few ones that take place are weak. Same old thing, a sort of routine, some would say: on September 26th 2012, October 9th 2012, October 18th 2012, November 6th-7th 2012, which is when 153 MPs decide to mortgage the last infrastructures of the country by voting in favour of the Third Memorandum.

The worst moment is the attempt of a concerted strike in Europe on November 14th 2012. The GSEE and ADEDY call for a deplorable 3-hour walk-out and an even more pathetic demonstration the same time that in Spain and Portugal the streets are flooded by millions of people.

The paradox is that the deeper the recession and the worse the life conditions and prospects of most people, the weaker the protests for some reason. Certainly there are people who have only demonstrated their opposition by spewing aphorisms and indecencies from the comfort of their couch between advertisements. I cannot speak for them even though I can make a guess of what is stopping them. But I feel the need to understand the reason that stops those who protested last year but do not anymore.

The absence of Aganaktismenoi plays a significant role. The occupation of Syntagma Square and the daily assemblies gave people a sense of belonging and safety making them not leave the square during demonstrations. It is now obvious that even those who insist on going to demonstrations, whether these result in riots or not, are not willing to stay and fight.

What worsens the situation is a general feeling of tiredness, resignation and inability to react that stems from the failure of the reactions during the past 2 years. This sense of futility is omnipresent in all discussions before and after the demonstrations.

Finally, the excessive violence, the conspicuous repression and the sense that the police is no longer controlled by anyone terrifies people. This feeling of insecurity is exacerbated by the violence of the neo-Nazi criminal organization Golden Dawn, whose path was paved by the extreme-right wing discourse of both the current and the previous government and the media, as well as the police who has been supporting them for years. People are closed and entrenched in their own small world and becoming thus less citizens…

The spring and summer of 2011 was a real spring for the movements in Greece –and the whole world– but since then people have not come back so massively to fight in the streets. I hope that February of 2012 was not the swan song…


[1] Carolos Papoulias has been the President of the Greek Republic since 2005. He is a former member of Pasok and has a very close relationship to the Papandreou family.

[2] Implying that the country possesses funds in order to overcome the crisis.

[3] The pink villa is a 532m² house in one of the most expensive areas of Athens, build by Andreas Papandreou in 1993 for him and his new wife (ex stewardess) Mimi Liani. His divorce and the extremely expensive house created a great scandal at the time.

[4] This word is made up two different words: MAT, which is the riot police, and KNE, which is the youth of the communist party and refers to the ambiguous role that this youth has played in the 80s and 90s during protests in Athens.

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Greece: The timeline of a revolution, 2008-2012 by Anna Papoutsi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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