“Molotovs, sticks, banners, slogans, clashes, road-blocks, demonstrations, bins, fires. Always finding itself in the middle of the action, our company became a target many times over and its walls turned into ’spaces for expression’ – the highlight being the torching alight of our building on Stournari Street!”
From a recent advertising campaign by Greece’s largest computing chain, December 2009
“The youth were right to take to the streets to protest the assassination of Grigoropoulos. The assassination hurt not only the victim’s family but the entire new generation, suffocating as it does, confronted with limited horizons [...] The event came to test many of our certainties and to mark our collective consciousness.”
Michalis Chrisochoidis, Minister of Citizen Protection and Head of the Greek Police, December 2009
The place is a friend’s house in Exarcheia. The time is December 6th, 2009, early in the morning – or so it feels. Last night’s late flight has certainly taken its toll on my sense of time. I wake up to the kind words of the Minister For Our Own Good mellowly coming through the TV set. I roll out of bed, still slightly confused. Someone slides an advertising leaflet for a multinational store under the door. “At these prices, you are practically looting us”. Funny, that: I still remember that store being very practically looted exactly one year ago. My friend walks in with the Sunday papers. This morning they have all come up with long and excited articles on last year’s December. Their magazines have dedicated glossy page after glossy page to those “wonderfully peculiar” days. Self-proclaimed experts of all sorts assure the readers that last December was quite something and reassure them that it was: Whatever happened back then is now (miraculously, it seems) over. This year it’s all safe. Phews all around. Finally, academics can organise their conferences on the new hot topic; corporate publishers can release shiny coffee table books with impressive, full-spread photos of burning and looting side-by-side with communiques from those days, wrapping it all up with a wonderfully discreet copyright note. How exciting is that photo, dear? How cool are those oh-so-angry words? The Christmas trade sky-rockets. Alexis died (just in time) for your festive sales season.
For a moment I am tempted to stay in, relax and enjoy the joyfully riotous spirit. For that tiny moment it feels as if we won last year, the Sunday papers remembering and documenting the Great Victory, the conference attendants hailing it. The dry sound of the police radio from the street hastily calls me back to reality. We dress quickly and take to the street. Soon we start seeing friends we haven’t seen in almost a year. “This morning I woke up to the smell of tear-gas and the sound of a police helicopter hovering over our flat”. Living in Exarcheia has turned into something quite different it feels. “The cops are just everywhere”. We begin to realise that some of last year’s familiar faces are missing. Many are tired. Some are scared, they tell us. Others just don’t like remembrance days. And yet a few hours later, thousands and thousands take to the streets, once more. Hundreds of kids pelt the riot cops with stones. A girl gets arrested a few meters away from us. Is she thirteen? Fourteen maybe? Later, motorcycle cops run over two people and a woman ends up in intensive care. I’m trying to picture the moment of her assault, frame after frame, in a two-page spread in next year’s coffee table book. It doesn’t seem to work.
The place is the exact point of the assassination, on the corner of Mesologiou and Tzavela Street in Exarcheia, Athens. The time is December 6th, 2009, late in the night, one year and a few hours past the moment when he was shot dead by the cops. Our spontaneous demonstration has just come to an end. Around one thousand of us gathered at the time of the killing, with no official call-out, no pre-planned demonstration and little but a need to remember and try (at the very least) to shatter the state of total control of the Minister For Our Own Good and his swine hordes. On that night, they are everywhere: every single street corner between where we are standing and the Polytechnic School is taken over by riot cop unit after riot cop unit. Many of us despair. We are never going to make it to the School. Suddenly, a few children start picking and emptying beer bottles from the ground. The oldest one cannot possibly be older than eleven, maybe twelve. He gives the word of command: “To the Polytechnic!” We are a bit puzzled. “Is there anything happening there right now?” He clings a bottle in each hand and starts banging one another. “Now, no. But something is about to happen”.
I have this strange impulsion to ask the kids if they read the papers this morning, to ask them if they’ll buying that hot new book for Christmas. I’m wondering what they think about it all, I’m trying to think where things are heading, how much longer this pervasive anti-cop rage can possibly last, where it could lead. But there is little time for any small talk. We follow them, past the first riot police unit. The cops look at each other, then take a step back. For a moment, a tiny moment, all the shiny books and magazines in the world feel so distant, the cops look so out-of-place, frail, insecure. Everything continues: at that moment, on that street corner, in the kids’ pockets where they swiftly shove the beer bottles, and walk on.
Inspired by the text “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”, written by flesh machine, ego te provoco and other comrades a few days before the revolt’s first annual anniversary, much more eloquently describing the Greek state’s strategy of counterinsurgency: http://www.occupiedlondon.org/blog/2009/12/04/136-just-a-spoonful-of-sugar-helps-the-medicine-go-down-flesh-machine-ego-te-provoco-comrades