Posts tagged ‘Syntagma Square’

The 19-20 October protests a turning point

The two day protests (19-20 October) of the Greek working people constitute a landmark in modern Greek history. The protests of October have fundamental differences from the protests of last summer.

In spite of the Government’s hopes, the doubts of the right wing opposition, the hesitation of the new left and the downright skepticism of the Communist party Syntagma Square continued to attract anti-austerity protesters. It is true that it was a completely uncoordinated crowd: from the nationalist wing to the apolitical, self-serving taxi drivers, from the unemployed to the civil servants, from the extreme right wing to the rebellious students, from the General Confederation of Greek workers to the shop keepers union. All these groups were brought together by their inability to survive under the austerity measures and the heavy and unjust taxation imposed in the name of “national salvation”.

This rising, heterogeneous movement was headless. The new factor in this uprising is that the Communist party of Greece decided to claim the hegemony of the movement. PAME, a Unionist Front by its own definition, the Communist party’s expression in the union movement, stated their decision to protest in Syntagma Square on the 19th and to take part in the Parliament siege on the 20th. This announcement was hailed as positive by the majority of the other groups of the movement since it would reinforce the common struggle. What was not immediately clear was that PAME considered the Square as its own grounds and did not take kindly, to say the least, to other forces, like the “DEN PLIRONO” ( “I don’t pay movement”)demonstrating next to them.

This attitude is not new in the purist attitude of the Communist Party of Greece. Their protests and marches are always strictly organized and separate from the other forces in order to protect them from agents provocateurs. The Syntagma Square crowd is something unknown to them. The clashes were inevitable and when the hooded so-called anarchists tried to go through the PAME ranks to reach the Parliament a full assault developed. The police stayed back, throwing tear gas and chemicals only when directly attacked.

The outcome of a few hours of generalized street fighting was one of the PAME protesters dead and several others injured.

On the political level the great loss was that the focus was turned away from the real issue, the voting of the new austerity measures in Parliament, to the fights outside it.

The only casualty in Parliament was Ms Luca Katseli, former Finance Minister, who voted against article 37 of the new law and was ousted from the PASOK Parliamentary group.

Revolutions cannot be square – but Squares can give birth to revolutions

The enraged of Pyrgos - capital of the province of ancient Olympia

The enraged of Pyrgos - capital of the province of ancient Olympia

In its 45 days of existence the Syntagma Square “enraged protest” is doing remarkably well. This must be seen in conjunction with the heat wave that has been going on since yesterday with temperatures reaching 38+ degrees. But what is more remarkable is the speed with which this spontaneous movement is spreading in Athens neighbourhoods while it has already done so to almost all the provincial towns.
Greek citizens are reclaiming the public space of the Squares to discuss their situation, make proposals, listen to economists and debate but also show solidarity to fellow citizens: in addition to the free meals served in Church Halls but provided by the congregation, they organize groups to help with the kids of working parents, teachers give extra lessons to weaker and poorer kids for free , well known singers and bands play at free concerts and so on.
From Thessaloniki to Heraklion in Crete, from Lamia to Patras the Squares are meeting and coordinating their actions. While it all started from the Spanish indignados through the internet and sms messages now it has reached all ages. According to one of the enraged I spoke to “the worst case is the crazy fifty years old: they are not only struggling for themselves but for their kids and their future”.

Greece in (hot) turmoil

Temperatures are rising in Greece. The thermometer in my balcony shows 33 degrees in the shade!! The political thermometer is reaching unprecedented temperatures too. PASOK members of Parliament claim that they are attacked and humiliated whenever they go into public. The Government blames the left for these incidents but noone is convinced.

Mr. Athanassiadis, Member of Parliament for PASOK, claimed that he decided to vote for the 2nd Memorandum despite his doubts and criticism because he was threatened over the phone!!! His claims have not been investigated so far.

All this is going on during a period of high unemployment, precarious working conditions for the majority of the people and a continuously changing tax system. A retired civil servant confessed to me: “I do not even know what my pension amounts to anymore.They keep cutting a bit here for solidarity assistance to the unemployed and a few Euros there because some of the benefits that I paid for are now considered redundant!! I am too old to immigrate otherwise…”

Needless to say that the younger generation is leaving the country en masse. Some of the older ones who were studying abroad are now staying on and helping the new arrivals. Worse is expected as from September when the private sector will also be hit, when schools will open and parents will be forced to face more expenses together with more strikes since both University and High School teachers are up at arms against the education reform.

In the meantime, the Syntagma Square “enraged” are organising a coordination meeting with the Assemblies of other squares in Athens’neighbourhoods and other towns all over Greece. 8 and 9 July they will meet in Syntagma under the shadow of the Municipality’s request that they evacuate the Square.

At a time when normally people would be discussing their holidays now they get organised to visit their families in the village or their friends who have a seaside house since they cannot afford hotels anymore.

On the other hand, the open air cinemas have started working, providing a much needed relaxation; new take away cafes are operating on the beaches where you purchase your coffee and drink it walking by the seaside.

The silver lining in this cloudy atmosphere is that the majority of the citizens is becoming aware of the corruption of the ruling parties and the way they and their needs have been exploited.

Spanish solidarity to Syntagma Square protesters

Sunday 26 June was one more day of all European strikes against the financial crisis. In Syntagma Square, despite the oppressive heat, a couple of thousands were already true to the 7pm appointment.
Nevertheless there is a slight change in the air. Somehow, things are more organized: in the center of the Square a young Catalan singer is expressing her solidarity to the Greeks’struggle against the one-sided way the Government is dealing with the crisis.

On the marble stairs a group of youths is discussing participation to the general 48 hours strike of tomorrow and how to coordinate it with the Syntagma Protesters. The “enraged” of Athens will stay on the Square for two days too but for their own reasons: the new and harsher austerity measures are being discussed and voted in Parliament in the next 48 hours. Even if they do get voted at least the working people want to express their disagreement in the most positive and peacefully loud way possible.
There are also more social movements present and in the “gender area” a group of feminists have organized a participative happening dedicated to sexual harassment in the work place. Men ask to give their opinions and they are listened to attentively. A banner stating “we are all maids” looms in the background

The Unions have put up their banners and there are some people who claim that their banners were torn during the night.
I have to leave at about 9 o’clock and miss the bands that will play later.
The Syntagma Square protesters are alive and well and living in Athens. It is about time the mainstream media “discovered” their existence and gave them a voice…..

The Syntagma peaceful revolution is one month old

Temperatures rose today in Syntagma Square not only due to the heat. The security forces unions marched from Kolokotroni Square to Syntagma carrying banners against the Mnemonium and the austerity measures it brings with it.

The uniformed policemen, firemen and port guards accompanied by their families stayed at the bottom part of the Square chanting “Take your mnemonium and get out of here”.

At the same time a discussion on “what happens afterwards” was taking place on the Square itself and on the top part a large group was shouting “thieves”.

On the stairs a group of students and other youths is trying to coordinate the activities on the day (28 June) the 2nd Mnemonium will go to Parliament for ratification. A 48 hour general strike is being called for 28 and 29 June 2011.

The Square has a birthday tomorrow, it becomes one month old!!! Nobody knows what will come out of it but the people’s insistence, patience, peaceful gatherings and their search for a collective solution can only have good results.

Greece – how to dismantle a country in less than 2 years

In addition to the daily rallies in Syntagma Square Greek citizens are now facing the daily strikes report.
In reply to the privatization plans of the Greek Government the union of the public utility Electric power company (DEH – public electricity company) is debating whether it will go on a 48 hour strike. You can imagine what this means in the summer season when demands for energy are much higher. On the other hand, the General Confederation of Greek workers –both public and private sectors-have called a general strike for the 15th of June. On the same day there will be a strike of doctors and Mass Media employees.
Undeterred by all this Mr. Papakonstantinou, finance Minister, goes on planning cuts and taxes limited to the lower income part of the population, already badly hit by unemployment and poverty.
In Thessaloniki progressive Mayor Boutaris refused to allow Mikis Theodorakis, the best known Greek composer of today, to organize a rally in Plateia Aristotelous (Aristotle’s Square)!. Needless to say that Theodorakis went, 10.000 people gathered and the Square was taken over peacefully but “unlawfully”.
Today Saturday 11 June 2011 is the first day of a long weekend and the eve of an important religious holiday. Let us hope that we shall have an epiphany!!

The Athens protest – Syntagma Square throbbing with people

True to my decision to be part of the all European call to the Squares I was on the tram to Syntagma Square at five o’clock. It was a wise choice since the next tram stopped about 500 meters away from the terminal.
The sweltering heat has not prevented the people from flooding Syntagma Square by any means: on bikes, hooting, on bicycles, by metro and buses, before they stopped their regular services, and hundreds on foot after disembarking at the nearest possible spot.
The people walk and talk: “ I had two jobs, I lost the one three months ago and the other one yesterday. As from today I am living on my savings. What will happen next? I’ll have to sell my house. And then? How do they expect to get paid if we cannot afford living?”,confides a fortyish man, whose friends shake their heads in silent agreement. A middle aged woman adds “I come here everyday. Not for myself only, for my children and my children’s children. I don’t know what will come of it but I am so desperate that I keep coming just to be present and be counted.” The stickers on their shirts are all the same: “We do not owe, we do not sell, we do not pay”, a slogan by the trade unions which has caught the people’s fancy.
A new dimension on the Square is the presence of TV crews, cameras and all. The enraged of Athens are particularly furious with the national and private channels which have largely ignored their mobilization and the TV vans have no sign of the station they represent.
Today the Square is covered by a variety of flags: the whole of Europe is amply represented but there are also a lot of North African countries flags with a banner stating “Tahir Square greets Syntagma Square”. Further on Turkish flags, an Argentinian flag (there was also a solidarity message from Buenos Ayres) and a solitary South African flag amid the sea of Greek flags. But there are also more personalized “flags” : a red helicopter and the very eloquent “oust” !
“Tonight it is time for the citizens to talk” states another banner but slowly the heat becomes unbearable. An iced coffee and many glasses of water later the coffee shop has turned one big crowd with everyone adding comments, exchanging news they receive over the cell phones and taking part in what is happening on the Square: a hand made gallows is carried to the center and we all clap, then the whistles start blowing and we extend open palms towards the Parliament Building. The gesture, unknown to the rest of Europe, means “get lost you low life”, translated loosely.
The police force has limited its activities to cutting off any approach to the Parliament Building. Citizens walking towards Syntagma Square found themselves diverted to another direction which would add at least 10 minutes walk to their already long hike. There was no violence only due to the citizens’ restraint and extreme maturity. In fact, because there is fear of provocation, the protesters have a “group of keeping cool”!!!
The number of people is amazing, the spirit and the dynamism exhibited by the participants are amazing and unprecedented. Believe me, I have been to a lot of demonstrations. One could only compare with the rallies after the fall of the military dictatorship. The estimation is over 200.000 people.