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Matt's Greece Travel Blog

12/12/2008 Athens, Greece

The Continuing Story of the 'Revolution'

beautiful day for a demonstrationThe one thing missing from all these reports of the riots and demonstrations in Greece is any mention of how nice the weather has been. If the 'anarchists' had all gotten together before a rampage and prayed with all their hearts to God for good weather, and God actually answered their prayers, the weather could not be any nicer. Beautiful blue skies and puffy white clouds in the background of my photos of riot police facing off against rock throwing demonstrators. But if you get a newspaper that has a photo of Athens it will be a worried looking woman walking past burned out cars and rubble. What you don't see is the group of men standing nearby and smoking cigarettes, talking about the big football game the night before, or the old woman coming back from the market with her groceries, or the kids on their skateboards doing stunts, and the tourists and Athenians coming downtown to take their own Athens as a war-zone pictures while on the next street people are Christmas shopping. But the beautiful weather ended last night when it rained like hell and any anarchists on the streets discovered that rampaging in the rain is not as fun when Molotov cocktails don't stay lit and most of their pals are home because they don't want to catch a cold.

Yesterday there were some peaceful demonstrations, some that included students with their parents. In some scattered areas there were small groups of anarchists trying to antagonize the police, but this is normal for Athens and unless the cops shoot one, which it appears they have been ordered not to do, this 'revolution' may have played itself out. Of course this is now the weekend so there probably will be people attempting to instigate trouble in some of the areas where the kids go to listen to music and hang out, like Psiri and of course Exarchion, but the blind rage of last weekend has been pretty much dissipated. I actually went Christmas shopping and I have to go back today as soon as I finish this piece.

Amazing footage on television from last week of people breaking into stores and stealing cell phones or sun glasses and then setting the place on fire. There is a story circulating about a group who looted a shoe store downtown. But in Greece they only have one shoe on display and if you want to buy the pair then the shoe salesman goes into the back room and gets the mate. So these people had stolen 2000 left shoes. So the owner of the shop got on TV and offered to sell the looters the other right shoes for half price to whoever had stolen all the left shoes.

Athens Polytechnion, Dec 2008I went past the Polytechnic yesterday. Traffic lights were melted or smashed to smithereens and those that weren't were turned off. There was a policeman directing traffic at the intersection of Alexandras and Patission but beyond that you were on your own. It was kind of amazing how smoothly the traffic was going without the traffic lights. People drove more slowly and carefully and even waited at one intersection for me to cross instead of seeing if I could run faster than they could drive, which is more normal. Inside the gates of the school I could see students or anarchists mulling around. The walls were covered in graffiti and there were anti-police and anti-government banners hanging from the fences but this is nothing unusual. The shops directly across from the campus were being worked on, those that had their windows smashed. Some were not touched. Others were burned. There were several with for rent signs on them, either they were driven out by the events of last week and the possibility of more violence in the future or the fact that the economy is so bad so what is the point of going through the stress of being in the battle zone if you are not going to sell anything anyway? What kind of store would be successful in this area that did not sell rocks, bottles, rags and lighters I really don't know.

Andrea just called from the bus downtown which was diverted because of a demonstration by the University. I saw it on TV just now. No fighting, just your average every day Athens demonstration which the locals had grown tired of well before last week because it creates huge traffic jams and makes getting from one part of the city to another without using the metro very difficult. Thank goodness for the metro which enables us to zip beneath the unrest. Last night they had to close a couple stops though because of a confrontation with the usual rock and Molotov-cocktail throwing youths and the heavily protected riot police. Its sort of like a sport now and it seems that the police do have a plan of some sort. They get the demonstrators into these open areas where they can throw rocks, petrol bombs and tear gas at each other and damage little more than the streets and whoever was unlucky enough to park their car there.

In Monastiraki last night it was a strange feeling. On the one hand there was the big modern building that had been burned on Saturday night, and the hulks of the cars which have yet to be removed. Right next to it they are finishing up the new beautiful Monastiraki Square which has been behind fences and scaffolding for at least a year. As for the burnt out cars you may wonder why the municipal workers have left them. Its because the demonstrators asked them to in case they needed them for barricades against the police? Really, why ruin a perfectly good car in a barricade when you have these? This is urban warfare at its most civilized.

I stopped at the Hotel Attalos. It was almost empty. I think there were ten rooms full out of 64. Mr Zissis looked like he had lost 30 pounds in the last week. He had gone to an emergency meeting of the Greek Hotel Association and he said hotel owners were in tears. The hotels in Syntagma had people leave in droves after last weeks demonstration, but besides breaking windows and hunks of marble to use against the police, the hotels have not been a target. A reporter from the BBC supposedly reported that rioters attacked the Grand Bretagne but I think it more likely they were attacking the police who were stationed in front of the hotel. The Hotel Association debated about whether to make a statement condemning the violence but those hotels closest to the action were against making the statement because they were afraid that if they condemned the violence they might be attacked. But I can't overcome the impression that this is a fight between the leftists against the government and the police. Yes people went insane last weekend when news went out that the boy was shot, and they burned and looted anything within reach, and since many kids were in Psiri because that is where the clubs and bars are, they took it out on the nearest bank, which was on Ermou Street and some of the shops nearby. If nothing bad happens this weekend I think this area should be pretty safe. Especially for Christmas since even the most rabid anarchist still has a family to spend it with.

But I also get the feeling that the people on the street realize that all it will take is one New Democracy member of parliament to have seen enough and defect and the one seat ruling party majority is gone and the government will have to resign. They smell blood. If they can keep the chaos going, the government will fall, just like it did with their heroes at the Polytechnion in November of 1973.

Nov 17 1973 Athens PolytechnicBut the events which followed the crushing of the student rebellion in 73 have really been obscured by the mythology that has evolved since then. The mythology is that the student rebellion brought down the military junta and paved the way for democracy in Greece which in one sense is true. It was part of a series of events that did bring down the junta and restore democracy. But for those who were there, whether they were on the barricades or in their homes trying to get information in a time before cell phones and internet, when the television and radio was government controlled, the results of the siege were not so positive. Yes it brought down the military dictatorship of George Papadopoulos but replaced it with the dictatorship of Dimitrios Ioannides who had been head of the secret police and was even further to the right of the colonels. So far to the right in fact that they started a coup in Cyprus to depose Archbishop Makarios to unite Cyprus with Greece, which failed miserably. So miserably that the Turks invaded and partitioned the island. It was such a disaster that the Greek government collapsed and it was only then that Constantine Karamanlis (not this one- his uncle) was called back from exile in Paris and so began the "restoration of democracy". But the cost was paid by Cyprus which still remains divided today and there are still Greek-Cypriot refugees scattered around the world who along with those that remained on the island would tell you that the cost was too high. Still, once the deification of the Martyrs of the Polytechnion took hold, it did not make sense to let the truth of history get in the way. Yes the students were well intentioned and they were brave and they were heroes even though the events of November 17th 1973 just made things worse for everyone, especially Cyprus. Its a romantic idea that the Greek youth got together and destroyed tyranny on that day, but it simply did not happen that way. They got their heads bashed in, and some lost their lives, just so an even worse government could take over and make a mess of Cyprus.

But this is besides the point. To me they were heroes. They fought for freedom and many died for it. Without the events of Nov 17th things would have gone differently and though none can say how they would have gone or what would have happened if all of Greece had joined the rebellion those last couple nights, it did bring about change that led to the restoration of democracy in a roundabout way. But the important thing to remember about the student rebellion of 1973 is that unlike now, they never rampaged through Athens, destroying businesses and they never broke into shops and looted them and then burned them to destroy the evidence. That's not heroic or patriotic, only criminal. That's why even if the government falls and a great change comes over the country and corruption magically disappears it will still be hard to find someone to call a hero in this revolution.

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