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I am angry. I am angry with myself, first and foremost, because I was naïve. On the huge demonstration last Sunday in Athens, at Syntagma Square, there were two great Greeks, one of whom you might actually have heard of, who still fight for freedom and justice in this country despite their combined 177 years of age.

One of these Greeks is Mikis Theodorakis, made famous for putting Odysseas Elytis’ immortal words into music and turning them into weapons of spiritual resistance against the military junta of Greece (1967-1974). The other is Manolis Glezos, who as a young man on May 1941 tore down the Nazi swastika flag from the sacred mound of Acropolis, together with Apostolos Santas. It had barely been flying for a month.

I was naïve enough to believe that, because they were there, the police would refrain from wanton use of tear gas. I thought that the powers that be would wait before unleashing their well-known agent provocateurs, who are always used to cause riots and break up peaceful demonstrations. I thought that the authorities would have the decency to let these two honoured Greeks depart before they set their plans into motion.

My naiveté was dispelled early and brutally upon reaching the rear side of the Parliament and found the first of many riot police blocks. The first of many tear gas bombs also went off at that time. The protest on the square was peaceful. Allegedly, the riot police started launching tear gas once a small group of people threw some fruit at the Parliament building.

I could not see all that, of course. There was no way through. I only heard Mikis’ music that was being played over loudspeakers cut short once the first bangs were heard. The mass of people was unbelievable. It quickly became hard to breathe. For the next 2 ½ hours, even as much as a kilometer away from Syntagma, there was barely a spot with clean air.

I found out, the hard way, the reason why protesters set garbage bins on fire during times such as these. Up to now, I thought it was just vandalism. At the tender age of 37, I learnt that fire drives the tear gas away. It was one bit of knowledge I could have lived without. But our precious politicians have made it their life’s goal to teach us many things.

Such as how to live on a 400 Euro pension, pay taxes from it, pay your rent or additional property tax, and buy your medicine and food. Despite the fact that we pay for our bare necessities as much, or more, than Germans do. Very few pensioners in Greece can afford petrol for central heating these days. Unless, of course, they’ve served two terms as MPs.

I saw a young girl shouting at the police. “Why do you stand up for them? Your wages too will be cut to nothing next month!” She might as well be screaming at the Unknown soldier statue in front of the Parliament. I believe firmly that once the riot police don their armour, their higher brain functions altogether cease.

How else could anyone spray tear gas right on the face of a 90 year old man? Regardless if the victim is a hero of the Resistance or an Unknown pensioner fighting to survive the new Greco-German occupation.

I had to lift my turtle neck, the only protection measure I had brought with me, all the way up to my ears. Looking like that, like many of the protesters wrapped in scarves or wearing medical masks, it was difficult to tell if I was part of the usual hooded rioters or not.

It matters little. I don’t believe in violence, unless as a last resort. I have the feeling, though, that more and more of my fellow Greeks are thinking that this “last resort” time is fast approaching. If you have children and/or mortgages to pay this latest (but not last) batch of brutal measures will almost surely throw you on the ropes.

Many people, well-to-do people with jobs and good homes, are now losing everything. At the same time, the MPs voting for the new memorandum were sitting leisurely during the protest watching football in the Parliament cafeteria. You see, the voting was a lengthy process and many of the 199 who voted “aye” had no time to hear about how the people, whom they are supposed to serve, will starve.

Athens went up in flames last Sunday. There was looting, and clashes with the police went on for hours. However, all that cannot be blamed on the 800.000 – 1.000.000 citizens who participated in what was meant to be a peaceful protest, but was drowned in tear gas canisters and flames.

Some arson and looting targets were almost certainly planned beforehand. There are reports of people casing jewellery stores and blackmailing shop owners earlier in the same week. Several buildings, banks and department stores mostly, were torched by others as symbols of capitalism and the debt crisis. When total chaos reigns, it is impossible to tell who burned what and for what reason.

The truth is, however, that the extensive police blockades seriously hindered access of the Fire Department vehicles into the area of the city centre. Many news outlets, of course, blamed the protesters instead.

It is a great shame when historic buildings and properties burn. It is even more shameful that people who have been working all their lives and have paid for their pensions are now unable to sustain themselves, that real-life Greek heroes are brutalized because they dare to fight for their ideals, even in their twilight years.

The silver lining in these dark clouds is that people are rediscovering their solidarity. Total strangers would rub cream around your eyes or spray them with water to drive the tears away. When you fill your life with consumer goods, there is little room for that sentiment. But it is the only thing that will see us through. And it is the main thing, apart from honesty, that our politicians sorely lack.

Mind you, we are not done here. We are only just beginning.

Intermission #3

 

Odysseas Elytis is, without doubt, one of the most important poets of the 20th century and when Mikis Theodorakis put his words to music he imprinted them indelibly onto the Greek consciousness during the hard years of the military junta. The original, definitive version sung by the great Grigoris Bithikotsis might sound dated to those not familiar with the song, so I picked this version by our greatest rock singer, Vassilis Papakonstantinou. Bear in mind that Elytis’ poems are notoriously hard to translate and this translation does in no way do justice to the original.

Lone is the swallow and costly is the Spring,

For the sun to turn it takes a lot of toil,

It takes thousands dying at the wheels,

It takes the living to shed their own blood.

God my Master Crafter, You built me into the mountains,

God my Master Crafter, You enclosed me in the sea!

The body of May by mages it was stolen,

They buried it in a tomb of the sea,

In a deep well they have sealed it,

Its scent fills the darkness and all of the Abyss.

God my Master Crafter, You too among the Easter lilacs,

God my Master Crafter, You smelled the Resurrection.

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3 Comments

  1. Hello, my Name is Amparo Mejias. I usually do documentarys and the moment I am participating in a Research Workshop for Journalism. I am looking for an activist in Greece, somebody , who could explain me the point of view of the demonstrating people in a ten minutes interview in skype. Would you like to take part? We should film tomorrow or thursday. Thank you very much, and my best wishes

    • Dear Amparo, I hope my interview was interesting, at least Alexandra seems to think that it was. Looking forward to your feedback from the presentation.

  2. really engaging post here.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. By Freedom under Pressure « Indebting Times on 04 Nov 2012 at 11:13 am

    […] state crackdown on public protests, as has been demonstrated in the past couple of years, with riot police making wanton and indiscriminate use of tear gas and violence, against journalists, elderly citizens, even children, has now been escalated to a crackdown on the […]

  2. By #Resist | Indebting Times on 01 Jun 2013 at 6:14 pm

    […] never thought I’d see more tear gas canisters being used at once than that February evening at Syntagma. Was I ever […]

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