Short history of the recent events in Greece, and what they portend

The people in the squares have started, again, to believe that they have the freedom and the responsibility to act; they are urging radical change through the creation of different personal and social relations.

(for updates, see this daily blog attempting to neutralize the blackout here)

Excerpted from a longer review of recent mobilizations, by Hara Kouki and Antonis Vradis:

“The occupations of town squares across Spain this spring found more sympathisers in Greece than many would have expected.

Solidarity demonstrations outside the Spanish Embassy in Athens were quickly relocated to Syntagma, the main square overlooked by the Parliament building. And suddenly, that was it: a Pandora’s box of discontent had opened.

In the days and weeks that followed, a series of occupations of town squares across the country’s major cities saw a huge cross-section of Greek society come out to vent anger about the deterioration of living conditions – for which they felt they were not to blame and which they could not control. The thousands of people coming together daily at Syntagma square to participate in assemblies and joint activities have demanded nothing specific, but represent something entirely different and overwhelming.

Everyone at these gathering is allowed equal time to speak, and issues range from organisational matters to resistance politics and international solidarity. Debates take place over the economy, education, and alternative commerce – and nothing is beyond proposal or dispute. People from different strands of life, political affiliations and ages are rushing to squares across the country to hear – and to be heard – without mediation, external supervision or internal force.

After the terms of the new troika agreement were published, the country’s mainstream trade unions announced a General Strike on June 15, the day when the new financial agreement was to be debated in parliament. The Open Assembly of Syntagma called a day of action with parliament’s grounds.

On both sides, the dice had been rolled.

It is difficult to predict the long-term legacy of the June 15 events, but it is already evident that what happened will hold serious significance for some time to come. In Athens, not only was this one of the most massively attended protests of recent times, it also seems to have been the one with the most immediate effects: the city saw battlefield-like scenes with the existing hostility toward the police quickly developing into vivid hatred – fuelled by oft-reported cases of police brutality against demonstrators in recent years and against people on the day who had never previously demonstrated.

Equal or more fierce hostility has been shown towards corporate media in recent weeks, with a strong popular belief that the country’s highly powerful media conglomerates have held a significant stake and, arguably, a role in running the country over the past few decades. With verbal and physical attacks against representatives of Greece’s political elites becoming a near-daily occurrence, a new political understanding and culture seems to have emerged from the country’s occupied squares: a culture that sees political and corporate media representation as part of the plexus of power that has misruled Greece.

On June 15, in the immediate aftermath of the violent General Strike demonstration, and following days of negotiations with his parliamentary opposition, Prime Minister Papandreou threw in the towel by announcing a government reshuffle. Snap elections and perhaps a swift round of short-lived governments are now likely; the prime ministerial seat has become unenviable, if not near-untenable.

For the people gathered in Syntagma, the intense political manoeuvring in the corridors of parliament seems to matter little. Theirs is a mass mobilisation that draws a distinction between representational and grassroots politics. Political parties seem unlikely to come to a halt over developments in the upper echelons of power. For them, the Memorandum is not just a sum of persons or abhorrent policies, but a system of power that has misruled the country for 30 years, bringing it to the edge of collapse. It is a system of beliefs, values, expectations and political roles and identities that cannot be abolished simply by replacing the head or members of the government.

The people in the squares have started, again, to believe that they have the freedom and the responsibility to act; they are urging radical change through the creation of different personal and social relations.

By now, the distance between the people and their representatives might seem unbridgeable; as the old system of government crumbles under the burden of sovereign debt, a new, grassroots system of politics is starting to make itself heard from the ground.”


Here is extra analysis of the significance of the Greek movement by Lal Khan :

“The numbers could have crossed the million mark had these gruesome tactics not been used. But the most striking aspect of this movement is the political insight and advanced level of consciousness that was exhibited by the Greek workers and youth in this struggle.

The Guardian wrote on June 16: “Syntagma’s articulate debates have discredited the banal mantra that most issues of public policy are too technical for ordinary people. The realisation that the demos have more collective nous than any leader is now returning to Athens. The outraged have shown that parliamentary democracy must be supplemented with a more direct version — just as the belief in political representation is coming under pressure throughout Europe.”

It seems that an epoch of relentless struggles has dawned in Europe. The movement of the French proletariat last autumn and later the militant movement of the British students played an important part in inspiring the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings that took the form of the Arab revolution within weeks. The Arab revolution had repercussions worldwide. It was the Greek movement that inspired the recent Spanish upsurge and sit-ins. This marvellous general strike in Greece will have far reaching impacts, especially in Europe.”


Here is another interesting account of the Syntagma occupation and its significance, by Thalia Tzanetti, focusing on the new distrustful attitude the media, and paradoxically, the friendly approach to the police seen as ’employees in uniform’:

1. The General atmosphere

“This protest marks in many ways a turning point. Apart from the use of social media as a vehicle for social mobilisation -which is probably to be expected given their extensive use and prevalence, especially in younger generations- the most obvious new factor is the persistence, the large numbers and the synthesis of the participants. Demonstrators have participated in such great numbers only in rallies of political parties and only after extensive organisation and costs by parties’ structures. The constantly high and increasing daily numbers of participants were until last the first Wednesday of the protests unknown to nonpartisan rallies. Even more surprising is perhaps the tenacity of the demonstrators; Greeks have been known for their readiness to go to the streets and demonstrate for their demands but such a steady flow of large numbers of people for so long is utterly new in recent Greek history. Most importantly though the synthesis of the crowds gathering in Syntagma Square is also refreshingly new. The mosaic of Syntagma comprises individuals, of all ages, social and professional backgrounds, with different demands, concerns, professional, social and economic backgrounds, personal aims, or political convictions. This combination of large numbers of participants, perseverance and plurality, makes the daily meetings in Syntagma the first page of a new form of social mobilisation for Greece.

Despite their vast differences, what unites them all is a deep disappointment of their representatives and more broadly of the political staff. This phenomenon is certainly not new; Greeks have been used to big and broken promises, along with political requests for sacrifices to achieve yet one more political or economic milestone (ie. meeting the Maastricht criteria, entering the Euro-zone, financing the Olympic Games etc.). The fatigue from the repeated requests for more and more sacrifices with insufficient tangible results at the citizens’ level has been obvious for long, as has been the realisation and acceptance of the widespread corruption.
Yet the triggers that brought thousands to the streets have been the recent unquestionable deterioration of the quality of life and, most importantly, the clear lack of future prospects for improvement. The sad realisation of the inadequacy of the political staff, for decades now, in addressing the pressing issues facing Greece, has become the common denominator for the Syntagma mosaic. Such strong disillusionment – resulting from a number of cycles of renewed and eventually unfulfilled hopes and promises – has natural difficulties in differentiating between the rule of ‘bad politicians’ and the exceptions of a few ‘decent’ ones. It tends to generalise and reject the political system as inadequate, opportunistic, unjust, unethical, unpatriotic and solely self-interested.

This dismissal of the representatives currently in place, has been demonstrated as a categorically nonpartisan, yet strongly political, character that the demonstrators have claimed and so far preserved for their protests. The protesters have loudly, clearly and repeatedly claimed their independence from any kind of representative body. They have voiced their disapproval for all political parties, political parties’ youths, unions etc. The change in this regard is monumental. The tradition in Greece has been, for too long, to demonstrate after a call by and under the auspices of some organisation or representative body. This form of social mobilisation of individuals, without the control or guardianship of any formal body is entirely new for Greece.

The people meeting in Syntagma every evening have all personal stories to share, stories ranging from economic difficulties – due to the recession and the new economic measures – all the way to sheer desperation. They are very diverse and they are not gathered due to ideology or political guidance. They all have personal stakes that bring them there. This strong sense of personal involvement and interest, as well as of ownership of the protests, is a strong differentiating factor of the ‘Indignants of Syntagma’ (‘Apogoitevmenoi tou Syntagmatos’) and a significant reason why attention should be paid to them.

The sense of ownership and personal involvement is also evident in the slogans heard. Often accentuated with profanities, the slogans target, among others, specific politicians, the parliamentarians as a whole -calling them thieves-, journalists, the new economic measures and the need for better quality of life. Two of the most representative slogans read: “Poverty is the worst violence” and “Bread, Education, Liberty; Junta did not end in 1973”. The profanity of the slogans, vulgar as it may sound to some, is also evidence of the strong personal involvement of the participants, the intensity of their frustration and also of the dynamic participation of the youth -which is traditionally absent from partisan rallies-. The protesters address the politicians not in a politically-correct way but they choose instead to cry to them as they would in real terms in their everyday life.

2. The rejection of journalists

In addition to the elements mentioned above, what is interesting is the expressed rejection of journalists in the protests. The questionable role that the media is playing has been the center of analysis numerous times, but it has never before been so loudly, massively and publicly criticised. What is also interesting is the approach the media has taken on the protests in Syntagma. From the beginning of the protests, on Wednesday, May 25th, until the European meeting on Sunday, May 29th, the media coverage of the protests was minimal. It should be noted, for fairness sake, that during that time the political developments, both domestically and internationally were crucial for the economic future of the country. Having said that though, the protests hardly made the news during those days, and the information on traditional media was very limited. The difference was of course striking on electronic media and especially social media which became the vehicle for the demonstrations to take place. After Sunday, there was a 180o turn. Every single TV show started to focus on the ‘Indignados’, trying to analyse them, categorise them and approach them in an awkward befriending campaign. Interestingly, with the first tensions on Wednesday, June 1st, the ‘Indignados’ from friends became scapegoats.

3. The new attitude to the police

One of the many surprises of the Syntagma phenomenon is the stance of the protesters towards the police force guarding the Parliament. Instead of confronting them verbally and otherwise -as they would have traditionally done-, they have been inviting them to leave their guns and join them. They call the policemen employees in uniform, thus placing them in their ranks rather than against them.”

Video in Greek on the Syntagma assembly:

1 Comment Short history of the recent events in Greece, and what they portend

  1. AvatarRalfLippold

    Thanks Michel, timely and well written. Interestingly quite a few countries have undergone this transformation (in similar form) in the late 80s. Germany and the part where I am living was a major “hub” of this turning point in a century. However after 20 years and boldly set in place hierarchical power structures people here are now rather staying under the radar not rallying out on the streat. Being so creative as before the Wall came down 1989 there is little pressure to act different.

    What may be the opening crack where the leverage for change handle could be put in to accelerate the inevitable?

    Cheers from Dresden, one of the most beautiful cities I know besides Vancouver, Sydney, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Cologne

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