The shooting incident
The 2008 Greek riots started on 6 December 2008, when Alexandros Grigoropoulos (Greek: Αλέξανδρος Γρηγορόπουλος), a 15-year-old student, was killed by two policemen in Exarcheia district of central Athens. The murder of a young student by police resulted in large protests and demonstrations, which escalated to widespread rioting, with hundreds of rioters damaging property and engaging riot police with Molotov cocktails, stones and other objects. Demonstrations and rioting soon spread to several other cities, including Thessaloniki, the country's second-largest city. Outside Greece, solidarity demonstrations, riots and, in some cases, clashes with local police also took place in more than 70 cities around the world, including London, Paris, Brussels, Rome, Dublin, Berlin, Frankfurt, Madrid, Barcelona, Amsterdam, The Hague, Copenhagen, Bordeaux, Cologne, Seville as well as Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, and the western Cypriot city of Paphos. In cities far away from Athens, solidarity often was expressed as a peaceful informational protest, for example Sao Paulo, it proved that people could spread the news around the globe, from San Francisco to Wellington and Buenos Aires to Siberia. Newspaper Kathimerini called the rioting "the worst Greece has seen since the restoration of democracy in 1974".
While the unrest was triggered by the shooting incident, commentators described the reactions as expressing deeper causes as well, especially a widespread feeling of frustration in the younger generation about specific economic problems of the country (partly as a result of the global economic crisis), a rising unemployment rate among the young generation and a perception of general inefficiency and corruption in Greek state institutions.
Riots Fed by Years of Anger
Analysis by Apostolis Fotiadis
ATHENS, Dec 18, 2008 (IPS) - It is late at night. The city is quiet and strangely empty. Only some spooky figures appear here and there, police in civilian clothes, photojournalists looking for telling pictures.
It is like walking through a war zone. Burnt cars left on central streets, broken ATMs and glamorous windows, heavily damaged buildings.
Occasionally friends call to ask whether all is well. Two photographers have been injured, one when a tear-gas canister landed in his bag, burning his left hand badly, the other was beaten up by some hooded guys while he was picturing them.
"We are burning everything so the cops see what it means to kill a kid," said one of the mob. "So everyone understands what it means to destroy a life."
He means the killing of 15-years-old Alexis Grigoropoulos by a policeman, which drove Greek youths on a rampage last week. But now that the rioting has died down, questions arise over the underlying causes behind this explosion.
Social conditions inevitably are behind the extent of the violence and the rage expressed against the state and anything that represents it. But it is not enough simply to blame some Anarchists, or youngsters with an appetite for destruction.
Most of the young people who joined the demonstrations had no intention to burn and loot. Many were joined by their parents, who experienced military dictatorship between 1967 and 1973. "I came because I felt responsible for the stalemate we left to these children to deal with, and because I am a mother and I can't believe a 15-year-old boy can be killed in this country that way," said Tania Liberopoulos, a middle-aged accountant.
The protests were fed by the political memory of a history of social and political struggle. Almost by instinctive conscience, many people in Greece distrust the state. The latent Greek dislike of the police, which erupted so volcanically, has its roots in the old dictatorship when the police functioned as the colonels' enforcers against the citizens.
Constant misuse of the police for anti-social purposes has led to its dehumanisation; officers are met with hate and contempt, and they hate back. Students of today know of people killed in dubious conditions, of misuse of power going unpunished, of personal insults from the police because of what you wear and even what you think.
But beyond this is a crisis of trust within Greek society. When asked why he resigned, Cristos Kittis, the rector of the University of Athens, replied: "Because I have nothing to say to my students, they do not trust me any more."
No doubt social conditions are difficult. Poverty rates are increasing rapidly; unemployment is 15 percent, destroying much of the vast middle class that has guaranteed social cohesion in the past. The young are hit the hardest, facing rejection in a country with no space for creativity and innovation.
The current generation is known as the "generation of 700 euros", after the minimum wage offered to most of them, no matter what qualifications they have. But a 50 square metres flat costs about 400 euros a month to rent in Athens, bills are another 60 to 80 euros, and foodstuffs and other basic things at least 100 euros. It is hard to live on this money in Greece. This is why most people decide to stick with the family way beyond their twenties. And this is also why everyone is so pessimistic; they see no prospects.
"It is not just the scale of destruction that characterised (the revolt) but the spread of the unrest throughout the country, with mass participation of students, pupils and working or unemployed youths," says Stavros Ligeros, a journalist who was member of the student movement that resisted the military dictatorship. "Their participation is motivated by long-term social contradictions, by the unreliability and essentially the collapse of our political system and its institutions."
This unreliability Ligeros talks about can be observed in every spectrum of society – in an educational system that cannot inspire the youth, a chain of corruption which reaches up to the higher levels of government, in a frustrating system of connections between big business and politicians.
The neo-liberal polices of the last two governments have contributed greatly to the confusion today. Greece may be considered a modern country, but the ideological impact of the west comes at least a decade delayed. Greece entered the transition to a market economy only in the first half of the 1990s, along with Eastern European countries.
But instead of the promised self-regulated paradise, the changes have brought social deterioration. Aggressive monopolies control politics, corruption is widespread, and wealth inequality is on the rise. For the have-nots, social security and what was assumed would be a relatively good pension are in doubt.
A cocktail of historical forces and everyday frustration becomes explosive when people in power fail to receive messages sent to them by society. "In a society where every authority is routinely corrupted, none can expect from younger generations to have respect for everything," says Paschos Mandravelis, a prominent liberal intellectual. (END)
Children of the Riots
Greek youths reflect on how the killing of a teenager by the police and the resulting riots changed their lives.
Witness Last Modified: 01 Nov 2011 08:41
By Christos Georgiou
When Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot dead on December 6, 2008, the idea that a 15-year-old boy could die on a seemingly safe pedestrian street in the middle of Athens on a Saturday night, as he and his friends talked about which party they should go to, at the hands of a man who as a policeman was supposed to protect children like Alexandros, a man who was himself a father, it was hard to believe.
At that time I had recently become a father myself and the idea that anyone who had experienced the blessing of new life, could raise a gun and shoot a child made me sick.
For the generation of Alexandros, the 15-year-old children who took part in the riots that followed his death, the lessons learned were simply: The police are your enemy, politicians are in their overwhelming majority corrupt and your life has no value.
Finding people to talk about the riots was not so easy. Slogans like "the police are talking to you through the eight o'clock news" illustrate how journalists have earned the reputation of being paid liars.
Many times while filming, people and especially young people would suspiciously ask: "Who are you? Are from one of the Greek TV channels?"
During riots it is, of course, even worse. Both parties, police and demonstrators, for obvious reasons do not want to be photographed while acting in an incriminating manner.
But December 2008 was not just any riot, to these children it was an uprising most of them are proud to have taken part in and so after they got to know us they did eventually trust us with their stories.
A cycle of strikes, protest and violence
Three years later, on July 29, 2011, under the pressure of the financial crisis, the Greek parliament, faithfully following the instructions of the EU and IMF, voted to pass new austerity measures. The social problems that existed in 2008, stemming from corruption and the misuse of power, were still there, but were now compounded by the financial crisis.
We were filming our protagonists taking part in protests outside parliament as the politicians inside were voting "yes" to austerity measures. Teargas filled the air and Amnesty International observers noted countless examples of excessive use of force by the Greek police on the Greek people who had gathered there to make their "no" vote heard. This, sadly, is what passes for democracy at work these days.
We all knew this would happen. The day before recession hit Greece one business was booming: Gas mask sales. Even my local hardware shop had completely sold out. When we go to demonstrations in Greece we expect this. The cycle of strikes, protest and violence has unfortunately become one of the few things you can rely on in Athens today.
Leaving the riots we stopped to get one more shot of the massive police presence. On a main street in Athens a policeman came and asked us to hand over our camera. We refused and within seconds were surrounded by police trying to grab the camera and threatening to arrest us. When I asked the policeman to calm down and not be so aggressive, he said he liked being aggressive and asked what did I think, that he was my friend?
While making this documentary I was inspired to see that despite what our young protagonists have experienced they still hold on to the thin line of fading hope for a better future; they fight for it day by day and keep their humanity, their need to love and to laugh, intact.
I wanted this documentary to give these children the opportunity to show their lives to the world. Lives all too often reduced by the world media to an image of a petrol bomb exploding. It is a powerful image, but it is not the only one in their lives. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2011/10/2011103151128717999.html
Greek students commemorate Alexis Grigoropoulos' Murder