June 10, 2006

English Cat Gets Gassed in Athens

A Diary of Events of the Student Protest 8/6/6 Athens, against iminent privatisation laws

I am with Roula, a girl from my workshop, at her university, which is also squatted, waiting for the demo to start. The atmosphere is electric and I am vibrating with excitement (and also perhaps from the 3 coffees I have drunk). People are taping their goggles tight, listening to the radio, handing out medicine against tear gas, and cigarettes and nervous glances are being passed around. Anarchy and squat signs graffittied on the walls, everyone in black, except me. These people are really hardcore black blockers – and I am coming along for the experience. Roula is lovely, she will really look after me. Police violence is common and ubiquitous – we will be on the front line, battling with tear gas from the cops and molotov cocktails from the students. People are throwing back ouzo for dutch courage, passing round leaflets to distribute to the public, and emergency phone numbers in case we get into trouble. Its illegal to carry anything against the tear gas, and if I get caught with this medicine, I could find myself in a greek cell. I meant to look up the phone number for the British Embassy but didn't gget time in the end. Roula also suspects the police use rubber bullets against the protestors, and tells me that the TV channels do not explain to the public who the protesters are - 'violent anarchists are invading Athens' – or why they are protesting. We have it really fucking easy in England.

In front of the parliament. Police are arriving in droves, attaching tear gas to guns. We are shouting 'Burn! Burn the parliament!'

Outside the old university. The sun is beating down with harsh rays, not sunscreen is allowed as it aggravates the tear gas. Thousands of students from all over Greece are here, Roula suspects more than 10,000. We are watching those outside of Athens march by, arms all linked in solidarity, shouting slogans... communists, workers, syndicalists all march by, faces creased and serious. The atmosphere is apocalyptic.
I have just been talking to an employee of the university. He has been teling me of various incidents of police violence. At a protest in 1999, against the war in Yugoslavia, the police beat 2 protestors to death in front of the American Embassy. In 1995, a 15 year old was killed at the annual student demos, in rememberance of 17/11/73, when the police drove a tank into the polytechnic, where we are staying, killing over a dozen students. He also says its not tear gas, but chemical gas, which paralyses you for 10 minutes. He wishes it were tear gas! He says, since the introduction of the Euro, wages have deteriorated chronically, while the cost of living has sky-rocketed; he earns a meagre €900 per month and he is a professional.
We are all waiting now, to start marching. I am beyond hot. Why oh why, didnt I bring my panama hat?!

Empty surgical gas mask boxes strewn on the floor, people holding bottles of what looks like mik, but is in fact this medicine, eye drops smuggled about like drugs. Suddenly the Arts and Activism Caravan seems competely irrelavent. This is war.

We are behind the black block. Spiros says to me, 'Don't step on the white stuff.' 'Why?' I ask. 'Its tear gas.' 'What, already?' I ask, astonished. 'Oh, i don't know if it's today's,' he replies, blasé. Riiiight....

We are shouting in Greek
'The working hours are painted in blood! Its time to see the banks burn!'
'Worker have no security! Many people are slaves! We leave the war here every day!'
'We don't want jobs or degrees until the road is a beach!'
'What will happen? Chaos! Panic!'
Erm, I think they lose a lot in translation....

No other university blockade wants to be near the Black Block. We are an island of black flags and giant blokes, separated by 100 feet of tarmac either side of us. I am completely unprepared for this. I dont even have anything to cover my face. Someone just shoved a leaflet with instructions of what to do if I am gassed – all in greek, of course. A fat help.

I just ran into a shop and bought an extremely fashionable black scarf. Now I really look the part! Watch out greek anarchists, now you have an anarchist Cat!

We are in the place where the police began their attack at the previous demo. People are securing goggles, scarves, gasmasks. We are tense, electified and the sun is relentless. Lots of clapping, stamping, shouting, worried faces preparing for battle. Sticks have appeared, boulders are being smashed on the ground into smaller, throwable sizes. I feel like all Hell will break loose soon and I am here in the middle of it, with only a flimsy scaft for protection. We are standing in the middle of a built up commercial street. If the police attack now, there will be nowhere to go. It will be a riot and fucking dangerous. More stones, bricks, ready for the onslaught. Where are my exits? I am SO glad Roula is here, but even she says we are in a dangerous position and should move.

People are running back, crying, with red swollen eyes. Others are spraying them with healing potions. Chants and slogans are coming faster. Police lined up like giant mutant insects, gas masks, guns, explosions. Stones flying, my heart beating faster than a metronone on full speed. Thick gas, molotovs, more explosions... gas gas gas. Shit! Its in the air! My mouth and and eyes are on fire. I can't breathe. Nowhere to hide. Civilians are running, crying. I am crying. Yuck yuck yuck. Police are hurling this poison at everyone. I am in a side street with streaming eyes. I don't know where to go. More and more bombs. Gas bombs thrown right into the students. A little girl in a ballet dress in hysterics has just run past me. No shelter.

My fucking black scarf is no help against the gas either. What a waste of €2. My nose is stinging, running, I can't see straight. More molotovs. The street is burning. Devastation.

On the other side of the road tourists and bourgeois are coughing and spluttering into their food, sitting outside swanky restaurants, with eyes puffy and weeping. Its so absurd, its almost comic. Workmen have stopped and crouch on the ground. Shop windows are boarded up or smashed.


All the protesters have come into the polytechnic. Universities in Greece are amnesties, no police are allowed inside, so this is the safest place to be. When I was trying to get back to the caravan to recover, there was a SIEGE. People running, pushing up the street, a huge mob clamouring to get behind the gates and into safety, yelling 'Run! Run! Get inside!' Bombs going off, molotovs and gas everywhere, skips were being set alight by masked individuals, cars were on fire, people were screming panicking. My head is so full and my heart is so heavy. THIS IS NORMAL!!!!!!

War stories are coming back, I met a girl on the street with a beaten bleeding arm, whose friend may have broken her back, having been attacked by the police, for being on the front line of the demo. One guy was right next to a gas explosion and has suffered extreme burns. Spiros is trapped with about 50 other protesters inside a police pen ad 2 of Panos' friends have been arrested. There are more than 1000 people n the polytechnic now, and I seem to be the only person who is shocked and upset by all this. There was no mercy. Many people were injured and/or tramautised and for what? The students say that the media will not show any of the police violence – the general public have no idea of this barbarity. A secret war with only losers.

Students are coming back triumphant and full of adrenalin...apparently some policemen got burned by their molotovs. There is some incredibly ritualistic about all of this, and I can't really make sense of it. Their parents did it, and now they do it. An initiation rite into greek adulthood. It may be fun to chuck a bomb, for the police and for the students, but who gains anything but a buzz? There were no action medics, no Red Cross, no free water, just violence.

14 people were arrested and the students are now going back for more, to protest outside the police station. I need to lie down!!!!!


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