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On December 6, 2008, conflict broke out across Athens as youths responded to the killing of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by the Greek police. Over the following four weeks, protests spread nationwide and the protesters continue to promise further activities, including the announcement of a nationwide day of action on January 9. The Real News spoke to a freelance journalist in Greece’s second-largest city of Thessaloniki and a resident of Athens’ Exarcheia neighborhood, where many of the clashes between protesters and police have taken place. They provide a glimpse into the various factors that have created such a volatile situation.

Story Transcript

Inside Greece’s insurrection
Producer: Jesse Freeston

JESSE FREESTON, TRNN (VOICEOVER): Throughout the month of December, protests and open revolt engulfed the country of Greece. Actions have ranged from mass marches to the occupation of television stations and schools to the attacking of police stations and government buildings. The unrest began with the killing of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by the Greek police on December 6. Almost one month later, there is no end in sight to the uprising. So who are the protesters in Greece? The Real News spoke to Dionisis Granas, an independent journalist in Thessaloniki, Greece.

DIONISIS GRANAS, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: Most of the people involved are students and pupils. There is some workers organizations, especially teachers, that are involved, and also some of the demonstrations were co-organized with the main workers union of Greece, because there’s also a big economic crisis and there’s a lot of workers demands.

FREESTON: The center stage of the month’s events have been the Athens neighborhood of Exarcheia, home to Greece’s polytechnic university that was occupied by demonstrators for 18 days. Exarcheia is also the scene of Alexandros’s homicide. The Real News spoke to a resident of the neighborhood, who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons. It appears from the messaging of the protesters that a lot of the inspiration is coming from the Greek anarchist movement.

(ANONYMOUS, VIA PHONE FROM GREECE): Of course there’s a strong anarchist movement in Greece, and I think they played a big role as well in the whole thing, but not taking the lead. I mean, there are so many thousands of people were on the streets. Most of the people probably were left-oriented, but you could see people that they differ a lot from the figure of an anarchist or a leftist. I mean, they are just people who are sensitive to social issues. I mean, you could see well-dressed ladies swearing at the riot police. You could see grannies throwing pots in my neighborhood in Exarchaeia at the riot police from their windows. They’re just people that are a bit hopeless right now with the whole situation in Greece.

FREESTON: The story that we get in the international media is that all of this, these three weeks of protests, has all been a result of the murder of Alexis [Alexandros], and there’s no context given. Could you talk a little bit about what are the other causes of this, the broader causes in the society?

GRANAS: You could say that these protests are continuing from a wave of occupations in universities and schools that took place last year and the year before that. The biggest problem with high schools, and universities as well, is that they don’t get much money, and the whole infrastructure is breaking down, and they’re trying to push the universities to find money from other sources, from tuition fees. And there’s also difficulty in finding a job after university. So people are paying a lot of money to study, and then they’re not sure whether they can find a job or not. So there’s a lot of insecurities amongst the youth. And, also, because of the economic crisis, you could say that there is a general pessimism in the society.

ANONYMOUS: There is no social policy. I mean, you take a walk at the hospital and see hundreds of people waiting in queues. I mean, young people just see that; you know, they see what happens in their house and their schools. Okay. The murder, of course, it was just the spark. The murder happened after, you know, a series of scandals that the two big parties were involved in the last years. I mean, there were many, many of them, and nobody ended up in jail, you know, nobody, and nobody will, and the people know that. People see all this corruption and get angry.

FREESTON: We see a lot of destruction of banks. Is there a message to be taken from the fact that people are targeting banks?

GRANAS: I can say that a lot of people sympathize with the attack against banks. The banks have been really ruthless in Greece. They have been lending money at very high rates and taking people’s houses. There hasn’t been, really, much control on the part of the government. So people are really angry at banks. The youth has a deeper existential problem that doesn’t have to do so much with how much money people are going to earn. And I think that the biggest problem has to do with, you know, finding a purpose in life, for doing something that’s worth it. In this country a young person feels that there’s nothing you can do in order to be recognized, to do something for your community and for your fellow human. So I think that the young people feel that there’s nothing really worth doing at the moment. So that’s why they’re attacking the whole political system, ’cause also I think they feel that the left cannot represent them and express their agony. All these people, you know, are really not organized in parties. They’re not able to talk, they’re not able to express all their agonies, so that’s why they’re reacting this kind of way. And also you could say that this consumerist way that used to be very strong in Greece in recent years is somehow reaching its end. People feel, young people feel, that they’re not able to fulfill themselves through consuming.

FREESTON: Information from organizers is quickly transmitted via the Internet and translated into a dozen languages within hours. The message from these communications is clear: those in the streets have no intention of stopping any time soon. It appears that the youth enjoy the support of much of the population as well. A recent poll showed that 60 percent of Greeks believe that the movement is a popular uprising and not the work of minority activists.

ANONYMOUS: The thing is that the government doesn’t listen at the moment to the problems; they just keep sending the riot police. The whole neighborhood that I live in, Exarcheia, has turned into a gas chamber. They threw over 4,000 tear gas bombs. They don’t solve problems by making a neighborhood like this or by beating or arresting students. I don’t think that the people are going to stop protesting about, you know, what’s happening.

GRANAS: Student unions are trying to start a whole wave of school occupations, and the pupils in the schools just keep demonstrating. They don’t want to stop. So I think that things will continue in January.

FREESTON: Students and workers in Greece are organizing for a national day of action on January 9. The day is significant in Greece, as it marks the anniversary of the 1991 assassination of high school teacher Nikos Temponeras for his participation in the school occupations of that day. As 2008 comes to a close in Greece, there is no end in sight to the conflict and great uncertainty as to what 2009 has in store.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Dionisis Granas is a freelance journalist based in Thessaloniki, Greece.