Victory or death in Athens

It has been a month since Constitution Square (Syntagma Square), where the Greek Parliament sits, turned into a site of public protest against the government.

­It’s crowded as if it were a busy afternoon, despite the late hours – although the local citizens assure me that tonight there are much fewer people than usual.

I’m further assured that nonetheless next week they’re going to teach the government and the parliament a new lesson by means of more street protests and strikes.

Hundreds of people come out, and they are just ordinary Greek citizens, nothing like anarchists or anti-globalists, and neither are they any kind of professional protesters – these are the people of Greece. We are sick and tired of being misrepresented as a nation of loiterers and chair-warmers who are simply after other peoples’ money,” says a young man who is busy taking care of the thirsty riot dog named Sausage (Loukanikos) – famous for its almost ubiquitous presence during every major protest in Greece. “That’s an outstanding dog. He’s always with the people and always against the police.

Sausage is probably the most famous dog of the Greek riots. There are thousands and thousands of his photos and video shoots. He is always in the front rows of protesters, and he lives in Constitution Square.

Outside the fence that was fitted around the parliament to cut off the public, people take turns to deliver their speeches. They are no politicians. They are working people of various professions who come here after a day of work. Everyone I ask confirms that, “We work during the day and come here in the evening to express our fury to those sitting behind this fence and pretending they’re working hard. They have a fun job indeed – getting the IMF and EU money and spending it on military contracts while cutting pensions and wages of the people who do the real work.

Ten days ago, people formed a live chain around the parliament building and kept the MPs inside until the police arrived to help the politicians out.

Do you know how it started?” asks Helena who seems to know everyone in the square. “There were three lads discussing things in the internet forums, one was 16 and two others still younger. They were bugged by many reports saying that the Greeks just cannot act as decisively as the Spanish, and they spread a call to come out on a protest among everyone they knew. The very next day, hundreds of people came out, and two days later there were thousands. And these teenagers got scared and deleted their messages. And people thought that it was done by the police or intelligence agencies. And that sent hundreds of thousands into the streets, you see?

There is no sign of anti-globalists. Musician Theos explains, “They keep to themselves, they stay in their district and do not mingle. They claimed our protests had no agenda. The anarchists show up once in a while to start up an occasional fight with the far-rightists. Police take advantage of this sending in their agents disguised as anarchists so that they could throw a Molotov bomb to give the police an excuse to use tear gas against the protesters. We already caught some of the moles, dressed as anarchists but with a police ID in their pocket.

A revolution in Greece would be impossible without the Church. “There have been no public statements from the Church, but our bishops sent off priests to be with the protesters, and everyone knows about it.” This is the explanation I got when I noticed a massive figure in a black robe with a cross. This is one of the most prominent priests. During the clashes with the police he was here holding up the revolution banner.

He comes from the South where people consider themselves to be direct descendants of the Spartans. He was holding a white banner with a blue cross and mottos “Victory or Death” and “With the Shield or On the Shield,” but the fact is that they, people from the South, have always considered themselves free. So basically it’s only a question of “Victory or Death,” comments a reporter who comes to do shoots in the square every day.

An elderly barefoot man approaches us while we talk. Hearing that I’m from Russia he gives me a gift of a hand knitted cross saying, “It’s from a very famous women’s monastery. Keep it safe. Russian people have always been appreciative of such gifts.”

There are dozens of tents on the lawn at the lower end of the square which is covered in slogans, caricatures and proclamations.

There are witty slogans like “Even the maid said no, and you can’t!” They mean the hotel maid who ruined the reputation of the IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The maid is held up as an example to follow for the Greek government forced to take unpopular measures. It has shown its inability to oppose the pressure of the global financial institutions even by word.

There are odd slogans. To give you an example, there are demands to legalize the rights of foreign workers in Greece. “Not everyone supports the demand, of course, but it is important that it does exist. We are neither nationalists nor bigots and do not want to survive at the expense of those who have come to Greece to work,” a lad who spent the night under the slogan told us. Three metres away from the lad some Africans are selling African figurines and fake bags.

It’s bad that there is no centralized committee or think-tank mass protests of the kind that would normally be required. There is total anarchy. Everyone does what he wishes. And official opinion polls have shown that at least 75% of the Greeks are in favour of the revolution,” while listening to these words I keep taking pictures of the  guys with PCs sitting under the sign “Media Centre”.

A woman approaches me and asks for me to stop, “We have decided it would be better to leave faces out of shot.” An instant later she is opposed by the supporters of the freedom-of-information idea and I am allowed to take pictures. But the woman feels obliged to provide me with a few instructions, “Still try to keep people’s faces off the camera. The police will be after them,” she says. But there are many secret service officers as well as disguised policemen in the square who are all taking photos as I am.

The artistic part of the protesting crowd seems to fear nothing. Artists are surrounded by handcrafted items of all sorts, installations, pictures and satiric posters and comment on their work with great pleasure. A wannabe juggler is practising his skill in the distance. After all, it is a European revolution and any contribution is welcome — if the only thing you can do is juggle, this skill should be used to promote the common cause as any other.

Hundreds of people are sitting in a circle on the pavement of the square. Speakers come and go — there is a table with a microphone on it and each speaker is given three minutes to present his vision of the problem and a possible solution. Then a vote is taken on the proposed solutions. This is what Greek democracy is like.  Let me remind you that the origins of democracy are in Ancient Greece. And who can prevent the Greeks from improving its basics on the central square of the capital city today? This popular parliament starts its work at 9pm.

And after the democracy classes, the Greeks go to dance and sing. Professional musicians and amateurs play together. Singers volunteer. Old and new songs are played, songs from the islands, southern and northern parts of the country. Those who are good at dancing dance to this music and experts feel free to comment, “This is a 13th Century song. And this one was composed by an Englishman in the 18th Century, but it is considered local in many regions. And this is a dance from Crete. See that musical instrument? It is only used in Istanbul and on one tiny island. And that lad, the one who has been playing, is blind.” The crowd gradually disperses by 3-4 O’clock in the morning but a few hundred remain and stay awake and guard the square lest it should be won back by the government that is hated by three-quarters of the Greek population.

The revolution does not have a committee, but it has reached consensus: people have united against political parties, against syndicates, fascism and racism. They have realized that the socialists in parliament are no socialists at all and that the communist deputies have betrayed their ideals, that fascism and racism are imposed on the people in order to split society, to make them fight one another and be unable to give rebuff to the government. This realization means a lot,” says a girl who was hopping to traditional Greek tunes a moment ago.

­Nadezda Kevorkova, RT