Making Sense of the Greek Uprising
In the evening of Saturday December 6th, 2008, a police officer shoots and kills Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 16-year old in
The great protagonists of these demonstrations have been young people, including high school and university students, but other participants have included parents, labor unionists, immigrant workers,
All in all, this has been a diverse movement that has raised a number of different issues . Some demands have focused on policing practices, asking that Greek police officers not bear weapons, that they go through regular psychological evaluations, and that special police units, such as the riot police unit and the ‘special guards' unit to which the cop who shot Grigoropoulos belonged, be dismantled. Other movement participants have demanded the repeal of recent ‘anti-terrorist' legislation that undermines civil liberties. Others have asked a change in the government's educational and economic policies, while some, including some of the opposition parties, have demanded that the government resign. Some of the more radical voices within the movement, including the participants in occupations, such as that of the Greek Confederation of Labor, have articulated critiques of capitalism and called for a general strike and workers' self-management. Last but not least, many participants in the movement demand that everybody arrested while participating in the recent events be released.
The impact of the Greek movement has been felt across
Making Sense of the Greek Uprising
The events of the last two week represent the most major social explosion in
Conservative politicians and Greek pundits have tried to delegitimize the adoption of forms of direct action, such as occupations, by arguing that, unlike the student revolt in 1973, today's government is a democratically elected one. This fails to convince many of the protesters who feel that, rather than a genuine democracy, Greece's political system may best be described as a two-party rule by corrupt political elites that have consistently over the years failed to address the problems affecting Greek people, in general, and young people, in particular.
Police brutality is one of such long-standing problems. Even before Grigoropoulos' murder, the conservative government had presided over incidents of police brutality and even torture of political protesters, Roma people, and immigrant workers. Even the murder of a teenager by the police is not unprecedented. When the socialists were in power in the 1980s, a teenager was shot in the back by a police officer, who went on to be acquitted after he appealed his original conviction.
As far as education is concerned, the conservative government, with the original support of the Socialist Party's leadership, attempted to amend the provision of the Greek constitution that bans private universities. It was only after massive protests by a movement that included students, teachers, unionists, the political Left, and many of the rank and file supporters of the Socialist Party itself that the Socialist leadership backed down from its support of private higher education institutions. The amendment did not pass, but the conservative government is attempting to implement its rejected policy anyway.
Underlying the rage of the protestors is also a feeling that today's Greek youth will be the first generation not to live better than their parents. Fueling this feeling are high unemployment rates, low salaries that do not keep up with the rising cost of living, high levels of poverty (one out of 5 Greeks is poor), growing household indebtedness, and ‘flexible' labor relations that consign many young people to insecure, temporary positions. This situation is partly the result of the commitment of conservatives and Socialists alike to European Union and its insistence that inflation and deficits be kept low even at the cost of chronically high unemployment rates.
In this sense it is not surprising that some European journalists recognize that ‘
President-elect Obama's claim to represent change may have generated hope for many ordinary Americans, but the first signs are not encouraging. As others have pointed out in the pages of the Indypendent, Obama's economic team is made up of neoliberals partly responsible for the present economic crisis, while his national security team is filled with ‘hawks' who hardly represent a clean break with the past. Faced with political elites unwilling to represent their interests, Greeks took to the streets. Should Obama disappoint his claim to be an agent of change, Americans may find themselves doing the same.
 The Athens Indymedia website (http://athens.indymedia.org) has posted the statements issued by some of the groups occupying university campuses and other public buildings, and these statements often include specific demands. This site includes material both in Greek and in English but not all the material in Greek is translated into English. For good coverage in English, see the blog of the Center for Strategic Anarchy at http://anarchiststrategy.blogspot.com/2008/12/major-rioting-in-greece.html.
 There have also been a number of solidarity actions in
 Andrew Hay, ‘IMF Sees Risks of Prolonged Global Crisis and Unrest', Tuesday, December 16, 2008, http://uk.reuters.com/article/businessNews/idUKTRE4BE3VS20081216.
 Robert Marquand, ‘Grievances Rise Among Young Europeans: Job Prospects and Dreams Fade with Crisis', Christian Science Monitor, December 23, 2008, http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/1223/p10s01-wogn.html.
 Marquand, ‘Grievances Rise'.
 See Arun Gupta, ‘Obamanomics: Why the stimulus plan will not revive the economy', and Jeremy Scahill, ‘Zeroing in on Obama's hawks'. Both these articles can be found in the December 12, 2008 issue of The Indypendent.