Happy New Year to everyone celebrating. Here's hoping 2009 isn't a complete disaster.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
I had an hour to kill between lessons and for some reason I decided to see where the Fates would take me and I came across a huge warehouse complex that had been abandoned even before it had been finished. Trudging through the mud and dumped rubbish I took a lot of very boring pictures then noticing the time decided I had better make tracks if I wanted to be in school on time.
Just as was about to leave I saw this woman walking in my direction. I don't know why but something in me said that there was a good picture in this so I kept my camera turned on and went to my Vespa. Sure enough, she approached me and asked me to give her two Euros to buy heating oil.
A wave of 24 hour general strikes hit the country as many people decided that plans to change the present pension scheme were unacceptable. Amidst more scandals the Greek government tried desperately to persuade people that such an overhaul was necessary.
The strikes and protests continued into March and at the other end of the political spectrum there were ultra - nationalist gatherings that were attended by high ranking members of the church and politicians in search of an issue to get them back into the media spotlight. A frightening mix of V for Vendetta and Nuremburg rally.
The Olympic flame also came to town on its way to China, protected, it seemed by everyone with a badge and a club the local authorities could find. The month also saw me take up citizen journalism as I started to contribute to NowPublic.com, in doing so I was learning a whole new raft of skills concerning how to research and write news articles. Skills that would stand me in good stead later on in the year.
April meant Easter, holidays, lamb to excess and relaxation after a very long term lasting 17 weeks. In addition I had the chance to go to exhibitions such as the one by Duane Michals, the American photographer whose retrospective was on show in the museum of photography here in Thessaloniki.
More strikes, more scandals, the government fighting for its political life. May brought more of the same. I also wrote about and photographed members of G700 generation who would play such a decisive role in the protests in December.
This was taken during a demonstration by local ecological groups to raise awareness of the problems caused by excessive car use in the city. The original idea was for the participants to ride their bicycles naked through the centre. However, the local authorities nixed that idea and the police said that anyone not wearing clothes would be arrested for indecent exposure.
So as to comply with these demands the cyclist compromised and wore beachwear and body paint so that less flesh was on display than your average Saturday at the seaside. Despite this the police still insisted on confronting the 100 or so peaceful protesters with the kind of tactics and manpower usually associated with football riots. After clashes and arrests the people were allowed to continue.
Leaving one of the hottest summers on record I went to England to enjoy one of the wettest. It was a time to relax and see my family again. Lydia had a chance to see my side of the family and taste the delights of English cuisine!!!!
Instead of demos, marches and clashes, I photographed festivals, concerts and street life. In the beginning I was more apprehensive about doing this but I quickly overcame my inhibitions. Later on I also managed to see other sides to life in England which are not so obvious to the casual visitor. Poverty, drug use, violence and the like were also there, if you cared to look just a little deeper.
Back to the heat in every sense of the word. The temperatures remained high and s the annual trade fair approached the city became the centre of political and media attention.As a result there were marches, strikes and clashes with the police. I managed also to write about the Vatopedi graft scandal and get pictures of many of the major players in Greek political life as they pressed flesh and kissed babies.
October proved to be a busy month with lots to write about and photograph. Hundred of high schools under occupation, mass protests, conference on blogging and media, more - run ins with the cops over the right to take photographs meant I was rushed off my feet.
The city had its shot of glamour as the film festival opened and movie types from all over the world came to ply their wares. I managed to wangle my way into many of the gigs even though I couldn't get an official invite. Never mind its more fun that way.
December proved to be one of the most intense periods of my life on so many levels. The riots and protests that followed the death of 15 year old Alexis Grigoropoulos sparked off a maelstrom of anger that lasted for weeks. I tried to follow the events here in Thessaloniki in order to explain what was happening to the outside world. As a result I found myself being interviewed by CNN, BBC, Sky News and a host of other new outlets from all over the world.
Looking back now over the year it seems that the events of the last few weeks were not so unexpected after all. Although the intensity and duration of the protests took everyone by surprise the roots of the problem were obvious to anyone who was willing to look. Frustration with the hopeless job market, rising prices, disgust with corruption and incompetence in the political system, a sense of injustice generated by endless cases of police violence meant the causes of the revolts have been there in plain sight for a long time.
Unfortunately, none of those ills are about to change soon. Those with their hands on the leverages of political and economic power are not about to give up their privileges any time soon. Nor, given the growing economic crisis will they be in a position to buy off protest in the form of sham jobs in the civil service.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I think I'm going to move. The crime rate in my neighbourhood has been rising steadily, the local park is a drugs supermarket and I need to feel that the police are on hand to protect us law abiding citizens in these dangerous times.
So. I've decided to go live in Aristotelous Square, as near the Christmas tree as possible. For those not from Thessaloniki, Aristotelous is in the centre and its pretty tree is being guarded day and night by at least 15 cops, more than the entire neighbourhood of 40,000 people I live in.
Nice to know in these difficult times the forces of law and order realise where their priorities lay.
Monday, December 29, 2008
One of the most striking features of the recent series of revolts, rebellions and riots in Greece over the last few weeks is the use of social media to relay what has been happening to a wider audience. What I have witnessed is a form of internet hyper - Darwinism in which the forces of change which usually take years have been compressed into a time frame measured in weeks.
Before the recent troubles the use of Twitter, blogs, video sharing services and the like was a pretty limited affair. Many of those on the Left, and much of Greek political life saw the internet as irrelevant as TV, newspapers, public meetings, leafleting and marches were the order of the day. In addition there was a general distrust of the medium, an extension of the Greek Left's ambivalent relationship with the media in general.
For many TV, radio and newspapers are inherently biased and corrupt. Unfortunately, such claims, though often exaggerated have an element of truth to them. The state - run TV networks follow the line set down by the party in power and whilst not Stalinist in their propaganda style (why lie when you can spin?) are no more objective than say, Fox news.
On the other hand many of the private channels follow other agendas set down by their owners who see the TV and print as the PR wing of their business interests. A way of leveraging their position vis - a - vie the state, which is by far the biggest player in the Greek economy.
However, as the protests continued more and more people discovered the power of the net to organise, inform and disseminate their message without having recourse to the mainstream channels. They discovered that they too, could get out their message to a wider audience far beyond their borders. In addition, media outlets from around the world quickly gained access to sources of information which told a very different story from the local media's version of events which depended on more traditional news gathering tools.
With this realisation came a burst of creativity in terms of tactics, slogans, self expression. The hundreds of school occupations quickly started setting up blogs, thousands of those taking part in demonstrations started posting pictures and videos on the net, citizen journalism sites started getting eyewitness counts of the events as they were happening.
I thought that this would eventually happen in Greece but I predicted to my friends that it would take two, three years. Instead it took three weeks.The genie is now out of the bottle and I think that those working in the traditional media have been given a nasty wake up call. They've read about this kind of stuff in America and France but suddenly it has turned up, unbidden on their own door step.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Saturday, December 27, 2008
The weather here has definitely turned wintry. With temperatures falling and snow expected even in the city limits it looks like we're going to have the kind of holidays you usually see in the movies. A chance to meet up with friends and catch up on news.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Athens Freeze Protest, December 20th 2008 - Syntagma Square. A video by the Klein Mein Film Team. In memory of Alexis Grigoropoulos.
"Finch: Who was he?
Evey Hammond: He was Edmond Dantés... and he was my father. And my mother... my brother... my friend. He was you... and me. He was all of us. "
Christmas is almost here and at least in Thessaloniki the atmosphere has calmed down. However, in Athens the situation still remains tense. Yesterday a coach carrying member of the MAT (Greek riot police) was fired upon in the Gouda district. The vehicle was hit by two 7.62mm rounds, most probably fired by a AK47 according to Alpha Channel.
No one has been arrested but one thing is sure we should all take the official police reports with a grain of salt. The Greek police's account of events over the last two weeks has consistently proved to be inconsistent and inaccurate. As a source of reliable information they have proved to be disappointing.
The economy seemings to be teetering on the edge the cost of serving the country's debt (93% of GNP) rising steeply due to worries over the unrest. There is even talk of going to the IMF if other source of credit are unavailable. Not much to celebrate really and this is reflected in the shops where people are buying just the essentials for the holidays, numbed by the thought of what might happen next.
Still, if you are celebrating the hoildays I hope you have a great time.
The troubles in Greece have produced an outburst of responses from designers and artists, many of which echo May, 1968. The slogans on the walls have also ranged from the comic to the surreal. Here is more work from Nassos Kappa click here.
Monday, December 22, 2008
A smartly dressed woman , shopping bags around her waiting at the bus stop claps and cheers masked protesters marching by. The man next to her shouts out "Shame, shame on you"
Taken during a protest march in Thessaloniki, Greece last week.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
I just came across this account (and here to read it in Greek) of the arrest of a Greek student who happened to be in the centre of Athens at the time of the riots last week via Q-Sputnik's blog. Myrto, who is doing her postgraduate studies in England was shopping with her mother when she was beaten and arrested for the hideous crime of speaking back to a member of the MAT (Greek riot police).
"Seconds later, her mother witnessing the whole thing, four policemen attacked her. They kicked her on the back, knocking her down on the street. Myrto weighs no more than 50 kilos
Some of them were trying to stop her from running to her daughter, while the others (the four policemen) had already twisted Myrto’s arm behind her back, holding her down, on the street. They repeatedly kicked her on the stomach, the legs, the ribs, swearing at her with vulgar and blatantly sexist words!"
I, too went through a similar ordeal when I was attacked by the riot police during a peaceful demo last year. Taking pictures seemed to provoke them to violence and as Myrto's account points out;
"Myrto told them she came to her home city to spend Christmas with her mother, but they wouldn’t believe her – in fact they suspected her of being a foreign journalist, a “rat” etc...
They saw the photos she had taken in the last couple of days and said they would seize the memory card of the camera, but Myrto did not hand it in. The camera was a fairly sophisticated one - Digital SLR – which made them suspect her and repeat their accusations and ironic comments: how come she had such a good camera, since she was not a journalist, how could she afford it, how much did it cost and so on..."
However, whilst I was injured badly enough for the hospital doctors to want to keep me overnight I did not undergo the terrible harrassment that Myrto got whilst being questioned;
"The officers systematically tried to break her morale, humiliating her, verbally and psychologically assaulting her. They would put their faces right in front of hers, almost touching her, calling her… things; they vividly described the “sexu@l intercourse” they would have with her. They pulled her hair repeatedly.
When she asked if they would be long, one of them told her to ask them again later, when all of them would be f…ing her."
And people wonder why there has been such violence over the last two weeks. Time and time again these uniformed thugs have beaten and killed with immunity. I've lost count of the number of accounts of people who have suffered at their hands, been assaulted, belittled and demeaned by some power hungry demi - nazi with a club and a badge.
I know that this could all be a hoax as I have not been able to find the person's original post, however, there have been a number of other similar incidents captured on video (see here) in the past and the details of the whole procedure seemed accurate enough (and as I have witnessed it myself I am in a position to judge better than most). Also the police here has a long, inglorious history of violence (see here for a damning 2007 Council of Europe report) and footage of recent police violence prompted Amnesty International to complain about their behavior.
There were times over the last two weeks when what I witnessed seemed taken from the script of an outlandish movie, the kind where everyone tuts and says, "That is just so Hollywood. That would never happen in real life". William Goldman, the writer of films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once said that there were things taken from real life he couldn't put in his scripts as nobody would believe them.
Here is a selection of the few I remember from the riots and protests that I covered over the last two weeks.
The two guys wearing masks are ready to charge the bank , all set on smashing the security camera and disabling the ATM. However, there is a young woman there, oblivious to the mayhem around here who is taking out her money. The masked men wait, politely ask her if she has finished then set about the cash machine with hammers.
A march goes past a van, inside two tiny Shetland ponies stuck in a space not much bigger than they are. The protesters, enraged by this discuss what to do. In the end they take down the number plates as to....report the owners to the authorities. Just a few metres behind them riot police approach menacingly.
50 kids, one no more than 10 years old pelting the central police station with rocks as bewildered shoppers seemingly unable to grasp what is happening gawp while pieces of paving stone clatter around them. The quasi - military riot police up against tweenies
Walking along Egnatia Boulevard lit up by at least a dozen fires, acrid smell of tear gas and burning plastic everywhere. Two middle aged bystanders argue over whether the anarchists about to firebomb a bank are doing the right thing. The older, white haired guy, says, :"What do you care? It's not your money".
An old woman buttoning holing a passing masked teen, scolding him about what has been happening. Others join in a passionately debate what has been happening over the last few days.
A smartly dressed woman , shopping bags around her waiting at the bus stop claps and cheers masked protesters marching by. The man next to her shouts out "Shame, shame on you".
Also check out Ishtar79's blog which has a thoughtful account of the events in Greece plus some great pictures that give a taste of what has been happening.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Two weeks on and the anti - government protests sparked off by the killing of 15 year Alexis Grigoropoulos at the hands of a police officer in the Exarchia district of Athens continue unabated. Today riot police went into action to defend the city"s Christmas tree in Syntagma against protesters who pelted officers with rubbish (see pictures here). The previous tree was burnt during rioting last week.
In addition to mass street protests in the capital, 800 high schools and 240 university departments remain under occupation. TV and radio stations, theatres, town halls and other government offices have also been occupied over the last week by young Greeks angry at the death of the teen and the New Democracy government's economic and political record.
Protesters also threw yoghurt and biscuits today at Vasileios Papageorgopoulos, mayor of Thessaloniki, Greece's second city as he greeted shoppers in the central Aristotelos Square.
Foreign coverage of the events in Greece has been a mixed bag. There have been some very good articles on the causes of the protests, for example the Guardian wrote in depth about the situation (click here) and the BBC's Malcolm Brabant gives a very accurate account of the underlying causes (click here) .
On the other hand I have come across a lot of "remote - control" journalism. The kind where the person has done little more than Google the subject for an hour or so or chatted to some guy in a bar. You know the classic foreign correspondent tactic when abroad and disconnected from the culture. I think this article in the Economist definitely falls into the second category. Sweeping generalisations, lack of context and a blind acceptance of other media sources make for pretty sloppy work.
So, instead I recommend Twitter (#griots hash) which has been a very good source of information and links written by those actually involved or on the scene. Most of it is in Greek but you can translate the page into English by clicking on the button on the right hand side. Also Technorati and Google's blog search can often prove very valuable.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Just minutes after the curtains went up, demonstrators seized the stage of the National Theatre, Athens and read out a prepared statement demanding the immediate release of all those arrested in the recent events following the killing of Greek teenager, Alexis Grigoropulos by police two weeks ago. The protesters also called upon the audience to join them in the streets shouting", Turn off your cell phones, turn on your conscience."
The performance of Roberto Succo by Bernard -Marie Koltes was cancelled in a gesture of solidarity by actors and theatre staff with the young protesters.
In addition a massive protest concert was held yesterday outside the Athens univesity campus where thousands watched 64 groups and singers perform until early hours of Saturday morning.
I was just going through pictures I have taken over the last two weeks. It seems like all this started two years ago so intense has the experience been.
One day 'll get round to putting all this down on paper.
On the left the Greek minister for culture, Mixalis Liapis and on the right Prokopis Pavopoulos, the law and order minister.
Many people across the world will have been shocked by the scale of violence witnessed over the last 13 days in Greece. Scenes of intense confrontations with the police and a level of destruction that you normally wouldn't associate with a country famed for its natural beauty and long history.
However, away from the beaches and the museums there are has been a growing sense of despair amongst people, especially those under 25 that the country they live in has no place for them. A feeling that those in charge politically and economically lead lives cocooned by wealth and family connections which leave them indifferent to the problems faced by the rest of the population.
Cronyism, corruption and lack of accountability have eaten away at people's respect for institutions at the heart of Greek life. A fact that was vividly illustrated this week by two decisions which added to the impression that those in authority are above the law.
The first concerned the parliamentary report on the Vatopedi corruption scandal. The case which involved the dubious acquisition of state owned property by the Vatopedi Orthodox monastery involved several senior government officials and cost hundreds of millions of tax payer's money. However, despite a deluge of evidence indicating the misuse of office by high ranking government members the report concluded that there were no grounds for criminal charges.
This is simply the latest in a series of 45 scandals that have come to light since the New Democracy party came to power in 2004 on a platform of clean government.
The other case which has helped undermine faith in the Greek justice system and especially ELAS (the national police force) was the verdict in the Augustinos Dimtrios case which came out last week. Dimitrios, a university student from Cyprus was savagely beaten by eight police officers in an incident which was captured on live TV. Although the officers involved were found guilty none was sentenced to a jail term, instead they received a suspended sentence.
This has added to the sense, amply supported by numerous cases of police violence that law enforcement officials in Greece operate above the law, accountable to no one. One of the reasons why the clashes between protesters and riot police over the last week have been so fierce is the anger provoked by the possibility that the officer charged with killing 15 year old Alexis Grigoropoulos will walk free.
A toxic mix, of unemployment, disillusionment and frustration has driven young people onto the streets time and time again, it has led them to occupy 600 schools nationwide and hundreds of university departments. As of yet there has been no concerted demands for a program of political change, however, this simply reflects the fact that there are so many disparate participants involved in the protests. The speed and scale of the reaction has been such that there is no one group of people or organisation that can truthfully say that represent the demonstrator's will at the present time.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Tonight there was a concert in the centre of Thessaloniki in memory of Alexis Grigoropoulos . Despite the freezing cold thousands gathered to Sokratis Malamas and others in the central Hanth square. For more pictures check out Oneiros's photos on Flickr.
I'm currently following what is happening with the massive demonstration in Athens via Twitter. It seems a good source for the latest updates from people on the spot. Most of it is in Greek, however, if you look in the sidebar there is a translation into English option to help.
According to the official police report the attack was probably carried out using an air pistol, however, the student's father said in an interview on Skai Radio that other students had heard two gun shots. Papamatas is currently recovering after being operated on earler today. Doctors have removed a 20mm shell which was given to the police for investigation
Nationwide demonstrations are planned for today in order to protest the death of 15 year old Alexandros Grigropoulos by a police officer in the Exarchia district of central Athens
More nationwide demonstrations are scheduled to take place today to protest the killing 11 days ago of Greek teen, Alexandros Grigoropulos
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Photo by Murplej@ne-under deconstruction
The batteries are charging, the bag packed, my pencils are sharpened and my notebooks blank. Tomorrow I am heading for the nationwide series of protests over the killing of Alexis Grigoropoluos. Hope to see you there.
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test
(Turn and face the strain)
Don't want to be a richer man
(Turn and face the strain)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time
I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through
(Turn and face the strain)
Don't tell t hem to grow up and out of it
(Turn and face the strain)
Where's your shame
You've left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can't trace time
Strange fascination, fascinating me
Changes are taking the pace I'm going through
(Turn and face the strain)
Oh, look out you rock 'n rollers
(Turn and face the strain)
Pretty soon you're gonna get a little older
Time may change me
But I can't trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can't trace time
"ATHENS — Student protesters evaded security guards at the Acropolis on Wednesday and unfurled two giant pink banners over a wall near the Parthenon to rally support for continued demonstrations against the government."
Good to see that protesters have got more media savvy. As PR stunts go this has to be one of the best I've seen in a long while.
I was just about to sit down 10 minutes ago and start preparing my lessons when I heard the familiar sound of protesters chanting anti - cop slogans. I grabbed my camera and followed the noise until I caught up with a small group of marchers heading towards the centre.
I think that this indicative of what has happened over the last few days in Greece. The protests over the death of Alexis Grigoropoulos have mutated and fragmented. There are now thousands of smaller demos which have moved out of the centres of the big cities and migrated to the suburbs in the form of occupations of schools and local council offices. Less dramatic than previous outbursts but new for the country.
There also seems to be a glaring disconnect between the version of events being offered on much of national TV and that being seen in the rest of the world. For much of the foreign press the events in Greece are being seen as a form of rebellion against the present political establishment and the deep rooted ills in Greek society whereas the local media is offering their own interpretations based on pre-existing ideological formulas.
For the supporters of the conservative New Democracy party the violence and protests are simply the actions of a criminal minority hell bent on mayhem and theft. For others such as the Greek Communist Party (KKE) the violence is part of an orchestrated plan to distract people's attention from the government's economic woes. Others see the hand of foreign intelligence agencies guiding the protesters, who are seeking to undermine the independence of the government.
What they fail to see is the real rage felt by those protesting at the failure of the current political system to offer hope to young people faced with an economy heading into recession and the total lack of accountability of politicians to those the supposedly serve.