A famous Greek documentary-maker describes the savage onslaught against peaceful protesters by Greek police during this week’s 48-hour strike.
By Yorgos Avgeropoulos*, originally published at Exandas Documentaries
I have covered conflicts of protesters and police in various places around the world outside Greece, such as in Argentina, Italy, Bolivia, and Mexico. Especially in Mexico, the police, as many know, are considered savage, untrained and corrupt. However, what I lived through and recorded along with my co-workers yesterday (Wednesday 29/6) at Syntagma, surpasses all limits in savagery. The Greek police rightly, and by a wide margin, gets the prize for barbarity. A barbarity which has no relation to repression but which was a constant flirt with death.
It is a miracle that we did not mourn any dead. And Mr. Papoutsis [the Minister of “Citizen Protection”] should light a candle to the God he believes in, since it is only due to his good luck that he is not apologizing today for any deaths.
The plan to clear Syntagma Square during the last two days was a violent attack, an “onslaught” as it was put aptly by Ayman, a Spanish journalist who works for Al Jazeera. An onslaught against everyone and anyone to the death. “But what kind of police is this that you have?” he asked me indignantly. “You are a member of the European Union, at least for now,” he said to me with a meaningful smile.
Let’s take things from the beginning. At about 13.30, there are a lot of people gathered in front of the Parliament. They are not hood-wearers. They are not throwing rocks. They are elderly, young, women, men, students, workers, unemployed who are shouting slogans, who are making the familiar hand gesture to Parliament, and the most hot-blooded are right in front — at the most they launched insults and shook the railings which were set up in front of the monument of the Unknown Soldier. Nothing important, in other words, which would justify what would follow.
All of a sudden, from everywhere, from right, from left, and from the centre, a general attack of the police forces began which pushed the protestors towards the steps of Syntagma Square. Imagine thousands of people running frantically towards a narrow opening of a width of not more than 10 meters. From behind them, the riot police throw stun and flash grenades into the crowd and teargas, creating panic. People are burned by the flames, drowned in the tear gas, they can’t see in front of them, and they start to step on one another and to tumble down the steps. People faint, others are stepped on in the blood. Despite all this, the police to do not leave. They hit anyone they find in front of them with their clubs — people, in other words, who are running to save themselves, stepping on one another.
What follows is well-known. Beyond the action of the agents provocateurs, which has been recorded on video and in photographs which have been released and which will continue to be released in the following days, and beyond the action of the troublemakers who I despise and totally disagree with, it is now easy for a rock to be thrown from anyone’s hand, by anyone who has been hit, chemically sprayed, anyone who is unemployed, homeless — yes there are now neo-homeless — and who every day becomes poorer without seeing a way out, anywhere.
I won’t hide from you that I was scared watching a savagery without precedent taking place before my eyes. I felt the same fear that I have felt in tough regions of the planet. I felt the fear of death. As I thought it was my imagination and that I was unaccustomed to working in Greece — I hadn’t worked in my country since 2000 — I asked my old colleagues if they had ever lived something like this before here. They answered that they had never experienced anything like it.
Therefore, as a rational person, I would like the Ministry of “Citizen Protection” (I put it in quotation marks as the title reminds me of the Ministry of Love in 1984 by Orwell) to answer the following question:
- Who gave the command for the general attack at 13.30 and why? Whose idea was it to order the police forces to hunt down a panicked crowd stepping on one another on the steps, to throw stun and flash grenades and tear gas, to beat indiscriminately, taking a 50-50 risk that someone among the thousands would leave their last breath in the square?
- Why didn’t the police respect the medical center of Syntagma Square? Professional doctors, pulmonologists and others, all of them volunteers, were treating those injured during the entire duration of the attacks. They were not “hood-wearers”, they were doctors. They shouted at the police “this is a medical centre” but the police paid no attention. Fanatically, the police threw tear gas and beat them. As one doctor said to us “these things don’t even happen in war. Even in war, there is a truce, so that the wounded can be picked up and treated.” The doctors gathered everything up in haste and set up the medical center down in the metro, but they didn’t escape the chemicals which were thrown in down there either.
- Why were the teachers at the Teaching Federation of Greece beaten? Were they hood-wearers too? I don’t think so. After the riot police threw tear gas into the entrance of their building at 15 Xenofondos Street, they threw rocks (!) and hit teachers on the head using their clubs upside down, hitting with the handle, according to their testimonies. Three were wounded: one with broken ribs, one with head injuries, and one with light injuries on his arm. The teachers said: “when a society abuses its teachers, it can’t go any lower”.
- What was the logic behind the police using chemical sprays and beating people in the greengrocers and souvlaki restaurants of Monastiraki and Plaka, terrorizing the customers and the tourists?
- And finally, something personal for Mr. Papoutsis: Why did you hit me? Not you, in other words, but one of the men of your police. Because I don’t know the “anonymous” riot policeman, but I do know you, I would truly like a response. The situation was relatively calm at that time and, with my camera, I was recording a riot squad which was going up towards the Parliament, when one of them left his squad, came up to me, and stood in front of me, a breath away. I stopped shooting and lowered the camera. He looked at me in the eyes. I said to him, what do you want, and his response was to hit me with his club, so I could remember this day. People started to shout: “Hey, you’re hitting Avgeropoulos!!?” I didn’t react at all and he went away. If I had reacted we might be talking in the police department where you would be apologising for the… “misunderstanding.”
- By the way: in Oaxaca, when I was cornered along with my cameraman by Mexican police, who as I said before, are considered savage, untrained and corrupt, I shouted “Journalist” and they didn’t do anything to me. In my own country I was beaten for the first time.
*Yorgos Avgeropoulos (Greek: Γιώργος Αυγερόπουλος; born 1971) is a Greek journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is the creator of the Greek awarded documentaries series “Exandas”. He was born in Athens in 1971. He has worked for Greek television stations covering news stories in Greece and major events around the world. He has, also, worked as a war correspondent in the wars in Bosnia, Croatia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Palestine. In 2000, he created the documentary series “Exandas” (meaning sextant) which has won many awards in film festivals and documentary festivals in Greece and around the world and is currently broadcasted on Greek public television.