The Guns of Tzavella

December 9, 2008 at 12:26 am (Culture, music, Politics) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I love this city fiercely. Almost protectively. When something wonderful happens, my chest feels like it may burst from pride. I wanted my next blogpost to be about the Beggars’ Operas. I truly did. It was one of those times where my love for Athens and Athenian culture simply surges with joy.  I was composing the post in my head after their incredible performance of Verdi’s  ‘Il Trovatore” at the Bios warehouse venue a few days ago. Just a bunch of extremely talented twenty and thirty-somethings dressed in everyday clothes singing with expression and pathos, just inches away from the audience. The orchestra was comprised of an accordion, guitar, piano, trumpet, and cymbals – and still managed to convey the suspenseful lyricism of Verdi’s score. I cried like a fool from Miserere onwards.

But right now, I just don’t feel like writing about art. Or joy. Or love.

On Saturday, December 6, 2008, I unwittingly went for a peek on the wild side after taking Jenny to see Melted Butter.  At first, I couldn’t understand why Patision Avenue and Amerikis Square were so jam-packed at midnight. Grumbling, I decided to cut through the law courts and Exharxia to get over to Gazi – I knew she’d love K44 club over by the railroad tracks. We entered Spirou Trikoupi at approximately half-past midnight – little did we know that, by then, Exharxia had turned into a full-blown war zone since the 9:15 in-cold-blood shooting of a 15-year-old by the police.

I pointed to the neo-classical building at number 34. “See, Jenny? That’s where I spent four years of my life! Isn’t it pretty?” Jenny was not paying attention. She was gazing in horror in front of us. At the corner of Tossitsa and  Spirou Trikoupi three dumpsters were blazing. The heavy scent of tear gas was in the air. Jenny’s friend stated firmly that she was scared and did not want to go any further.

Well. I couldn’t exactly tell to get out of my car and walk back to Ampelokipous, now, could I? I slowly wove my way around the burning dumpsters in order to check out what was going on, regretfully turning back towards civilization – but not before a bunch of police in riot gear (who ignored both the flaming roadblocks and a few youths breaking a car about 50 yards away) sneered at me, “Run girlie, run!”

Rage.

Rage at the smarmy, arrogant bastards, and rage at myself, because I just drove on, tires squealing. I am a Coward. You just shot a boy, and you have the gall to catcall? Is what I did not say. Why didn’t I get out of the car and do… something? Coward.

Rage at the lying cops who insisted that they shot warning bullets in the air because they were surrounded by thirty rock-throwing anarchists. Thankfully, the cops were so stupid as to shoot Andreas Alexandros Grigoropoulos at point blank range at the corner of Tzavella and Messologhiou Streets, which is filled with cafes. Eyewitness accounts relate that after a verbal scuffle between the patrolling cops and a few youths, the cops left, parked their car – then walked back to find the boys and coolly aim at Alex’s chest.

Rage at Anthee Carassava, correspondent for the New York Times, who sticks so religiously to government press releases it’s just plain disgusting. It is now the third day and she won’t even type the dead boy’s name because the government “hasn’t officially released his name yet.”

Really? What a journalist. You remind me of the 1972 White House press corps. By the way ma’am, in case you’re interested, Andreas Alexandros Grigoropoulous’s funeral is tomorrow at 3pm, at Palaio Faliro.

Also, Ms. Carassava, you shold know better than to call Exharxia an “unruly haven of left-wing extremists.” If you really lived here you would know that this is a lively neighborhood filled with cafes, stores, theaters, bars, houses, supermarkets, minimarkets, pharmacies, boutiques, grannies, mothers, junkies, kids, artists – in short, it is a small, cozy microcosm of Athens itself. I have been going out (and practically living there for a while) since I was fifteen and have never, ever felt threatened in the neighborhood at any hour of the night, my car has never been burned, and so on. Is my life that charmed? I think not.

As an ugly cynicism sets in twenty-four hours later, I am glad that mayhem is going on in Trikala, Patra, Chania, Thessaloniki – even Berlin and London ex-pats are doing their share. I am also glad that if someone had to die, then it’s good he was the underage son of a bank manager. Perhaps now justice just might be served. Perhaps the media will now have to rethink their easy labeling of Exharxia as an anarchist ghetto. Perhaps the issue of police brutality in Greece will finally be addressed. As a http://www.skai.gr commentary noted yesterday, Exarxia is everywhere. Unrest and dissatisfaction are everywhere. Cops routinely hit protesters with the hard handle of their rubber baton. Wake up.

But that is beside the point right now. I just came back from the “marches” that were arranged by the Coalition of the Left and the Communist Party.  And now I feel like a fool squared. My idealism and naivete will be my undoing – they have already plunged me into a deep depression.

I had been itching to march since Saturday night, and on Monday I got my chance, as the riots showed no sign of abating – every day more protests and riots were mushrooming all over the country. I was so proud of all the school-age children that protested so peacefully this morning.

So I went to protest myself. And I saw what I did not want to believe.

The fact is, these self-styled anarchists have no ideology whatsoever. It’s not that they mistake anarchy for something else – there is nothing else. They just desire a pretty label for random violence. They don’t actually believe in anything. Apart from fighting and destroying for the hell of it. Supposedly they are anti-establishment.

If so, then they are also mentally challenged.

The killing of an under-age kid by a police officer is the best Christmas present an anti-establishment type can hope for. Apart from Parliament sinking into the ground during a plenary session, I can’t think of anything better. It is cold, hard evidence that the Man is out to get you – with eyewitnesses.

And yet.

Tonight, they burned all of Panepistimiou Street – while the other “peaceful” marchers cheered every Molotov cocktail and rock that was thrown into a bank window. The mania with which they attacked streetlights, bus stops and small shops was almost a wonder to look at. There were no cops, and no provocation. It seemed like the externalized frustration of a would-be rapist who chickens out at the last minute – and then runs over a dog.  It certainly did not seem like they wanted vengeance for the horrific shooting of an unarmed boy.

The atmosphere at the march was heavy, confused. No one knew what to shout, or where to go. I took lots of fuzzy photos. We were surrounded by flaming dumpsters at every turn – there was no way out in case the police attacked. The cops were warily aware of this – they flooded us with tear gas when we got too close, but made no moves to stop the destruction. Possibly they were scared shitless at making another “mistake” – but honestly, you don’t have to shoot someone in the chest to stop him setting fire to an apartment building. There must be a middle way. I’m sure that is part of police training somewhere on this planet.

After running to safety during a brief scuffle with fire and tear gas in Omirou Street, I persuaded Tina to go to Exarxia before we headed home. I just couldn’t leave without going to my favorite square in the city, and damn the baby guerrillas allegedly hiding with Molotovs in narrow streets.

I almost wished there was fighting when we got there. Not even a token oblivious junkie was lounging on the empty benches. It was dark, dirty and desolate. Everything still standing was shuttered close. We picked our way through shards of glass, rubble, extinguished fires and black car-shells. A few rioters hung out nervously near the university gates, ready to bolt back inside at the first sign of trouble.

Teenage looters giggled as they lugged boxes from the destroyed Plaisio Shop. Surreally, I could see a bunch of riot police gazing at them from a safe distance and doing nothing. I was nearly in tears by the time we drank a beer in front of the Archaelogical Museum – we bought it from the only newsstand open within a 2-mile radius, which was doing brisk business with the rioters barred up inside Athens Polytechnic.

And now? The riots are spreading to Athenian suburbs that have never seen such random violence before. And instead of the people raging against murdering police officers (and the reasons why they are so arrogant, rude, undertrained and underpaid) – they demand justice from the anarchists who have gaily burned their livelihoods.

Way to go, guys. And a merry martial law Christmas to you.

and R. I. P. Alex. (1993-2008)

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2 Comments

  1. cosmix.org | Πόλεμος. said,

    […] Διαβάστε επίσης στα αγγλικά το άρθρο της […]

  2. Rowan Thorpe said,

    Well said. Thanks for providing some thoughtful input to fill the vacuum.

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