The wonderful nights of Syntagma square

Keep Calm and Take the Square

The Wonderful Nights of Syntagma – 27 May 2011, 8am

I have just come home from Syntagma and the time is 7.15am. Sleepless, I am trying to put my thoughts, feelings, impressions in some sort of order.The second day of the Syntagma movement was in many respects more interesting, more ripe and more exciting.


Yes, there were evidently fewer people than the first day, but again they were enough, and persistent. So persistent that they were not deterred by the dreadful rainstorms hitting the square suddenly and repeatedly. Previously, with such storms, demonstrations would be called off. Fortunately we have gone beyond that stage. Syntagma Square is the Greek Tahrir. The movement, against sycophancy and condescension, has started to take root. Its third day is anticipated with great interest.


But let’s take things from the start.


With very little sleep, I reach Syntagma at around 7.30pm. The first impression is negative. A friend tells me that just a minute ago, a fascist attacked immigrants who were selling umbrellas. “And didn’t you put him in his place?” “We did. He is no longer here”. I wonder where he found the nerve. One of the reasons that I am enraged with the absence of comrades from Syntagma is that the result of their condescension is precisely that they make easier the actions of such cowards.


So it be… The immigrants are still there and I have not witnessed any such racist behaviour.


People coming as it’s getting dark. 9pm and the flow of people into Syntagma is far larger than the flowing out of it. I find a neighbour with his child whom I had never seen at a demonstration before. I come across anarchist comrades who are old timers in the streets. They are there and on the whole they like what’s going on. How can you judge negatively the occupation of Syntagma by people who have turned against the regime? They are also troubled that our comrades continue to snub the whole situation and abstain from it…


The greek flags are again only a few, but still slightly more than yesterday. There are guys who walk around wearing the greek flag as a cape. The are very few but stand out in the crowd. The presence of their attire irritates e but the irritation is significantly tempered when I look at the faces of the people here. Most of them are young, with beautiful, luminous faces and an air of independence. My broad impression of them is much better than that of the first day (when you were confronted much more by the petit-bourgeois, apolitical foggy first awakening of people who were for the first time in the streets among others…)


I leave the square and move to the main street in front of Parliament. Here, again my broad impression is much improved than that of the first day. You don’t just hear ‘Thieves – Thieves’ and the national anthem. Quite the opposite!


The atmosphere is shaken by slogans such as ‘burn, burn the brothel that is parliament‘ and (to my surprise) ‘journalists, ruffians, scum’. (both of them classic anarchist slogans of prior decades). There are also new slogans such as “aah and ooh and I fuck the IMF”, a variation of a DAP* slogan, which sounded very good! [*New Democracy Student's Initiative - the right wing conservative party - the reference to Greece has been removed from the slogan]


The climate is festive and more passionate than that of the first day. Again you hear the national anthem but not with the frequency and passion of the first day. It is not sang by many and they only sing a segment of it. The cops look fed up and cranky. When the riot police appear on the upper part of parliament they are jeered and attacked by a swarm of lasers. In front of me there is a small tent with people inside. You get the feeling that the movement is going forward, taking root, it’s not just letting off steam.


In the square the direct democracy assembly has started. For me, this assembly was a revelation. It showed be that the conscious part of the Syntagma movement is far ahead, and resolute.

The meeting was attended by a large crowd, much bigger one than yesterday’s. If the people who participate in the continuous mobilisation of Syntagma could match the level of thought and questioning in that meeting then we would be on the verge of an undefeatable revolution! The ideas heard would put to shame those who snub this movement, who try to make a point by abstaining in the name of self-referential ideological purity. They should blush in shame because what was heard demolished the myth of reactionary apoliticism that they believe dominates this movement.


Unfortunately, some receive the caricature presented by mass media about this movement as its reality. But reality is entirely different. What do I remember from the views expressed?


A fellow raised the issue of the greek flag and whether such a flag should be accepted (yes, if those who hold it are just kids, or if they are fascists). The same person proposed that all flags (red, red & black, black and others) should be acceptable and that it is an act of fascist violence to ban those who want to hold them. He also spoke of the need to make a new flag that would express this movement and more generally, the need to not be stuck on symbols but on substance. His position was applauded.


A woman proposed that we don’t pay for anything. Not for mass transport, not for the banks, nothing. Others emphasised the need for this movement to expand into workplaces and to universities. Others pointed out the need to self-organise even better in all respects (information, cleaning, food and housing in the square)

Great applause was given to an immigrant who demonstrated the universality of this movement. He was brought in by a comrade who openly declared his political position (anarchist). Prior to that, the crowd shouted down a guy who started to talk racist bullshit, while an astonishing intervention of a guy from OYK [Underwater Demolitions Unit] ended with “those little cops are joke to me. Bless Koufodinas and his hands!” [Koufodinas was a member of the '17th November' urban guerrilla/terrorist group]


A fellow from Barcelona also spoke, raising the need for the movement to take root in the square and to deal with practical matters seriously.


The meeting was interrupted by a sudden storm, but started again when it stopped. Around that time, I also spoke.


I made three points: a) that television is an enemy of this movement and it represents it misleadingly and deceitfully. Especially Alafouzos and Sky TV are the worst hypocrites, worth spitting at. The same TV channel that supported the IMF and the memorandum now has the nerve to make recommendations for this movement, which is clearly against the IMF. b) I criticised our comrades and friends who have rebuffed this movement, considering it not worthy of participating in, as barren and with a dangerous outlook. c) I raised the issue about the fascist who tried to beat up immigrants and emphasised categorically that such behaviours cannot be acceptable (in fact they deserve a kicking). The unity of this movement does not include fascists. This movement is universal to all of humanity, it was inspired by resistance movements in other countries, and it can in turn inspire other countries. I have to admit what I said was received enthusiastically, and was another clue to the kinds of ideas espoused by the conscious core of the movement.


Generally, the atmosphere in the assembly was friendly and pleasant. There were some tensions (especially surrounding the question of livestream coverage of the meeting) but his is inevitable in meetings where living-breathing people participate.


Towards the end some guys made their appearance, showing with their ways that there was a chasm between those politically conscious and those who were unrefined and apolitical. One of them proposed that we sing (those who know it, as he said!) the national anthem. I answered that he should sing, if he knows it, the Internationale. There followed taunting, sarcastic remarks that he should learn more songs and not just those he learned when he was five, and he was asked if some people’s obsession with the national anthem leads them to sing it after defecating or after sex!


We did not threaten them but tried to make them understand that they should get unstuck from a song that makes local fascists feel proud.


At that point I saw one of the guys who was wearing the greek flag as a cape and could not resist talking to him. (as I will mention below, one of the great achievements of this movement is the ease with which you can talk to people who you did not know before and mould each other.)


The dialogue was delightful. “Sorry mate, excuse me, but you are wearing something that’s hanging from a pole on the building you are shouting against, isn’t this a bit of a contradiction?”


“It’s them who betrayed this symbol”


“What symbol was betrayed? The one brought here by a Bavarian king?”


“Yes, but this embodies the soul of a people”


“The soul of a people can exist in many things and different symbols. Some of them can even be more universal than a national symbol that represents an apparatus of torture and death”


And suddenly the whole conversation takes a different turn. The dude is proven to be far more open minded and educated than I had thought. He accepts that all symbols are ambiguous and can potentially be turned into an excuse and justification for mass murder. He is against borders (!!). He mentions disapprovingly that after WWI passports were introduced that obstructed free movement. He is far from being a fascist. This example shows that we should not judge people so easily only on the basis of the symbols they hold.


Time has passed. It’s way past midnight. People are still on the street and in the square. There are small discussion groups everywhere. People are discussing about everything. You can participate in any group or make your own.


I have met more people than I have ever done before in a protest. Linux geeks talking about how crap Windows is. Others with whom we discuss the meaning of words and whether we can invent a common conceptual code. An ex- war correspondent tells us terrible stories about Kosovo and Haiti. A student draws parallels between this situation and May ’68 and the need for students to ignore exams and come out to the streets. A wonderful older man who has given up all substances (coffee, cigarettes etc.) is obsessed with inviting Glezos* to give us his regards [Manolis Glezos is a left-communist activist & politician, famous for taking down the fascist flag from Acropolis in 1941 behind the backs of German guards]. There are discussions about what this movement can lead to. About its peacefulness and violence. We are aware that the establishment has not yet repressed us, not because, as TV news claim, falsely, there are no “familiar strangers” [literally, 'known unknowns' - this phrase has been used by the media for decades to refer to anarchist groups that cause property damage] - and so why did they recently quash two peaceful sitting protests? – but because the establishment feels that if it represses us there will be a backlash, as in Spain. In this phase, they are counting on this movement deflating on its own, and we are aware that this tolerance has an expiry date, if the movement does not give up. There is a hunch that a great face-off is coming in the next few days…

Nearby people are sleeping in tents and couples kiss. I learn over the phone that fascists have again attacked on Epirou street. it is the implementation of the Chrysi Avgi* line that rebukes any members who turn up at Syntagma, disobeying its directive, calling them to focus their struggle on Athens neighbourhoods… Disgust… [*Chrysi Avgi - The Golden Dawn - is the largest and most violent fascist organisation in Greece]


The people remaining in the square this late are on the whole ‘alternative’ types. Nose rings and laid-back attire. A friend and I go back up to the main street, which is still vibrating with demonstrators’ slogans. They are few but completely undaunted. I see another greek flag. I go near to talk to the guy holding it. He’s an immigrant!


[…] [I have not translated this short paragraph because it is all about wordplay invented with the writer's friend that is untranslatable and not that relevant to the story…]

There is drumming. Some have started a conversation with the cops (not the riot police hominoids but the blue ones, who are able to hold one). One question gets them embarrassed. “We are here peacefully and don’t swear at you, but if you are ordered to quash us, will you do it?” What could they answer? “Well, you will quash us. But why are you then bothered when they call you cops, pigs, murderers?”


At some point the cops just left! We were still there without them. We laugh. “We persuaded them! They have changed jobs! The parliament is left unattended. Let’s go take it!” It was a joke but still the people moved closer to the parliament. And the cops come back.


They push us. Some more zealously, some more relaxed. But they are pushing and are hostile. “Do you know what space you have entered?” says their leader. “A brothel we want to burn” I thought. Some resist the push but we know that we have no hope of winning. Back to the pavement. The road is open again and the traffic is back. Cars pass by honking their horns in solidarity. Very few people left by now. There are no greek flags but there is dancing and drumming. The dawn comes and we are on the pavement in front of parliament, around 30 of us. The rest are in the square. An immigrant is playing the drum. We are all chatting, and although we were strangers we have become like a group of friends. I meet a young guy who says he used to be in DAP. “Up to now, I used to go out in Keramikos*, I was a hipster and all I cared about was Facebook and football. Now I’ve been on the street for two days until dawn and for the first time I won’t go out in Keramikos on friday, but will stay here!” [*Keramikos is a gentrified trendy nightlife area of Athens]


A friend calls me, she has just gone home: “Can’t believe it, I went back with a guy from Syntagma who turned out to be a fascist and was swearing at immigrants. He told me that if his sister goes with a black man he will kill her” and here is the connection between the debasement of racism with sexual debasement and its repressed incestuous tendencies… –


Next to me there is a guy who looks like John Lennon and another one who looks like Jim Morrison. Surreal scenery. We are only 7 people left. Four are about to leave and we will be only three left (among us the ex-DAP dude). We laugh and sing Theodorakis’ “we are two, we are three, we are a thousand twenty three”. A moment ago, someone had stood up from his wet blanket, and shakes it out in the cops’ faces. A sort of confrontation starts, but is avoided.


The three of us now move towards the square. We want to leave with a slogan since we are the last ones, but which one? We choose the old DAP one, in its more radical version “aah and ooh and I fuck the IMF”


In the square there is now Papadakis’ TV crew wanting to interview us. We refuse categorically. “TV is fighting this movement and we will not pretend to be its representative. Creeps, you showed someone who said he was going down to Syntagma to complain about criminality in the city centre! You are such clowns”

Nearby a peasant who has come down to Athens to participate in the city-centre movement shouts: “They need a kicking. The are looking for idiots to tell them about the movement, and show them next to commercials with boobs and arses. They debase everything, the sellouts.”


I must go. I have only slept three hours in three days, and in the evening I will be back here.


Since I was 15 I have taken part in school and university occupations, general strikes, anti-war movements, anti-racist actions and riots, many times with excitement and enthusiasm. Together with December, this movement fulfils me like no other. I feel sorry for those who have not seen it. I am sad for those who have misunderstood it. More than anything I feel bad for my comrades who have not tasted the wonderful, irreplaceable nights of Syntagma.


Comrades, get over your stuck-upness and wholeheartedly embrace this movement!

Don’t reproduce in your own ideological side the same rubbish of the Communist Party and Chrysi Avgi, and don’t accept as its real image the reactionary caricature of the mass media.

We know that consciousness changes in the street, and it was us who were unknowingly calling the people to stay in the streets!

There is a lot to be done, and this movement’s contradictions are many. But it is mainly the product of free, unpatronised people, and it is here to stay.