Violence at Syntagma on 3 September 2011

by Maria Scordialos on September 7, 2011

Here is my harvest from Saturday, 3 September 2011 in Syntagma…

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On 3 September, I witnessed such violence in Syntagma that it broke my heart open and now I am left wondering – wondering – what I am really meant to be doing with my life?

There was a call for people to begin gathering again in Syntagma – to continue to show our resistance and say ‘not in our name’ – as well as continue to talk about what else we can do.  We had spent the day with Anthi and Odysseas planning our work out for the Autumn (interesting dynamics there too) and then our plan was to go to the centre to see what was happening.  Sarah, Stella, Anthi and I went.  There were people – quite a few – but not like before the summer – and it was clear there are two main groupings – the top of Syntagma, right outside the Parliament Buildings and down in the square.  The people in the centre were in the middle of the people’s council (that they have continued to do all through the summer) and the people at the top some were just hanging out and talking and others were chanting, etc.

Initially, we were at the top – and there was quite a ‘leftist’ feel to the whole thing – didn’t feel as diverse as before – more younger people or older ‘communist’ types.  We decided to go down into the Square to see what was being spoken there.  We were listening when we heard tear gas being shot off – three or four times and wondered what was happening at the top.  Then young women started screaming for everyone to come to the top – the police were pushing people down into the Square.  The People’s Council continued and some people went up.  We did.  My natural inclination was to not stay in the Square – because they can trap us in there – and tear gas us.  What we found was that the riot police were pushing people down towards the stairs – so they could hold them back at Syntagma Square – most of them were young people – really young – 15-20 year olds – boys and girls – but mainly boys.  We asked what had happened – an older man said that suddenly a group of young people – anarchists had rushed in front of the Parliament and the police began to tear gas and chase them – but this felt like it was a set up – staged by the police themselves.  We made it to the front – so we were facing the riot police – all four of us – with others of course.  Our natural inclination was to protect the young ones – especially the boys because we knew they would pick on them – and rile them to get violent.  We were inviting everyone – both young people and cops (there really was not difference apart from the riot gear) to calm down – and we were speaking calmly to the riot police to stop pushing.  It was evident that there were plain clothed riot police in the crowd – so difficult to know who to trust.  We also had to not lose each other – so had to stay aware of the each other.  The police pushed us to the top of the stairs and formed a wall to hold everyone back down the stairs.  Anthi – broke through their wall – she was on the other side – looking at their backs – and she quietly and every so still – sat down on the road curb.  Sarah laughed and said ‘look Anthi is on the other side’ – I just sidestepped a riot police’s shield and did the same thing and said to Stella and Sarah to do the same.  They did.  Because of our ages – because we are women – who knows – they did not go after us.  It just felt right to be on the other side – to witness and see – instead of being in with the young people.

The young people formed a ‘chain’ by holding hands – taking their stance to not move down further into Syntagma.  It was an act of protection – of the Square and also an act of defiance – we are not moving further back.  What then happened was a really interesting dynamic – there was a stand off – the young people would not go down further – and the police would not leave.  This went on for about an hour or maybe two, (in the mean time the city council sent out the cleaning machines – which kind of made you wonder if this was what was really going on – wanting to keep the Athens ‘shop front’ nice and clean).  The young people were talking to the police – some were jeering at them – others were actually having a conversation with them.  At some point – even the police were talking with young people – it was so strange to watch – a stand off – but where each side was talking to the other.  Violence and suppression/repression – but with some form of dialogue!

We just kept holding the space from behind the riot shield wall.  There were others with us – and at one point a priest/monk (he has been there for a long time) – crossed the road – and he had maybe five people with him – and he had a megaphone and Greek flag – he went on the side of the Parliament and began to sing/chant a prayer.  It was incredible – goose bumps stuff – like he was calling down with his activism a greater power.  A new group of riot police surrounded him – and we again naturally went across the street – a feeling of protection pushing us towards him.  He began to argue with the police asking them why he cannot stand there – why he cannot chant – are we not in a democracy?  He was angry and let them know this.  They were gently pushing him.  We surrounded him.  The Police were polite asking us to move – we asked why?  They started to get more violent and shout – physically pushing us – we asked politely but with authority to take their hands off of us.  They got us across the street and my sister sat down on the curve – she has a really bad back – a cop – started to try and pull her up forcefully.  I went up to him and said calmly – the lady has a bad back – give her a minute and she will get up on her own – she is not doing anything.  Stella turned around and looked him right in the eyes and said, “I will not leave as long as you push me – take your hands off me and I will stand up – but only if you take your hands off me”.  He turned at me and shouted at me – and pushed me – I just stood and redirected his energy – so did not move far.  He looked at me – and by this time Stella had gotten up on her own.  We went across the street, knowing that fighting them was no use – but also wanting to keep our dignity and not let them push us.  They had pushed Sarah too and she had assertively told them to not touch her.  Anthi the same.  All of us were so calm though – violence being met with our own authority/autonomy.

For some reason – they let the riot police wall open so the young people came rushing out.  There was a lot of fear and we could sense that the police had done this on purpose.  The young people were throwing bottles – some glass – it was a release of young male angry energy.  The cops stormed the young people – they scattered and then I could not believe my eyes (although I know this happens all the time in Greece) they caught two boys.  Five or six cops on one boy – one of them was fighting them – the other one was paralysed with fear.  He had long blond hair and had the sweetest face – he was just looking at the crowd – asking for help with his eyes.  Two cops were holding him with his arms outstretched (it was quite an archetypal image – like a sacrificial lamb – a Christ-like icon) – and the other guy who was fighting back was being beaten by all these cops.  Instinctively – our natural impulse was to help these boys. Stella ran into the crowd of police and got through their wall – she was screaming at the cops to let the boys go – to not beat them.  I ran to but a cop pushed me back and a wall formed between Stella and I.  I did not know who to protect then – my sister or the boy.  The violence of the police and the fear was so strong.  The police pushed Stella back – she was crying, yelling we have to do something for the boys – they are going to beat the life out of them.  We were completely helpless – two of the boys friends were crying and shouting – and wanted to fight the cops – we held them back and told them to stay with us because they too will be taken in.

We saw the cops take the boys away towards the Parliament – knowing that they will be beaten severely.  A few minutes later two red cross/first aid people with a young woman – asked where they had been taken – I showed them and they ran in that direction.  Two cops completely lost it and they stormed the crowd of young people again – their commander started shouting at them to return to their formation – it was so scary to see how this escalates.  They returned to their formation.  The cops formed into a circle and we knew they were going to storm again.  They went down into the metro – so some of the young people ran screaming to their mates in the Square – they are coming through the metro – move, run.  It was absolute pandemonium then – we were above looking down into the Square – they stormed the square from every side – trapping people in the Square (many had left because the people’s council was now over) – and they caught another young man – pushed him on the ground so his face was on the marble – and then they actual released asphyxiation gas – right in his face.  It was unbelievable – he passed out – so they had to carry him up the stairs – 6 cops.  They put him down – and he came to – and they again carted him off in the same direction as the other two they had caught.  The riot police again pushed us back so we could not see – and also help.  I was speaking to the cop who was pushing me with his shield saying, “Why are you pushing me back – so I cannot see the violence – so I cannot see what you are doing to these young people – violence is violence – we have seen it – we are witnesses – that is why we are here”.  I found it interesting that if you looked into their eyes they could not look into mine – we all noticed this.

We did not want to leave – the riot police had achieved their aim (and reinforced their perspective that young people have to be subdued and repressed because they are useless and only cause disturbance) – to disperse the crowd through fear – we sat down on the wall – there were other people who were saying this is unbelievable and nothing like the violence they saw on 28 and 29 June.  They could not believe they had gassed that young man.  Why can’t we stand on the road they had blocked – we really are not free anymore?

It was 1:30 a.m. – the four of us began to speak of how at an archetypal level what we had witnessed is the result of having uninitiated youth – especially young men.  How the existing patriarchical system has damaged the masculine more than the feminine.  That what we had witnessed is a form of an initiation, in the absence of something more maturely held.  That there really was no difference between the riot cops and the young people – the level of anger, immaturity and violence was in both side – and that what is particularly scary of the riot police is that their weapons are fueled by this immaturity that gives them an incredible power that instead of dissipating violence – they engender more.

What we witnessed in many of the young people was something new – but with no known expression yet – the desire to express their need to talk and participate (is this what was happening at the stand off?).  But they really do not know how to do this – apart from throwing bottles and feeling a sense of worth of standing up to riot police.  This is not about revolution, not about politics, not about economy. It is about something else – something that has to do with a far more basic element of our humanity – finding a deeper, stronger, wiser, connection and expression of the life force that courses through us.  This is what happens at a large scale when we do not tend this fragile coursing of life that comes through us – when we have no elders, no guides, no ceremonies, no tempered ground to come in contact with this aspect.  Life force is not just to be released – it is too strong – and undirected as we witnessed – untended – it becomes violent and destructive.  IT becomes a waste of life.

I felt this intense mixture of impotence of not having been able to shift the violent energy – and I felt this intense feeling of knowing that I had been there this night to witness this need of our younger generations – and our authorities – of places and ways where the life force can be met in a tempered, guided and loving way.  Where life can become beauty and of use – not destruction and ugly like I had witnessed.  The ugliness completely insulted my soul.  But we have to see it – we cannot sit in our pretty homes, pretty jobs, and comfort zones – and we cannot wrap ourselves in idealist inspiration either.  With out meeting the pain and confusion in our selves – and witnessing it on such a large level – we cannot shift to loving this life force – wildly loving Life and ourselves.  This love – wild love of life and self – are absolute prerequisites for creating beauty and not ugliness out of the life that is given to us.

And then – out of the blue – this older man – walked up to us – he was wearing all white – and was really smartly dressed – an Athenian aristocrat – and he asked us what had happened tonight?   We began to tell him of the violence we had witnessed – and he told us of the violence the State had done to him – and it was difficult to know if he was a bit mad because what he was saying was so extreme – but Anthi was really listening to him.  Being listened to with such an open heart, transformed him – he asked who we were – we told him we want to create space for beauty – and he said this is not possible – but something inside him listened to us and we invited him to come to our gatherings that our young people need our elders and that we could see he is one.  We gave him SoL Greece’s website to look out for our events.

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Now some days later, I am still feeling the shock of the violence and holding even deeper resolve (with Sarah, Anthi and Odysseas) to keep witnessing and creating space and processes for the interdependent evolution of diverse creative expressions in Hellada. Specifically, we are dreaming of a physical space in Athens – where we can begin to meet, learn, exchange, dream, experiment, incubate and be in good parea – where we can transform ourselves systemically and create life as it flows through us.  A place where artists can meet with architects, where business people can drink coffee with activists, where young people can talk to Yiayias and Papudes (Grandmothers and Grandfathers), where mothers can be together, etc.  Who would like to join in creating this fest of beauty – we will need your help – financial, time, love, talents, songs, art, cooking, etc.  If this speaks to you – please get in touch by emailing me on [email protected]