Anarchists lead violent protests in Greece

Sunday, December 21, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST

Loory: Athens has been in turmoil for almost two weeks as mostly student demonstrators have been in the streets ostensibly to protest the killing of a 15-year-old student by a policeman. But actually the protests involve a number of issues, mostly economic. The unemployment rate among Greeks under the age of 35 is 22 percent. The Greek students involved in the protests have been using the Internet to seek support from other countries and it has been working. There have been protests in Spain, Denmark, Italy, France and the Czech Republic for example. Some commentators are asking a sad question. Can democracy survive in the ancient cradle of democratic tradition? Greece has had a troubled existence since World War II and modern democracy is not well established. What is going on there and why is all of this happening?

Harry Tzanis, director, foreign language department, Athens News Agency : We’ve had these types of protests before. Not in the intensity we saw in the last week. Now I have to mention something in all fairness. We don’t really know that all these people in the street are college students or high school students. These are dissatisfied people, mostly young people. The majority of them are protesting peacefully. There is, however, a minority of people, again teens mostly, that don’t protest peacefully. They protest in a violent manner. These are what we call self-styled anarchists, anti-state activists. You can put any name you want on them. You see these people from Seattle, Barcelona, to Prague, to London, to a certain neighborhood in Copenhagen. These people are all linked together ideologically, or without any ideology. They don’t want the state in any way, shape or form. There is a lot of anti-globalization sentiment running through all these people yet on the other hand they use the Internet and that technology and whatever else you can imagine to communicate and interact between each other and I find that interesting as well.

Alessandro DiMaio, owner and editor, Olivarello, Sicily: Unfortunately we didn’t have any great news from what was going on in Greece by our national media. It was like they were too busy to talk about the issues. So the new media generation on the Internet, talking about programs like YouTube, Facebook, or small private newspapers on the Internet, they were very useful for the people who were protesting in Greece and for this reason the news media, the protests conquer lots of European countries. We can say here in Italy for example that lots of young people started to support the Greek protestors thanks to Facebook.

Yigal Schliefer, correspondent, Christian Science Monitor, Istanbul, Turkey: When you mention the issues of corruption, government inefficiency, youth unemployment and we could also add police violence, Turkey could probably give Greece a run for its money on all those issue. Police violence especially has been on the rise here and a lot of people have been asking what does it take, how come in Greece we see (it). No one is advocating violent demonstrations here, but they are asking why Turkish society is so complacent in its own problems with police violence, corruption and also issues of unemployment. So that is one thing, people are sort of saying, what does it take to wake people up here, not necessarily in a violent way but in a way to raise their voices?

Loory: Harry Tzanis, tell us a little bit about other protests that are going on. I think for example air traffic controllers? Are they now on strike?

Tzanis: You are right about that. Air traffic controllers go on strike here about once every month. They simply do not want any encroachment of the private sector into their domain. I can tell you it is quite a closed-shop domain. There are a lot of different elements within these protesters. Let me just point out a few facts. The very violent attacks happened on what we would call Athens’s Fifth Avenue, or the Champs d’Ellysees, the pedestrian avenue that features all the big shops, all the brand names. They went directly after this. Multinationals were targeted as well – car dealerships. So you have a fusion of different elements, ultra Leftists, anti-state people, more orthodox Communists, all these people together on the streets. As I said before, the majority are peaceful; a minority are not.

Ionnis Stivachtis, director of international studies and associate professor, Virginia Technological University, Blacksburg, VA: Actually the elements we may see today operating within the bounds of the Polytechnic School in Athens are not very much different from those operating even in the romantic times of the '60s and '70s. We had anarchists back then; we had Trotskyites. We had even people involved in some kind of use of drugs even though we don’t say it but things have not changed. Asylum is extremely important.

Loory: Let’s change the subject a little bit and let’s talk about the impact of the present economic recession on protests, first of all in Athens but also other places in Europe.

Di Maio: What happened in Greece could happen even now in Italy because, as we say, Italy and Greece are like sisters, like brothers. Our economic situation is also very bad. Not only because we have the second largest public debit after the United States. We have two problems, one is an economical one, the second one is a political one, because in Italy as in Greece we are in front of a huge chasm between the common people and the police.

Schliefer: Let’s say the wave of crisis has yet to hit Turkey as strongly as it has other parts of Europe. I mean there have been increased layoffs here and the currency has been less stable. And there have been worries about debt and how to continue paying it off, but you haven’t had to see the kind of deep crisis that has been in Greece and some of the other European countries. In that sense they have been able to keep away from problems associated with the economic issues so instead the problems have continued to be political. The Kurdish issue continues to be a problem; the secular/religious divide continues to be a problem here; and then there are local elections coming up in March.

Loory: Alessandro, tell us briefly about your newspaper, which is, as I understand it, an online newspaper and your reporters are not professional journalists. Is that correct? Tell us a little how it works?

Di Maio: is an international online newspaper. The people who are working every day in our offices are professional journalists. But at the same time we have unprofessional journalists and professional journalists coming from other countries. We have more or less 30 correspondents from every country in the world like South America, North America, even the United States of America and from a lot of countries of Europe, Africa and Asia. We are a weekly newspaper, and now we are working even to produce some objects like video, interviews, reportage and all these news services. But until now we are working more or less with articles coming from all around the world.

Loory: is a very interesting Web site to go to for international news. The demonstrations in Greece have been relatively peaceful but not completely. There are grievances that are common to other countries and in a time of economic downturn that is troublesome.

Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Jared Gassen, Chris Hamby, Sananda Sahoo and Hui Wang. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.

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