Alexander, Thodoris, Vlasis, & Kostas: Two students and two graduates from Exarchia High School
Vlasis: Some years ago I became politically active. I’m influenced by the place where I grew up, Exarchia, and by my family. My mother was also a political activist. Those of us in the neighbourhood, we’ve experienced lots of political events that helped us deepen our political understanding.
I was in a house a few hundred meters from the crime scene. The assassination took place at about eleven o’clock [sic] and I heard about it half an hour later. I went immediately to Exarchia Square. There I found that the atmosphere was tense, and already a lot of rioting had happened even though there weren’t more than thirty people on the spot. When I got there the people assured me it was true, Alexis had been murdered, and altogether we made our way to the Polytechnic, where there was asylum. The cops blocked us from entering the university so we went back to the square. We were waiting to see what we could do but our goal was to get to the campus. At that point a group of about forty other people attacked the riot police really hard, throwing stones and molotovs, and they opened the way for us to go to the university. When I arrived at the Polytechnic I was amazed to see that even though there had been no call for a meeting there were thousands of people gathered, mobilised just through phone calls. The sheer numbers made it possible to attack the cops in a powerful way.
It was the first time I met people from all ages, from fathers on down, in a confrontation with police. All of them put Alexis in the position of their own children - they put themselves in the shoes of his parents and they made it personal. It was the first time that we saw so many people of different ages attacking the cops with such limitless determination and hatred. And they all had gathered there in just a few hours.
Alexander: Before December we were in the streets. Most children of Exarchia were influenced by the political activities that were taking place in the neighbourhood. But from the period when we were protesting and participating in the student movement (2006-2007), we took it up a level to the more violent activities during December. It developed strictly from the student struggle. The way of organising also changed. It was no longer demonstrations following a specific course but something that was happening everywhere in the city.
So that night I was getting ready to go to a party and the news spread around. I don’t remember how but it was very vague, no one knew what had happened, they just knew some shots were fired, someone was hurt, but not necessarily killed. My mother came down to my room and told me not to go out because police were shooting and things were burning. An hour later I called a classmate of mine and he told me to come down to the square, the square was on fire and a boy got shot. So when I went down there was already a big riot, and cops, but the cops were farther away in the outlying areas. The riots were spread all around the square, three and four streets away there were garbage bins burning and no cars on the streets. You had to wonder how everyone came there so quickly.
Thodoris: Before December I was not personally informed about political ideas and I didn’t participate in any political activities, even though I lived in Exarchia. During December I spoke with my friends more deeply about political ideas, and I started to participate more.
I was in my house when I heard about the killing on television. Even though I was not the type to go out in the streets, I felt depressed because I hang out with my friends in this exact place, and I realized it could have been me. The first day my parents didn’t allow me, so I didn’t go. The next day I started to go to Stournari with my friends, and I continued going every day. The scene was completely different than normal. You had the impression that you were in a war, a battlefield. It was mostly young people. That made me think, how there were so many really young people who came down into the streets just to confront the cops, throw stones, smash shops. I also saw that the neighbours in Exarchia were speaking with the demonstrators and that was good. Any type of person could come down for this reason. We were welcomed.
Kostas: I’m a graduate of Exarchia High, now I’m a university student but I still live in Exarchia. Before December I was already participating in political activities and riots and violent confrontations with the cops, but what opened my eyes is that another assassination happened just like with Michalis Kaltezas so many years before, and nothing had changed in society We were at the same point. And through this understanding your horizon opens up. You can see all the injustice of society and from this moment you fight against it however possible. And I am still doing it.
On the 6th I was with my friends outside of Exarchia. I came down half an hour later, passing by Nomiki. I saw there were already barricades and riots in Exarchia, and I stayed there for the next few days participating in the riots. I met with my company of friends, we already had an affinity group that we ran with in the demos, never following a bloc or an organization. It was just me and my friends making actions. So immediately we put this into practice again, we met and attacked the riot cops. I stayed until eight in the morning, then I took a look at the TV and what they were saying about the assassination, I went to my house and ate, and then I came back. From that day on you didn't have anything else in your head except that it was a boy that could have been me. There was no possibility of a non-violent response to this situation, so the violent practices were the only possible ones in my mind. The only reason that you were coming to the streets was to burn, smash, and fight against cops, against the whole copocracy It was the only possible response.
When the State steals something from you and doesn’t give it back then you demand it and take it back with violence, so that’s why the use of violence was the only way.
A big difference between these days and previously is that previously in the demos there were some people in the front fighting with police and most other people standing back, but this time everyone was at the front, rioting and fighting police, and no one was standing back. Me personally was helped by my parents because they never told me to stay at home. They were also inhabitants of Exarchia and felt angry, too.
Vlasis: I want to tell you about Alexis. In the beginning, he mostly just came to Exarchia on the weekends. Personally I was closer with his friends, but whenever we met we said hello. Generally speaking, he was a calm person, polite, but he had a passion to know more and more about the political activities and ideas, His friends were mainly active in the Network of Autonomous Student Groups that was formed during the student movements. It was a choice of his to hang out in Exarchia. As most of us who hang out there, he had a strong anti-cop feeling. He had a lot of reasons and a lot of arguments against the police, he could analyse the police as an oppressive machine in Exarchia and in society. He was never violent, before, when he confronted the police. Our experience from meeting with him contradicts with the testimony of the cop’s lawyer and the cop himself, who said that Alexis was one of the most violent people in Exarchia. To conclude, I have to say that all his friends, even if before they were pacifists or leftists, afterwards they transformed into the worst enemies of the police.
Alexander: The first clay of the week, Monday, most schools were open and functioning but no one was focusing on the lessons, The children and teachers were all discussing how to react, and talking about taking to the streets. It’s not true that the schools were closed on Monday maybe some were, but most of them weren’t. It was the day of the funeral - Wednesday I think - that the schools were all closed across the country We did go to class a little bit but the murder was the subject of the day. Since there was a riot close to the school many people left. Most people weren't participating in these things before the murder, they were only looking forward to their holidays, but that week you saw many people who had never protested before going down to the square to express themselves violently.
Vlasis: On Monday I was at my house when I found out about a demo that was organised by all kinds of students from many schools around Athens. The meeting point was at the spot of the murder, The moment I got there I saw thousands of young people there for Alexis. We were all wondering how the cops could be investigating whether the bullet that killed him ricocheted. Everybody was sure that if Alexis shot a policeman, they would never investigate the possibility of a ricochet, they would just charge him for murder. Everyone was angry about this hypocrisy In my mind there was a great plan orchestrated by the State and the media to cover it up.
Alexander: I thought it was funny when the students of two schools met in front of the neighbourhood police station and the cops looked so weak in front of all those angry students. That day they were ashamed, saying sorry and they weren’t attacking or being aggressive as usual. And all the kids felt so much power yelling at the cops, and throwing rotten fruit at them, those wild oranges that are all over the street in the winter.
There was a riot at Syntagma Square and I had never smelled so much tear gas. Some people fainted. Others were prepared, with masks. Lots of people were getting out of there, screaming, crying, from the gas, but the police did not chase them, they just surrounded the square. Then the huge Christmas tree caught fire and burned slowly; from the bottom up. A lot of cops gathered at the base but they didn’t know what to do. And there were a lot of people clapping. Me, during all the days of December I worked my job from six in the afternoon until midnight and then I went directly to the riots at the Polytechnic, everyday.
Vlasis: In the first few days I was in the Polytechnic but in later days I went to Nomiki, where we made some amazing actions. The cops were running after demonstrators there and we were up on the balconies of the school throwing molotovs down on them, burning many of them.You could see them burn.
Thodoris: One day I left class at noon and went to the centre, where I found myself in a very strange situation. There were some huge people with masks taking part, but for me it was obvious they were cops. I saw that they burned a bank van but when they took out the old man who was driving they beat him badly. I was almost sure these guys were from the secret police. Other days I saw these same people and they were behaving very strangely; going around in a small group with hammers, smashing irrelevant, random things, scaring neighbours, and causing trouble.
Alexander: You always see this, people acting like junkies or anarchists but causing troubles and then later you see them in front of the police station talking with the cops. Many secret police do this. There were photos of this in December, with groups of hooded people talking with policemen behind their lines, planning.
Vlasis: All of us believe that there was a plan, a set up, made public by the journalists and put into practice by the State. In other words the journalists created a debate with a dead boy on one side and the destruction of small properties on the other, and the State put it into practice. They got undercover cops to play demonstrators and smash small shops and kiosks, to produce a conflict between the social elements.
Alexander: Even though on the TV everyday they said the streets were full of young boys and girls being irresponsible, smashing and burning small businesses and cars, I never once saw any young person smash these kinds of targets, it was always old athletic men. So it was a self-fulfilled prophesy. They wanted to turn public opinion against the riot. They wanted parents to tell their children to stay home so the case could go to trial like any other case, without all the people in the streets.
Kostas: During the funeral thousands of people gathered to honour Alexis and without any reason the State stationed the riot police very close to the funeral. It was ridiculous and provocative to see the same cops who killed him, the riot police,just in front of you while the funeral was happening, And the police provoked people and shouted things at them. They were singing a humiliating song during the funeral, going "Where is Alexis? tra-la-la! tra-la-la!” It was a spark that made the whole thing explode. Then cops from all different units came to the graveyard, on motorcycle, on foot, riot police, so riots started all around the cemetery. There was panic because most people did not know how to respond to such a situation, they were normal people, old people, and they weren’t prepared.
At that moment some motorcycle cops took out their guns and fired into the air, producing more panic. After December there were many situations when the cops took out their guns. In some demonstrations there were some cops from the special branch, the ones with masks who have the license to kill, and they were brought down to confront young people. I read that in Australia after the cops killed a boy they were disarmed and given tasers, but here after they killed a boy they started using their guns even more. It became normal.
Vlasis: Many times during the insurrection, members of leftist political organizations or people representing mainstream parties would come to student assemblies and try to force them to release statements against the riots. I felt the opposite, the need to express solidarity with the people who got arrested because it is unbelievably hard to have to deal with a murder and at the same time with people from the movement going to prison.
For me December was very dynamic. There was no political party or organisation that could use it to become more popular. Everyone who was in the streets was a total militant, using violent practices without identifying themselves with the anarchist movement, but at the same moment they were standing miles away from the leftist organizations. The leftist parties and organizations, they tried to do the same thing that they always do in social movements, they tried to push the political views of the students and change the appearance ofthe communiques to make it look like the student movement was adopting their own political program. For me it is a sick idea to step on a dead body to announce your political ideas.
But there are also people who use the anarchist movement to just act like hooligans, without any ideological background.
Kostas: During December the leftists were behaving as always, they do non-violent demonstrations to beg for something from the State. This time they were begging for an apology. On the other end the anarchists always believe - and this time much more so - that the State is stealing something from our lives and they go out in the street to take it back. I feel the same way and the majority of people in these days believed it too.
Alexander: I don’t think anyone was influenced by the parties because they weren't listening. I didn’t spend time watching TV during this period. It is obvious that no one on the streets belonged to the Right but at the same time they didn’t belong to any organization.
Vlasis: However there were some people who exploited these moments, like fascist groups that used this time to make connections with the police and attack the insurgents. This is normal in social movements.
Alexander: It looked like a battlefield, those riots. You could see the Golden Dawn, the neo-nazi group, with the cops, protecting each other, and against the anarchists. They weren’t trying to hide it, everyone could see.
Thodoris: Me personally I am an Albanian immigrant. One day in December I was coming home from the gym with two friends, one from Bulgaria and another from Greece. We passed the police station responsible for killing Alexis and the MAT encircled us so no one on the outside could see what they were doing. I had my hands in my pockets so they hit my arms and shouted that I should stand at attention in front of them. They asked for our papers and we said we were immigrant students. Immediately they turned to my Greek friend and said, "What the fuck, you keep company with these malakas?" And they arrested me and the Bulgarian boy. My mother came to the police station to get me out and when she showed them my papers they saw that I was from the south of Albania, where there is a Greek minority they suddenly changed their tune. They told her to be careful that I don’t keep company with Bulgarians and other immigrants, I said to the cop that before he told my friend not to hang out with me because I was an immigrant and he said I was lying.
Me personally I have many friends from all kinds of countries like Ethiopia, Bulgaria, all over the planet. We have big problems with the copocracy because the cops and many normal people treat us like shit, like we are nothing. If the cops ask for your papers you'll have big problems. Any time you meet with the cops they behave really bad; they treat you like you're already a criminal, and they behave the same way with all of us.