Little John: An anarchist who has been active for ten years, and is involved with one of Thessaloniki's squatted social centres, Fabrika Yfanet.
It wasn’t a specific squat or group responsible for the insurrection. In Greece there is a specific culture of responding to police aggression. When the police do something really wrong, there is a fast reaction: people attack police stations or other targets. At the end of August, 2007, this guy from Nigeria, Toni Onoya, was in a café selling CDs. He saw some people he recognised as undercover cops so he tried to escape by jumping down from the second floor veranda. The immigrants are always being hunted by the cops. But this time he fell on his head and died. His friends came and they tried to stop the police from taking the body before they could find their own doctor because they believed that police would falsify the autopsy and change the story They called the media, people started to learn what had happened and they converged on the square. At nightfall there were 200 people. The police made another attempt to remove the body and this started the conflict. There was some rioting, and the next day there was a demonstration of immigrants, the Nigerian community students, anarchists, and they all attacked the police station with stones.And that was it. It ended with a demonstration in the centre, some rioting, and about seventeen people arrested. This is how the anarchists here react. When there is police violence, we must respond in a direct way.
A week before the killing of Alexis we had gone to Volos because there had been another killing by police. There we were only one hundred people and we attacked the police station but it didn’t get out of control like it did with Alexis. Somehow that time, maybe because it happened in Exarchia, we all decided, "Okay, now we’re going to fuck everything up."
So we met in the university to see what we were going to do. We didn’t know that in other cities people were doing the same thing. We knew that Athens would explode but we didn’t know it would happen in all the other cities too. Five hundred people gathered in the university and we didn’t talk too much, just decided how we would respond. Some people went out and started setting things on fire. The police weren’t out on the streets, they were protecting the police stations, so we were free to do whatever we wanted. There weren't more than five hundred of us in the streets.
The next day we met at twelve at Kamara, in the centre. There had been no time to make a poster, we just used phones and word of mouth, but there were three thousand people there and we were starting to hear that things had happened in other cities as well.
Monday was the big boom. The high school students were in the streets attacking police stations, demonstrating. In the morning the high school students attacked the central police station for hours. And in the afternoon 10,000 people gathered, and then it was a real insurrection. And this continued for three more days. Until the end of the week there was a demonstration every day Sometimes with fighting, sometimes not. On Wednesday there was a general strike, by coincidence. This is a periodic occurrence in Greece, a one-day strike every three months, and this one happened to fall in this week of insurrection. The government tried to cancel it and the labour unions agreed not to hold a demonstration, but just to gather, play some music, and send everyone home.
The mixture of people in the streets included students, anarchists, people who had connections with political spaces but had not been active, young people, immigrants, and political people from past generations, older people. We could see that communicating through violence and counter-attack was really working. Small communities were organising themselves to attack. They didn’t need us to organise them. You could see small groups of students, fifteen year olds, faces covered, forming affinity groups like anarchists, but with no connections to the anarchists. We only tried to say, "Please when you smash something be sure that it's an appropriate target." This was a very strange role for us. All the banks were destroyed, really gutted, but no one had satisfied their urge for destruction yet, so they went on to the luxury stores. But sometimes the young people could not differentiate and they attacked a few smaller shops, which the media really exaggerated and exploited. Also, the employers used the damages as an excuse to lay off employees but they already needed to cut their workforce. They just blamed us to provide a scapegoat and to divide the people. And no one was in the streets to go shopping for Christmas, because no one had any money - you can really see the effects of the crisis. But they tried to blame that on us too.
At least there weren’t many arrests in Thessaloniki. Mostly younger people who didn’t know how to recognise undercover cops and protect themselves.
I don’t think the anarchist movement spread in December, but its tactics spread. I think that over time, step by step, the anarchist movement in Thessaloniki is growing stronger. After 2003, with the European Union summit protests here, it sped up, then in the last years it’s been moving slower, building steadily through actions, structures, communications. But I couldn’t smell anything in the atmosphere that suggested it was possible for everything in Greece to blow up the very next day. Except for the prison uprisings two years ago, and then the prisoners’ hunger strike in November, But before the 6th of December you couldn't understand that there were powers in society that could react in such an instantaneous and magical way. So it was all related to the anarchist movement, but we call it insurrection because it extended beyond the movement.
Fabrika Yfanet is a huge squatted social centre in the eastern part if Thessaloniki. It used to be a factory, and now serves as a space for shows, political gatherings, and other events. Part of it is a house, and another part holds art spaces, workshops, a library, a bar, a climbing wall, a skate park, and more.