Conversation with a Greek Militant

by Andrew Leech (

On Friday, 12th December, some young people (I don’t know if they were anarchists) moved into Halandri and took over the KEP (Citizens Advice Dept) building, intent on staging an indefinite sit-in.

Being curious, I wandered over, entered the building and asked what was going on. I was directed towards a tall, earnest, bespectacled lad in his early 20s, clothed entirely in black and rather military looking. “Yes? Can I help you?” he asked. “I was wondering what was happening here,” I replied with a smile.

“We are showing solidarity with Alexis [the 15 year old shot by a policeman in Exarchia on 6 Dec] and with the other kids killed by the police. That’s why we’ve taken over the building.”

“Do you intend to burn it?” I asked, remembering the Athens University law library, the shops, banks and other public buildings that had gone up in flames a few days earlier. He looked shocked. “Of course not, we are going to be very careful. We won’t damage anything.”

“I’m very glad to hear it,” was my relieved reply. Then, remembering his statement about the ‘other kids killed by the police,’ I asked for further details.

“There have been over 90 young people killed by the police since 1995,” he said. “How were they killed,” I asked. “In demonstrations or in police stations,” was his reply. “And do you know that when they stop and search us, they always arrest if we are not carrying ID, and then they beat us up in the station!” “So why don’t you carry ID?” I asked, “the rest of us do!” He looked angrily at me: “it’s not democratic!

“Tell me,” I continued, “How come I’ve never heard of these other 90 kids in the newspapers or on TV?” “They all lie,” he answered. “They always cover up for the government, they hide the truth.” I was rather non-plussed at this answer as, in my experience, even if one channel or paper were sympathetic to brutality, certainly the rest were not going to give up choice bits of news reportage!

“So,” I asked, perhaps rather sarcastically, “Are you the only one to know the truth? Are you God?” He ignored the jibe.

“We are also protesting the economic situation, the fact that young people cannot find jobs.” Then he jabbed a finger at me “and that is the fault of people of your generation.” I raised my eyebrows. “Yes,” he continued, “you’ve been going to banks and taking loans just on the strength of your ID and then not repaying them. That’s why the whole financial system is crumbling and why we don’t have a future!”

I mulled over this, and even thought of trying to get money out of my local Alpha bank on the strength of my ID, but not backed by any collateral. Could it be done? Could I really solve all my short-term credit squeezes, just by waving my ID and saying “money, money, please? It was an exciting, albeit ephemeral, thought.

The black-shirted young man left; he had other clients to talk to, so I was alone with my thoughts. Since the young people had no intention of damaging this building I had no problem in supporting their need to air their grievances. After all, wasn’t this what democracy was all about? But I would have been happier if they had packaged their information and grievances more effectively, and if it had been based more on fact than on street-rumour or catchy sound bites.

They had valid points to make, they definitely needed a government that would give them direction and hope for the future … but they also needed linguistic training on how to make those points come across more effectively. Could overcoming that inability to articulate valid grievances and express them - forcefully, yet lawfully – and receiving reasoned and helpful answers, have limited the violence and destruction that Athens has endured over the past two weeks? For sure, it is a process that must begin, and in which we all have a role to play.

(Posted 12 March 2009. Previously published in ELT News, January 2009.)

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