Police repression and social resistance in Greece during the time of the pandemic

The Greek government is using the Corona pandemic to suppress freedom of assembly. But protests and civil disobedience are continuing


Statement by ReAkt Berlin


At the beginning of summer, the Greek government rejoiced at the low number of domestic corona cases. They also wasted no time in attributing this to the success of their own policies throughout the pandemic. With the motto “Greek summer is a state of mind,” the Greek government tried to market the Aegean – the grave of drowned refugees and an arena of military disputes – as the perfect place for a ‘corona free’ holiday.

Even half a year after the beginning of the pandemic, the Greek government had still done nothing to support Greece’s public health system. Incredibly, throughout this time new recruits were hired for the police, while millions of euros in contracts were awarded to private media companies that supported the government’s agenda. In light of the expected second wave of the pandemic, this order of priorities was, and remains, incomprehensible.

An explanation for these decisions can be found, however, in the ideology of neo-liberalism, which is characterised by a disdain for every form of public services. It is therefore unsurprising that public health workers were left to fend for themselves, despite only being able to perform their duties at great risk and at the cost of enormous personal sacrifice.

In recent weeks, the number of available beds in intensive care units in northern Greece and Athens has reached a critical limit. Instead of boosting the capacity of the public health system, the government decided to increase the fee paid by the state to private hospitals to treat public health patients, from 800 to 1,600 euros per day. Nowhere else in Europe can a similar strategy be found.

The list of absurdities goes on. A few weeks ago, the pandemic was used as a pretext to suppress protests of school students and healthcare workers. On the 7th of October, the day that 68 members of the neo-Nazi organisation ‘Golden Dawn’ were sentenced, the police did not shy away from using water cannons to disperse the thousands of anti-fascists gathered in front of the courthouse. On the 17th of November, thousands of police were brought to Athens to suppress the popular turnout at the memorial events for the anniversary of the 1973 uprising against the Junta regime.

Both the courageous presence of thousands of people on the streets and a broad alliance of all the left-wing parties in the Greek parliament have challenged these political decisions. Notably this is the first time that alliance of this kind has formed in recent history. The common denominator uniting these groups is a shared concern at the authoritarian course of the government in its recent decisions. Even the’ Association of Greek Judges and Public Prosecutors’ has spoken out, to argue that the government’s proposed restrictions on freedom of assembly are attacks on the right to assemble and, therefore, on the Constitution.

Behind these restrictions lies a particular calculation on the government’s part. The uprising at the Athens Polytechnic in 1973, had opened the way to the overthrow of the Junta. That anniversary is always marked by a combative mood. The annual memorial events invite reflection on a historical subject that has often served as a focal point for future conflicts. The ruling class, whose next goal consists of the degradation of working conditions, cannot tolerate this sort of historical reflection and does everything possible to undermine it.

Absurdities of all sorts are seen in the pursuit of this objective. For example on the 17th of November, a man was brought to the hospital in handcuffs after suffering a heart attack during the violent entry of police into his home. At the same time, women who were protesting outside were brutally attacked and insulted. A few hours earlier, a woman was issued with a fine of 300 euros for having dared to leave behind a flower at a memorial site.

On the 25th of November, the ‘International Day Against Violence Against Women’, 11 feminist demonstrators were arrested in Athens. They were accused of having failed to adhere to hygiene regulations. Considering that the police then forced all 11 of the arrested women to ride in the same crowded police vehicle, these accusations appear laughable.

The women were subsequently required to spend six hours at a police station. While their lawyers were prevented from entering, one activist was pressured to sign documents in which the time of the arrest was falsified. This trick aims to cover up the police’s violation of Greek basic law, committed by exceeding the designated detention period for an arrest. Interestingly, the Interior Minister Michalis Chrisochoides apologised publicly to the arrested feminists on the following day [1], admitting that the arrests were “excessive.” It could be assumed that the massive uproar in social media and the statement from ‘Amnesty International’ [2] exerted immense pressure on the Ministry. Incomprehensibly, the charges against the women have, as of this time, still not been dropped.

All of this has taken place under the pretext of protecting the health of police officers, who themselves disregard every form of hygiene regulations during their own operations.

It is clear to us that the government has lost control over the situation. However, instead of re-thinking its strategy and deciding at the last minute to support the public health system, the government has opted for repression and societal polarisation.

The defiant attitude of our comrades is a sign of hopes and resistance in these dark times. Their solidarity and unceasing efforts are a great inspiration, and prove that civil resistance is the only guarantee for a life in security and peace.

[1] https://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2020/11/27/greece-women-arrest-violece-minister-apologizes/

[2] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/11/greece-charges-against-womens-rights-activists-including-amnesty-staff-must-be-dropped/) Οι κατηγορίες, ωστόσο, ακόμα να αποσυρθούν

This article first appeared in German and Greek on the ReAkt facebook page. Translation: Tim Redfern. Reproduced with the authors’ permission