It's Saturday afternoon around 2 o'clock. We start moving from the Genoa Initiative 2001 campsite, were we were staying, towards the city centre. The international demonstration against fortress Europe and the EU of neoliberal capitalism and war is supposed to start at 5, so we decide to check out the Philosophical and Theological Studies Schools which have been occupied for the last 4 days by the black block. Our campsite is a considerable way away from where the rest of the action is, and quite disappointing- as there are hardly any people or anything else for that matter- and we re in a rush to get out of there.
Passing through a large section of the city there is a feeling that it has been deserted. We'd already been prepared up to a point for the empty form the local people streets from the previous night, when we arrived. It was Friday night when the city should normally be heaving but there was hardly anyone around. My friends who had lived in Thessaloniki for a few years couldn't believe it. A similar scenario awaits us on Saturday, with mostly protesters and cops walking around. Further, most shops and especially banks and big chains are covered with steel sheets, making the message clear that we are unwanted here. Some locals also explain that after the media portrayal of the past few weeks, emphasising that hordes of barbarous vandals hell bent on destroying everything in sight are going to take over the city, most people have packed up and left for the weekend or are not leaving their houses. People have graffitied on the steel: 'Where are the people? and ''Shame' (the anarchist 'A' also seems to have covered the whole city).
Arriving at the Schools were the anarchist campsite and Indymedia are situated the scene changes immediately. Loads of people chilling under the trees, music, free food supplied by an international caravan of activists and a general good vibe. We walk into a meeting. The conversation is around tactics. There is general unease and no one is sure what route should be followed (someone later tells us that the route was destined to change several times). The unease is for one because of the numbers of MAT (Greek riot police) that are close to 6.000 and then, mainly, because the other blocks refuse to have anything to do with the black block and have warned the 'blacks' that they will not allow them to demonstrate anywhere near them.
The way things turned out and as was going to become obvious to us throughout the demonstration and following events, fragmentation dominated and each of the three blocks was isolated, refused to communicate with the others and demonstrated separately. This in many ways reflects a long history of tensions within the Greek context, going back decades, between the Communists, Socialists and Anarchists that has seen every side blaming the other as incompetent, or for example as traitors (Anarchists about the others) or hooligans (the rest about the Anarchists) and as hindering the cause. As if this wasn't enough there were also internal tensions, as for one between the Salonica 2003 anarchists and the rest, which saw as an outcome Salonica 2003 demonstrating separately.
This fragmentation saw at 5 o'clock three different points of convergence. The Communist block had taken up Nikis Street, the main road by the seafront, a block that was 'closed' to anyone else- and this literally as people from the block create human chains around it to 'guard' it against those who belong to other political groups and mainly against the black block. The socialists, trade unions and 'disorganised' that did not want direct violent confrontation with the police gathered on the main road a few streets further up, Egnatia, which is parallel to Nikis. The black block started from the Philosophical and Theological Studies Schools, on Egnatia again, but about 500m further down, with the plan being to move up towards where the socialist/disorganised block was.
Around 5:30 we are at the socialist/trade union/disorganised convergence point waiting for the demonstrations to start. Someone is on the mike making the usual -boring and repetitive I might add- speech. Everyone is relaxed, balloons, colourful banners and people, some musicians warming up their instruments. Suddenly CS gas canisters come flying our way. People start panicking and protective masks and scarves come out. There is tension in the air and I can feel the adrenalin pumping through my veins. Getting up on a post to get a better view I can see the street further down having turned into a war zone. There are huge flames coming up from somewhere (someone tells me it's the McDonalds), big clouds of CS gas and dozens of Molotov bombs being chucked at the riot police, all this followed by the sound of the CS gas detonators.
The speaker is shouting that he condemns the attempt of the Greek police to destroy this demonstration, as CS gas is also being directed straight towards us and then urges people to create chains to isolate the black block and turn it back! Chains are created but in the end mostly to protect against the police and amongst much confusion this block also starts moving, with some people from the black block, that have managed to escape the police blockade, tagging along behind and eventually joining in.
The block moves away from the battle scene and the demonstration continues peacefully through the city centre, chanting ‘Anti-capitalista’, ‘Freedom for Palestine’, ‘Seattle, Prague, Genoa, Thessaloniki this world belongs to us’ and ‘One Solution Revolution’. There is hardly any police around- some riot police are situated in the side streets but don’t give us any hassle. We figure that they’re all preoccupied with the black block, which has turned back into the occupied Schools to find refuge- here I must add that universities in Greece are by law an asylum and a no go area for the police. Someone has a radio and keeps us informed about what is happening. The Schools are under siege by the riot police and the battle continues, with the anarchists defending themselves with stones, Molotov bombs and metal pellets.
The events at the Schools seem like they are happening in a different city from the other demonstrations, which after a couple of –uneventful- hours end up at the seafront where there is a stage set up and stalls with beers and souvlaki. Everyone settles down to enjoy the music festival and seems to completely forget, or chooses to ignore, what is happening only about 1km up the road. The hours roll by and still no information offered by the organisers about what is going on. Rumours have started going around that the Dean of the University is going to cancel the asylum and let the police in, in which case there is fear that there will definitely be deaths and a second Genoa will take place. Finally the organisers say a few words stating that the asylum is not going to be compromised. A non-Greek protester is the only one however that stands up to say a few words in solidarity and tries to urge people to stage a spontaneous demonstration up to the Schools- although no one seems to listen. We can’t stand just sitting around doing nothing anymore and decide to try and get up to the Schools and see what’s happening.
On the way up we bump into some people we knew that warn us that they are arresting anyone walking near the Schools, including completely innocent bystanders and even some Canadian tourists that had just arrived in the city and were completely unaware of what was going on. We continue on a back road that leads to the University Schools, cautiously and looking out for any riot police. We reach the Schools around midnight. All is dead quiet near the Philosophical and Theological Schools and the battle has ended. There are only a few people in sight patrolling the Schools against the police, especially undercover police. We end up in another School near by, which has been occupied by the group Salonica Initiative 2003. There is a live band on and quite a few people around, drinking, eating and generally having a good time. We see one of the organisers, who happens to be a friend from back home. He gives us a run down of the events.
The black block only managed to demonstrate for about 20 minutes before being turned back by the riot police. Still it had managed to cause serious damage to 20-odd shops in the near area, including a big super market, a McDonalds, a few banks and a couple of mobile phone stores. All these had been covered with metal sheets for protection, but the anarchists had been armed with axes and other tools to break through the steel. Then most of them had barricaded in the Schools, in full confrontation with the police until about 10 o’clock at night. About 102 people had been arrested. I asked him about the threat to cancel the asylum and he explained that that was a rumour spread by the police and undercover agents that had infiltrated the black block in order to terrorise them and make them panic. He also blamed the local anarchists for not explaining to everyone else that it was highly unlikely that this would be the case, as there would be uproar from the local population.
We have a few beers and around 4am make our way back to our campsite. All is calm in the city and we have to wait until tomorrow to find out more. One thought keeps going round in my head as we drive through the dark quiet streets: ‘We must unite if we are to survive!’