Greece’s image has taken a hit from both U.S. and international media, as scenes of protests against the new austerity measures under vote in parliament show self-styled “anarchists” — or what in Greek translates to “hood-wearers” — fighting against the police with a mutual exchange of tear gas and marble chipped from buildings.
But this is a sideshow.
Hundreds, if not thousands of the aganaktismeni — loosely translated as “those who are fed up” — have been undertaking a peaceful, around-the-clock protest in front of the Greek parliament building in Syntagma Square. They sleep in tents in the main square and are extremely organized, with special teams assigned to keeping the square spotless. It’s cleaner than it ever was during the days of the 2004 Olympics.
The aganaktismeni are practicing democracy in its purest Greek form. Amid all the economic misery, unemployment, slashed payrolls, and indecision about the future, they are holding ongoing discussions in the main square where anyone — just like in ancient Greece — is allowed to voice opinions without repercussions. They have established an ancient Greek agora, where Socrates, Plato, and their contemporaries created the world’s first democracy. They hold daily seminars and discussions in search of a way forward. Instead of joining the anarchists, these protesters are conducting intelligent, serious discussions.
The aganaktismeni cause has been hijacked by more violent elements — which according to the latest post-riot reports, had been encouraged if not blatantly supported by the riot police forces. Videos have surfaced of hooded rioters, crowbars in hand and stun grenades on their belts, chatting with riot police and just walking away — and in some cases, being escorted to safety by the police.
Meanwhile, the brunt of the police retaliation seems to have been borne by the peaceful aganakstimeni, with the police even launching tear gas into the Syntagma metro station where a makeshift hospital had been thrown together. The smell of teargas persisted even days after the riots were over.
Despite the massive clean-up effort underway — the spray-painted slogans have been painted over, the broken glass and marble already cleaned up — the emotional toll this latest round of riots has taken on Greece seems to be even more intense. The opposition New Democracy party is already claiming that the current government has lost total control over the country, and despite the approval today of the fifth aid installment from fellow Europeans, the country seems on the verge of implosion.
And yet, the agankistmeni have returned to Syntagma Square, slowly but surely. They have planned a massive gathering with concerts, poetry, and speeches. Interestingly, the backlash against the overwhelming violent response to the protests and the public backlash against the violent fringe elements is driving even more people to the aganakstimeni side: everyone is fed up, with everything.
The persistence of the Greek spirit — embodied by the famed Zorba — is personified by these people. Almost everyone in Greece is suffering, yet the agankistmeni movement has spread from Syntagma Square to town squares all over Greece, and despite not having any political affiliation the movement is growing organically day by day.
It is from the hearts and minds of these people that the next step will be created.
So the next time you see hood-wearers in Greece, remember they are a fringe element. The majority of Greeks are actually coming together.