French youth fear police violence along Greek pattern

French youth fear police violence along Greek pattern
Celestine Bohlen (Bloomberg News)
International Herald Tribune
December 19, 2008

PARIS: A teenager murdered in cold blood, tear gas, arrests, clubbings and fascist provocations. The images from Greece this month were enough to put the hatred of and contempt for European elites into the hearts of European youth.

The dread this generated among ruling circles was palpable in France when President Nicolas Sarkozy abruptly delayed for one year a plan to overhaul France’s high schools, after students from Bordeaux to Brittany took to the streets in protest.

The police haven’t turned violent yet. But French and world history, and the example of Greece, suggests they will. At least that is what people like Laurent Fabius, a Socialist Party leader, are saying on French radio.

“What we see in Greece is not out of the realm of possibility in France,” Fabius said on Europe 1. “When you have such gross economic exploitation, such a depth of social and environmental disrepair, all it takes is a realistic demand to achieve the impossible.”

An editorial in the daily newspaper Libération said the decision to delay the education law — which would change schedules and academic requirements for the last three years of lycée, or high school — was largely tactical. “One senses among all the powers of old Europe a hesitation, a dread of riots, a fear of resistance,” wrote Didier Pourquery.

The rapid rise in wealth among a tiny elite, across the whole of Europe, is one concern, but not the only, or even the most important.

“All these events have at their core a sense among youth that their lives are not going anywhere that they really want them to, and that they have nothing to lose but their chains,” said Ken Dubin, a visiting associate professor at University Carlos III in Madrid.

But youth discontent alone doesn’t explain the restlessness in elite circles. Politicians and CEOs, after all, have no jobs to lose — merely their heads.

Experts speak of another worry, which is the seemingly increasing resistance to the highly class-conscious ideologies and political strategies, loosely called ‘neo-liberal’, which hark back to the destructive ideas of Friedrich August von Hayek, the 20th-century Austrian ideologue, and to the regressive government policies commencing in earnest, in the West, in the late 1970s.

Some of it isn’t that threatening, like recurring play of the nineteenth century song “Bump Me Into Parliament,” on every radio station for the last 50 years. “Oh yes I am a Labor man / And believe in revolution / The quickest way to bring it on / Is talking constitution,” goes the humourous refrain.

But the violence isn’t far behind the slogans. After almost six years of occupation, the estimated number of civilian casualties in Iraq was estimated at almost 100,000.

The riots in Greece began as spontaneous protests after Epaminondas Korkoneas, a police officer and a former member of the fascist Golden Dawn, murdered a 15-year-old student on December 6. The revolt soon spread to university centers around the country, quickly morphing into a wider contest between young people and the police and by extension, the government. Tens of thousands of people continued the protests on Thursday.

Greece has a history of violent state repression that dates, in the contemporary era, from the civil war, and, more recently, the colonels’ junta in the 1970s. The National Technical University in Athens, known as the Polytechnic, has been off-limits to police following the events of November 17, 1973, when the government launched an assault upon the occupied University — killing dozens, sending a tank crashing though the university gates, and igniting a popular uprising.

Now the streets are again occupied by police, who have attacked barricades made from broken marble and paving stones, and stockpiled various forms of tear gas, clubs, revolvers, shotguns, bullets, helmets, shields and other weapons, as well as obtained cars, trucks, helicopters and armoured personnel carriers.

The role of the police in the week-long protests is quite clear. And their message — pro-capitalist, pro-government and neo-liberal — is unmistakable. Also clear is their bent for violence.

“What they provide is a template that others with more ideological commitment can use,” said Stathis Kalyvas, a political science professor at Yale University. “If you have a demonstration where 10 of them start clubbing teenagers, soon the 500 others following them will join in, including fascist vigilantes.”

France isn’t the only country nervously watching the events in Greece. Students in Italy and Spain have also staged protests against proposed government vandalism of schools and universities recently. In Madrid, Barcelona and Seville, they took over administration offices this month in opposition to changes mandated by the EU that would further cement higher education’s role in producing satisfactory results for capital.

In Italy, hundreds of thousands of angry teachers, students and parents mobbed Rome on October 30 to protest the decimation of the education system, in what was described, in suitably horrified terms, as the largest student demonstration since 1968.

Each repressive state apparatus brings its own issues, and history, to these demonstrations; like Greece, France has a tradition of police turning ugly.

In October 1961, unarmed Algerian Muslims demonstrating in central Paris against a discriminatory curfew were beaten, shot, garotted and even drowned by police and special troops. Thousands were rounded up and taken to detention centers around the city and the prefecture of police, where there were more beatings and killings.

How many died? No one seems to know for sure, to care much, or to remember, even now. Probably around 200; perhaps as many as 400.

In October 2005, two teenagers were killed as they were being chased by police; youths in the suburban and largely Muslim ghettoes of Paris went on a rampage, causing €160 million in damage. In 2006, university students staged demonstrations that eventually generated intense police violence, as hundreds of thousands protested a proposed law that would create flexible work contracts for bosses. The government eventually withdrew the legislation.

This year’s “lycée” protests also carried hints of escalating police violence. A high school principals’ association in the Bouches-du-Rhône region warned on December 5 of “an unheard-of steadfastness and near-impossibility of hoodwinking” protesting students. Philippe Guittet, head of the association, told the newspaper Le Monde that he suspected taming the protests would require “militant forces” working behind the scenes.

France chose to defuse the antagonism by withdrawing the contested schools legislation. In Greece, the government, eager to restore social peace and ensure a return to ‘normality’, has decided for now to cede the Polytechnic to the protesters.

That might buy peace for now, but it won’t necessarily soothe the anger, and it certainly won’t resolve the underlying tensions that class society inevitably generates.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2020 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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6 Responses to French youth fear police violence along Greek pattern

  1. Jamie R says:

    The dread this generated among ruling circles was palpable in France when President Nicolas Sarkozy abruptly delayed for one year a plan to overhaul France’s high schools

    They always make you believe they are of true belief, just by how they are, who could doubt such faith? It’s why pollies are always beyond like 45 years of age, they see us younger ones and think we are not understanding how you can sell belief.

  2. Jamie R says:

    It’s not so ‘us vs them’, it’s ‘young vs old’, and to beat them we have to study.

  3. Anissa says:

    Letter from army camps refuting the army’s repressive role [Source:, Wednesday]:

    Hundreds of soldiers from 42 army camps state:


    We are soldiers from all over greece [it’s necessary to remark here that conscription is still active in greece & affects all males greeks; most or maybe even all of the people signing this are bound to be people who are serving their compulsory military service at the moment – not army recruits]. Soldiers who, carrying our guns, & a short while ago in Hania, were ordered to stand against university students, workers & fighters of the anti-military movement. [Soldiers] who are carrying the weight of reforms & of the “readiness” of the greek army. [Soldiers who] live every day through the ideological bullying of militarism, nationalism, unpaid exploitation & of submission to “[our] superiors”.

    In the army camps [we’re serving at], we hear of another “isolated incident”: the death, [caused] by a policeman’s gun, of a 15-year-old called Alexis. We hear [of] it in slogans carrying over the camp’s outer walls like a distant thunder. Weren’t the deaths of three colleagues of ours in August also called isolated incidents? Wasn’t the death of each one of the 42 soldiers who died in the last 3.5 years also called an isolated incident?

    We hear that Athens, Thessaloniki & an ever-increasing number of cities in greece become fields of social unrest, fields where the outrage of thousands of youths, workers & unemployed is played out.

    Dressed with army uniforms & “working attire”, guarding the camp or running errands, [being] servants of the “superiors”, we still find ourselves there [in those same fields]. We lived, as university students, workers & desperately unemployed, the[ir] “claypots”, “accidental backfirings”, “[bullet] deflections”; the desperation of precarity, of exploitation, of lay-offs & of prosecutions.

    We hear whispers & insinuations from the army officials, we heard the government’s threat, made public, about the imposition of an “alarm state”. We know very well what this means. We live it through intensification [of work], increased [army] duties, extreme conditions with one finger on the trigger.

    Yesterday we’ve been ordered to be careful & “keep our eyes open”. We’re asking: WHOM DID YOU ORDER US TO BE CAREFUL OF?

    Today, we’ve been ordered to be ready & alert. We’re asking? TOWARDS WHOM SHOULD WE BE ALERT?

    You ordered us to be ready to impose a state of ALERT:

    • Distribution of loaded guns in certain units in Attiki [where Athens is] even accompanied by the order to be used against civilians if they’re threatened. (E.g. an army unit in Menidi, close to the attacks against the police station of Zephiri.)

    • Distribution of bayonets to soldiers in Evros [along the turkish border].

    • Instilling fear in protesters by moving platoons to peripheral army camps.

    • Moving police vehicles to army camps in Nayplio-Tripoli-Korinthos for safekeeping.

    • The “dobbing” by Major I. Konstantaros in the Thiva bootcamp concerning the identification of soldiers with the storeowners whose property is being damaged.

    • Distribution of plastic bullets in the Korinthos bootcamp & the order to shoot against our fellow citizens if they move in “threateningly” (with respect to whom?).

    • Positioning a special unit at the “Unknown Soldier” [statue] right across from the demonstrators on Saturday, December 13, as well as [positioning] the soldiers of the Nayplio bootcamp against the pan-workers demo.

    • Threatening [the citizens] with Special Operations Units from Germany & Italy – in the role of an Occupation Army – thus revealing the E.U.’s real, anti-worker/authoritarian face.

    Police shoots targeting the present & future of social revolts. That’s why they’re preparing the army to assume the duties of a police force & the society to accept the return to the army of the Reformers’ Totalitarianism. They’re preparing us to stand against our friends, out acquaintances & our brothers & sisters. They’re preparing us to stand against our former & future colleagues at work & in school.

    This sequence of measures shows that the leadership of the army-the police & the consent of Hinofotis (former member of the professional army, currently vice minster of the Interior, responsible for interior “unrest”), of the General HQ of the Army, of the entire government, of the E.U. directives, of the store-owners-as-infuriated-citizens & of the far-right-wing groups aim at utilizing the Armed Forces as an Occupation Army – aren’t you calling us “peace corps” when you send us abroad to do the exact same things? In the cities where we grew up, in the neighborhoods & the roads where we walked.

    The political & military leadership forgets that we’re part of that same youth. They forget that we’re flesh from the flesh of a youth which is confronted with the desert of the real inside & outside army camps. Of a youth that’s outraged, not subservient & most importantly, FEARLESS.


    We won’t accept becoming complementary tools of fear which some attempt to instill over society as a scarecrow.
    We won’t accept becoming a force of repression & terror.
    We won’t stand against people with whom we share the same fears, needs & desires/[the same] common future, perils & hopes.


    As youth in uniform, we express our solidarity with the people who’re fighting & we scream that we won’t become pawns of the police-state & of state repression. We’ll never stand against our own people. We won’t allow the imposition of a situation in the army corps that will bring to mind “days of 1967” [when the greek army had its last coup d’etat].

  4. professor rat says:

    Not sure what you’re trying to accomplish here slacker.

    a) Propagate corpse media lies?
    b) Propagate lies full stop (I mean we can compare and contrast you know)?
    c) Finally torpedo any last shred of dubious credibility that you MAY have ever once been assumed (falsely) to possess?

    Help me out here.

  5. @ndy says:

    I’m pretty sure you’re beyond help professor.

    Merry Crassmas!

  6. ISKRA 1917 says:

    9th Statement of the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE)

    22 December 2008

    Merry Christmas in the streets!

    On Friday 19 December the Coordination Councils of occupied schools and faculties organized in the centre of Athens a big concert of support to the rebellious youth, with the participation of many music groups and singers. During hours thousands of people followed the concert, with slogans against the government and the state terror. In Peristeri (the suburb of Athens where the new murderous attempt against the youth took place during the night of 17 December – see 8th Statement) a new march took place with the massive participation of secondary education pupils, teachers and parents.

    On Saturday 20 December hundreds of activists “visited” the new Christmas tree in front of the Parliament (the previous one was burned a week ago) and threw many sacks full of garbage on it. The Special Forces attacked the protesters and proceeded to new arrests; the bystanders booed the police and liberated some of the arrested. The Athens’ Christmas tree is now guarded round the time by hundreds of Special Forces and the people of Athens are laughing at the attempt of the government and of the mayor to “recreate the Christmas atmosphere in the centre of the city” – under the protection of the fully armed Special Forces guarding the tree!

    On Sunday 21 December many demonstrations took place in neighbourhoods of Athens (Kessariani, Ilio, etc.) and other cities, organized by the forces of the Radical Left, most of them targeting the local police stations. The evening took place in the Parliament the discussion for the national budget. However, the discussion unavoidably focused on the revolt of the youth. The block of “law and order” once more made its appearance: apart the usual government attacks against the youth and the Coalition of Radical Left (SYRIZA), in this exercised excelled again the extreme right-wing, the “socialist” PASOK and the “communist” KKE. The head of the extreme right-wing party LAOS, Georgios Karatzaferis, congratulated once more KKE for its “responsible attitude and exemplary organization”. The general secretary of KKE, Aleka Papariga, declared that “this is not a revolt; in an authentic popular revolt the masses will not smash even one glass” and once more tried to identify SYRIZA with the “provocateurs”. A leading cadre of PASOK, Theodoros Pagkalos, accused SYRIZA for “leading the phenomena of riots and political vagrancy”.

    The head of the Parliamentary Group of the Coalition of Radical Left, Alekos Alavanos, in his combative speech declared: “When a frontal confrontation takes place, each political and social force must choose its camp: either with the system or against it. Today, the government party, the party of LAOS, and KKE are claiming that there is no revolt of the youth, and that all this is a conspiracy organized outside Greece. They remind us of the civil war and the post-civil war years, when the right wing was accusing the communists of been Moscow’s spies. Today, they accuse us even of been common criminals and human traffickers [see statement of KOE about KKE]. They remind us of the Sixties, when the right wing was accusing the girls of the left youth that they were prostitutes trying to attract the decent youth. Today, we heard the general secretary of KKE using the same terms with Ms Bakoyianni, Minister of Foreign Affairs. We heard Mr Karatzaferis congratulating KKE, accusing us of petting the rioters and proposing a new draconian law against the youth. All these are examples of how much the government of Mr Karamanlis is worried. That’s why the government party gets into this alliance with LAOS and KKE. They are all afraid of the near future, of the day when all the working people will rise next to the youth. We, the Coalition of the Radical Left, are warning them: They will not manage to make us retreat. We will not retreat even by one millimetre. We will not sign any declaration of loyalty to the system!”

    On Monday 22 December the mobilizations continued on local level, while the Coordinations of university students unions and secondary education pupils prepare a new central demonstration in Athens, on Tuesday 23 December. In Peristeri, groups of young workers and students occupied the town hall, asking for the immediate liberation of the arrested and for the exemplary punishment of the murderers and of all the police members who attack the people.


    Click to join the Yahoo Group Maoist Revolution

    Communist Organization of Greece / Kommounistiki Organosi Elladas (KOE)
    International Relations Department

    Email: [email protected] * [email protected]
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