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Greece: Anti-Austerity Protests Disrupt Ochi Day Parades

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

Unprecedented protests in many Greek cities on October 28, 2011, disrupted parades by the military and school pupils held for the national celebration of ‘Ochi Day‘ (No Day). In Thessaloniki, the president departed his post at the dignitaries’ podium after the parade was brought to a halt by protesters, some calling him a traitor, while in Athens, pupils marched holding mourning black armbands aloft.

Greeks are angry over the relentless and ineffective austerity measures, culminating in the recent “haircut” deal negotiated by banks and European politicians, which many fear signifies the beginning of a new foreign “occupation” of the country.

Thessaloniki parade “occupied”

Several local bloggers and activists in Thessaloniki found themselves in the middle of events, posting updates and photos from their cellphones:

@panws_k: Ντου από τον κοσμο στο δρομο της παρελασης, αυτοματως καπελακηδες, κλουβες και ΜΑΤ μας κλεισανε το δρομο #skg http://t.co/5qMZYAkw

@panws_k: People rushed onto the parade ground; blues, paddywagons and riot police immediately blocked our path

@gazakas: Στη Θεσσαλονίκη ο κόσμος έχει κατέβει στο οδόστρωμα και φωνάζει συνθήματα. απίστευτο. #skg

@gazakas: In Thessaloniki, people have taken to the street, chanting slogans. Unbelievable

@salonicanews: Αποχωρεί ο πρόεδρος της Δημοκρατίας από την παρέλαση!

@salonicanews: The president of the Republic is departing from the parade!
Police block protesters on the parade ground in Thessaloniki. Photo by Twitter user&nbsp;<a href="twitter.com/panws_k" _mce_href="twitter.com/panws_k">@panws_k</a> used by permission
Police block protesters on the parade ground in Thessaloniki. Photo by Twitter user @panws_k used by permission

Citizen photojournalist Craig Wherlock later tweeted his testimony along with photos and a video, showing a squad of parading special forces reservists clashing with protesters blocking their way:

@teacherdude: There is no precedent for this.Street filled with ppl angry with the govt and they blocked the parade. In the end army etc forced to leave

@teacherdude: A lot of anger was directed towards German consulate which was next to stand set up for VIPs, Greeks see measures as an foreign occupation

Photographer Andreas Kakaris also posted numerous photos of the protest on Citizenside. The scene reminded journalist Andreas Panagopoulos of images from Egypt's revolution:

@AnemosNaftilos: Εικόνα αυτή τη στιγμή ΧΩΡΙΣ αξιολόγηση: Διαδηλωτές, στρατιώτες και τανκς στη μέση του δρόμου… Θυμίζει Φεβρουάριο, φέτος, κάπου αλλού

@AnemosNaftilos: The image right now WITHOUT an evaluation: Protesters, soldiers and tanks in the middle of the road… Reminiscent of February this year, somewhere else

The parade eventually continued, in a fashion, after protesters had replaced fleeing dignitaries on the podium, sung the national anthem and a rebel song that embodied the struggle against the colonels’ junta, and marched alongside war invalids and veterans while applauding them. According to local blog Salonica News, up to 30,000 people ended up participating in the Thessaloniki protest [el].

The Ochi Day parade holds special significance for the northern city of Thessaloniki. The “co-capital” of Greece is being hit hard by chronically mounting unemployment (projected at 30% by year's end [el]), and the dereliction of industry in the Central Macedonia region. Conversely, while Greece suffers at the heart of the European sovereign debt crisis, it remains the largest importer of conventional weapons in Europe since 1999, and its military spending is the highest in the European Union.

Parade protests in many cities

Citizens while protesting vigorously for the economic misery of the country, are surrounded by riot police in Syntagma Square, Athens. Image by epoca libera, copyright Demotix (28/10/11).

Citizens while protesting vigorously for the economic misery of the country, are surrounded by riot police in Syntagma Square, Athens. Image by epoca libera, copyright Demotix (28/10/11).

In Athens, marching pupils held mourning black armbands aloft and brass band players tied black ribbons to their instruments. In preceding days, a call on social media centered around an impromptu Facebook group (since deleted) had advocated citizen protest on Ochi Day, based on the theme of the national holiday (“We Say No!”).

Theodora Economides, an indignant activist and member of the group, tweeted updates from the protest in Athens:

@IrateGreek: #Greece #Syntagma #28ogr #oxi #rbnews Cops blocking view to Amalias, ppl screaming “who will the schoolchildren parade for? For riot cops?”

@IrateGreek: #Greece #Syntagma #28ogr #oxi #rbnews Random pol are coming to me to get #oxi flyers & stickers to distribute to crowd.

Protesters, and even parading pupils, in many Greek cities similarly expressed their disapproval of the austerity policies and the perceived capitulation of the “haircut” deal. Athens News journalist Damian Mac Con Uladh reported from Corinth:

@damomac: Lots of students turning their heads the other way as they march by church and state in #korinthos #oxi

@damomac: Politicians had to make a quick exit after #korinthos #oxi parade. No hanging around, although crowd were calling for hangings

Pupils parading in Poligiros, Halkidiki did a synchronized about face to turn their backs on dignitaries while marching in place, and in Thraki pupils left the parade to join protesters. Similar protests, as well as instances of attacks on ruling party members also occured at TrikalaKozaniPyrgosLamiaPreveza and other cities (citizen media portal radiobubble news compiled a complete list in Greek), with dozens of cellphone videos posted later on YouTube. Several photosets of the protests in AthensThessaloniki and Patra were posted on the Demotix Greek unrest hub.

Photographer Christos Roussis put both the parade and protests in Chalkida to music, in shades of grey – very much the palette of thoughts in austerity-ridden Greece:

Theodora Economides pointed out the importance of these protests:

@IrateGreek: I wonder if foreign media understand how important it is even small towns in#Greece protested presence of officials in #28ogr parades #oxi

Why “no”, and what's next?

Ochi Day campaign protest banner. "If not now, when. If not us, who?" Posted by @IrateGreek

Ochi Day campaign protest banner. "If not now, when. If not us, who?" Posted by @IrateGreek

Freelance journalist Matthew Tsimitakis laid out the reasons behind this unprecedented act of collective defiance:

The Greeks do not welcome the news of the agreement European leaders reached on Wednesday in Brussels cutting the Greek debt by 50%. Instead they fear that it will signal more austerity and deprivation affecting even greater parts of the population. Greeks feel that democracy is canceled now and the country is “occupied” by the IMF the ECB and the European Commission under the authority of the Germans and turned into a protectorate.

Blogger and newsfilter Greekdude provided a measured, pessimistic analysis of the state of affairs:

I very much fear that what we are entering in, is a circle of anger and pessimism. Greeks have enough reasons to feel that way. People are laid off every day while new taxes and austerity measures are imposed. Together with unemployment, crime and poverty rates are rising as well. The media are compounding the situation by having a negative influence on the public. [..] Saying ‘no’ is expected when your life is turned upside down and the only thing left is uncertainty. However, I’m afraid that the situation won’t get any better before people move on the next step, if not this, then what?

At the end of the emotionally charged day, usually irreverent and wacky blogger Antidrasex offered a serious admonition:

@Antidrasex: Καληνύχτα σε όλους σας. Το συνάνθρωπο σας και τα μάτια σας. Δεν κερδίζετε φως αν του βγάλετε το μάτι

@Antidrasex: Good night everyone. Look out for your fellow human. Your sight won't improve if you pluck out his eye

In an imminent follow-up post, Global Voices will focus on reactions to the unprecedented Greek protests during Ochi Day.

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

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