Athens, May 23
There was a riot in the court today. It came to a head in the caffeteria, where fascists and antifascists were throwing plastic cups of espresso, cappuccino and frappe at each other. Two different colours of riot police had to be deployed.
The judgment of our comrades was in the room next door. After two hours of contradicting testimonies in four languages, the judge decided it wasn’t the case to continue. Everyone is free to go.
At the moment, unofficial celebrations are under way in Plaza Exarchia.
Athens, May 20
Our tribe is settling down. We are starting to adapt to the comforts and complications of sedentary life. A new cycle has begun, an old one has been concluded.
We have running water, we have electricity, we have four stories and a roof terrace in the middle of the anarchist quarter of Exarchia. We are not in a hurry to move.
Most of us are waiting for the trial of our comrades who got arrested for occupying Syntagma. After that, there are no limits, no borders.
North, East, South, West. Some of us want to go cycling to France through the Balcans, or hitch hiking through Iran to China, or sailing to Alexandria, or flying back to Spain to occupy Plaça Catalunya, or the Puerta del Sol. The sense of freedom is overwhelming.
It’s too much. I have to sit down for a moment. I want a sofa, a pile of straw, a hammock, or why not? – a real bed! Before I do anything, I need time to reflect. This is already the beginning of another story. The first year is over. We were a wave, and now we are backwash on the beach.
So I ask myself, what on earth happened this past year? The last thing I remember is that I had embarked on a quiet life as a goat shepherd in Andalusia, which I combined with a translation assignment from a Dutch editor. I was living the rhythm of the season on the land, I was learning to make cheese.
Then it started. We all called it a revolution.
When I came out of the metro station and on to the Puerta del Sol on May 21 at dawn, it was reflection day before the local elections. There were hundreds of people camping out on the public square, demanding direct democracy and a whole lot more.
This wasn’t just going on in Madrid, but all over the country. It was spreading over other nations, over other continents.
There was no central organisation, it had come as a complete surprise to everyone, and I found myself right in the middle of it. I had to stay, I had to be part of this. I felt the pulse of history.
When I sat down in the tent of the Communications commission under the backside of the equestrian statue in Puerta del Sol, I was pretty sure that it could take some time before I would go back to being a shepherd.
Now I’m here in the squat in Exarchia with my revolutionary brothers and sisters. I occupy the sofa, I’m not planning to move, and for the moment I only recall isolated images of last year.
The siege of parliament and the bowl of salad floating over the crowd. The drums of the Basque column arriving in Segovia. The advance to Paris and the surprise assembly on Place de la Bourse. The dice wars in Revolutionary Headquarters Brussels. The occupied Christmas tree on St. Peter’s square in Rome. The snow in Naples. The phantom village in the Apennine mountains. The shores of Greece. The alleys of Agrinio.
And most of all, the people.
I have started to forget their names by the dozens, but I recall the faces. Hundreds, thousands probably. All over the world we were millions. This was the year of the people. This was the year of Sol, the rising sun.
I have followed the events daily from as close by as I possibly could without losing focus. I rode the wave of this movement from the magic start in Puerta del Sol, all through Europe on foot to Brussels and Athens. And I’m happy that I did. The amount of things I witnessed and experienced was more than enough to fill a lifetime.
I leave this account. It’s jotted down the way it came. It wasn’t written from the perspective of a journalist or a historian. I didn’t try to be objective, I couldn’t. I’m a revolutionary, and I’m a narrator. I wrote this story to capture the spirit of the moment, day after day. And it turned out to be more than just one kind of story.
It’s the chronicle of a utopian village in the center of Madrid. It’s a revolutionary manifesto. It’s an adventure tale, complete with sequel. It’s a sociological study into human interaction and self organisation. It’s an anthropological study into the functioning of an urban nomadic tribe. It’s a practical guide to assemblary politics and manipulation. It’s a travel account through time and space. Occasionally, it carries hints of mystery and fairytale.
We sit on the sofa in Exarchia. It’s over. But we can just keep on going if we want to. No destination on earth is too far to get there on foot.
We could also go home, back to reality.
“Yes, as in working fixed hours to pay for a rent or a mortgage.”
“Do you want to go back to that after all that has happened?”
It’s the big question that has been bothering every one of us. And most of us know that it’s impossible. We cannot go back to reality. Not until we give shape to reality ourselves.
This ends my account of the march and the first year of revolution. I hope to put it up soon in a chronological and more accessible format. In the meantime I will take a break to rest and reflect. I will keep reporting on the movement, and on my adventures for as far as they are of public or revolutionary interest. Thank you all for reading. It has been a pleasure to write.
Athens, May 16
During one of her previous periods of decline there lived a great philosopher in Athens. He was called Diogenes. He had the fame of being one of the wisest men of Greece, but he didn’t care for fame. In fact, he didn’t care for anything at all. He was a cynic. To him the world was evil and corrupt, and all the rest was vanity. In his view there is nothing worth pursuing, we might as well live like wild dogs on the square. And that was what Diogenes did. He lived in a barrel on the agora, and he used the bushes as a toilet. To few people he spoke about the suffering of world, and most of the others ignored him.
It is with genuine cynical spirit that the march to Athens occupied Syntagma on the evening of May 14.
The next morning the square was cleaned and the people who resisted were rounded up and dragged away. They remained cynic until the very end.
Establishing the exact number of people who were arrested on May 15 at Syntagma is a task that I leave in good faith to future generations of historians. I think they were 13. But I keep remembering faces of which I don’t know if I included them in the count.
Those faces haunt me in my dreams. I was there, they had wanted me to avoid arrest and take note of their full names just before they got dragged away. I didn’t catch all of them. And now I see them come by, those faces. They form a human pile, they are guarded by zombies. Desperately, they scream. First names, second names, ‘Oscar! Write them down! Don’t forget us!’. I do what I can, but they’re too many. They are more and more.
The faces change like mixing paint. They become dogs. They start barking, louder and louder, and I don’t understand. The zombies begin tearing them away. A van of the municipal dog catcher is waiting. One after another they are thrown into the vehicle. They howl their names. They know they won’t come back. ‘Remember!’ they say. Then the car rides off, but I can’t figure it out. I drop my notebook and I wake up screaming.
It’s May 16. The agora is over. I’m in the squat. After 24 hours an unknown number of comrades is still under arrest. I go look for news.
All day long I’m like a pinball moving between the square, the squat and the internetpoint. And everytime I get to one of those places I have a feeling that the latest news has just flown away.
What’s left are the rumours. Our comrades are going to be judged, people say. Immediately and without ado. No translations, no lawyers, no reasonable doubt. Guilty in the first degree, within hours after arrest.
‘Guilty of what?’ I ask. But there is no count, there is no need for it. They are guilty in general.
I don’t believe it. I go look for more rumours. If they don’t come back, then I’m guilty myself. I didn’t take all of their names.
‘Resistance against the authority’ is the next rumour. After arresting all those people, police had to make up a reason. Foreign media were asking for it. The second count was ‘Crimes against the environment’. As if we were Shell in the Niger delta.
It’s outrageous. We camped on a hundred squares, we always left them cleaner than how we found them, and now the Athens police dare to accuse us of littering in public.
Other rumours said the third count was ‘conspiracy against the security of the state’. I don’t want to believe it, but I can’t help it. I’m convinced they don’t stand a chance, and it’s all my fault.
I go out. For some reason I can’t get my hand on the facts today. Everybody knows more than me. Greater part of the group went to visit them in the police station, and I haven’t even been able to find out where it is.
No facts, not one of them. I get high on rumours. I want more and more. And when someone calls me, I pimp them up and pass them on.
When I get back to the squat another time, the prisoners have already been transferred to a maximum security penitentiary on the island Samos. Some of them are said to be collaborating with authorities to avoid the worst, some are about to be extradicted to the United States. Of the others, no news at all.
It has been thirty hours. The latest rumour that reaches me is also the most ridiculous one. ‘Everyone is free.’
This time I really don’t believe it any more. I take a siesta, and only hours later it turns out it was true. Everybody is free.
As far as I understand, it has been a classic bureaucratic farce. Some didn’t have ID on them, and they gave up a false name with false data. None of the data was checked. On the other hand, everyone had to give fingerprints. Four people refused. They were put under psychological pressure when they were told that they could get ‘one and a half years of prison’ for failure to cooperate.
While a small concert was organised in Syntagma to mark the end of the agora, our comrades were taken from one police station to the other, and finally scattered over five different locations. They hardly got anything to eat for 24 hours.
The embassies of France, Italy and Spain were mobilised. France and Italy didn’t really care for their citizens. Spain offered all possible assistance.
Today around noon there was a preliminary hearing in front of a judge. When police saw how much public showed up, they were suddenly a lot more friendly towards our comrades. Various lawyers had offered to defend them for free. The one who was present was a notorious communist. He held a passionate speech which ended with the word ‘laos’, ‘the people’. Hardly anyone understood, but everybody applauded. Riot police was on standby right outside the door.
The judge sighed. He wasn’t in the mood. Accusations too v ague, and too much trouble with translations. ‘Come back in a week’.
Athens, May 15
The comfort of the squat is dangerous for the revolutionary spirit. Especially when there is little of it. It’s evening and we’re sitting together in the living room, a dozen marchers. In the small kitchen, Mami is cooking for her hijos de puta. The cloud of spicy smoke is so thick that it’s hard to read the writings on the walls.
It’s the first time that our clan has a roof, sofas, a kitchen, a shower to call our own. At least for the moment. After half a year of camping, people enjoy it. And no-one will deny that we didn’t deserve it.
But on the other hand, it’s 15M’s eve. Tomorrow we celebrate the first anniversary of our movement, and right now there is a handful of our people holding the square of Syntagma.
I have been there the first two nights, and I’ll be damned if I don’t join them now. So I rise up from the soft pillows of the sofa, I cut my way through the cloud of smoke, and I go. “Later, people. I’m going to see what’s cooking on Syntagma.”
It’s a twenty minute walk. When I arrive, I see we occupied the center of the square. People with sleeping backs and covers are gathered in a circle. I squeeze in, I lie down and I listen to humming of the conversation as I start to doze off.
Just when I’m about to get some sleep, police arrive. Two dozen officers in riot gear. Because of the blankets, this is considered camping in a public space, and we have to move.
We are not the only ones. All over Athens, thousands of homeless people are ‘camping’ as well. They are more every day.
We take away blankets and sleeping bags. We leave the cardboard. We lock arms and legs together and we humm. It takes as while, but in the end police retreat. We take our stuff again, and we stay in Syntagma for the third night in a row.
In the morning, at six, it’s police again for the wake up call. We have to move, seriously this time. The reason is that the sprayers come to clean the square.
We stay put. Riot police is deployed on two sides, and then they send in the cleaning car to put us pressure.
In a white cloud, the water vapour bounces of the tiles of Syntagma. The machine moves slowly towards the group. People start to evacuate, to try and safe their stuff. It could have ended right there. Indignados simply washed away from Syntagma as yesterday’s dirt.
But it didn’t end that way. The real heroine of the day was comrade Sabina from Belgium. She laid herself down in the streaming water in front of the spraying vehicle. And the firm look in her eyes said she wasn’t going to move.
It was the key moment. Max joins in and others follow. Comrade Cansino takes a bath straight in front of the vehicle and comrade Aristocrates plays the guitar. It’s a fabulous scene. And it’s true what they say. Our movement has an innate taste for drama and beauty.
Then police proceeds to evacuate, hesitatingly. They don’t really know how to handle us. If we were a band of hard core anarchists they would have just beaten us off the square and into the bus in ten minutes time. But these crazy foreign pacifists are different. They have to be handled with gloves. Plastic gloves to be exact.
The first people get dragged away. But just before they get to the police car, others come running in and piling up. Police have to start all over again. First, they surround the pile. Sabina got left out, but today she has revolutionary spirit for ten. She charges the police like a wild horse, demanding access to the circle.
In the end the arrest took more than two hours. About a dozen people resisted, passionately. I didn’t add to their numbers. I preferred to document the scene and spread the news.
Today is the first anniversary of our movement. Here in Athens the marchers and locals on Syntagma marked it appropriately with a determined act of resistance. Not so much against police, but better, against the water.
Athens, May 14
More or less we managed to hold the group together up until May 12, the day of the worldwide demonstration for direct democracy. It was in greater part thanks to our position in Strefi park on the hill of Exarchia.
The hill consists of two outer ridges and a little valley in between. In the valley, there’s the stone theater, and inside the theater we camped. There was water at 50 metres. If you climbed up the two peaks, you could watch out over the city down to the sea. If you descended, you were in the middle of Exarchia.
Yes, it was a perfect spot for a camping holiday in Athens, if you leave out of account that the park is frequented day and night by drug addicts and other phantomatic appearances.
After a week, we were definitely ready to break up camp. The way it happened was a bit sad, but given all that happened before, it made sense.
On the 11th, we held one of our last internal assemblies at Strefi. Maybe half of the marchers was present. We spoke about the last issue that had to be addressed. The great demonstration of May 12, which we had announced in all the cities and villages along the way.
The 12M call is a worldwide one, in line with the demonstrations of October 15 last year, but it seems to be picked up mainly by the indignados in Spain and the occupiers from the Anglo-Saxon world.
In Greece, the call for a demonstration has barely even arrived. And that more or less left us, the remnants of the march to Athens, to ‘represent’ Syntagma when we connect to the other squares.
What are we going do?
There will be no demonstration through the streets, there will be no actions. It has been a long time since we had energy or spirit for those kind of things. We will just assemble in Syntagma. And then what? Are we going to try to camp? Are we going to sleep without tents? Are we going to resist? Up to what point? Etc.
The assembly gets interrupted by comrade Marianne. She tells us that we are expected at the ‘Legalise’ festival on the edge of the city, right now.
It was true. But the assembly hesitated. Then it started to drizzle, and people made up their mind. The assembly split up, and over half of the people who remained took down their tents and left for the festival.
You will know that I am all for this legalise thing, we should have gone there and adapted our time schedule, but I hated to see the group fall apart like this, hardly without a word.
I stayed behind. The day of the 12th I spent on the hill around the ailing camp, prey to heavy attacks of melancholy.
Some people trickled back to Strefi during the day. A new assembly was called for, to prepare the great demonstration.
We were about a dozen people, of whom maybe six marchers. We were expected to be in Syntagma at five. It was four thirty when the assembly commenced.
First point, we hadn’t made flags or banners yet, or anything else in the week we were here. Second point, a leftover from the day before. What are we going to do?
At a certain moment, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing any more. Was this a comedy, or were we really trying to maintain a certain air of official assemblary protocol, as if there were still things to talk about or to decide, or to consensuate?
Outside forces had already taken over. We were in the final stages of a big crunch. Five o’ clock had already passed and we were still here, taking speaking turns, making technical interruptions, proposing, blocking, explaining, with the utmost seriousness. The only thing that missed was someone who proposed to take acts, like we used to do when we still believed our assemblies were important.
I think of Hitler’s final days in the bunker. When all fronts had ceded and Berlin was surrounded by the Russians, he kept moving armies that no longer existed, he kept planning the final offensive, he kept believing in the Endsieg.
I leave the assembly, I walk down the hill and through Exarchia to go to Syntagma on my own. We are like a fly, and Athens is a light. Here the March to Athens burns up, and we scatter, like dust in the wind.
On the square, the Athens branch of the 12M demonstration consisted of about thirty people, fifty at most. In greater part they are people from the march. There are a few locals, and also our friends from all along the way have come to meet us. Not all of them are here, unfortunately, but many of them kept their promise.
We put up our old banners and we make music. We have a direct connection with the squares in London, Madrid and Barcelona. I see images of Puerta del Sol full of people, and I look around at Syntagma. Last year I was on the other side of the line and we looked at this square. Monstrous crowds of people were besieging parliament day after day.
That season is over for Greece. There will be no spring this year. Maybe there will in Spain, in Portugal, in America. The images and the news from there leave us a bit of hope. Just like the presence of one of the German marchers who came from Patras in ten days, arriving today. Their march really existed in the end, and there’s someone here to prove it.
As our final theatrical act, we decide to stay on Syntagma. And this time, police allow it.
We occupied the square all night. In the morning, after we were woken up by rain, the first tents were placed by Max and Mary. They caused a last piece of discord in the group, because the decision wasn’t taken in assembly. The tents lasted until midday more or less, when the sun was shining again. Police walked by several times to get donuts, and initially the tents were simply ignored.
After three donuts police came to say the tents had to go down. Max and Mary took out the supports and left them on the ground. A platoon of riot police was mobilised. They stood there for an hour. Finally the tents were folded.
I left to pick up my stuff on the hill. When I come back in the early evening everyone has gone to the Academy of Plato, for a chat on alternative economies, organic agriculture, bargain etc. No-one was left but comrade Cansino, who took up the name of Kourasmenos when he came to Greece. It means ‘tired’, in Spanish ‘curas menos’, means ‘you do less’. He was sitting under a tree watching around, angry that he was left here alone, without a beer, to watch over other people’s stuff.
I accompany him. The clan is split between the squat, the academy, the square, and who knows where else. Our camp on the hill has definitely been abandoned. It’s maybe the worst day of the march, or the agora, whatever. Officially we have three more days of agora scheduled, even though we don’t know exactly what’s planned for those days.
One of the ideas was to stay in Syntagma. At the moment we are two, during the evening also Nicolas and Juanito return. We are four marchers and two sympathisers who hold the square for the second night in a row. An old lady takes pity on us and brings us a bag of crisps and sweets.
This is what our revolution has become. A handful of people from all over Europe desperately camping in Syntagma. We have come to give moral support to the Greeks, but in the end it’s the Greeks who had to give their moral support to us, to keep us going. And now, finally, the end is near. It’s all in the past, and it weighs down like clouds of marble.
It takes a long time before we catch a bit of sleep. Then at five o’clock in the morning, the sprinklers go on.
Athens, May 10
While many of us keep chilling on the hill, or wandering through the desolate city, Agora Athens is going on, every day. Surely it’s not a big event, but it’s an event. We were told to nurture no illusions about it, so the fact that it exists is definitely positive.
It’s all thanks to the people who kept believing in this opportunity to meet and exchange ideas. They have been working on it for time, on the ground and on the net, and in the last few days they have been putting up manifestoes all over Exarchia.
The agora has attracted some attention from Greek activists, immigrants, and foreign travellers. It has addressed major themes like the debt, immigration, police violence, the dangers of tear gas, and the psychological effects of repression, with interventions by experts on the subject.
Yesterday the agora changed its usual meeting place in Syntagma with the quiet hill of Pnyx near the ancient stoa, meeting place of the philosophers of old. The topic would be direct democracy and self organisation.
The whole scene is like one of Plato’s Dialogues. In between the marble, the bushes and the trees, a few dozen people – mainly Greeks – are sitting in a circle on a hill. They are discussing the concepts of liberty, equality, solidarity, justice, democracy.
Far from Syntagma and the oppressing dailiness of the city all these words sound like perfectly unreal ideas, exactly like Plato himself would see them. This event is not going to change the world, but here on Pnyx, it has a very evocative aesthetic value.
Athens is not one of the major cities of Greek tragedy, like Thebes or Mycene, but in the great Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylos, the city symbolically represents the triumph of reason and right.
The Oresteia is the only complete trilogy that has survived. It is practically the oldest pieces of theater, but it has one of the most beautiful opening sequences that I know. It’s a simple summing up of names, as if it were a biblical geneaology. But with a little bit of imagination, those names become incredibly cinematographical. As if the intro were written for wide-screen 3D.
It’s told on stage by the introducing character. Troy has fallen, finally, after ten years of bitter strife. The Greeks are inside the citadel, the Trojan men are killed, the women and children are enslaved and the babies are thrown off the walls without mercy. The palaces are plundered, the city is in flames.
Those flames spell a message, a message by supreme commander Agamemnon, king of Mycene, to his wife Clytaemnestra. It says ‘Mission accomplished. I’m coming home.’
Opening credits. Burning Troy fades into the distance. On a hilltop far away, a guard notices the flames. He runs to pile up wood, he takes a torch and lights it.
The camera zooms out again over the nightly panorama of the Aegean. As the poet spells the names of land and sea, the light travels over islands, hills and forests like a telegraph. In every one of those places a man spots the light, and passes it on. Cut to space, you see all of Greece and Asia Minor, in the middle you see a red glow where Troy had been, and all around you see little white lights expanding over the earth to bring the news that mighty Troy has fallen.
At sunrise, the message reaches Clytaemnestra on her balcony of the royal palace of Mycene.
Cut to Clytaemnestra. Her eyes are dark. She is all but delighted by the news of her husband’s return. She hasn’t been faithful to him.
Agamemnon hadn’t been faithful himself either. He had claimed more than his fair share of female booty during the conflict. His greed had caused Achilles to retire from the war and almost brought complete doom over the Greeks. Finally, he wasn’t ashamed to bring one of his conquests home with him. She was called Cassandra, she had the gift to foretell the future, and she was cursed by the fact that no-one ever believed her.
When she crossed the treshold into the house, Cassandra started to scream. She cried doom, death and destruction over the house of Atreus. But people laughed at her impatiently, and told her to shut up.
Her cruel predictions came true when Agamemnon was killed in his bathtub by his own wife, with the complicity of her lover.
This is when the real story starts. The tragic hero is Oreste, son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra. He has to avenge his father. And his perverted fate is that to do so, he has to kill his own mother.
In a certain sense the Oreste tragedy is a mirror of the tragedy of Oedipus. Oreste would do anything to avoid his fate, but he doesn’t have a choice. He asks the god Apollo for help, and the god confirms. However painful, revenge is a must, and only Oreste can do the job.
And he does. With a dagger, Oreste kills the woman who gave him life. At the instant she dies, the hero breaks down and he is attacked by clouds of black-winged goddesses of remorse, the Erinyes. They swirl around him constantly, hissing that he is the most despicable of all creatures, and that he has committed the gravest of all crimes.
Oreste flees, he is on the verge of going mad, he returns to Apollo, begging to liberate him from his sense of guilt. “I had to do it. You said so yourself. Why don’t you help me?”
And Apollo: “There is nothing I can do for you. You have to go to Athens. Run, boy. Run. In the sanctuary of Athena you will be judged.”
Oreste runs to Athens, to the temple of the goddess of wisdom. Athena herself presides over an assembly that hears the case of Oreste and the case of the Erinyes.
Oreste is absolved. And yet the Erinyes get their recompensation. While Athena orders them to stop harassing Oreste, she acknowledges their importance, she offers them a place in the pantheon and with it the right to be revered.
The piece ends with a triumphant parade to celebrate the victory of reason.
According to Pasolini, who made a splendid translation into Italian, the Oresteia symbolizes the transformation of ancient tribal society based on force to an urban society based on the law. It’s a hymn to Athens as founding city of democracy.
The concept of revolution, of revolt against the ruling system in the name of human principles, is buried even deeper in the human psyche.
It starts with Prometheus, the bringer of fire.
In Aeschylos’ Prometheus Bound, the son of man is nailed to a mountain in the Caucasus. He had brought light among men, he had tought them the arts and the crafts of the gods. And he alone would pay for it all.
Every day Prometheus’ liver is eaten out by an eagle, and every day it grows back again. Crucifixion and eternal torture is his share for stealing the fire.
While he is up in agonising pain, various visitors, gods and humans, try to persuade Prometheus to make his peace with Zeus and ask for forgiveness. But Prometheus sends them off with words of rage and folly.
Where Jesus on the cross stoically accepted his fate, except for a single lament, Prometheus remains defiant all the way, against all hope. He is the archetype of the revolutionary martyr, when he screams with all his fury…
“Go away, and kneel! Fold your hands in prayer and be the dog that licks the foot of power! I don’t give a damn about Zeus! Let him do whatever he wants with the world, his time is almost up! He won’t be the king of gods for long!”