Letter from Greece #3

Protest against the fascists. The banner says ‘exclusively public, for free health for everyone without terms and conditions’. Photo via http://taxikiantepithesi.blogspot.gr

Dear people,

I received another excruciating letter from a friend in Patras…

“Things are getting worse and worse. Fascists now make raids in public care and check if the health booklets of patients belong to a Greek citizen or a foreigner. They keep terrorizing the people undisturbed.

On Saturday we had the celebration of the Insurrection of Politechneion (university students in 1973 went into the university, occupied, made a radio station, stayed there and demanded the fall of the junta of Papadopoulos). Every year we march. This year police officers were so harsh even here. They threw teargas in the middle of the crowd to break up the march.

My friend and I feel that we live under a junta again, and the biggest problem is that Greek society cares about silly things on youtube and on TV. They are blind (…)

Many people commit suicides… last month only in Patras I heard about 3 people from 15 to 34 I think (…)

I want to leave Greece. I don’t want when I narrate the story of my life to have a civil war as a chapter. I love Greece, I really do, but I can’t stand fanaticism, racism and violence. I don’t know how to react to all this. I don’t know what to do. I want something creative to unite people. Greek society won’t go out on to the streets for another “useless protest”, they don’t believe that something can change. You were here, you saw, you know. We are people that wait for someone else to save us and we don’t care if this someone else is crazy, or fascist, or murderer.”

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The Two Faces of Andalusia

Acampada IberCaja, Seville

Seville, November 21

Dear people,

There was a time when Seville was the only link between Europe and the New World. From the 1500s onward until the early 18th century, the Spanish crown granted the monopoly of trade with the Americas to this city some 50 kilometres from the Atlantic, upstream the Guadalquivir river.

As a result, Seville grew rich and splendid. But there was a flaw in the Spanish economic model of the age. It wasn’t based on investment and growth, but on plunder. All the gold and silver from the subjugated native empires did little else than boost inflation, and when the influx stopped, it meant recession and decline.

Today, Seville has two very distinct faces. The one you get to see as a visitor is shiny and bright. The other is one of misery and despair.

Near the grand Alcázar palace, I found an encampment called ‘Acampada Utopia’. I figured it was the right place to inform myself on the state of the 15M movement in Seville.

In and around the Andalusian capital there are some fourteen local assemblies active, of which eight in the city itself. The spearhead of the movement, here like elsewhere, is the battle against foreclosures. For seven days now, people have been camping in front of an IberCaja franchise and collecting signatures in favour of changing mortgage legislation.

Last night, the camp was raided by police. All tents had to be taken down. But even without protection, the people have decided to resist.

The reason why they are camped in front of this particular bank has everything to do with a building called ‘La Corrala’, on the outskirts of the centre of Seville.

A property abandoned for many years, La Corrala was occupied six months ago to house evicted families. It was subsequently sold to IberCaja bank. Now the bank wants the families to leave. It has been putting pressure on them by having their electricity and water cut off.

The protesters’ demand is that the families can stay, paying a reasonable social rent, as a first step towards realising the people’s constitutional right to dignified housing.

Next Saturday, Seville will host a demonstration in support of this right by people from all over Andalusia. (Check out corralautopia.blogspot.com, Twitter @corralautopia)

Seville is splendid, really, but when I look through a local newspaper, it seems like the world is coming to an end. Doctors are on indefinite strike against cutbacks in health care, the university is on the brink of collapse, but the most striking news comes from nearby Jerez de la Frontera, home of sherry.

Jerez is officially bankrupt. There is no money to pay public salaries, schools are closed, garbage collectors have been on strike for two weeks straight. According to estimates, the city produces about 250.000 kilos of trash every day. It all ends up on the street. More than 30.000 tons by now. I can’t imagine what the place smells like.

The population is engaging in a daily fight against the invasion of rats. “What is the health ministry waiting for?” a desperate woman exclaims, “for the plague to break out?”

Last night, citizens have started to torch heaps of trash all over town. When riot police was deployed, it led to confrontations. Stones and bottles were hurled at them. The officers used rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

During the day, the people express their anger by piling up trash in front of town hall. The negotiations between the outsourced cleaning authority and the garbage collectors have broken down. Already, Jerez is preparing for another night of stinking inferno.


Iberian Convulsions

The ‘White Tsunami’, Madrid November 18. Photo via @LibertadSigloXX

Lisbon, November 19

Dear people,

The day after the strike, everything was back to normal – or whatever can be considered normal these days. Only the dockworkers continue to strike. According to the newspapers the government is considering to deploy the army to make sure the Portuguese ports continue to operate. But there is a legal problem with this. The army only has authority within the borders of the country if there is a state of emergency. And for the moment the government still respects certain rules.

According to those rules the police wasn’t allowed to shoot footage during the riots, for privacy reasons. So to identify the people who were throwing stones, authorities are using television images and the footage that people posted on the Internet.

It’s a curious situation. In the weeks before I arrived, the police themselves had protested against cutbacks, and the army as well.

In 1974, left leaning officers from the lower echelons of the army staged a coup to put an end to 15 years of colonial war and over half a century of military dictatorship. Ever since, the army has been a counter force on the side of the people. In case things get out of hand, the government most probably won’t be able to count on them to restore order by force.

For the moment, it won’t be necessary. Poverty, misery and malnutrition are on the rise in Portugal, but there is no day-by-day organised resistance like in Spain. Neither is there a real squatter movement active here, even though you find abandoned property all around. In the centre of Porto they amount to roughly a third of all buildings.

Here in Lisbon, there exist two neighbourhood assemblies, one in Benfica and one in Graça, where I am staying at the moment. The rehabilitation of abandoned buildings is one of the local assemblies’ primary goals, but they prefer to go the legal way instead of occupying.

In Spain, yesterday there was a massive demonstration of medical personnel – the ‘White Tsunami’ – against the privatisation of health care. At the same time, much less publicised, there was a demonstration of police officers against the cutbacks. It was funny to see images of police vans being deployed to control a crowd of their colleagues. One of the banners they carried made it to the news. It said ‘Citizens, please excuse us for not being able to arrest those who are responsible for the crisis – politicians and bankers.’

Next Thursday the students go on strike in Lisbon and in about a week there will be more protests as the budget for next year will be discussed. There are too many things. We need a serious revolutionary newspaper, with online local editions. Sign up! Make it happen. I’ll lend a hand.

For now, I will soon be leaving Lisbon to follow the sun. This means I will reduce the frequency of my reports. But don’t worry, if anything big happens, I’ll be sure to let you know.


News and Footage of #14N

Dear people,

Here is some footage of yesterday’s European General Strike.

Madrid:

Lisbon:

Rome:

Milan:

Police aggression against minors in Tarragona:

Check also the overview of  European protests by the Guardian, RT and RoarMag


Battlefield Lisbon

November 14, 2330 hrs.

‘Intifada’ is how the Portuguese news described the events in Lisbon today. Maybe it was a bit of an overstatement, we’ll have to see. In any case, nobody I spoke to ever witnessed something like this happening in Portugal…

Dear people,

A spectre is haunting Europe. For the first time ever, the proletarians of twenty countries joined together in a general strike. If anything, austerity measures are creating a sense of unity among the European peoples.

I’ve seen brief images from Greece, Italy, Spain and England. But today was too big to get a clear picture of everything. I will just tell you what happened here in Lisbon.

There were two feeder marches. One of the big unions and one of dockworkers, anarchists and social movements. Naturally I joined the latter.

It started off very small. A couple of hundred people gathered at Cais do Sodré near the harbour around one o’ clock. Once we got moving, the march had already swollen considerably. We had music, and we had firecrackers, courtesy of the anarchists. They could hear us coming from afar.

At the monumental Praça do Commercio an undercover police officer made a clumsy attempt to arrest one of the people throwing bombs. He almost got lynched by the mob. His colleagues in uniform stormed in to bring him to safety. The arrest was never made.

At Rossio we joined with the march of the unions. That was when the crowd really got big. Through the narrow streets we walked up to Bairro Alto, ‘high hood’. The firecrackers resounded frighteningly loud between the old buildings.

All the way, there was a clear distinction within the march between the unions at the front, and the movements at the back. At the top, we split. The red flags took the road, the black flags descended a small staircase to reunite at São Bento, the Portuguese parliament.

The building is on a hill, accessible through stairs, and surrounded by lawns. It was all fenced off with barriers. It’s an interesting sight, massive police protection of institutions against the rage of the people. It accentuates the ambiguity of the word ‘democracy’.

In front of the stairs, the union leaders staged their little piece of theatre, they were applauded by their members, and thankfully, they soon left.

‘Eloquence’

But the people stayed. Something was about to happen. You could feel it from the beginning. For the moment, the drum band was drumming, the people were cheering. I was talking to a friend of mine. She said the crowd was actually pretty calm, too calm.

Before she even finished her phrase, it started. All along the line, people tore down the barriers. At the stairs, the front line moved up to face the police, but the crowd fell short of taking the stairs by storm. They could have succeeded, but the moment of hesitation was enough for police to organise and to form a line.

Taking down the barriers

So the bombardment started. It was around four thirty. First came the paint bombs. When they were finished, there came the bottles. When those were finished, there came the stones.

Now, you have to know that the streets in Lisbon are made of typical small stones. They are easy to dig up and they are the perfect size for throwing. The anarchists pulled their scarfs over their faces and they had a ball. Behind them, the entire crowd backed them up. The line of police had orders to stand and resist. It went on for hours. Given the amount of ammunition at hand, it could have gone on for months.

At the start of the assault, there had been some small skirmishes at the stairs in which the anarchists conquered one of the officers’ shields. With spray paint, someone cancelled out the word ‘police’ and replaced it with grand capital letters spelling ‘PEOPLE’. The roar was awesome when they brandished their booty.

And the beat went on. The drummers accompanied the stoning. Another police shield was smashed, a lone molotov was thrown to the delight of the crowd. But after about an hour, some people were growing restless. To them it was of no use to go on. They wanted everyone to stop throwing, and charge. At that moment I witnessed the most amazing demonstration of courage by some unprotected citizens who defied the stones by taking the stairs. Two girls sat down on the steps with their hands folded in meditation. But the assault continued, and they finally had to retreat.

Among the people battering the shields of the police there was an adorable old man throwing pebbles. He was completely relaxed, and he had an excellent aim. With one stone after another he could hit the same police officer on his helmet. He didn’t care to hide his face, he was having the time of his life.

Around six, authorities had enough of it. Via megaphone it was announced that people had to disperse or police would charge. The answer came with firecrackers and an intensification of the bombardment.

So police charged. And after having resisted for so long, they were bloody pissed off. They clubbed people down like savages. I took the space that the first line had left open in their wake, shooting footage of the violence. It was not very smart, I should have counted with the second line coming down behind me. One of the bastards went for my camera, then he went for me, then he got assistance. So now I know what a billy club feels like. It makes you mad. Really really mad. In the heat of the moment, I managed to save my footage, to shout all kinds of bad things about these goons and their mothers, and to get the hell out of there in pretty good shape, all more or less at the same time.

Part of us regrouped in a narrow street. We built up barricades from big plastic containers full of trash, and they were set alight. When police advanced, we retreated and built more barricades. Within minutes there were piles of trash ablaze at every street corner. The stench was disgusting, but the sight was wonderful. There was a sense of liberation in the air. “It’s good this is happening. Things needed to be shook up here in Portugal”, someone said.

Meanwhile police were blocking streets left and right, and advancing. We descended towards the sea and the big avenues. At a certain point, police officers started shooting rubber bullets. That’s when most of the group dispersed.

We reunited again at Cais do Sodré, where the demo had started. Phones were ringing continuously, stories came in about police hunting isolated citizens in the alleys and beating them up. Then they came to the square, in full riot gear. They raided the bar where we had found refuge, they took away the usual suspects. One of them was the streamer from audiovisuals. He hadn’t been able to broadcast today, because they had already confiscated his equipment before it all went down. Now he was taken in for questioning. Unlike another person that was taken away from the bar, I haven’t seen him return.

“This is what democracy looks like”, one of my comrades commented.

By now the images have reached the far corners of Portugal. Tomorrow we will have to see what their influence will be on the Portuguese state of my mind. If it were for me, without a doubt, I’d be back at parliament.


Lisbon on the Move

Photo by Esad Hajdarevic

Lisbon, November 14, 1130 hrs.

Dear people,

Yesterday I met up with a comrade from the Communications commission of the Indignados Lisboa. He later took me to an anarchist hide-out where banners were being prepared for the general strike, and where I had the opportunity to meet other people active in local assemblies and working groups. They filled me on the history of our movement in Portugal.

Bear in mind that the scale of the protests here is in no way comparable to what happened in Spain. When it all started, last year in May, there was an acampada of the Indignados Lisboa in the central Rossio square. The people who organised it were not an heterogeneous mix of citizens, they came specifically from anti-militarist groups opposed to NATO. The acampada lasted two weeks, and ended like most camps do, in internal struggle and decay.

In October, when the fall wave rose, there was another encampment, this time in front of parliament, and this time inspired by what was happening in the USA. It was called ‘Occupy Lisbon’, and it was a distinct group from the Indignados Lisboa.

Unlike Spain, where the 15M is kind of an overarching movement of many different struggles, in Portugal the resistance consists of independent movements which loosely collaborate. Among these are not only Occupy and the Indignados, but also the Zeitgeist movement, Anonymous and various unions and semi-political organisations.

In February of this year a nationwide encounter of popular assemblies was held in Coimbra. Later on, in April and May, activists met in Lisbon to exchange ideas and coordinate struggles. But it wasn’t until September 15 that the movement in Portugal really took off.

That day, two months ago, an estimated one million people all over the country took the streets and forced the government to swallow the latest austerity measures. Considering the fact that Portugal only has about ten million inhabitants, the number was enormous.

Since then, the government has disguised the same austerity measures in different ways, and the people have made a habit out of demonstrating and striking. Every week, more or less.

From what I hear, the situation is not as tragic as Spain as far as evictions go, but the privatisation of everything, including health care and water is dangerously looming over the country, here as elsewhere in the South of Europe.

In the anarchist cove I met the two people who form the Lisbon audiovisual team, broadcasting from bambuser.com/ptrevolutiontv. And as they explain to me their way of working I realise how technologically advanced we are in Madrid. We can cover any small event with one or two streamers, who can operate independently without need of a laptop or a generator. In case of big events we can deploy four to eight streamers (‘cells’ or ‘units’), sometimes even more. We can mix everything comfortably from a studio while keeping an eye on the headlines from around the world.

Here in Portugal, our comrades have one laptop and a couple of webcams at their disposal. They use a car to function as generator for the laptop. Still, they make maximum use of the limited means at their disposal, but they need more people. And I wonder, in a few years time, looking back, we will be amazed about how primitive our current technology is. And at the same time we will be happy that we were there to witness the pioneers of this amazing technology called ‘livestream’.


Good Morning Portugal!

‘Ave Maria’, the Merkel version. Rossio, Lisbon.

Lisbon, November 13

Dear people,

I took the overnight bus to Lisbon in order to be here for the November 14 general strike. Latest news from Spain before I left: 46 super judges from all over the country have spoken out against the evictions, and self-proclaimed themselves the spearhead of reform. Also, the mayor of Madrid went to La Princesa hospital in support of the struggle against the hospital’s closure.

Now here I am on the estuary of the Tago river. They say that Spain and Portugal live with their backs against each other, and I have a feeling it’s true. In general, they don’t speak each other’s languages. It’s not obligatory in school. The Portuguese speak better English than Spanish.

Maybe this could be explained with the strong bond that has united England and Portugal for all of modern history. The two countries maintain the longest still active alliance in the world, going as far back as the late 14th century. The thing they share is that they face the ocean more than they face the continent.

Another thing you notice is that Portugal is a lot darker skinned than Spain. The country has a long and intricate relationship with Africa. As empire builders, they were the first to go there and the last to leave, over 500 years later. As a result, black blood has merged into the lifeline of Portugal. In Spain on the other hand, most of the blacks you encounter are recent immigrants, mainly from Francophone Africa.

One of Portugal’s most notable former colonies is Angola. The country was ravaged by fifteen years of colonial war followed by over twenty years of civil war. For a decade now, the country is in peace, and it’s finally starting to exploit its huge mineral and oil resources.

This has led to the creation of a super rich elite, Arab style. If you are looking for the most expensive hotels, restaurants, night clubs and casino’s, don’t go to London, New York, Las Vegas or Dubai. Go to Luanda, the Angolese capital. You will live like a satrap. By contrast, the majority of the population in Angola is still among the poorest of the world, with low life expectancy, high infant mortality, etc.

Instead of investing in their own society, the Angolan super elite prefers to invest in the mother country. With Portugal being pushed to privatise, the petrol dollars from Africa are flowing back to Europe to buy up banks, utilities, etc. At the same time, Portuguese engineers are moving to Angola, attracted by the absence of a language barrier and the possibility of becoming super wealthy in a short time.

Understandably, there is also a significant Brazilian community here in Portugal. I don’t have any figures, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this emigratory flow is about to reverse. If it hasn’t already started, we might see many Brazilians returning home, and many Portuguese going with them in the coming years.

Yesterday, Merkel was here to assure herself that German directives were well implemented. A few hundred people protested against the visit, burning a Merkel puppet outside the presidential palace. Tomorrow there is the general strike, and from all the banners and manifesto’s I witness around town, everybody wants to be there.