Fearing a repetition of the revolt during the parades last year on 28 October (anniversary of Greek rejection of Italy’s ultimatum in World War 2), Greece’s political establishment left nothing to chance with the celebrations of 24-25 March (anniversary of the start of the Greek revolution of 1821).
The right to protest was banned for the day. From the morning of 24 March, Athens resembled a war zone, with its citizens being excluding from all areas around the parade route and public transport halted for whole areas.
Seven thousand policemen were mobilised to protect the politicians that were going to attend the parade. Armed men were standing at the parliament building, ready to shoot if an “unexpected provocation occurred”.
The police was given unconditional licence by the government and the minister for Citizen Protection to arrest left-wing activists for “precautionary” reasons before the parade took place.
Unionised members of Athens Council’s band were threatened with disciplinary action or sacking if they were to participate in even symbolic protests against the government during the parade. On 28 October they had paraded wearing black armbands to protest against cuts, redundancies, and wage cuts. Both the student parade on 24 March, and the military parades on 25 March, took place with little audience beyond members of the political establishment: the prime minister, members of his cabinet, other political leaders, president Karolos Papoulias, religious figures and high-ranking members of the military. Only family friends and affiliates of the political establishment were allowed to attend the parade.
Parents who wished to watch their kids parading on 24 March were allowed to do so only at a great distance. Some of the parents had to use binoculars.
There were measures similar to those in Athens, albeit less extreme, in every part of Greece with a parade. The parade route was heavily policed and precautionary arrests of left wing activists took place prior to the parades. A police buffer protected the political representatives from the public. In Thessaloniki the public was not allowed within 100 metres of the politicians’ platform.
But the politicians were still confronted with the anger of Greek society.
The students paraded, but symbolically refused to follow the custom of turning their heads to the right towards the platform where the politicians, military, and religious leaders were standing.
Disabled war veterans refused to participate in the official parade.
In Athens, left wingers and teachers managed to break the police lines and get close to the politicians’ platform, chanting anti-cuts slogans: “Bread, Education, and Freedom”. 27 of them were arrested.
In Thessaloniki a counter-parade of left-wingers and trade unionists took place. Six were arrested.
In Veria fifteen protesters were arrested for trying to get close to the politicians’ platform. Primary and secondary school teachers stated a silent protest against the attacks of the government on education. In Patra, prior to the start of the parade, the police arrested at least 30 protesters. The official parade in Patra was not attended by any member of the government or MP.
In Crete and in Hrakleio the parade was cancelled altogether by police order.
Up North, in Xanthi, police blocked protesters from approaching the parade; two protesters were arrested and a protester was injured and hospitalised.
It is a proof of the defeatist and legalistic attitude of the parliamentary left, KKE and Syriza, that they did not attempt to organise protests.
KKE especially was dismissive about such protest as not measuring up to their standard of “working-class struggle”.
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said: “We are asking the people who spontaneously wish to protest, and that is their right, to be cautious. There is a concrete possibility for a provocative action and the potential to utilise the anger and resentment of the majority of the population in favour of the capitalist system”.
KKE kept reproducing in its paper Rizospastis information coming straight from the conservative press about potential provocations and the preparations of paramilitary right-wing forces.
But the response to the climate of fear and the iron-heel policy of the government should not have been to encourage people to stay at home, but to make the working-class movement sufficiently organised and politically mature to deal with the police. To oppose mobilisation on the grounds of fearing provocation and possible cancellation of the elections due in late April or May will lead to elections taking place in a climate of fear.
The far-left coalition Antarsya and other forces of the revolutionary left organised and led most of the counter-protests.
Antarsya interpreted the counter parades as protests against the government and a warning to the next government.
The government wants us to believe that the decision to call for elections on 29 April or 6 May was its own decision. But both the government and the EU/ ECB/ IMF Troika would have liked to impose Papademos’s unelected and unaccountable government for at least another 18 months.
Working-class people should gain confidence from the fact that through our protests, demonstrations, strikes, and occupations we have won the right to a say, albeit a very limited one, in parliamentary elections.