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European Social Forum: A Cocktail of Anger Erupts
Published on Sunday, May 7, 2006 by the Inter Press Service
European Social Forum: A Cocktail of Anger Erupts
by Sanjay Suri

ATHENS - A double anger erupted out of the European Social Forum on to the streets of Athens Saturday. Anti-globalization protesters attacked police and multinational targets, alongside local groups protesting injustice to immigrants.

A protester plays his trumpet as others shout slogans during an anti-war march in central Athens, Greece, Saturday, May 6, 2006. Riot police fired tear gas at some 200 anarchists who attacked banks, shops and police vehicles Saturday during the large anti-war demonstration in central Athens. More than 30,000 people took part in the march. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)
The two came together naturally at the European Social Forum (ESF) that began Thursday. ESF participants had planned a large demonstration through Athens for Saturday afternoon. The police were expecting trouble, but were still caught off guard.

The center of Athens was cordoned off all afternoon by heavy police contingents. Government buildings and the embassies of the United States and Britain were under visibly heavy protection.

It was a small group from the demonstration, believed to be the Anarchists. The police said at the end of the day that two of their vehicles were damaged by petrol bombs. Petrol bombs also damaged a Citibank building, the police said.

The attacks had clearly been planned beforehand. Other groups emerged from the side streets on Ermou street, the most fashionable shopping center in Athens. They attacked stores, particularly those of multinational chains such as McDonald's and Lacoste. Several glass panes were smashed along the street in hit and run attacks.

Anti-globalization anarchists picked their predictable targets, but the demonstrators' anger was clearly fueled by the government's anti- immigration policies that keep close to a million people in a population of 10 million without rights and without status.

The majority of migrants who live in Greece without status are Albanians and Pakistanis. The demonstrators Saturday included large numbers of Albanians and clearly thousands of Pakistanis.

"We have not engaged in any violence," a Pakistani demonstrator said at the end of the rally. "We do not know who did this," he added. No one else in the group of Pakistanis around him was ready to discuss the violence.

Under Greek law -- or the lack of it -- almost no migrant is given citizenship, or even residence rights. Migrants have in effect become a cheap and vulnerable labour force for jobs that Greeks are either unable or unwilling to do.

"This economy cannot function without us," the Pakistani youth said. "But what are they giving us? Nothing."

The illegality issue had been waiting to surface at the European Social Forum.

According to local reports, Italian Member of the European Parliament Giusto Catania, Synaspismos Left Coalition MP Panayiotis Lafazanis and prominent human rights lawyer Ioanna Kourtovik were detained when they led a group of ESF supporters into a police station to protest against inhuman conditions in which illegal immigrants are detained.

At the European Social Forum center, this has emerged as the dominant issue. Several civil society and left groups not directly involved with immigration issues have been coming together to back demands by migrant groups for justice at last for migrants who have lived without status for a generation, and for a new generation that has grown up without status.

The heavy Albanian and Pakistani presence among the demonstrators brought immediacy to calls for justice under the slogan 'Another Europe is Possible'.

"We have to get justice for migrants because none of the political parties are taking this up," said a young demonstrator. She held up a banner which she said meant 'It's late enough already; time for justice now'.

Other demonstrators carried banners against U.S. President George W. Bush. Several demonstrators raised slogans against the Iraq war.

The anti-war sentiment also found natural support among the Pakistanis and Albanians among the demonstrators, both Muslim groups. Several among the demonstrators threw stones at the British embassy building in central Athens.

The ESF seems to have put together a cocktail of anger. Some of the anger was against the Greek, the U.S. and the British governments over the war in Iraq, some followed a tradition of anti-globalization protests that began at a meeting of the G8 (leading eight industrialized nations - the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Japan), and some of it was over the denial of rights to migrants living in Greece.

But together it marked a change for the ESF where it was thought the like-minded gather to talk about what they already agree on. The militancy that arose from this ESF could be a signal that the social forum movement is now prepared to go much further than talking - and not through Anarchists alone.

© Copyright 2006 IPS - Inter Press Service


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