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