Anti-war demonstrations in
Athens - 15/03/03 - (Nic)
began as usual in the centre of Athens, with crowds of morning
shoppers in the fashionable Ermou street, angry taxi drivers weaving
their way through dense traffic and tourists taking pictures of
the Evzone guards on Sindagma (Constitution) square. But by lunchtime,
a large crowd of thousands had amassed in preparation for worldwide
anti-war demonstrations, under the impassive eye of the Evzones,
who like their British counterparts, are required to stay immobile
at all times except the changing of the guard.
a few communist and socialist volunteers attempted to distribute
pamphlets to passers-by, with varying degrees of success, whilst
the bulk of the demonstrators began to unfurl their banners. After
playing a few old pacifist songs, the organisers gave the stage
to speakers from all over the world, including a French communist
youth leader and a Turk. Even the Orthodox church was represented
by a couple of priests dressed in their characteristic black robes.
Among the crowd, all sorts of different languages could be heard,
and the atmosphere was extremely friendly, a colorfoul mixture
of nationalities, faiths and generations, united in their wish
for peace. In some ways, the protests were akin to a large colorfoul
carnival, an impression reinforced by the choice costumes worn
by some demonstrators in order to reinforce their peace message.
entire demonstration was extremely peaceful and well organised;
even the small group of anarchists in their black masks stood
in the queue, waiting for their turn to follow the orderly procession.
The police maintained a discrete presence, as did a fire vehicle
equipped with water cannons, but at no stage were there any violent
altercations. Soon, the protestors were on their way, past the
Parliament, to chants of "no to the war!", or "we
are not an American protectorate!" or even "warm Salepi!"
from one vendor of this drink (made from crushed orchid tubers),
who decided that such a large crowd must be good for business!
despite the warm ambiance, there was a serious message behind
the protests. This was one of the last chances to avert a destructive
war that would destabilise the region and unleash untold destruction
upon the people of Iraq. Beyond the Iraq issue, there were also
expressions of frustrations towards American foreign policy in
general. Some protestors also accused the Simitis government of
hypocrisy for not making a clear stand against the war. One French
communist reminded the gathered protestors that even Chirac is
not a natural Pacifist, and that popular pressure must be kept
up even on political leaders, such as Chirac, who are for the
moment in the anti-war camp.
the protestors moved on beyond the Parliament, and onwards to
the American embassy and other targets of their ire. Behind them,
an army of municipal street cleaners appeared out of nowhere and
with clinical efficiency proceeded to clear up the streets. Five
minutes after the procession had moved on, the roads were full
of fast traffic and angry taxi drivers, the streets were full
of shoppers, the Constitution square was flooded with tourists...all
was back to normal.