Athens Anti-War Demo


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Anti-war demonstrations in Athens - 15/03/03 - (Nic)

Saturday 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.

First, 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.

The 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!

Yet 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.

Soon, 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.



A speaker addresses the crowd

Thousands of demonstrators,in a last-ditch attempt to avert the war

An orthodox priest brought a message of peace
At times, the demonstration felt like a carnival
Fortunately, the army and police were not needed.
Scores of cleaners moved in to clear up behind the protestors.