Page last updated at 16:23 GMT, Friday, 9 January 2009

Greek protests provoke backlash

By Malcolm Brabant
BBC News, Athens

A smashed supermarket window in Exarchia
Some Greeks are fed up with the property damage caused by rioters

The diminutive middle-aged woman protester did not conform to the "central casting" image of the average Greek demonstrator.

Wearing sensible shoes and a brown raincoat, Myrto Dracopoulou was dwarfed by burly police officers as she stood outside Athens' Red Cross hospital.

But four weeks' repressed anger, from witnessing the worst civil unrest in Greece since the fall of the colonels' dictatorship 35 years ago, suddenly spilled over into a stream of outraged consciousness.

The trigger that compelled Mrs Dracopoulou to abandon the sitting room of her home in a quiet northern Athenian suburb for the freezing street, was the attempted murder of 21-year-old Diamantis Matzounis, a policemen shot in a machine-gun attack allegedly linked to a left-wing militant group called Revolutionary Struggle.

When I see these things, I feel nostalgic for the dictatorship
Myrto Dracopoulou

She had come to the Red Cross hospital to show solidarity with the police force, which has faced constant protest since a policeman shot dead 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos on 6 December.

"We are the silent majority," she said. "We don't want this rebellion."

She said the Greek state seemed incapable of controlling "these anarchists, these anti-authority people, these terrorists, who have been doing whatever they want, unpunished, for years and years and years".

"I am sick and tired of being afraid to go into the centre of my city, Athens, because of some demonstration," she added.

She said the disrespect for authority was instilled in schools, where "young people are being brainwashed by these extremist leftist parties", and said even her sister's kindergarten pupils had taken to calling policemen "pigs".

'Ground zero'

For a reaction to those comments, I turned to George Kypraios, a resident of Exarchia, the Bohemian district of Athens where both Grigoropoulos and Matzounis were shot.

Shrine to Alexis Grigoropoulos in Athens
Sympathetic Greeks have built a shrine to Alexis Grigoropoulos

His apartment overlooks what he calls "ground zero", or to give its proper name, the Athens Polytechnic, a haven for anarchists and students who have been fomenting Greece's social uprising.

"She is talking nonsense," said Mr Kypraios.

"What you would expect from a supporter of LAOS," he said, referring to Greece's small ultra-right-wing nationalist party, which has 10 deputies in the 300-seat parliament.

He said Exarchia had been outraged by "the futility and absurdity" of the teenager's death, but that the protests, which have often ended up in running battles between rioters and police, had gone too far.

"The small number of troublemakers who have besmirched Greece's reputation globally must not be allowed to hide behind their hoods," he said.

"The police have the resources and the legal framework to deal with the situation. If there were orders to avoid arrests during the original disturbances, time to rescind those.

"I am tired of a tiny minority destroying the international image of our city and country, which we so carefully and painstakingly re-built since the restoration of democracy in 1974. Enough!"


This week, the police unions blamed the government for the climate that enabled someone to shoot Diamantis Matzounis. They said the order to act defensively as the riots began had enabled the security situation to spiral out of control.

Riot police in Thessaloniki
Police have borne the brunt of anger at the teenager's shooting

On Thursday, after overseeing the first meeting of his reshuffled cabinet, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis promised to crack down on the "phenomenon of catastrophic violence".

His new public order minister pledged a zero-tolerance policy towards crime.

Will this satisfy Myrto Dracopoulou?

"This government is very weak. I have talked to many people of my generation and they look back on the dictatorship with some nostalgia because we had a quiet life," she says.

"It's not the answer, I know. It is not right to say that, but when I see these things, I feel nostalgic for the dictatorship. I was not afraid to walk in the streets. I am afraid of the thugs now."

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