SYNTAGMA IN ATHENS. JUNE 5TH 2011. PHOTO: GEORGE AMPARTZIDISThe current financial situation in Europe is precarious, to say the least. Austerity measures pursued by different European governments have not been well received by the young, which Greece is a good example of. Rather, the insecurity caused by high unemployment rates and reduction of wages has created a new wave of public discontent, aimed at government policies.
In Spain, discontented young people formed the Indignados movement, also known as the “Real Democracy Now” movement. The Spanish Indignados have been protesting against the harsh budget cuts implemented by the government and the general public insecurity stemming from the financial and economic crisis, while at the same time demanding a new, more direct and more transparent type of democracy. A democracy based on people assembling. The Indignados movement quickly caught on, with young people camping out in the squares of all the major cities for days, as a peaceful protest.
During these protests, the Indignados realized that they were not alone in Europe: the Spanish protesters called out to their Greek counterparts through a banner, stating that it was about time the Greeks “woke up”. As a response, Greek youngsters started getting organized with the help of social media, resulting in the first “Greek Indignados” protest being held at Syntagma Square in Athens, as well as in other places all over Greece in May 25. More than 30.000 protesters were reported to have gathered in all the major cities in Greece during the first day. The movement kept growing and soon many more people started joining in. On May 29, which was declared a European day of peaceful protesting by European youth via facebook, more than 100.000 people gathered outside the Greek parliament.
The main reason for the support for the Indignados movement was its ideals. Consisting of ideas that could appeal to a wide range of people, like being against corruption, unemployment and cuts in welfare spending, while at the same time stressing its non-partisan, non-affiliated nature. The Indignados became a symbol of Greek anger against its parties and politicians, soon making it just a protest movement against the political establishment, rather than, as their Spanish compatriots suggesting democratic reform. As the movement grew, different types of protestors joined in. Far-right racist organizations, far-left and anarchist groups soon became a part of the protests in Syntagma Square, creating a very “explosive” mix.
SYNTAGMA IN ATHENS. JUNE 5TH 2011. PHOTO: GEORGE AMPARTZIDIS
The protests did not remain peaceful for long. On June 28, Greek police tried to evacuate Syntagma Square, angering protesters and causing a wave of violence, as police and public clashed. Greek media reported that the law enforcers used excessive force. Yet another turn of events occurred when different fractions within the protesters began turning against each other, displaying a crippling lack of unity within the movement. During the two days of clashes, more than 500 people were reported to have sought medical care. In the following months, the Indignados movement lost momentum, due to the surge of violence and the inability of the movement to push the Greek government towards any real change. However, new, even tougher austerity measures have recently been passed, which alongside the stagnating economy, may soon bring the Greeks back on the streets.
The big question is whether the movement will be able to evolve, as to succeed in exerting real political influence. During the “May of Facebook”, as it has been dubbed by the Greek media, many accused the protesters of merely following a trend. not having political opinions. Therefore, it is important that the ideas behind the Indignados are clarified. It is, if the movement is to gain second wind. It is not enough to disapprove of the political establishment – what is needed is a viable alternative. Should the Indignados fail to communicate their political agenda, there’s a looming risk of groups with different ideologies, such as groups that don’t support democracy filling the void.
The indignados movement in Greece is far from over, neither is the Greeks’ longing for a system capable of protecting civil rights and providing social security. Many challenges lay ahead: non-violence should be a priority, since violence will dissuade people from joining the movement, as was recently proven. Maybe the time has come for a pan-European approach, and maybe the Indignados need to be included to create sustainable societies in the states currently struggling.