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Athens burning

My Big Fat Greek Week

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This is the area where Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot. Plenty of flowers have been laid down and notes stuck to the walls along with a petition to name the street after the boy. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

08 December 2017

— There are not many certainties in life (and they seem to be getting fewer every passing day), but there is one thing that you can definitely bet on and that is that on certain days, riots will take place in Athens.

— It will happen on 17 November each year, when the anniversary of the students' anti-junta revolt will predictably lead with clashes between so-called anarchists and the riot police.

— For the past few years, another annual ritual of the same kind takes place on 6 December.

— The date commemorates a horrific event: the cold-blooded murder of a 15-year-old boy, Alexandros Grigoropoulos, by police officer Epaminondas Korkoneas.

— Let's repeat it, so that we finally get it. On a random Saturday night nine years ago a police officer shot a 15-year-old unarmed child dead.

— In the meantime, he's gone through a trial, been convicted, issued several apologies covering all range of emotions, said that he has nothing to apologise for, fired his attorney, issued another apology and is now again on a trial that is taking painfully long.

— In the meantime, there has been no major overhaul of the Greek police force, no audit to determine the culture Korkoneas emerged within, why an officer of the law, responsible for keeping people safe, would aim his gun at a child and pull the trigger.

— In the meantime, Greece has defaulted, the political system has entered an ongoing crisis ,and a group of Nazi criminals have become the third largest political party.

— With a large following within the police force, according to election statistics.

— Are you surprised?

— Greek media are constantly surprised; so, even though one would be certain that anti-fascist groups and riot police would clash on the anniversary of the incident, the clashes are reported as something unexpected. Rocks and firebombs were thrown, rubbish bins and flower pots were turned into barricades, and the neighbourhood of Exarchia was, once again, drowned in fumes from burning things and tear gas.

— The Greek chorus of media pundits once again started chanting about the lawlessness that rules the neighbourhood, which has been traditionally considered as a haven for the underground (from leftist political groups to philosophers to punk rock groups taking their first steps), although previous underground bars and anarchist bookshops are closing and giving way to mainstream restaurants and cafes, signalling a slow, but certain, process of gentrification.

— In fact, despite the Opposition persisting on the 'law and order' rhetoric and targeting Exarchia, official police statistics show that, but for petty theft, Exarchia is no more dangerous for passers-by than picturesque Plaka, nor more dirty than any other part of Athens, really, the city is completely abandoned to filth.

— Yet, only in Exarchia would a local butcher shop be vandalised by a group of activists protesting against the meat industry, like it happened a few weeks ago.

— Which leads to the other issue that sparked debate in Greece. The threat that the EU would ban one of the traditional Greek dishes, gyros, or doner kebab (more on that later).

— This, of course was fake news, first printed by one of Europe's usual suspects, the German Bild newspaper, stating that EU is considering to ban phosphates used to preserve meat used for gyros.

-- Adressing the rumour, the European Commission worked to disperse the fears of indignant Greek meat lovers, stating that the opposite is in fact happening. So 24 out of 28 EU countries agreed to allow the further use of phosphates in frozen meat products, deeming the procedure safe for the health of consumers.

— This is an understatement, of course. Gyros meat might be 'safe' but it is not by any chance 'healthy'.

— But who cares? It's our national dish.

— Doner kebab, that is.

— Yes, the Greek national dish has a distinctly Turkish undertone to it - but at this stage, we're probably used to this.

— As used to having an Athens neighbourhood engulfed in smoke and fumes every now and then.

— So, the Greeks rioted against another EU assault at what makes us culturally special (our reliance on chemically enhanced meat).

— But there was no riot when the leader of our neighbours at the other side of the doner visited Greece.

— Modern-day tyrant Recep Tayip Erdogan came to Athens and managed a first win - to make the Greek PM issue a statement against Anti-Erdogan 'coup plotters', saying they are not welcome in Greece.

— From his part, the Turkish president said that it's time to reconsider the Lausanne Treaty.

— No sign of riot against this statement.

— Apparently people were still digesting their phosphate-laden gyros.

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