Greece: a police state made by the EU

The EU is usually the first to moralise about human rights and democracy, but not when it comes to Greece.

Nikos Sotirakopoulos

Topics Brexit Politics

The European Union (EU), we have long been told, is an uncompromising champion of human rights, supporting them with all possible means, from diplomatic measures to military action against sovereign states. Amid all this rhetoric, however, there is an ever-larger elephant growing in the room, namely the quasi-police state that is being established within the EU itself in recent years: Greece.

The EU has long both moralised about, and meddled in, the affairs of other countries in the name of human rights. The ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Serbia in 1999 is a good example. And the liberal elites in Brussels don’t hesitate to stick their noses into the business of non-members like Russia and Belarus, for real or alleged violations of political freedoms and freedom of press. Even Cuba, on the other side of the world, has not escaped from the EU’s moral crusade on human rights. But the EU’s transformation of Greece into a quasi-police state puts paid to its supposedly unequivocal advocacy of human rights and political freedoms.

Such a claim may raise some people’s eyebrows. A quasi-police state? In the EU? In 2012? This must just be scaremongering by a super-sensitive leftist, right? Well, no, would be my answer. This is an apt description of the harsh reality that Greece is facing since it came under the custody of the ‘troika’ of the European Union, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Here are some key facts about the situation on the ground in Greece at the moment:

  • In order to dissolve demonstrations, the Greek police is using teargas, which has been declared illegal even for military use during war by the United Nations under the terms of the Paris Convention of 1993. What, under international law, would constitute a war crime is now the everyday reality Greek people face when protesting, with one life having been lost so far;
  • During another day of general strikes on 11 May 2011, while a protest in the centre of Athens was peacefully dissipating, riot police attacked groups of demonstrators. Giannis Kaukas, a 31-year-old protester, was severely injured. He was transferred to the hospital close to death, and was in coma for many days before the doctors managed to save his life;
  • On 15 June last year, police used excessive violence trying to dissolve the protest on another day of general strike. Journalist Manolis Kupraios was left permanently deaf after members of the riot police threw stun grenades at him;
  • During the general strike that took place on 28-29 June 2011, the police attempted to dissolve the huge protests against the imposition of the Middle Term Austerity Package, with chemical warfare, raids on Syntagma Square and by hunting down demonstrators even as far away as the Acropolis Museum. The result was that over 500 people were injured, teargas was used in Syntagma’s tube station and Red Cross doctors trying to offer medical assistance to injured protesters were continuously attacked;
  • On 8 July 2011, a 22-year-old man was left with a broken knee and skull and kidney damage after being attacked by riot police. He was judged to be ‘suspicious’ for having attended a concert in the libertarian stronghold of Exarhia in the centre of Athens;
  • On 12 February 2012, police began the widespread use of a new technique, namely the pre-emptive arrests of the ‘usual suspects’ before a protest took place against a new austerity package to be voted on in the Greek parliament. A protest of almost half a million people was broken up with teargas before it even started;
  • On the night of 1 April, masked members of police special forces in Crete were involved in the severe beating of an 18-year-old boy in Heraclion’s police station, while questioning him for some road violations. The boy is still in a critical condition;
  • On 4 April 2012, a 77-year-old pensioner shot himself in Syntagma Square, leaving a note calling for an insurrection. In commemoration, peaceful candlelit protests were held the following two nights. Riot police attacked on both occasions, injuring two journalists, one having to have brain surgery.

These are only some of the most notorious cases. The list could go on, including police officers placing Molotov cocktailsin the bags of arrested protesters and imprisoning citizens using anti-terrorist legislation for having a personal affiliation with alleged members of urban guerrilla groups.

When it is impossible to attend even a candlelit protest without the threat of attack from one of the many special-forces corps; when journalists are continually harassed, sometimes even at home, how else could you describe the situation but that of a quasi-police state? How else could a state be described when it blocks the centre of Athens with 5,000 police officers and even snipers on 25 March 2012, the anniversary of the anti-Ottoman liberation struggle, allowing only VIPs and police agents to attend the military and student parade?

Needless to say, no EU official had anything to say about such incidents. Their only worry is the possibility of ‘instability’ following the upcoming elections in Greece, and the toppling of the unelected prime minister Lucas Papademos, the national and international elites’ favourite technocrat. This silence from the EU is in stark contrast with its super-sensitive human-rights moral crusades that it still engages in all over the world.

This is not to say that the Greek people should place their hopes on a shift in the EU’s stance, or on any other unrepresentative and ‘professional’ champion of human rights, such as NGOs, to improve the current situation. That would be not only naive, but also unwelcome. As a Greek citizen myself, I have not written this article to call for help, or to suggest the EU should live up to the standards of human rights it uses when moralising about countries.

Indeed, it is only through the Greek people’s own struggle, away from paternalistic national and international moral patrons, that we will be able to get out of this profound crisis. Not just the economic one, but also the crisis of democracy and of national sovereignty.

It is becoming ever clearer that the EU, despite its pseudo-sensitivity on human rights and political freedoms, is a burden upon all the people of Europe who are striving for a future containing greater personal and social liberties, and where more progress can take place.

Nikos Sotirakopoulos is a PhD student in environmental sociology at the University of Kent.

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Topics Brexit Politics


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