The December revolt was the precise moment when an entire generation awoke to the realization that the muted stories of the past had always been part of the present.

December 2008: The month when Greece’s divided past returned in full force

The shooting of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15-year-old high-school student, by two police officers unleashed widespread violent protests in Athens.

Photos: Gerasimos Domenikos, Angelos Christofilopoulos, Panayiotis Tzamaros, George Vitsaras, Angeliki Koronaiou / FOS PHOTOS


Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15-year-old high-school student, is shot in the chest by police officer Epameinontas Korkoneas. The murder triggers a profound revolt across and beyond the country’s borders.

The news channels loop familiar images of stone throwing protesters and violent police chasing each other through ubiquitous clouds of tear gas, whilst social media networks hum with the excitement of some of the largest social struggles in recent years. The protests soon questioned the legitimacy and effectiveness of the state authorities.

The immediate outcome of these events has to be placed in the context of the deeper social tensions within Greece that pre-date them. The riots unleashed a pent-up frustration of the youth over the ineptitude and indiscipline of the police. This same group had parallel grievances over the lack of jobs, the changed employment contracts, and low incomes on offer to them. This was probably the first generation of the Metapolitefsi to face worse economic prospects than its predecessors.

The space of the revolt was primarily that of the street, the public space, the park, and the square. It was also, however, the space of radio waves, of television (thanks to station occupations), of the internet, and the telephone.

The first natural target of these demonstrations was the police, blamed for its brutality, but also its incompetence and inability to protect the citizens from the generalized anarchy that prevailed.

The second target was the government for its inability to give proper guidance to its security forces, but also for a more general lack of leadership.

The men and women rising up comprised a mixture of politically conscious individuals, university and high-school students, migrants, unemployed, and precarious workers who threw their identities into the melting pot of the rioting streets.

The revolt of December 2008 was not just a flare that lit suddenly or momentarily in the streets. It sprang from existing structures and relations that are still very much alive.

Only a few hours after the murder, as the news spread all over Greece instantly via mobile phones and the internet, people gather in the district of Exarchia. It is clear, from the very outset, that the revolt is situated in the public space.

As soon as the news of Alexandros Grigoropoulos’s murder broke, a surprisingly well-coordinated crowd of people managed to bridge existing territorial and social distances to create fields and forms of resistance no one had previously dared to imagine.

From midnight onwards, violent episodes and clashes with the police multiplied; the destruction of shops and arson attacks became more generalized in the center of Athens.

Greece, and Athens in particular, welcomed the revolt in their own way, different by far from the reaction to previous revolts as in the USA, France, or Argentina, as it emerges from varying places and invariably lays different roots.

Those who found themselves in the center of Athens felt the tension and the climate of uncontrollable youth violence. The assassination in Exarchia was reflected in the eyes of the youngsters and the actions they took. It was characteristic of the great anger, the overflowing rage, that the major damage was caused in the traditional commercial center of Athens, between Syntagma and Monastiraki Squares.

Shops and petrol stations as well as public buildings are under attack. Every space that represents trade, consumption, the city in its dominant form, must be destroyed as a means of revenge, because in the end everything and everybody is responsible for a death that symbolizes thousands of other deaths in the city.

The agitation continued for days and spread across all big urban centers, from Crete and Peloponnese, to Thessaly, Epirus and Macedonia. This was accompanied by student attacks on police stations.

The people were determined, whether on an avenue or dissolved in the city alleys. For every different space, there was a different tactic. The constituted presence of students marked the beginning of the third day of revolt, Monday 8 December. Many youth had already taken part in squats and riots, but on Monday, the first school day, they organise as pupils, recognizing that the gun was turned against one of them and thus against them.

What took place in Athens in December was a parallel struggle not only for territorial dominance but also for the control over meanings produced by the city space. A typical example was the struggle over the plastic Christmas tree in Syntagma Square. The revolted did not merely torch a plastic tree, but the symbol of Christmas for the entire city of Athens.
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