Report on the difficult and controversial situation on the island Lesvos by Giannis K., member of Lesvos NGO Employees Base Assembly. First published by our friends from Babylonia magazine and translated and edited by Kostas Savvopoulos for Beyond Europe.
The events that took place
On Monday at midday, some information leaked that the transporting ship Pegasus was commandeered and filled with 10 police units, water cannon vehicles and bulldozers, while at the same time the ship Blue Star Naxos changed its course and was also filled with police units and vehicles. Both of these ships shut off their transmitter (the thing that pinpoints their position in the National Navigation System) so that they can be untraceable on marinetraffic.com. Upon hearing those news the two municipalities of Lesvos shut down the ports of Mytilene with dumpster trucks and other heavy vehicles and at 23.00 that same night a gathering was initiated by SYRIZA, KKE and municipal and political forces from all over the political spectrum. In the beginning there was an uncomfortable aura between the gathered people, because the people that were participating there were complete strangers to each other but at the same time some were known political enemies in an especially polarized situation due to the latest events in the city. The gathered crowd surrounded the port and started to threaten the local Riot Police squads. Half an hour before the arrival of the ship the police attacked with teargas and after that there was a clear spatial differentiation among the gathered: KKE, Syriza and people from various antifascist groups on one side and nationalists along with conservatives and “angry locals” on the other side. Among those there are also a lot of people who refused to “pick sides”. Upon the arrival of the ship the police attacked anew, clearing the way for the units that had just arrived. The Riot Police arrived at the position of Kavakles which is supposed to be where the new closed detention center will be built and clashed with the protesters (1500 people).
The Administration of North Aegean shut down its offices and the Working Center of Lesvos supported the general strike. The people of Lesvos called for two gatherings to the streets that lead up to the newly closed areas, in the positions of Karavas and the Diavolorema. At the same time the Communist Party (KKE) held a demonstration in the city. At noon two new strikes were called by the local Administration, KKE and the antifascist collectives to the roads towards the position of Karavas. During that time thousands of people gathered and clashed with the police. Numerous of smaller groups clashed with the police in the wood areas in smaller skirmishes. As soon as night fell the police launched a full on assault and broke the demonstrations. At the same in Diavolorema people performed a sit in which in turn was broken off by teargas attacks and turned out into a full out confrontation with the riot police for a few hours.
The morning of Wednesday all of Mytilene’s shops and services are closed. A big pansocial gathering is taking place in Sapfous Square with the participation of 3.000 people and is followed by a demonstration in the General Offices Of Northern Aegean and after that to the creation of massive convoys to strategic parts of the island. In the location of Perama in Geras a big group of people march towards a hotel that was hosting out of service riot cops, ransack and trash the rooms of the cops and then proceed to burn all of the police’s personal belongings (clothes, equipment etc) in a similar fashion of what had transpired in the island of Chios earlier that day. In Diavolorema and in Karavas the violent countermeasures of the protesters are upgraded with attempted arson attacks, while the police unsuccessfully try to cut off the protesters. In Karavas the riot police fall back and people start to make way so that they can retreat back to Mytilene. Convoys of cars follow the cops and are attacked by them outside the city. Police then proceed to attack every single car, motorbike and generally everyone in the convoys.
People gather outside of the military camps in Kyriazi, in the Pagani Location, where some riot police squads were spending the night there (after the hotel situations). In a very short time a big gathering of people arrive at the military camp and threaten to tear down the gates and enter the military camps. The head of the Lesvos Administration arrives at the military camp to negotiate the safety of the riot cops. At the same time 6 riot squads attack the gathered crowd and attempt to break through it. The crowd in response starts shooting at the police with hunting rifles ( there are information about 50 injured cops) The Prime Minister calls upon the Head of the Administration and the local mayors for a meeting and the press confidant of New Democracy states that the target had been secured, that is to say that the machines that were going to create the new closed detention centers were safe and in position, so the police that had arrived in the island would be called back.
The class and social composition of the crowds
The people that participate in these gatherings is literally everyone in the island, teachers and workers (foreign and greeks) in NGOs. The politically organized groups that exist in Mytilene and participated are the local rulling municipal party, KKE, Syriza, the nationalist alt right “Free Citizens” and the Antifascist Coordination of Binio ( a squat where various leftists and anarchists gather). Depending on the place, local authorities and civil groups from various villages support the blockades with a mix of nationalism- anti-political and anti cop sentiments. KKE has a very strong presence inside Mytilene and isn’t hostile towards the forces that are in the left of it (leftists, anarchists, etc) while it also has a hegemonic position in various blockades. Among the gathered crowds there also a lot of people who are difficult to place inside the political spectrum and this gives off a constant feeling of political and social fluidity and awkwardness. During the first hours of the Monday gatherings there was a lot of enmity between the gathered, concerning who was who, who participated where and there were also some instances of hostility between nationalist and antifascists. While the gathering continued there were some reactions as to what people were yelling, when one side (the antifascists) were yelling solidarity chants with the refugees. The national anthem is something you might come across as well in the blockades, while also some anti-turkish and racist chants especially in the areas where the villages are traditionally right wing. On the other hand near the blockades who are in the locations of traditionally left wing villages you can hear anti-racist and refugee solidarity chants. In some cases the gathered are split in a spatial way which makes it easier to tell who is who. In other cases it isn’t and it really reminds us of the Squares era (2011) or in some cases the struggles in Keratea and Skouries. However, no matter which place you are in, everybody is hating on the police, and that anti cop sentiment is something that is creating bridges instead of tearing them down.
Some last thoughts
• The images in Mytilene are images from the future, a future that does not fit into the political identities of today and still hasn’t given birth to the political identities of tomorrow. Just like in the Yellow Vests, we are doomed to support and participate in the most distinguished way in these events even though we don’t like that our adversaries are also participating in them. Whoever doesn’t participate in these events will lose every bit of social justification in the eyes of the people.
• There are sides to this issue which are just the thing for the various alt right and nationalist groups because this just goes one step further from the traditional leftist-antiauthoritarian critique (open borders, freedom of movement) talking about closed borders, deportations, and islamists. There are all very charming points to the average “angry local”. On the other hand there are issues with which we are more comfortable and able, such as the corrupt local and state officials and police repression.
• The political “time” is insurrectionary: very dence and every instance counts. It is a duty of the various movements to support without fear the struggle of the locals against the detention centers. The radicals of Lesvos are giving their own battle each day, with their own strengths and weaknesses. On one hand it has a lot of experience from struggles of previous years and a strong climate of cooperation. On the other hand, just now it seems that the initial numbing from the SYRIZA era is going away, while at the same time actually connecting with the locals has proven troublesome because most the people in the movement are not locals. Through the participation the blockades this provides us a solid opportunity to unite with the local youth and create seeds.
• It seems that this political issue will be polarized on a different basis, the basis of either creating detention centers in small uninhabited islands or the defeat of the ruling party and the defeat of the concept of closed detention centers. This inner right wing competition has also to do with the imminent rise of the alt right, species of which we have seen inside New Democracy and Golden Dawn. These specimen can grow in these islands, so far more intensely in Chios while less so in Mytilene. In a moment where the aggressive tactics of the government keeps finding spaces to grow, inertia is not a choice.