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Interview with a Young Greek Communist

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The following is an interview with Melina, a twenty-one year old member of the KOE's youth organization (KOE, pronounced "Koy" on the streets of Greece, stands for Communist Organization of Greece). Melina comes from Patras, a city with an occupied square simlar to that of Athens. Patras is also home to great polarization around the question of immigrants in Greece.

Interviewed by Jim Weill and Eric Ribellarsi


Jim: How did you become a communist in Greece?

Usually the people who end up as communists have a strong sense of justice. This is true of me as well. When you’re young and you understand that the whole system is going nuts, that’s how it starts. I was in an anarchist organization. I first started getting involved in anarchism when the war in Iraq started. The way we acted, there was no plan – they were just throwing stones, they thought they were doing something by that. My problem was that we were doing nothing, no results.

I didn’t involve myself with politics directly until my first year of university, when the boy was killed. [Alexandros Grigoropoulos – a 15 year old killed by police in December 2008] An hour after the murder, riots started everywhere – if you were young and a bit active couldn’t help but participate. Most of the Greek youth were participating, from the schools and the universities. They thought, he was a young boy who was killed – it could have been me.

We should not forget that this happened at the beginning of the crisis. This murder was just the beginning for people who were oppressed by the system. Everybody thought they could be like the richest countries. After the 80s the factories were closing, and the youth of Greece found it had nothing. In 2008 unemployment reached a critical point.

I was skeptical of communism, because I had been brought up in bourgeois ideology. I don’t come from a working-class family. I did have problems, but the 2008 riots were a shock to me. I was going to the protests. I understand that they [the KKE – the Communist Party of Greece] wouldn’t do anything about it. They were afraid of the protests. They have strikes or demonstrations, but they are more like picnics. I was then looking for somewhere to go [on the left]. Everyone except KKE was involved in the joint demonstrations. It was a turning point. People from KOE and I talked about things. Right now, being a communist seems like the right thing to do. A big plus for me joining the KOE was its approach to left unity, like SYRIZA [Coalition of The Radical Left – an electoral coalition in which KOE participates].

Jim: What about other forces? Are they supportive of the movement in the squares?

In 2007 when SYRIZA began, it was the first time that many parts of the left, the Trotskyists, the reformists, wanted to unite. Synaspismos, the Eurocommunist party, wanted to join because they wanted to be in parliament. Synaspismos wanted SYRIZA to agree with them. Right now they are pro-EU. They don’t want to think about leaving the EU or the Euro – that is the general idea. Until recently, SYRIZA had very good opinions about youth revolts and student movements. In 2006 and 2007 there were massive student strikes – usually SYRIZA supported those. In 2008 it was supportive of the strike, after the death of Alexandros. Then Tsipras, the Synaspismos leader, took back his word. The situation is very peculiar on the left.

KKE is afraid of any movement that doesn’t come from itself. KKE has demands that are different from what the people are asking. They are theoretically against the EU, but now say “we are against getting out of the Euro group right now.” They might expel people for being supportive of the squares. When Syntagma started, what they were saying was that it was just 400 anarchists. The right-wing party congratulated them on their “political maturity”. Their asses are so comfortable on the government chairs, they don’t want to leave.

Jim: Can you tell me a bit about struggles in support of immigrants in Greece?

Here there is the EU law Dublin II, which actually says that if there are immigrants in EU countries, they have to stay in the first country they arrive in. There are many refugees in Patras from Afghanistan. There are many immigrants who have difficult lives. Some work in Patras.

Near Patras there are several strawberry fields where there are immigrants from Bangladesh or Somalia. They have no rights. They live like slaves. They are better off than the unemployed because they get a minimum salary. Most immigrants are waiting for the ships to Italy—they try to get on trucks, which will go to the ships, but if the truck drivers find immigrants inside they are hostile and will attack the immigrants.

The extreme right, the fascists of Patras are trying to make a movement against immigrants there. They are afraid of the immigrants because they think they are dangerous. There was an immigrant refugee camp in Patras. They had organized themselves. After an anti-immigrant campaign led by the mayor, the immigrant camp ended up burning. The government is building a camp right now where the refugees will be registered. People are demonstrating because they don’t want the camp to be built on their land.

The movement of defense of refugees and immigrants – people of the KOE participate in this, and also people from the left and some other communists. They go to supermarkets and ask for free food. They have campaigns in the square in Patras. They get clothes and food for the immigrants and have a school that teaches Greek.

We try to see the immigrants as part of Greek society. They have the same problems any Greek has – and more. Some think the squares movement is a nationalist movement, but the majority welcome immigrants. In the square in Patras, there are always immigrants around, so sometimes they come to the assembly.

Jim: What is your perception of the squares movement in Patras?

In Patras most people were big PASOK [“Panhellenic socialist movement” – social democratic party, now in power] supporters, which is why the square in Patras was not as active. KOE participates in the squares, in the different teams. We don’t try to push our line on the people. We just talk and have conversations with people. It’s a massive opportunity to talk with people who have lost faith in the left. Right now there are things we have to do before bringing socialism to Greece. But there are steps. The first thing people want is to throw out the government.

Right now people are releasing their anger massively – the people fighting with the police are not anarchists. They are just ordinary people. We have to decide what we want to happen next, how the country should be governed. Right now if the right-wing New Democracy comes into power, the people will not believe them.

Right now in the squares the people bring kitchen gear and tambourines to the demonstrations. This was inspired by Argentina. Bringing a pot to the demonstrations means you are hungry.

Eric: What would be your vision if the current regime is thrown out of power?

We can’t say right now who will be the government. There is a possibility we might get someone like Chavez. Knowing Greek history, there might be a dictator. Greece has to deal with its debt. The country has to start producing again, nationalizing the banks. If the square movement wins, we might be able to govern the country through the assemblies.

Eric: Is there anything else you would like to tell people in the US, or elsewhere?

Almost every country in the globe right now is in capitalism. If we can overthrow the government and capitalism, you can do it. To tell you the truth, I didn’t know there were any left parties in the US. Really, there’s hope for everyone.

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