By Aggelos Skordas
It all started minutes before 9.00 pm on December the 6th, 2008.
Fifteen-year-old schoolboy Alexandros Grigoropoulos is hanging out with a group of friends in Athens’ central district of Exarchia, on a typical Saturday night. A police car arrives on the scene. The group of youngsters soon get engaged in a brief verbal confrontation with the patrol car’s crew of two, although the car soon decamps.
Seconds later -and despite the instructions coming from the Police operations center to withdraw- the two policemen park the patrol car and return on foot. Without any warning, one of them, Epaminondas Korkoneas, pulls his gun and fires three shots. One of them leaves Grigoropoulos fatally injured lying in a blood lake. What started as a routine patrol in downtown Athens triggered the most violent series of events in Greece’s modern history, following the fall of the military junta in 1974.
Seconds after the incident, the two special guards returned to the patrol car they parked meters away and fled the scene. The assassination soon came to media attention, while the first protests were already organised on the same night. The two officers were soon prosecuted, arrested and suspended. The perpetrator claims that he fired two warning shots in the air and one on the ground, acting in self defence as both his and his colleague’s safety was at risk by a group of about 20 teens who moved threateningly against them, were later vitiated.
The investigation results published only days following the event as well as the the forensic report concluded that the fatal shot was fired towards the victim and therefore could not be characterised as a “warning shot”. At the same time, several eyewitnesses said the policeman had directly targeted the youngsters.
Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, the President of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias and Minister of the Interiors Prokopis Pavlopoulos along with the political parties represented in the Parliament rushed to jointly condemn the event that was described as a “cold blooded murder” even from members of the leading conservative party of New Democracy. Despite the political elite’s unanimous condemnation, thousands of youth took to the streets protesting against police brutality in what later escalated to widespread rioting in numerous cities inside and outside the country. Greek and international media were caught in surprise by the populous demonstrations and the unprecedented widespread riots.
Most schools, universities and other higher education institutions were occupied by students for weeks, while the country’s two main workers unions GSEE and ADEDY, representing roughly half of the total Greek workforce, called on general strikes protesting against the government’s economic policies and austerity measures.
In downtown Athens and other major cities protesters set up road blocks for days and clashed with the riot police. According to ACCI (Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry) within only the first two days of unrest a total of 435 businesses were damaged from which 37 were totally destroyed only in Athens. Accordingly, in Thessaloniki, the city’s Commercial Association reported that some 78 businesses were partially vandalised and another 10 were completely damaged. For almost one month the entire country collapsed in chaos and what was first perceived as the youth’s enraged reaction to the unjust assassination of “one of their own” and police brutality transformed into the generalised expression of society’s disillusion towards policy makers.