Athens Protests Spoil Clinton’s Balkan Show

ATHENS – Clinton’s journey to the Balkans was planned by the U.S. government to be a triumphant tour and the crowning of their criminal military activities in Yugoslavia. At the same time, the governments of the countries Clinton was going to visit also hoped to acquire some part of that glory and “triumph.”

But the journey did not pass off that way. Instead of triumphal welcomes, Clinton often met empty streets when he passed, and in many cases he was received by dynamic anti-imperialist demonstrations.

Peculiarly in Athens, and despite the harsh police measures that were taken in order to empty the streets and areas where Clinton was driven through, about 20,000 people rallied downtown protesting the aims and policies represented by Clinton.

But two other demonstrations had preceded this one. The first took place on Nov. 13. That was the date Clinton’s visit initially had been announced for. Precisely because of the huge crowd expected to attend this demonstration and because of the anti-imperialist climate which had been developed, the PASOK government and the Clinton administration were forced to postpone the visit for one week in the hope that the mood would calm down a little in the meantime.

The second march took place on Nov. 17, the anniversary of a student uprising at the Athens Polytechnic Institute in 1973.

This march had by its very nature a deeply anti-imperialist character and was huge and combative. Even the few PASOK participants shouted slogans against Clinton’s visit. Despite all the attempts of the Simitis government to prohibit or to alter the character of the demonstrations, the first two of them passed off peacefully.

But the third demonstration of Nov. 19, at the hour when Clinton was arriving in Athens, was not allowed to march to the American embassy as the two others before had done.

The organizers and the demonstrators considered the prohibition anti-constitutional and insisted on carrying through their march.

Thus, the head of the demo clashed with the strong special police force, who started throwing tear gas and other gas bombs and continued doing so even when all the demonstrators had begun to retreat.

The result was seen worldwide on the TV news. The anger about the arbitrary governmental prohibition and the barbarian police action provoked the lighting of fires as protection from the chemical gas.

In this chaotic situation, some “hot-blooded” young people, members of a so-called “anarcho-autonomous” movement, used the opportunity to ease their anti-government fury at the expense of bank and shop windows and to play hide and seek with the police for many hours.

Their target was also the policies of the PASOK government regarding its massive austerity measures and its foreign policy, which toes the line with the aims of American and European imperialism while the Greek government is conducting its own imperialist activities mainly in the Balkans.

Characteristic of the demonstration was the deep gap between the strong combative mood of the participants on the one side and the lack of political boldness and the confusion of the left forces that played a leading role in the mobilizations on the other.

These leaderships, and above all that of the Communist Party (CPG), which mobilized the majority of the demonstrators-considering that Clinton’s visit was a good opportunity to gather its parliamentary support for the impending elections-consciously tried to impose a “national-independent” character to the manifestations.

They argued that Clinton’s visit would “harm Greece’s national interests” and peculiarly those that deal with the differences between Greece and Turkey-such as the Aegean Sea, the Cyprus question, and so on.

This was also the political line of the CPG during the bombings of Yugoslavia, when it was more or less allied to the reactionary Orthodox Church and other Greek nationalist forces. Its slate for the Euro-elections even included some well-known “Greek-orthodox” nationalists.

Some forces of the non-parliamentary left who formed their own “Committee against Clinton’s visit”-including even Trotskyist groups-shared virtually the same position, though with more radicalism than the CPG.

Only a few forces, mainly Trotskyist ones, tried to give an internationalist class dimension to Clinton’s visit (instead of merely relating it to “national” Greek problems) and to link it to the worldwide social-political capitalist crisis, which indicates the necessity of a revolutionary proletarian solution for the Balkans and all the planet. -H.S. and A.K.