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Guest Post: Greek Police Needs New Anti-Riot Strategy

The severe criticism against the Greek police EL. AS. and the behaviour of riot police does not ease up. Grave accusations against the Greek police are also raised by prosecutors and lawyers, who argue that ” the violent attacks by riot police, on the one hand put in danger the life demonstrators, while the other prevented the exercise of the constitutional right of assembly” as reported by newspaper Eleftherotipia on its Sunday Edition. Even the Mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis, in an interview to state NET TV (3 pm news), accused the Greek Police of “lack of professionalism”.  Kaminis added that” the escessive use of tear gas, police officers throwing stones at protesters… it looks like a vendetta”.

Video : Wrong Tactics?

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Is the Greek police really not well trained? Can another strategy and tactic to protect the Parliament and combat rioting be more effective and at the very end prohibit the situation getting out of control? AntonisX, a foreigner living and working in Greece, a professional photographer, makes an interesting apporach on the issue.

” It never seizes to amaze me how unorganized MAT operates. It is a fail save recipe for excesses like we saw yesterday and many days before. When you look at footage from yesterday you see them behave like a gang of hooligans. They almost never form a line and are constantly breaking of in 1s or 2s. You see them walk around with two or three in between public and demonstrators. And they decide themselves who to attack.

In countries where MAT is much more organized, things like here also happen (ssen it and know the stories). It’s the nature of the beast. But if done correctly it is less damaging for all.

Riot police normally forms a line one or more deep. And they will hold that line. Behind them is the commanding officer who is really ‘commanding’ and often a waterkanon. When they sweep a street they do that from wall to wall. Still in one line and they never get out that line. In between the demonstraters there are often plain clothes arrest teams. And at coördinated moments those officers grab demonstrators and the line of the riot police opens briefly to let them through with the arrested.

On Syntagma the only line they form is the one on top of the stairs. And even there they don’t hold that one. And it is almost always just one deep. If you want to clear the street in front of parliament you sweap that in the same way as discribed above. And above all, you keep your lines two or three deep. You go forward and fall back as one group. And I assure you, no group is big enough to overwhelm a disciplined riot police unit. It is relentless and very very powerful.

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t like riot police one little bit. It’s an anachronism in a democracy. I dislike them as much as Hoodies. Or PAME units with sticks/flags. But when you use them this is the only way you should. Because it’s the only way it is effective and it will limit the amount of hurt on both sides.

I have never seen a more unruly mob of police then MAT and never on such a large scale. Well, at least not in democratic states. When somewhere else a riot police unit goes berserk you know who the commander is and he can be disciplined (not that they often are, remember Genua, but that’s another story). By choosing not to use MAT in a structured manner the Greek authorities place the individual policeman/woman in an hostile environment with no backup and no security. That would make every person go crazy. And because they are all acting on an individual basis there is absolutely no accountability.

Christos Papoutsis should be forced to resign immediately and been made into an example what will happen if his successor does not manage to reorganize MAT within two weeks. Because that is all it will take: just two weeks of concentrated training.

But somehow I have the feeling that this situation is perscieved as very VERY advantages for the powers that be.

What an enormous luck we had that no person died…


” So you mean, riot police can  use a method that would be better and safer both both sides?” I asked Antonis X.

“Yes, it would be better for both sides”, AntonisX answered “Let me use an example. When the riot police is disciplinned the individuals will not hit indiscrimenately at passers by. And if, like Andreas mentioned, they have numbers on their helmets, they can be identified later. They are both more effective in their actions and less damaging. On the other hand: if demonstraters know that the riot police will only go after the rioters and not every moving object arround they can demonstrate with much more convincing force.

The Indignants did a great job. You saw the symphathy among citizens here and abroad grow by the day. That would still have been possible if the police who (ofcourse!) shields the parliament would have nicked the first few hoodies in a moment and retreated to their defensive stands.

For this they use those plain clothed police that is in the crowd. And it is astounding how possitive an experience this is when you are standing their as a peaceful demonstrator. When last week (?) the Indignants tried to chase off the hoodies it would have been perfect for the riot police to help them. The Indignants wanted to keep it peaceful and that’s also the only task for the police. Keeping the peace. Nothing more, nothing less and everything has to be geared to that.

Demonstrating and protesting is a fundamental right. And the police has to ensure that this right is enforced. It is asking a great discipline from them AND the demonstraters. But as I say, I have seen it work more times than not.”

I spoke with a couple of friends (photographers, journalists, ex officers)  about this apporach. Interesting, they all agreed.

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One comment

  1. We have the democratic right to peacefully demonstrate and protest. The police have to tread a very thin line to facilitate this right and deal with those who have a separate agenda and are intent on causing injury and damage.
    From what I have seen over the past few months I would say that although well equipped the police officers are poorly trained. You can not expect police to act professionally and with self discipline in a very stressful situation without training, more training and even more training. When, and it will happen if things continue the way they are, somebody, a police officer or member of the public will die. That death will be the fault of the government and those responsible for ensuring that your officers are trained to act as professionals and impartially.