THESSALONIKI, Greece – While governmental ministers were meeting at a European Union (EU) summit in a nearby seaside resort, over 50,000 demonstrators filled the streets of this ancient Greek port city June 21 to protest EU policies.
Called the biggest demonstration ever in Thessaloniki, it came on the heels of massive anti-Iraq war demonstrations that swept the country.
Action-Thessaloniki 2003 was dubbed a “people’s counter-EU summit” to protest economic, political and military policies and the role of European monopoly corporations. There is growing concern about the loss of national sovereignty and the emergence of the EU as a military bloc.
The EU ministers announced a new agricultural policy that will lead to a major restructuring of the industry, bolstering agribusiness corporations at the expense of small farmers.
The demonstration was the last of a series of actions organized by Greek political and social movements during the six-month Greek presidency of the EU. Many activities were held June 20-22 including a youth encampment of over 7,000 that was set up on the outskirts of the city.
The actions brought together trade unionists, farmers, youth and students, peace, anti-globalization and women’s organizations and immigrant workers from all over Greece. Many delegations also were present from other European countries. A contingent of representatives from various Communist and Workers Parties who had attended an international meeting in Athens also marched.
Demonstrators came by the busloads in defiance of a climate of fear promoted by the mass media warnings that there would be violence in the streets. Many shopkeepers shuttered their stores, and tourists stayed away. But the demonstration was peaceful.
In another part of the city, however, clashes took place between a small number of anarchists and police. Not surprisingly, this received the bulk of media attention.
Demonstrators chanted, “EU and NATO – syndicate of war,” “Killers, robbers and hypocrites are the European imperialists,” “Workers, farmers and students – answer monopoly with unity.” They also marched past the U.S. consulate and chanted “solidarity of peoples – end to the new world order.”
Different actions were held under the banner of the various political trends in Greece. Action-Thessaloniki 2003 united mainly the left forces, including a large left caucus in the main trade union federation. Most of these organizations are led by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Communist Youth of Greece (KNE). Contingents from the KKE branches were too numerous to count. A sea of red flags adorned the march. Thousands of KNE members, often marching arm-in-arm, brought up the rear.
Another demonstration of 5,000 took place under the banner of the Greek Social Forum, which was initiated by the Social Democratic Party (PASOK) and included other groups. Although PASOK is the governing party and supported the Iraq war, they were forced to respond to the near universal opposition among Greeks, including in their own ranks, by organizing some show of opposition to EU policies. The Greek Civil Servants Federation, led by PASOK, called for a strike to allow its members to attend.
John Bachtell (email@example.com) represented the Communist Party USA at the Athens meeting.