NEWS

Plans of campaign for EU summit meeting in city of Thessaloniki

In the wake of a fairly unsuccessful mobilization for the latest G8 summit at Evian, the eyes of the anti-globalization movement are now on Thessaloniki, where European leaders are holding a summit meeting at the Porto Carras hotel complex in Halkidiki on June 20-21. Local opponents of globalization will try to dispel the sense of disappointment arising from the relatively meager participation in the G8 protests by assembling more than 100,000 protesters in Thessaloniki and Halkidiki – at least double the number that turned up to Evian. Will they succeed? Speaking publicly, representatives of the main initiators – Action: Thessaloniki 2003, which is linked to the Greek Communist Party (KKE), and the Greek Social Forum (Synaspismos Coalition, ecologists and others) – say they will have at least 120,0000 people at the rallies. But in private, officials of those movements admit they will be pleased if they can mobilize some 50,000 people from all over Greece. What about anti-globalization activists from other countries? The organizers are not counting on substantial help, as Halkidiki is a long way for them to travel and those among them who wanted to demonstrate have already done so at Evian. Foreign participation is expected to be limited to a few representatives of trade unions and organizations from the EU, some activists from Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines and Canada, a few personalities such as Tony Negri, and a number of representatives of the international communist movement who will be in Greece at that time to attend an international event being held by the KKE. «At best, 1,000-1,300 people will come,» said one of the organizers. Accommodation The protesters will start arriving in Thessaloniki and Halkidiki on the eve of the summit. They will spend four days at hotels, rented rooms and camping grounds. For those who stay in Thessaloniki – and they will be in the majority – accommodation will be available in certain municipalities. At Aghios Pavlos, the guests of Action: Thessaloniki 2003 will camp out in tents, indoor gymnasiums and squares; there is accommodation for Social Forum members at Polichni and Menemeni; and the Aristotle University and the Epanomi campsite will house extra-parliamentary leftists and anarchists. The Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace has provided 300,000 euros to cover infrastructure requirements (for chemical toilets, tents, cleaners, snacks and refreshments). Like Florence For months, Macedonia and Thrace Minister Giorgos Paschalidis has been striving to make Thessaloniki «an open, lively, friendly and hospitable town,» saying that the government is aiming for the consensual model of Florence and not the repressive one of Genoa. It wants to avoid, or at least minimize, the likelihood of episodes that would not only cause material damage to the city but would also spoil its image internationally. Will the demonstrations by the various tribes of anti-globalization protesters go ahead peacefully, or will they turn Thessaloniki and Halkidiki into a battlefield, as many fear? The organizers say they do not want a physical showdown with the police, and that if the demonstrations develop into clashes it will be the fault of the authorities who are attempting to obstruct free expression by the designation of so-called red zones. Fortress Halkidiki The authorities are expected to turn Halkidiki into a fortress, preventing any attempt to disrupt the summit or the movement of the 6,500 participants. Political responsibility for the security of the summit belongs to Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis and operational responsibility to national police chief Fotis Nasiakos. The official plans are secret, but sources say around 15,000 police officers will be on duty, half of them in Halkidiki, where the police have already rented 6,500 rooms. Every approach to the Porto Carras complex will be blocked to unauthorized visitors. Work has already begun on preventive measures: A 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) long, 3-meter-high barbed-wire fence will be erected around the complex and an underwater steel mesh placed across the entrance to the bay of Neo Marmaras. Coast guard and navy craft will patrol the sea and a division of air force fighter aircraft will be on alert at Thessaloniki airport. Rally organizers have heard that two Patriot anti-missile batteries have already arrived in Thessaloniki. The EU leaders will arrive in Thessaloniki on Thursday and most of them will go by helicopter from Macedonia Airport to Porto Carras, with a discreet escort of fighter aircraft. Opponents of globalization are planning dozens of events from June 19 to 22 in Thessaloniki, including discussions about issues such as unemployment, racism and migration. But the center of interest will be two major demonstrations planned for Friday at Neo Marmaras, 1.5 kilometers from the hotel where the EU leaders are meeting, and in downtown Thessaloniki on Saturday. Red zone The police have given permission for the demonstration on June 20 at Neo Maramaras, where they have designated a red zone beyond which the area will be «sterilized.» The authorities are afraid, however, that demonstrations in Halkidiki may degenerate into a running battle in the woods and on the slopes of Sithinia, because they know that the committees organizing the rallies have their own plans which may take the agents of law and order by surprise. For example, there has been a deliberate spreading out of demonstrators into neighboring campsites and rented rooms, which the protest movements have rented since autumn. The authorities believe the visitors may attempt to reach the summit meeting place by means of dirt roads and footpaths in the area which they have already mapped out. Sources say the police have implemented a plan to document all those who have rented camp sites and rooms in Sithinia, and there appears to have been pressure on owners to cancel bookings and refund money. A convoy of about 100 coaches and dozens of cars will set out on Friday from Thessaloniki for Porto Carras as part of a disobedience campaign, where the passengers will have an opportunity to let the European leaders hear their views at close quarters. Will the police allow them to approach the red zone at Neo Marmaras, or will they attempt to obstruct them physically during the drive, so as to avoid episodes on the sidelines of the summit? Most of the anti-globalization protesters will demonstrate on Saturday, June 21 at 5 p.m. in Thessaloniki in two major marches, one of which will go along Egnatia Road and the other along the seafront, meeting at Tsimiski Street, where the US Consulate is located, and ending up at the Macedonia-Thrace Ministry. The fear of clashes and widespread episodes already overshadows the city, though nobody in authority has openly admitted as much. The organizers of the two rallies (Action Thessaloniki, the Pan-Labor Front [PAME] and other groups of one bloc, and the Greek Social Forum and trade union organizations of the other) have already hastened to blame any possible rioting on «the well-known unknowns,» on whom such events are usually blamed, but who in this case might number several thousand from all over Greece. «We’ll guard our group, but we are not responsible for what other groups that may come after us may do,» a Greek Social Forum representative said. The authorities say they are determined to maintain calm and safeguard the property of people who are trembling at the thought that their stores or cars might be ransacked. «We are worried about what might happen and we are advising storekeepers to take additional measures. They should take extra security precautions and keep their cars out of the center,» said Haralambos Haralambidis, president of the Thessaloniki Commercial Association. At the university At the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, where groups of extra-parliamentary leftists and anarchists will be staying, there is particular concern that some schools might become bases from which marginal types conduct attacks downtown. The staff of the Theology School have already emptied their offices in order to save their equipment and teaching materials, and other schools are expected to follow suit. In any case, much will depend on the size of the rallies, how responsibly the organizers behave and whether the authorities manage to keep their cool.