Impressions from the 14N in Lisbon
In 14N, during the European General Strike, two of us were in Lisbon seizing the chance to join the demonstrations, observing a general strike a la Portuguese and showing our solidarity. This text is by no means a journalistic reportage, just a personal view of how we did experience the day.
It was difficult to get a handle on the number of participants, as the demonstration was moving through the narrow streets of Lisbon’s old town. Some people told us with pride that there were over 20-30 thousand participants. Others were disappointed because, given the circumstances, they thought the numbers should have been bigger. From the beginning of the march, we felt that the demonstration was dynamic and lively. Many groups were shouting and chanting anti-austerity slogans. People carried plenty of solidarity banners and flags. We even came across the local Greek community (mostly erasmus students).
After a long tour, when the march arrived at the parliament doors, the atmosphere became more relaxed. We saw part of the crowd starting to disperse, but still many people chatted and gathered in the nearby streets, around shops where they could buy cheap beer. Then, without a warning, a small group of demonstrators tried to enter in the parliament, starting the clashes with the police. During the next 40 minutes that we were observing, with part of the crowd cheering at them, the group threw at the police stones, paint bombs and even a molotov cocktail. What surprised us the most was the reaction of the police; they remained defensive and confident that they had the situation under control. It was also surprising to see how, forty meters away, life continued as if nothing was happening: people continued playing music and policemen walked around in their standard issue uniforms.
In the end, of course, the police did charge against the demonstration, chasing scape goats and applying their batons on them with the usual brutality until the crowd dispersed. I saw all this later on a TV screen in a restaurant, where it was playing non-stop, without being able to understand the commentator. The waiter explained to me that the police had waited for more than one hour, because they wanted to identify the trouble-makers and go straight for them. Bullshit, I thought… The expression in his face let me understand that he fully supported law and order and considered the demonstrators a bunch of dirty, useless hippies. I just shut up and nodded…
The fun and inspiring moment came when we met a group of young Portuguese carrying a solidarity banner that they had picked up on the street. It displayed a semi-surreal, semi-wrong slogan in that made-up language that we call “Greeklish” (greek spelled in the latin alphabet). It read: “We are two, we are three” –from the well-known song of Theodorakis— “european strike!” What was the best about this? It was the first time that these guys had been to a demonstration! A message full of hope!
(The faces of people that were not masked have been erased for respecting their privacy.)