Life in the cage, the demonstrations and -of course- the episodes
To many they cause admiration to others again, terror. Men with shields, helmets, globes, chemical protection masks, military-type special firefighting uniforms, bulletproof vests and plastic knee pads, look shielded like crayfish impervious to anything.
"War machines" that must maintain order even if they have to go into a hand-to-hand battle with protesters or "choke" an entire area with chemicals.
The reason for the men of the Order Rehabilitation Units or otherwise known to all of us CHECKMATE.
Their history is of particular interest as they were created with the sole purpose of suppressing riots and rioting demonstrations, and have repeatedly divided both society and political parties as they have been accused of excessive violence against citizens.
The "Matades" or "matatzides" as they are called in the colloquial, you will see them in winter and summer in the center of Athens, in the courtyard of the Parliament, in the flower shops, outside ministries and services that could be the target of an attack. They are there 24 hours a day, raining and snowing, wearing their helmets and keeping their shields ready to intervene whenever needed.
In their shift, unless there is an incident in which they will be called to intervene, they sit in the service bus. The so-called cage, which is specially designed to accommodate the squad and its equipment.
A large table in the center to drink coffee or eat their food and seats facing right and left compose the basic "decoration" of their second home as they call it, as they spend several hours daily in it.
High above the seats at the height of the windows on hooks and hangers hang their helmets, their equipment, uniforms and personal items.
In one corner a small refrigerator and high in the middle of the cage a small TV. Depending on the season and especially if it is a big holiday such as Christmas or Easter, they decorate the cage appropriately. Christmas tree in a corner and candles on the table for their colleagues who spend the holidays away from home as they typically say.
All the cages have railings around all the windows as they have been attacked several times by Molotov cocktails and stones.
But you will find the "matades" in front of you and in marches and demonstrations when things go beyond peaceful and become a field of open conflict.
With their shields and globes extended, in front of the barricades they have set up with the cages to stop the protesters, they stand in front of people who are protesting, demanding better working and living conditions for them and their families.
Depending on how the march or the demonstration will develop, the corresponding order is given by the operations center on how the MAT will act.
The wild scenes that often follow, are breathtaking.
At first they repel them with shields so that no one is injured, but if things escape and a group of protesters start throwing stones and objects, then they use limited chemicals to "disperse" them without coming into physical contact with the protesters.
In more difficult situations, where they are fired Molotov cocktails or flares, then the MATs try accordingly.
Coordinated in small groups of usually 6-8 men, they are chased, beaten wildly, thrown to the ground and often dragged to be brought in, using flash flashes and chemicals at the same time.
Injuries on both sides are usually the result of these collisions. Like a game of chess that neither side manages to make a ru-mat.
"An order is an order and must be carried out. We do not wake up in the morning saying we are going to bore people in the Constitution, but when we get the order to intervene, we must execute whoever we have in front of us ", says an active man of YAT. (Order Rehabilitation Sub-Directorate) who for obvious reasons did not want to mention his name
"Of course we know that we are the red flag for many social groups, which is why we do not respond to verbal attacks by protesters. We try to stay calm, because with one move our blood can burn very easily ".
However, he admits that there are also hotheads in the squads:
"I do not say we are saints. There are also hotheads, especially young people in the service, who lose their temper. Especially when the protesters start cursing our families or when they call us pigs, you see the young colleagues mainly gritting their teeth. A colleague has the opportunity to reciprocate the obscene gesture made to him. We immediately pulled him back, before he could create a scene. "Over the years, however, you overcome the challenges and do not pay attention."
Next was to ask him about the wild wood that has been recorded many times by journalists and photojournalists against social groups such as retirees or other vulnerable social groups who hold neither bats nor Molotov cocktails. His answer fixes us.
"I happened to be on duty at a demonstration in which I knew that a close relative of mine was involved. It was one of those times when I wished things hadn't gone wrong and we didn't have to intervene. I was worried, but I could not do anything. Eventually the demonstration did not proceed peacefully and we were confronted by those gathered. When things calmed down the first thing I did was get my relative on the phone to see if she was okay. He was fortunately hit lightly. I do not know from whom, maybe from me. I will never forget that day. "
Ultimately, what is it like to be? Matas; How is their 24 hour? How do they feel when they are in front of protesters and of course what does another "Matas" support for the police violence that has been accused many times?
43 years MAT
Their story checkmate It started in 1976 when the first group was created by order of the then Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis and the group consisted of 150 police officers.
Of course, at that time there was no special equipment with the result that the then "Matades" had nothing to do with those we know today.
Wearing a polished sneaker, tie and police uniform jacket, they entered the front lines of the episodes.
As for their equipment? A shield and a globe were enough.
Natural chemicals and flash clicks were words unknown to the then MAT police but also to the protesters standing in front of them.
Over the years, however, the service evolved, changed, and from the then police officers with the polished shoes we have reached today where the MAT men are more like robots with impenetrable armor.