Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Athens is burning

If you have managed to miss the fact that Greece has been the scene of violence and destruction over the past 4 days, stop reading now, this won’t interest you.

So what do we know?
We know a 15-year-old kid was shot in cold blood by a policeman for no good reason, and some would say for no reason at all.
We know that a wave of violence and destruction has swept a number of cities, towns and villages all over Greece, allegedly in reaction to the wrongful death.
We know that this violence is targeted against things and not people but people suffer nonetheless as their livelihoods are destroyed and fear enters their homes.
We know the government has done nothing so far.
We know no state structure has risen to the challenge presented by those last few days.
We know the opposition has not even pretended to offer solidarity to the government.
We know the police have been told to let the whole thing exhaust itself and avoid risking further castigation over heavy-handed tactics.
Too little, too late and too far off the mark, but there you have it.

That’s what we know. And it’s a lot. But it is not enough.

With violence erupting in unlikely small places alongside the big cities, the ‘anarchist’ groups that seem to be an accepted given of Greek political life seem to have proliferated and grown.
Who are all these people? Do they even know who Bakunin is? What are they after? What do they want? Where did so many vandals come from? How many of them are jumping on the bandwagon and what is the bandwagon in question anyway?
Why do they feel breaking things is the only form of political/social/public expression that will do in the circumstances? And is this the only path left open to them? And if it is, how did it get to that?

No doubt there is enough to be upset about in Greece. Unemployment, economic stagnation, venality, scandal upon scandal and a terrible voicelessness for those not born into the right family or social strata.
But as people often say, in Greece it’s never about what it’s about.
So what is it about?
And how will we find out what it is about when the people on the left join voices with those shouting ‘violence to the violence in power’ and those on the right shout for the policemen to ‘get the little punks destroying our homes and properties’. Meanwhile a substantial minority just shrugs and says ‘it’s not near where I live yet’…

Obviously while cities are burning what I am about to say is just semantics, but if only civil society was an idea Greece had toyed with a little sooner. If only, the idea of community existed outside the family and public reaction existed in a constructive not just a destructive way.

Civil society is when people get together to work towards their idea of the common good in a way that shares benefit outside the immediate circle of family and friends. If civil society existed in Greece now, maybe some fires would have been put out. If civil society had existed in Greece before, maybe some of the despair driving people to vandalism would have been lifted, softened, removed, channelled and transformed; maybe police reform would have been debated and change would be underway, maybe just maybe change would have taken place before a young boy got shot in cold blood.

But ‘civil society’ is not ‘them’. It is everyone. And it starts with accepting responsibility for the world we all live in.
And civil society is essentially non-violent.
It goes beyond the non-existing state and the useless government, it says no to the senseless violence and destruction of these last few days and gets people together, building a future for themselves, bit by bit.
Now there’s a thought.

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