Friday, 12 December 2008

Athens riots - The politics of despair

A teenage protester in Athens was asked by a French journalist covering the riots of recent days whether he’s an anarchist – the European press oscillating between incredulity and fits of giggles at the idea that self-professed anarchists still exist. In such numbers. In Europe. In 2008.
Of course, ‘anarchist’ represents a romantic label for those who don’t know what to think but still feel angry. For those who absolutely loathe every power structure around them even if they can’t think of an alternative.
Of course ‘anarchist’ is the most convenient label for those who want to dismiss protest, violence and disagreement as an extra-systemic nuisance one cannot reason with. Not a social issue. Not a political challenge. Just an ugly fact of life best not spoken of, like an embarrassing relative.

‘So are you?’ the French journalist wanted to know.
No, was the answer, I am just despairing in and rebelling against the situation I am forced to live in.

How do you like them apples?

The dispossessed have hit the streets: immigrants; the unemployed; youngsters who want more of a future than what they know is in store for them; youngsters who have a safe future ahead but still would like a world they can actually believe in. Everyone has hit the streets. Some have thrown stones and Molotov cocktails. Some have protested with great dignity.
Either way, the only ones still at home are the powers that be. At least we know where to find them, right?
Wrong, because they have managed to become so irrelevant, the protesters are not even thinking of attacking them or their symbols.
Naturally, if the symbols of power were attacked, the police – currently under strict orders to stay shtum – would magically find their voice, clubs and the rest of their kit and would rapidly remember what they are there for: to protect, safeguard and safe-keep.

But for now nothing is safe and least of all words and concepts.
The vandals speak of revolution. The students speak of retribution and justice. The politicians accuse the protesters of pursuing ‘selfish aims’, whatever that means. And the prime minister appeared on TV asking the hooded vandals to show restraint and responsibility. But, even though the revolution was televised, the revolutionaries were not watching, so nobody heard him. Not that it would have made a difference, as no one seems to be using words to mean what they actually mean. No one seems to have the right words for what they want to say. No one is addressing anyone anyway. Shells of words and empty slogans from all sides.

And the toll of destruction is rising with pushing 400 small businesses destroyed.
Meanwhile what?
The police are afraid to act for fear of causing more deaths. And this was intended as a statement of restraint.

So the first calls came, even within Greece, to get the army out. To get the army back onto the streets of Athens. The Army. A mere 34 years after the tanks crushed the resisting students in the Polytechnic school.

Why shouldn’t the government call the army out?
Because a government that does not even try to maintain order should resign, they shouldn’t be calling in the cavalry.
Because a police force that cannot police without fearing it may hurt the innocent should be replaced with a body that can fulfil its intended purpose.
Because they army does not hit the streets to restrain its own people unless the dictators are back in town. And the memories of the last time that happened are way too fresh in Greece.

The ‘Polytechneio’ generation, is what they are called, those youngsters who stood up against the junta of 1967-1974. They stood up to be counted. They stood up to die, if that’s what it took. And die they did, as the junta drove tanks over the protesters, into the Polytechnic university buildings.
34 years on, the protesters who survived sit in parliament. They hold positions of power. The Polytechneio generation is now running the show.
And it would be a dark day indeed if the soldiers were back on the streets of Athens on their watch. Because if they forgot that, they’ll forget this. And if they didn’t learn then, what chance do we stand of them learning now?

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