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?

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.

This was a long time coming

Not that you care.

But I’ve been toying with the idea of blogging for years. For one, because I have a lot to say about a lot of things. But mostly because I am secretly (ok, not so secretly) revelling in the information revolution that is giving established channels the finger.

But things got in the way. This that, never had enough time. Never chose to spend my time this way. And last night it happened. While on the phone to my dad, I mentioned a blog he may find interesting. Unknown term. So, while trying to explain to my father what blogging is and why following blogs is a good idea on many levels, he said: What? These people do it for free? Don’t they have jobs? Don’ they have friends, families, a life to keep them busy?

That was it. The time has come to stake my claim with my generation. And yes, I do have a job. And I do have friends and I do have a life. I also have a voice and now I am about to use it.