The fake jump of the diver: Greece 11 Months on…

by | 11 Jan 2011

4Track DemonsHow fast does time run? A bit of a silly question, one might think. Surely time always runs at a steady pace – the ticking of a wall clock testifies to this, at every single second. The passage of days, weeks and months; pages flying one after the other off a wall-calendar… The pace of time for ever remains the same. But bring to your mind the following image for a moment: think not of one, but of many wall clocks in the same room. Each of these clocks’ fingers moves either in their usual or the opposite direction, yet they are all moving in an accelerating, frantic speed. None of them abides to what was the previously normal time – something has happened in that room, a spark, that has made the clocks go crazy. The assassination of 16-year old Alexis Grigoropoulos in Athens last December was a spark like this. How much time has elapsed since his assassination? If we were to trust our calendars it has been just over ten months. If we were to look at the changes in the country though – and these are happening in all sorts of directions – it has definitely been much, much longer.

Since Alexis’ assassination and already from the night of December 6th Greece has been seeing an outstanding political polarization – the unabridged gap between the two traditionally opposed political poles (probably conservative/radical would describe it better than left/right) must now be at its widest since the Civil War of the 1940s. Those standing between now have to make a choice – and certainly it is not a surprise that most of the mild centre-politics scene of jokers, such as the social-democrats of PASOK that have found themselves in government since October 4th, jumped right into the security of the conservative pole.

The radical political pole in the country came out stronger than even before, already from the very first nights of December. This not simply in terms of its street-fighting power on the barricades set around the capital and other cities across the country but mostly, in political terms after the revolt. Eleven months on, there are obvious signs all around the country: an enormous growth of grassroots neighbourhood-based popular assemblies; guerrilla gardening reclaiming the gray Greek urban spaces; squatting of new buildings in central Athens and beyond, and a broader popular solidarity to all these activities. During the summer, the last prisoner of December’s revolt went on hunger strike and won his release, at least temporarily. Moreover, on a separate front, Greece saw existing urban guerrilla groups intensifying their activity and new ones springing up.

Reaction in the form of repression came soon. The long arm of Greek state and political elites came into the fore: fascists and neo-Nazis would organize those demos and counter strikes that the official state could not formally arrange. Of course one must bear in mind that a large number of cops are also neo-Nazis, proudly carrying both titles; and so, joint operations of official and unofficial state violence are not rare either. The Conservative government of Nea Dimokratia, in power until early October, certainly lost territorial control over parts of the country’s major cities for several days during December 2008 and also had an impressive, by any standards, record of corruption – and so after December it became clear that was counting its last days in power. In a desperate final attempt to cling on this power and mobilise the more right-wing of its voters, a new collective enemy was founded: the migrants. And so, state anti-migration controls were tightened further – even if they already were among the strictest in Europe. Police forces, frequently with the manual contribution of full-time Nazis attacked the slums and squatted buildings where migrants without papers would be living: the migrant shanty town in the city of Patras was demolished and set on fire; the old courthouse building in Athens providing refuge for hundreds of migrants was promptly evicted.

Nevertheless, December had been decisive for Greek political consciousness: nine months after December’s revolt, the rambling Conservative government of Kostas Karamanlis had to call snap elections elections and, even if the official political discourse and mass media had agreed in an omerta regarding December’s revolt, it was obvious that most political damage to the government was caused since December.

After the snap-elections of October 4th the social-democrat party of PASOK found its easy way back into government. But Greeks have short memory it seems, as they should have been very familiar with PASOK and its manners: Go a few clock ticks back, to 2004, and PASOK was once again in power – at a time when seven demonstrators were framed up and arrested during the anti-EU Summit demonstrations in Thessaloniki in 2003; PASOK was in power to lead them to near-death while on a hunger-strike demanding their freedom; it was in power when people accused of participating in the urban guerrilla group “17th November” were tortured in hospital and in the white cells of the proud Greek Democracy. It was during PASOK’s reign that the most impoverished member-state of the EU was awarded with the Nazi-inspired fiesta calling itself the Olympic Games and the construction firms would have a feast over public money in order to construct the Games’ infrastructure. It was when PASOK was in charge that the dogma of security in favour of rights and personal freedoms was applied. It was during PASOK’s time, this time in 1995, that police would raid university premises for the first time since the Colonel’s Dictatorship (1967-1974), arresting and charging over 500 youths – most of them anarchists.

And so, a lot of people cannot forget neither forgive the social-democrats of PASOK for a lot of things – however there is a key event that reminds us very vividly that the socialist PASOK and the Conservative Nea Dimokratia have the same stink: It was during PASOK’s reign in 1985 that a cop called Melistas shot dead another 15-year old boy, Michalis Kaltezas, during a demonstration in the Exarcheia neighbourhood of Athens, only a few streets away from where Alexis was shot in December 2008…

….PASOK was in power when Exarcheia saw for the first time the permanent deployment of riot police force in its periphery. Since then a lot has changed in the area – not least, this was the very place where Alexis was assassinated by the cops. It quickly became obvious that this time round simply having police in the periphery of Exarcheia would not do the trick. And so only days after taking control, the head of PASOK’s new “ministry of citizen protection” (an Orwellian twist for a ministry in charge of the police force – its previous, most truthful naming was “ministry of Public Order”) decided to launch a full-scale occupation of Exarcheia. As of October 7th, 2008 permanent police force has been stationed literally across the entire historical neighbourhood, making hundreds of searches and arrests in an obvious attempt to intimidate people politically or otherwise active in the area: To try and make Exarcheia a neighbourhood “just like anywhere else”.

What is perhaps the most striking feature of this new-old government in Greece is what seems to be a conscious effort on its part to portray a completely different image of what it is supposedly doing from what it is actually doing. The “ministry of citizen protection” ordered the indiscriminate arrests of hundreds of citizens whose only “crime” was to be in Exarcheia. And so, the confident promises of the new minister to “immediately deal with” any cops abusing their power was quickly covered by the dry sound of police batons “immediately” landing on peoples’ heads. For all the lies to which we are used to by professional politicians, what is happening is still quite phenomenal: PASOK managed to get itself elected on a promise of launching a somehow more fair, more “humane” mode of governance – perhaps not completely unlikely the government elected in Iceland after the crisis and the rise of the radical politics that came along with it. It is as if the what happens on the ground is completely blanked out and even inverted when it comes to its spectacle image, its media image. And this is how things remaining the same, or even the onslaught of state power is cunningly turned by the media machine into an image of “progress”, “development”, “social responsibility”. Imagine: a TV screen is showing a diver ready to jump forward, toward the water. At the exact moment when the diver sets off their jumping board, the screen goes blank. All that the audience is left with is the blank screen and a firm belief that the diver is now making his way into the water. Off screen, the driver lands back onto the diving board. He turns around and walks off.

The TV screen, of course, never switches off entirely – it is just that it chooses wisely what images to broadcast when. In the best case, mainstream media have chosen to keep quiet about what has been happening on the ground since December. In most cases though, they have chosen to line up with the police and to back their repressive operations; with parliamentary politicians of all colours condemning December’s revolt as a blind outpouring of violence; with the new government, passing its smokescreen promises of social change for concrete reality.

Regardless of the media screen, of course, social rage in the country continues to mount up rapidly. The police continue to kill: in December it was Alexis, in July it was Arivan Abdullah Osman, in October it was Mohammad Atif Kamran and so many countless and often nameless others. Workers, young and old, continue to be exploited in the truncheons of the neo-liberal free market of temp work agencies, part-employment and zero labour rights.

Back to the TV screen: the lens now focuses on the water, which seems still. At the shores divers-to-be are gathering up, shoving each other to get as close to the water as they can. The water in the screen is still and yet the question only seems to be when it will be shaken again.


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