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GREEK RIOTS: POSTCARDS FROM A CHRISTMAS YET TO COME?

January 19, 2009

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by Nikola Kosmatopoulos

More than a month after the outbreak of the “December riots” in Greece, it seems that the country is still unable to return into politics-as-usual. Even if the prime minister reshuffled his cabinet in order to show that he “got the message”, even if the conventional political parties downplay the significance of the riots, even if the national media refuse to report any forms of popular action still going on, the “Greek December” still disseminates waves of aftershocks in all possible directions. To be sure, Greece and in one way the entire Europe, will never be the same thereafter.


As a disclaimer to this grand statement, let me note that it is the first time after May ‘68 and Berlin ‘89 that a presumably well-functioning European country, member of the EU, NATO and OECD, experiences a political crisis with the following characteristics: i) A popular, nation-wide uprising, which effectively shook the government and questioned the existing political system in many ways, ii) A government unable to impose its will on its rebellious people, and iii) A striking failure of almost all political parties, media and significant part of intellectuals to control or even grasp what was going on. In sum, Athens ‘08 seems to fulfill not only Lenin’s definitional criteria of “crisis”, but also Gramsci’s description of the time when “hegemony” may be failing.

The rebellion in Greece was actually backed by a peculiar and unintended front of heterogeneous social and political forces, each providing crucial support on different levels: the pupils dominated the streets, the anarchists imposed their political framework and SYRIZA, a leftist coalition represented in the parliament, defended the uprising in the mainstream political scene. This ad hoc coalition of forces came out of the bottle of social uproar as soon as the policeman’s bullet on 6. December was not just killing a 15-year old innocent child, but also decisively blowing a “coup de grace” to a diminishing social contract between the political elite of the country and its people. Then and for at least two weeks Greece was exposed to internal tension and international attention. Daily attacks on police stations with stones or Molotov cocktails by pupils 15-17 years old; occupied schools, universities, TV and radio stations, workers’ trade unions by groups of self-organized citizens; and tens of thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets in almost every Greek city bigger than 50.000 people was the major tenor of the days. The riots were mainly targeting police brutality, but also state oppression in general and the social callousness of the government, who chose to offer billions of Euros to the country’s aggressive and anti-social banks while condemning education and social services into eclipse.

Battles were taking place on all possible levels: in the streets, where riot police was massively throwing Israel-imported tear gas on almost everyone; on Athens’s central square where demonstrators were setting ablaze the city’s Christmas tree chanting “Christmas is postponed due to rebellion” and “Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear”; in the media panels and pages where “decent citizens” were attacking the “looters” for destroying public and private property; inside each family where parents were clashing with their own children on how much freedom or violence a rebellion might entail; in major European capitals where solidarity rallies were rising the specter of the crisis-to-come.

However, the major battle was played out on a totally different dimension, namely the temporal and spatial framework within which this rebellion was to be placed. On the one camp, leading Yale academics and media gurus were presenting the events as part of the country’s problematic past, linking it to the survival of an “anarchist culture” or a “violence cult” a la Greca reminiscent of the country’s unfinished modernization. In a similar tone but with much more distorted imagination, the Communist Party was blaming it all on CIA-backed conspiracies, finding itself in complete agreement with the far-right, fascist coalition.

On the other camp, most pupils, participants and rioters were insisting that this rebellion comes from the future. It has less to do with Greece’s problematic past than with the planet’s troubled future. They maintained that this rebellion was just the first of a series of many similar ones yet to come against neo-liberal (mis)management, aesthetical violence and moral bankruptcy of the elites and their policies in the West. It was, in a nutshell, a form of uprising yet to come, or in a fashionable parlance, the birth pangs of a new avantgarde. As a testimony to this way of thought, a characteristic postcard (see picture) was sent through Internet to the four corners of the planet with a message of rioting amidst Christmas. Apart from the provocative image and title, one cannot fail noticing the tiny but powerful slogan in the left lower corner of the postcard: “We destroy the past because we came from the future”. Strangely enough, although Christmas is long gone, this postcard keeps on circulating.

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One comment

  1. Just dropping by.Btw, you website have great content!



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