“December was not an answer, it was a question”

December 9, 2009

A. Fotiadis

A year onwards people seem eager to attempt explanations of what happened last December in Athens. All sorts of conferences and political discussions have been organized offering interesting analysis about the legacy of those days. It is easy to say that what happened has been important, you can notice its marks on so many people around. Then again it’s not easy to argue that everyone looking back sees the same things and makes out same sense about what happened then.

Though it went largely unnoticed one of the deepest analysis was made by a slogan written on a wall somewhere in Exarhia, the neighborhood portrayed by mainstream media as the notorious anarchist and extreme leftist stronghold in the center of the Athens. “December was not an answer, It was a question” said the unknown author of the slogan, long ago covered and forsaken. And this is what indeed it has been.

Beyond the violent outburst televised around the world, people who took to the streets last year arrived in front of dilemmas that characterize the history of social movements in Greece. Questions like how we connect leftist historical memory and tradition with a so rapid, independent and honest outburst without taming it? What forms, structures, shapes will tolerate participation in the events without reproducing the pathology of outdated hierarchies and internal competition among leftist groups? How practical political issues regarding working conditions and rights, distributive justice, and organization of fairer forms of production could be incorporated in a struggle dominated by destructive confrontation with anything systemic and was that possible? How the dynamics driven by total neglect of the establishment could become a pedestal for posing political demands towards the owner and abusers of power and their middle men? To put it in a nutshell, how possible it has been to connect the dream December was made of to our rather boring and full of complications reality without killing the first. The questions have been there before and they are present thereafter. But the hope for approaching faster some answers through this experience did not materialize.

Despite the confusion December 2008 have had already throughout this year and will have in the recent future a strong impact on grassroots politics and social movements. More than anything else its legacy is the awakening of many young people who discovered a pathway into practical politics, either by creating small groups and attempting to participate actively into political processes or by joining older ones with the anarchist space attracting certainly the vast majority of them.

There are certain shortcomings to this development one should take into account. Radicalisation of a small number of youngsters it should not be confused with a more general radicalization of a significant part of the public. On the contrary in the last national elections two months ago the electorate went to the polls to vote for PASOK (Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement) of which the orientation is for technocratic moderate liberal policies and a more sophisticated approach and less abusive tactics to issues of social control. If there has been a message in this election it should be that a year after December Greeks went to vote for order and stability, looking for an elite who could rid them off their responsibilities of improved direct participation into politics. And unfortunately this includes a big part of traditional leftists who still vow allegiance to the Greek Communist Party (Which in its last central committee summit rehabilitated Stalin and its legacy) or other smaller groups.

Perhaps this is the result of the failure to propose convincing alternatives the moment of mobilization last December. The sense of pointlessness and defeatism that brought out so many young people to ‘fight’ the system and its institutionalized violence has reigned thereafter as well. Consequently some of the few who radicalized last year have opted to follow a lonely and direct confrontation with authority by becoming the successors of previous violent groups. ‘Revolutionary Struggle’ and the ‘Conspiracy of Cores of Fire’ have become the two most known with their names pointing to a strong sense of romanticism.

Letting aside the motivation of such groups the absence of essential political arguments to back their choices leaves them pray to the propaganda machine of the establishment which uses them as an excuse for tightening up policing and suppression of social movements whenever necessary. To some extent those groups are a second example of the failure to recommend answers to the questions posed by December. These days they are gradually degenerating to self-destructive nihilists, something very obvious in their letters addressed to the public after various attacks during the last few months.

Unfortunately the government of PASOK doesn’t hesitate to use them in order to push ahead with its policies for modernizing policing and social control. Talks about local terrorism has brought about to the seat of the ‘Ministry of the Protection of Citizen’ (ironically renamed in an attempt to deal with the major issue of widespread brutality exercised by police) Xrysoxoidis, the politician who headed police during the dismantlement of older terrorist organizations ‘17th November’ and ‘ELA’ before Athens Olympic games in 2004. Apart of being considered as successful, Xrysoxoidis is the best political advocate of a modern imported concept about securitization, promoted by various business and media interests in the country, which allows for widespread surveillance and increased securitization of public life.

While taking back his seat at the ministry he has committed to fight against abuses of power inside police. Still he stopped short of admitting that harassment and abuse has become so structural and that high rank officials face increasing difficulties to maintain the chain of command. This is exposed often lately in cases that police joins forces with extreme right wing and neo Nazis in various central districts against migrants and anarchists, something that the minister himself has accepted as a dangerous issue.

Days ahead are tough and the threat of the current December being used as a pretext for pointless riots, which no matter their symbolism, will further depoliticize the debate and offer new arguments for chopping more political rights. Still the real issues that created December remain today as concerning as then. The Greek society continuous its long term right turn shifts with xenophobic and national issues dominating the debate and offering arguments to reactionary forces. The election of extreme conservative Samaras some days ago as a new leader of the right wing New Democracy who aims to revive the bankrupt right wing party is a strong indication. On the contrary progressive forces fail to present alternatives while keep hiding behind emotional rhetoric or past memories that hardly make any impact on practical issues. Small groups struggle and win on various issues regarding neighborhood quality of life, rights for individual refugees or better working conditions in a case or two, but this is not enough to change the current trend.

Whether December has been a great opportunity lost or just a spark in an interesting issue. But the inability it has exposed of the leftist forces to follow the dynamics and honestly assist a mobilizing critical mass should become a problem to scrutinize in detail. Perhaps this is the only way to really understand what happened last year and what it meant for this society and its political life thereafter.

One comment

  1. πολύ πολύ καλό το άρθρο…συμφωνώ πάρα πολύ…ελπίζω κάποια στιγμή να βρεθούμε και να τα πούμε και προσωπικά…

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