Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Time to fight

I recently saw the much-talked about Super Bowl commercial starring Clint Eastwood. The one where he urges the American people (using a very “American” way of encouragement) to never give up the fight because in every game there’s always a second half. In Greece and in all of Europe we are acting as if the game has been entirely lost. So, the only thing left to do is to unclog the remains of a “happy” world which is sinking. Recently at a posh mall in the northern suburbs of Athens, I saw this “happy world.” The people there shopped in a carefree manner, buying very expensive goods. Five kilometers away from this mall, people with angry faces were walking past empty shops, forced to shut down because of the economic crisis. This is the future – if we want to accept that the game is over.
This is why Greece and all of Europe has the need for a second half. For a new Great Idea, like the Industrial Revolution. Back then, like now, the people found themselves at a crossroads. New social classes in Europe – primarily the middle class – emerged and acquired a new lead role, bringing enormous changes and a new work ethic. Thanks to these deep changes, Europe was able to rise again, even though it attempted to commit suicide twice in the last century by waging two world wars.
We are once again, living in a crossroads where wealth is being transferred from the West to the East. The tired nations of Europe stand before this junction and if they continue to travel separately and adopt the philosophy of “each country should look after its own treasury” then Europe will unavoidably fail. The weaker countries, like Greece, will wander along nightmarish roads and will probably need decades to find their bearings. Only a truly United Europe, which will move past the old ethnic-states, which will invest in new, alternative energy sources and in knowledge and research, in human capital and in culture – only this Europe will be able to create a second half so we can continue to play the game and fight together – Greeks and Italians, Spaniards and Finns. In order to achieve this, besides money, the emergence of certain social groups is necessary – social groups which are currently being marginalized: immigrants, without which the social state is condemned to die; professors and researchers, who today are undervalued; the generation of “flexible work arrangements” which is rich in diplomas and knowledge and instead of being put to creative use, they are left to wallow in despair.
Those in opposition of the changes will rise up: the demagogues, the unionists, the defenders of “jungle capitalism” and along with them fascists and Stalinists. But Europe, like the Greece of the new era, will sooner or later go down in history as the loser, if it doesn’t go up against all those who hate the best of what their culture produces… 

Friday, February 17, 2012

The corruption of words

I “hang out” on the metro more than I do at cafés. I feel as if it is my retreat - especially these days. Every time I descend into the station, it’s as if I am in a shelter which protects me from the prevailing feeling of melancholy which persists above ground. The people waiting on the clean platforms have more relaxed expressions on their faces. But at the same time, their expressions are more vacant. It’s as if they’ve put on a temporary mask.
Once you ascend to the surface, the mask falls. You walk along the streets of Athens, “collecting” various images – broken storefronts, glum faces, burnt buildings and nearby the scorched remains, homeless people. We are living in a vicious cycle – with our nerves on edge, with conspiracy theories, with the homeless, beggars and unemployment, rage and fear, with the constant threat of catastrophe, loads of teargas and disastrous mania.
Distortions usually begin with the corruption of words:  when, in the name of “Citizens’ Protection,” you devastate the citizen who peacefully protests; when you destroy the city in the name of “revolution;” when trying to preserve your own self-serving interests you call it “saving the country;” when you call the country going bankrupt “resistance;” when you call your own ramblings “popular will;” when you slay the immigrant in the name of “saving the nation;”  when you call bigotry “a fight in favor of our countrymen;” when you call democracy “junta.” The corruption of words is naturally not just a Greek monopoly.
However, I do not know of any other society, in Europe at least, that believes that for years, its cities have been burned and destroyed according to an organized plan of the Police! But alas, this is practically a “popular belief” in Greece. I think that such “popular beliefs” only produce paranoid cities, paranoid “laws” and a paranoid police force. It is the expression of a gap – a gap which puts fear between citizens and reality on one side, and institutions on the other. Citizens have become used to interpreting reality through the eyes of conspiracy and “anti-authoritarianism.” Institutions are either incapable or do not care about the protection of citizens.
Manos Hadjidakis once said that “Greece moves forward thanks to the efforts of the few and the exceptions.”  Usually, societies move forward due to the “active minority” which breaks away from the self-serving notions of the authority, from those who abuse authority, and from “anti-authoritarianism.” Let us hope that Hadjidakis’ aphorism will ring true once again. This time, for Greece’s sake and for all of Europe’s sake too…
P.S. Recently an angry friend wrote to me. He said that he thought the candlelight vigil which was held in front of the charred remains of the Attikon theater burned last Sunday in Athens was sappy. Personally, I much prefer sentimental civility over sentimental violence…

(Translated & edited by Gigi Papoulias)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Athens burning

Last night in Athens, a “neo-barbarian party” was born. Its members were not at all charmed by the old revolutionary idea that the end justifies the means, simply because their only aim is hatred. Above all, hatred for the police. Hatred for everything that symbolizes the city.  They do not really participate in any ideological tradition.  They are “children” of an “eternal present” – with no recollection, without a past and without a vision for the future; their only slogan: “a burning city is a blossoming flower.”
This “slogan” unites people of the extreme left and the extreme right – hooligans of the football pitch and people of the underworld – mixing numerous “romantic” authoritarian myths and urban guerrilla warfare tactics.
The neo-barbarian party is the mirror image of the main ideas and practices which are embodied (systemically and anti-systemically) by the Greek political parties and entities: animosity towards the common good. It is the flip side of the looting of the state, the concealment of reality, corruption, and conflict.
The “weak” are pushed aside by the “hooded rioters” who do not acknowledge any political ethos; they self-promote as “heroes” embodying a pervasive political culture of fanaticism, authoritarianism and “resistance” which knows only how to produce “heroes” and “traitors.” They are “children” of a scattered “popular culture” which tolerates and rewards delinquency – creating a powerful feeling of mistrust and scorn towards the political system and its institutions.
If a new political class and social culture does not emerge in Greece, the neo-barbarian party will grow. It will expand if the new generation of extreme uncertainty does not find political representation and expression in the media.
Instead of reforming the system, extensively repressive measures can be proposed. In this case, the neo-barbarian party will contribute greatly: they want war and the State will give it to them. The victims in this case will be democratic institutions and all definitions of common good which give meaning to the people’s presence in a city. Thereafter, if the previous century taught us anything, it is that barbaric means give birth to an unavoidable barbaric world. A burning city is not a blossoming flower – it is fascism and Stalinism which is blooming.

P.S.  I know. Today they will report that last night’s hell was a “product of provocation.”  For so many years, Greek society has been “trained” (systemically and anti-systemically) by the media and “popular intellectuals”; the extreme left and the extreme right; and by the art of concealing reality. And this constitutes the main obstacle for recognizing and dealing with reality… 

(Translated & edited by Gigi Papoulias)