Athens, June 25
In Spain the summer marches are getting under way, like last year. Only this time there are just three marches confirmed. The Northwest column from Galicia, the Northeast column from Barcelona and the Southern column from Málaga.
A few weeks ago Mami told me that this spring, leading up to May 15, there have also been various Catalan marches directed to Barcelona. I believe there were four. They entered the city along the river valleys and over the ancient trade routes.
Some of us have left Athens to join the Barcelona column going to Madrid. Again like last year, the columns are expected to arrive at Puerta del Sol on July 23.
Me, I’m still in Athens. You can find me on my rock, growing a beard and contemplating the fact that I know so little. Yet as a longtime revolutionary and veteran of many campaigns, people come to me sometimes and they say: “Oscar, what do you think of all this?” The marches, they mean.
Usually I scratch my beard in a very wise and meaningful manner and I respond something like: “Things are not what they seem…” Or: “Fire, walk with me!” But that is just because I used to watch a lot of Twin Peaks.
In fact, I don’t know. On the one hand, it has been done, and it’s never going to be the way it was the first time. On the other hand, by all means let there be marches. Any initiative is better than no initiative at all, especially now that Spain is in the situation that Greece experienced last year.
Also, a recurrence is a good reason to reflect. When you return to the same places after a year, and you continue to return there, you will be able to see changes. You can detect what’s improving and what isn’t. Most of all you can share your experiences by speaking about what’s happening in other towns, regions and villages.
It’s important to keep making revolution every day, all year round. But if the revolution doesn’t advance to the next level, the popular impulse will fade away. It’s what happened in Greece last year. During the occupation of Syntagma and the massive daily protests outside parliament, the Greeks came very close to toppling the government. They could have done so. But they knew that even if the popular revolt succeeded, the outside world would intervene to reestablish order in one way or another.
If there is still any hope left in Greece now, it’s hope for some kind of divine providence to turn things around sooner or later. But people here don’t seem to believe that they can make a difference themselves any more.
In thinking about the concept of revolution, I’m convinced I’m starting to understand some things. Not yet on a rational level, but more intuitively. Both about people themselves, and about the system that keeps society together.
Sometimes, while contemplating modern society my greatest worry is that this is us. All this mindless exploitation and senseless consumerism is simply what we are. In that case, there is no such thing as revolution. It’s a fairy tale like the ones religions are made of.
Fortunately, there is often someone who reminds me that this isn’t true, not completely. The variety in human forms of organisation is huge, just like the variety of values on which humans have founded their societies in the past.
If modern society is what we are, it’s because it’s us who hold it together, but it hasn’t got anything to do with human nature. It works both ways. We give shape to the system, and in turn it’s the system that shapes our mindset.
The same goes for the crisis. It wasn’t caused only by the banks. It was caused by every one of us. A bank shouldn’t give easy credit to people who can’t afford to pay it back and then sell off that debt to someone else. That’s not fair. But as a client, if you can’t afford it, you have no business taking a loan in the first place!
With this I don’t mean to say that there isn’t something inherently wicked in our current banking system. There is. First because money is created out of debt by private enterprises for the sole purpose of private gain. And secondly because of the phenomenon of interest and inflation.
These two are obviously linked. They serve as an incentive to invest, to make sure money keeps roling. You have little choice, because if you put your money in an old sock, it will lose its value. Interest and inflation are at the core of the Gospel of Economic Growth. In certain societies – most notably in the muslim world – interest is forbidden by law, and money is first of all a public asset.
But the economy is only a part of the story. On a wider scale, before we even start to think about change, let alone revolution, we have to be aware of the fact that we have only recently entered a completely new era. In the last fifty years human society has been subject to change in a way which can only be compared to the agricultural revolution at the basis of civilization, and the industrial revolution, of which it represents the final stage.
What I mean to say is that all throughout known history human society was rooted in the land. City life was only made possible because the majority of people were working the soil, producing more than enough for city dwellers to be sustained.
With the advent of industrial agriculture the ancient link between people and the land was broken. Machines had taken over, life in the city had become the heart of society and the country side was reduced to an appendix of the city itself. Rural life as people had known it throughout the centuries, had ceased to exist.
Today, in a world where population keeps growing exponentially while precious resources are being depleted at ever increasing rates and the climate shows signs of a potentially devastating change, the most important problems are not economical.
A revolution will have to be a change towards sustainability. And as such it will have to include a reevaluation of rural life. Not that people should go back to being farmers, or live together in hippie comunes. I don’t believe in all those things. I see it more like an evolution towards a hybrid of country- and city life. Or, in other words, a redistribution of space.
In general, we all have our own very small private space in the city. We work most of our lives to be able to pay for it and call it our own. This space, and often the furniture, is similar to that of other people. Hardly anyone lives in a space that is authentically his own.
All around our little home, life is dictated by the fast pace of the outside world. The thin layer of neighbours, friends and collegues is not enough to divide the two.
A redistribution of space would mean first of all amplifying and personalising the private space and establishing contact with the outdoors. Second of all it would mean the creation of an intermediate community space, where you can be part of a society on a human scale. Then all around this community space, there is the world.
It’s going to take a long time, people. And it’s not going to start here in Greece. Tomorrow morning, at daybreak, I will make another attempt to escape from Athens.
If I’ll make it, you’ll know.
Athens, June 19
In 1948 the Italians were asked to vote on the future of their newly founded republic. If they voted the right, Italy would become a liberal democracy under the umbrella of the United States, and as such eligible for Marshall funds. If they voted the left, Italy would become a socialist state under the influence of Moscow. There was no third way.
The right wing Christian Democrats presented themselves as guardians of civilization, with a shield and the holy cross as their symbol.
The left wing socialists and communists had united in the ‘Garibaldi alliance’, after Italy’s iconic hero of the wars for independence.
The election campaign was completely based on fear. In people’s consciousness it wasn’t the name of Garibaldi that became associated with the leftwing parties, it was the name of Stalin. If Italians would vote communist, it would mean another barbarian invasion, and it was going to be worse than Atilla and Barbarossa put together. Or so the establishment predicted. From the Vatican, the pope didn’t care too much for subtlety when he excommunicated every single communist.
It worked. Italy voted for the right. The country became a member of NATO, and a founding member of the European Community. The Christian-Democrats gained power, and clang on to it throughout the Cold War, until the first republic was blown up by a corruption scandal of epic proportions in 1992.
No-one came after me any more, the house still stands, and with a little twist of fate, I’m still here. Long enough to witness yet another general election.
For some reason, the Greek elections of May and June this year reminded me a bit of what happened in Italy in the wake of WW2. Only now the big question on which the people got to decide was if Greece should stay in the eurozone, or if she should default and start all over.
The left wing has managed to unite into an alliance which ranges from social-democrats to various radical communist denominations. They don’t want to pay the debt. They want out of the euro.
The right wing, which includes both major parties, wants to stay in the euro, and they based their campaign on fear. To them, a default and a return to the drachme would mean complete collapse and misery. Simply because Greece doesn’t have the economic basis to stand on her own. She needs Europe and the rest of the world.
Naturally, a majority of Greeks doesn’t want international institutions and markets to dictate national policy, but that’s not what the election is about. There is no third way. Either you want in, or you want out.
Greek society is so deeply divided on the subject that two rounds of general elections have been necessary. The first one was held on the day after we arrived, and the second one was last Sunday.
Nothing really changed in the mind of the Greeks over these last few weeks, so the results were pretty similar. The only scarry news is that the fascists gained even more than last time. As if to say that Greeks didn’t vote them out of frustration. Almost ten percent of the electorate support the neo-nazis, and they mean it.
In general the results show the following. There is a small majority that wants Greece to stay in the eurozone. There is a large minority that wants a return to the drachme combined with an evolution towards a certain degree of socialism. There is a small but significant minority that wants to turn Greece into an independent nationalist dictatorship, and there another small but significant minority that doesn’t want any form of government at all.
Last year’s dream of direct democracy and popular participation is not an option. There is no spirit of revolution in the air. Instead you can feel the desire of many people to return to how things were before the crisis started. It had only been a generation or two since Greece had turned from basic rural misery to urban consumerism. People had only just got used to the western way of life.
Now, even if people really wanted to make a real change, a revolution, they wouldn’t know where to start. And this goes not just for Greece. We modern city dwellers might be the best educated generation in history, but when it comes down to practice, we are absolutely helpless.
On average, we have no idea of how to work the land. We hardly even know which crops are typical of our climate, and in which season they grow. We don’t have any real technical or mechanical knowledge either. We wouldn’t know how to build a shed, or a fence, or a house. We wouldn’t know how to fix a car or a pump. We don’t know much about electric circuits and how to create energy. Finally, we haven’t got any profound knowledge of computers, be it hardware or software.
We are perfectly capable of using the front end of the system, but we haven’t got a clue of what’s going on under the hood.
Sure, we can learn, but who is seriously prepared to do so? To many people it feels unnatural, as if it were a return to the past. We came from being hunters to being farmers, to being artisans and labourers until we reached the final stage of evolution. Our own office chair.
Once you’re there, in the office chair, it’s hard to go back to doing or making real things. And so you delegate.
The Greek people have delegated. They have given the traditional parties a mandate to negotiate a way out of this crisis. They want them to get this train back on track, or else things could get unpredictably ugly.
In the midst of all this the only true revolutionary gesture that I haven’t even witnessed, but heard about, was that of a compatriot of mine. He came to Greece years ago, he fell in love, and now he bought a piece of land with the ferm intent to make it bear fruit.
Athens, June 13, 5 a.m.
I have been too cynical after all, I admit it. Life is not easy in Exarchia. To me, and to those who came here with the march to Athens, it might have seemed that way, especially after months of walking and camping in the public squares, but that doesn’t give me the right to say life is easy for people here in Exarchia.
Also, I admit that it is incoherent of me to speak about ‘drugs’, if I have been saying ‘grass’ and ‘weed’ all along to indicate the same thing.
With that I rectify what I said in the original first paragraph of yesterday’s post. I also explicitly add that all views expressed on this blog are my personal views only. None of the people from the march, from the squat, or from the photographs is to be held responsible for what I say.
I didn’t manage to escape last night. And maybe it’s better that way, because in my naive cynicism I could have left burning ruins in Exarchia, without even being aware of it.
At three o’clock this morning three people came to the door of our squat. They were looking for me. They demanded access in order to beat me up, all because of the former first paragraph of yesterday’s post. I do hope they didn’t read any further.
The Old Man denied them access. They threatened to come back this morning with a hundred people to burn the house down and club us all out.
It was slight overkill. A heartfelt but pressing advice would have been enough for me to rectify. Because I am a reasonable person, and as such I am perfectly willing to admit I’m wrong, in case I really am.
Also, as a reasonable person, I think that violence is a problem and not a solution. The threat to use it against people because of their opinions is not going to create a fruitful debate. It’s also typical for those repressive societies that many of us, free human beings, are so determined to fight.
I don’t know exactly in what kind of society I would like to live, but I’m damn sure it’s a place where I can freely share my views without having to be afraid to go out on the streets, or to stay at home.
It’s 1515. Nosotros turns out to be closed. If anyone wants to speak to me, come to the house at 1900. Without arms. If I’m not there, last chance tomorrow at Nosotros 1400 hours.
P.S. For those who are wondering what this is all about, and for completeness’ sake, I add the original first paragraph of yesterday’s post:
“It has been a month and it’s time to get out of here. Exarchia is like a trap. Life is too easy in this place. You can find abandoned houses anywhere, rampant consumerism brings in more than enough food to be recycled, drugs are abundant and cheap, and illegal tobacco as well. You don’t need much here to get wasted every day.”
Athens, June 12
It has been a month, and only now the last of the marchers are leaving Exarchia in small groups. The road that took us here has been long, and for many of us the road out of here has been hard to find. Some of us went a couple of days to the islands on holiday. Me too, I went to Paros with a comrade from the indignados in Paris. We did ‘Occupy Paros’, and the ‘March to Naussa’, eight kilometres. In Naussa we came across two Greeks who live in Scotland. Last year they participated in ‘Occupy Dundee’.
Having experienced live abroad, they were pretty hard on their fellow Greeks. For once I didn’t hear the usual story of the evil IMF trying to enslave the poor Greek people through a fictitious debt. Instead they gave the simple example of a normal Greek family who goes to the beach and leaves the place littered with trash. “They don’t care. And as long as they don’t care, things are not going to get any better around here.”
We also met an entrepreneur who has been living in Greece for years. He complained a lot about Greek mentality, in particular the buraucracy and the corruption. Nothing special for a businessman to complain about, I know. But this man wasn’t from England or Holland or Germany or even France. He was from the Dominican Republic. And if I’m not mistaken, the Dominican Republic is one of those countries who regularly top the charts when it comes to corruption and bureaucracy.
Back in Exarchia things were the same as before. Only some people had managed to escape. I don’t know if they ever made it out of Greece.
It has been an interesting experience living in the anarchist quarter. It’s a very peculiar place. On the inside you won’t find any police. The cops are around. You’re in a ghetto that is under siege twenty-four hours a day. Usually you find four officers in riot gear guarding each of the exits, with a bus full of backup on standby.
Within their own neighbourhood, it’s the anarchists themselves who uphold law and order. Fortunately they don’t have any clear ideas on either subject, so they usually won’t bother you. But if they do, you better watch out. Standard anarchist armament consists of clubs and helmets. Supposedly it’s the only thing that Greeks use their helmets for: to smash them on other people’s heads.
I’m sorry, I’m getting cynical. But that’s not my fault. It’s the result of three months of living in Greece. Still there’s no need to worry, I’m working on an exit strategy.
So, Exarchia is a fascinating place. If I had taken university seriously and had a couple of years to spare I could have written a monumental sociological study about this neighbourhood. And it would have been worth it, because the organisation of anarchist society in Exarchia is absolutely striking.
I’ll try to give you the short version.
First, there are the upperclass anarchists. They gather in their own exclusive societies where you can only enter if you have reached at least Political Awareness Level 7. You also have to be able to quote fifty pages of Bakunin by heart. Not for us mortals. You need Political Awareness Level 4 just to talk them on the street.
Second, there are the bourgeois anarchists. These people don’t lock themselves up in exclusive clubs, because they want to be seen. They drink their expensive Nescafe frappe from cocktail glasses on the terraces of luxury bars named ‘Revolt’, or ‘Che Guevara’, or something similar.
Third, there are the middle class anarchists. They take their frappe ‘to go’ in large American-style plastic cups, and they drink it out on the square. In the evening, they switch their instant coffee for various international brands of beer.
Fourth, there are proletarian anarchists. They roam the square and the streets all night to collect the empty bottles of beer. If they bring back seven empty bottles to the store, they get a full one in exchange.
Fifth, there must be some anarchist anarchists here as well. They probably have their own block on the neighbourhood somewhere.
One thing that all the anarchists have in common, maybe the only thing, is that they think they are cool. They are cool in ways that we normal people will never understand. As a matter of fact, they don’t even consider us, normal people. They only consider themselves (‘cool’), the communists (‘losers’), and the fascists (‘assholes’). All other political or social denominations are rigourously snobbed.
In case of conflict, the anarchists take their clubs and helmets and form their own ‘anti-fascist’ militia. These are very hard to distinguish from the fascists themselves. Both have a preference for the same dark colours and for the same primitive type of violence. The difference lies in the fact that the fascists go out to beat up immigrants, and the anti-fascists go out to beat up fascists.
I’m sorry, am I being cynical again?
I don’t think so. Take a look in the mirror.
Another striking aspect of life in a decaying city like Athens is recycling. There is only one impelling incentive that makes people really care about recycling.
As a result, you see people loading up their shopping carts at the dumpsters. Most of them are immigrants. If they find metal, paper or other potentially useful things, they sell them. If they find food, they eat it.
The sight of these backdoor shoppers is nothing special in a city where entire districts are shrouded in the chilly air of bankruptcy. For now, there is still enough production being stashed through the throat of the system for people to live on all the things that get crapped out without having been digested.
But if the input decreases, the competition at the dumpsters will grow. And then people will start to behave like chickens. The weakest ones will be picked on, so they don’t get to eat valuable food which could nurture the strong. This phase has already started.
At the moment, the weakest creatures in this henhouse called Greece are the immigrants. They get picked on, because they have no protection from the law. Only from the anarchists.
Thank God for the anarchists.
It all doesn’t make the situation any better. I’m breathing a creepy 1930s atmosphere. I see apathy turning into despair. I feel the spectre of violence.
For me it’s enough. I can’t stand all the petty ideological divisions. This is not why I joined our movement. Quite the opposite, I joined because our movement is aimed at tearing down all the artificial barriers that divide us, so that we can start to reason together as free individuals.
“We are workers, unemployed, retirees, youth, who have come to Syntagma Square to fight and give a struggle for our lives and our future. We are here because we know that the solutions to our problems can only be provided by us. We call all residents of Athens, workers, unemployed and youth, to come to Syntagma Square, and all of society to fill the public squares and to take their lives into their own hands. In these public squares we will shape our claims and our demands together.”
That was last year, the ‘Declaration of the People’s Assembly of Syntagma Square’, adopted on May 27. I was moved to tears when I read it in the tent of the Communications commission on Puerta del Sol. I had wanted to there.
Now I am there, here, in Athens. And I want to get out. I want to find some hope somewhere, before I get too cynical to care anymore. I must go now. Only a handful of people from the march are left, and they are ready to go.
Tonight, under the cover of darkness, we will make an attempt to escape from Athens. Destination unknown.
If we’ll make it, I’ll be sure to let you know.
P.S. Today our two comrades got judged for carrying bottles and weed and for resisting arrest. Comrade Bernard got acquited. Comrade Elisa got sentenced to 6 months conditional. It’s an outrage. The judgment has been appealed. Elisa’s equipment has surfaced and was resistuted, minus the memory cards.
I present you a series of pictures from the early stages of the march, between Nice and Rome. They were taken by comrade Lorenzo.
Also, a short update. Four days ago, two of our comrades were arrested while taking pictures of police officers at an anti-fascist demonstration. They were kept in custody for the full three days. Only after two days we found out that they had been arrested.
They will be judged on the twelfth. Their crime was that they carried dried herbs and empty bottles around with them. The herbs are said to be illegal, and the bottles could have theoretically been filled with an inflammable substance to create a Molotov cocktail.
One of the people who got detained is a guy from France, the other is comrade Elisa, a girl from Valencia. She carried her photo camera with her, plus her laptop and harddisk. All of this mysteriously got lost during the arrest. The data on the lost hardware contained photos and films from one year of 15M revolution.
I have encountered Elisa various times this year, in Paris, in Brussels, and here. She was with Occupy La Défense among other initiatives. The material she shot is unique.
So I wonder who should actually be judged here. If it should be our comrades for the dried grass and the empty bottles, or the Athens police for ‘losing’ valuable equipment and priceless historic footage.
Athens, May 23
There was a riot in the court today. It came to a head in the caffeteria, where fascists and antifascists were throwing plastic cups of espresso, cappuccino and frappe at each other. Two different colours of riot police had to be deployed.
The judgment of our comrades was in the room next door. After two hours of contradicting testimonies in four languages, the judge decided it wasn’t the case to continue. Everyone is free to go.
At the moment, unofficial celebrations are under way in Plaza Exarchia.
Athens, May 20
Our tribe is settling down. We are starting to adapt to the comforts and complications of sedentary life. A new cycle has begun, an old one has been concluded.
We have running water, we have electricity, we have four stories and a roof terrace in the middle of the anarchist quarter of Exarchia. We are not in a hurry to move.
Most of us are waiting for the trial of our comrades who got arrested for occupying Syntagma. After that, there are no limits, no borders.
North, East, South, West. Some of us want to go cycling to France through the Balcans, or hitch hiking through Iran to China, or sailing to Alexandria, or flying back to Spain to occupy Plaça Catalunya, or the Puerta del Sol. The sense of freedom is overwhelming.
It’s too much. I have to sit down for a moment. I want a sofa, a pile of straw, a hammock, or why not? – a real bed! Before I do anything, I need time to reflect. This is already the beginning of another story. The first year is over. We were a wave, and now we are backwash on the beach.
So I ask myself, what on earth happened this past year? The last thing I remember is that I had embarked on a quiet life as a goat shepherd in Andalusia, which I combined with a translation assignment from a Dutch editor. I was living the rhythm of the season on the land, I was learning to make cheese.
Then it started. We all called it a revolution.
When I came out of the metro station and on to the Puerta del Sol on May 21 at dawn, it was reflection day before the local elections. There were hundreds of people camping out on the public square, demanding direct democracy and a whole lot more.
This wasn’t just going on in Madrid, but all over the country. It was spreading over other nations, over other continents.
There was no central organisation, it had come as a complete surprise to everyone, and I found myself right in the middle of it. I had to stay, I had to be part of this. I felt the pulse of history.
When I sat down in the tent of the Communications commission under the backside of the equestrian statue in Puerta del Sol, I was pretty sure that it could take some time before I would go back to being a shepherd.
Now I’m here in the squat in Exarchia with my revolutionary brothers and sisters. I occupy the sofa, I’m not planning to move, and for the moment I only recall isolated images of last year.
The siege of parliament and the bowl of salad floating over the crowd. The drums of the Basque column arriving in Segovia. The advance to Paris and the surprise assembly on Place de la Bourse. The dice wars in Revolutionary Headquarters Brussels. The occupied Christmas tree on St. Peter’s square in Rome. The snow in Naples. The phantom village in the Apennine mountains. The shores of Greece. The alleys of Agrinio.
And most of all, the people.
I have started to forget their names by the dozens, but I recall the faces. Hundreds, thousands probably. All over the world we were millions. This was the year of the people. This was the year of Sol, the rising sun.
I have followed the events daily from as close by as I possibly could without losing focus. I rode the wave of this movement from the magic start in Puerta del Sol, all through Europe on foot to Brussels and Athens. And I’m happy that I did. The amount of things I witnessed and experienced was more than enough to fill a lifetime.
I leave this account. It’s jotted down the way it came. It wasn’t written from the perspective of a journalist or a historian. I didn’t try to be objective, I couldn’t. I’m a revolutionary, and I’m a narrator. I wrote this story to capture the spirit of the moment, day after day. And it turned out to be more than just one kind of story.
It’s the chronicle of a utopian village in the center of Madrid. It’s a revolutionary manifesto. It’s an adventure tale, complete with sequel. It’s a sociological study into human interaction and self organisation. It’s an anthropological study into the functioning of an urban nomadic tribe. It’s a practical guide to assemblary politics and manipulation. It’s a travel account through time and space. Occasionally, it carries hints of mystery and fairytale.
We sit on the sofa in Exarchia. It’s over. But we can just keep on going if we want to. No destination on earth is too far to get there on foot.
We could also go home, back to reality.
“Yes, as in working fixed hours to pay for a rent or a mortgage.”
“Do you want to go back to that after all that has happened?”
It’s the big question that has been bothering every one of us. And most of us know that it’s impossible. We cannot go back to reality. Not until we give shape to reality ourselves.
This ends my account of the march and the first year of revolution. I hope to put it up soon in a chronological and more accessible format. In the meantime I will take a break to rest and reflect. I will keep reporting on the movement, and on my adventures for as far as they are of public or revolutionary interest. Thank you all for reading. It has been a pleasure to write.