Madrid, September 18
There’s a loud buzz behind the big panel with the world map. It’s the buzz of information. The newswire, the twitterfall, the blogosphere, the socially engaged media, the press agencies, the big networks, etc.
At some points along this information flow there are people monitoring and analysing the situation. These are nodes. Interconnecting nodes you have a network. Through a network you can have quick access to information anywhere. Sometimes, you have a real person on the ground.
M-team of Barcelona International was present at last week’s protest in Poland. The demo made it to newspapers far beyond the Polish borders, but for M it was more of a subsidized exhibition by the unions rather than a real grassroots protest for social justice.
In other parts of Eastern Europe, protest continue. In Romania for a few weeks now, in Bulgaria for more than three months.
There are a couple new entries that have lighted up on the map lately. Cambodia, Ireland and Greece.
In Cambodia, the situation came to head when police dispersed an opposition demonstration by force. The opposition has been peacefully protesting alledged fraud during the general elections in late May.
Ireland was on the street today to protest against austerity, and for a better future.
A few days ago, in Mexico, the Zócalo square where protesting teachers had been camping out for weeks was cleared by police in view of Mexico’s national holiday. Today, the teachers marched again, thousands strong, against the government reform of education. They have set up a new camp at the monument for the revolution, and they have been joined by students from one of the city’s universities.
The big news comes from Greece. Yesterday evening, together with friends, local rapper and left wing activist Killah P was watching a game of football in a bar. They were spotted and recognized by local Golden Dawn militants. A call was placed, and soon after Killah P and his homies left the bar, they were surrounded by a fascist gang. A car arrives, a man steps out and stabs Killah P through the heart. Eyewitness accounts say police stood by and watched. The killer got arrested. And today, as expected, the country was on fire.
In Athens, Patras, Thessaloniki, on Crete and in many other Greek towns Golden Dawn offices got attacked and burned down. Demonstrators clashed with police wherever possible. Tear gas was shot abundantly. Barricades were erected. The last time an activist got killed in Greece (by the police in 2008), the riots lasted for a weeks, and in some neighbourhoods of Athens not a stone was left in the pavement. Dozens of police offices were burned. One of them even three times in a row. Solidarity actions took place all over Europe. Today as well, there was a solidarity demo against fascism in Barcelona.
Then there’s Turkey of course. I’ll get to that soon.
Finally, there was an unidentified rumour about the Swiss people taking to the streets for social justice, which was quickly denied. For the moment, everything is quiet in Switzerland.
Thessaloniki, April 26
After a sudden burst of anger following the reelection of the 88-year old president of the republic, the Italian Revolution fizzled out. The two major parties have embraced each other and will soon form a government that has three major priorities. One, protect the economic and legal interests of Silvio Berlusconi. Two, prevent the other political force from disintegrating as a result of a multi billion dollar scandal involving Italy’s oldest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena. And three, make sure that the Five Star Movement is neutralised in any way necessary. The establishment knows they will have to succeed. If they don’t, then sooner or later, they will all go down together.
In the meantime, I made my way down to Greece. I didn’t plan on visiting this country again, but here I am. It has been a year since we marched to Athens. Back then, we came from Italy, and from the looks of it, Greece was definitely in a bad shape. Now, I come from Bulgaria, and things are different. All things are relative, and Greece is doing great.
Circumstances, and custom, make me put my convictions to the test quite often. I try to keep questioning the things that many of us have been taking for granted. And this time, in Thessaloniki, I have come to the conclusion that there is no crisis. At all. You people have been fooled by corporate media and left wing propaganda. Come take a walk through Thessaloniki and marvel at all the tantalizing windows of the luxury shops. See the flashy cars drive by over the boulevards. Observe the dense crowd of fashionable youngsters shooting pictures with their latest model iPhone. Try to find a place on one of the many terraces of the expensive cafes: you will have a hard time, they are full, everywhere. This crisis is a myth, a Greek one.
Or is it? Some people say that the crisis is real. Those people haven’t been to Bulgaria, or to most other parts of the world. They say things used to be so much better in Greece a few years ago. For me, after witnessing the exuberant hedonism of Thessaloniki, it’s hard to imagine.
But let’s hypothesise that it’s true. There is a crisis. Greece is really suffering. And there is a reason for that. Over the last few decades, the Greeks have lived a lifestyle that they couldn’t afford. They have destroyed all their towns and villages and rebuilt them with cheap concrete. They have joined a currency that they never should have joined. And now that it’s payback time, they blame the powerful international institutions and/or the defenceless immigrants. Some of them blame the Germans. Undoubtedly there are some who blame the Turks. Only a few of them, the most courageous ones – and we have met these people, they are the best – acknowledge that the Greeks have only themselves to blame.
Or have they? Let’s hypothesise that this isn’t true either, that the Greeks themselves are not to blame. Let’s drop the guilt question all together, and ask ourselves what the Greeks are doing to solve the problem.
They resist. My god, they resist. And I have to give them credit for it. Many other peoples just abandon themselves to self pity, but the Greeks are always on the barricades. The trouble is that they are all fighting a different war.
Your average Greek is mad because he is not as rich as he was. He feels that the government (or whoever, the corporations, the Germans, the immigrants, the Turks) is looting his wallet, and he just wants to go back to the times when he lived a life that he couldn’t afford. Your nationalist Greek is usually a fascist. He thinks this crisis thing is about more than just money. He is convinced the Greeks are the greatest people on earth because of all the invaluable things that Greece has left the western world. He wants a national awakening, he wants the immigrants out, he wants to pick a fight with the Turks and he dreams of a renaissance of the great Byzantine empire.
Then you have the believers. They say there is only one god, his name is Karl Marx, and Lenin is his prophet. Others believe in the same god, but they say that his prophet is Trotzky, or Mao. Some even say that his prophet is Jozef Stalin. These churches don’t get along. And what’s more, they are split into numerous different sects, who all claim that their own interpretation of the words of the prophet is the only real one. The thing they share is their firm conviction that one day, god will come again to reward his faithful. The true believers will live in the earthly paradise of the workers and the peasants, and the sinners will be sent off to spend eternity in the gulags of Siberia.
Then you have your anarchists. They only believe in freedom. Some of them build a kind of theory around it, but most of them are nihilists. They go rioting whenever the opportunity arises, because it’s the only thing that gives any sense to their existence.
Finally, there are also people who are content with the situation as it is. These are mostly civil servants. Compared to the total population, there are a lot of them, many more than you would need. They have a job with a fixed salary and hardly a chance of ever losing it. They support the government, any government, because they know that a real change, for them, can only be a change for the worse.
All these spirits add up to different forces, pulling the country in opposite directions, with the result that everything is immobile. Maybe the only way to speak about it, the only way to understand it, is to turn it into a myth. A story in which the communists and the fascists and the anarchists and the politicians and the banks and the international institutions are all mythological monsters. A story in which common sense is the true hero. A hero destined to succumb, but nevertheless unyielding, to the bitter end.
There was one thing I saw here in Thessaloniki, which lifted up my spirits. A protest concert at the White Tower square on the seaside. Against the rising prices of utilities. People had photocopied their bills and hung them up as a kind of decoration. There was no big crowd, there was no police, but also, there were no signs of any political party. These were unaffiliated citizens, rocking for a better world.
I received another excruciating letter from a friend in Patras…
“Things are getting worse and worse. Fascists now make raids in public care and check if the health booklets of patients belong to a Greek citizen or a foreigner. They keep terrorizing the people undisturbed.
On Saturday we had the celebration of the Insurrection of Politechneion (university students in 1973 went into the university, occupied, made a radio station, stayed there and demanded the fall of the junta of Papadopoulos). Every year we march. This year police officers were so harsh even here. They threw teargas in the middle of the crowd to break up the march.
My friend and I feel that we live under a junta again, and the biggest problem is that Greek society cares about silly things on youtube and on TV. They are blind (…)
Many people commit suicides… last month only in Patras I heard about 3 people from 15 to 34 I think (…)
I want to leave Greece. I don’t want when I narrate the story of my life to have a civil war as a chapter. I love Greece, I really do, but I can’t stand fanaticism, racism and violence. I don’t know how to react to all this. I don’t know what to do. I want something creative to unite people. Greek society won’t go out on to the streets for another “useless protest”, they don’t believe that something can change. You were here, you saw, you know. We are people that wait for someone else to save us and we don’t care if this someone else is crazy, or fascist, or murderer.”
“Greece, which is also fast-tracking state property sales, is set to overtake Finland as the continent’s largest gold producer within four years, as regulators in Athens sign off on mines kept on hold for more than a decade by red tape and environmental rules.”
From an article in the Independent, October 15. It was all about investment opportunities, about the mining potential of Greece, about the employment it would bring to the region, about the money the government would make so that it could pay off its debts. It’s a long piece, only around the end it notes that “Environmentalism and local opposition remain the biggest obstacle to gold mining in Greece,” and that “local villagers and mining protesters from Thessaloniki clashed with police at the Skouries site last month, according to local press reports.”
This month, protesters clashed again at the site. On the Real Democracy Greece blog I found a witness account of what happened. I post some excerpts, read the original in Greek and English here. This is a story about greed in its purest and most visceral form, and the way it is narrated makes it also irresistably Homeric…
“Yesterday’s demonstration was maybe the biggest regarding the mines and for sure one of the biggest in the Chalkidiki region. More than 2000 people coming from the surrounding area but also from even more far away like Thesaloniki, Kilkis, Thrace gathered in Ieriso, where the car cortege started its course towards Skouries. It was the first time that young people joined our struggle coming from villages apart from Ierisso (where it is considered the ‘heart’ of our movement). People from M. Panagia, Ammouliani, Ouranoupoli, Nea Roda, Metaggitsi, Gomati, Ormylia, N. Moudania, Polygiros, Plana, even from the villages that have workers at the gold mines (Stratoniki, Stageira, Paleochori) ignored the propaganda and joined hands.
The road to Skouries was not blocked by the riot police (as they did several times in the past) but we were informed that about 4 squads were waiting for us in the village. We kept walking the next 8 kms passing through the beautiful forest that they plan to destroy. A small group of 200 remained in Hontro Dentro in order to prevent riot police to coming from behind. Recalling today the brutality of the police, this plan sounds naïve…
When we finally arrived in the village, a wall of policemen was blocking the public road in front of the company’s premises. Behind these policemen they were standing riot policemen and behind them company officials and ’secret’ policemen. In order to keep the atmosphere calm, women stood in front and we all asked to let us pass. They denied completely. Standing in front of their shields we shouted slogans and tried to start a discussion with the policemen that showed no reaction or expression.
’We are your wives, your mothers, your sisters and we are protecting our land. We are fighting for our children and our future. Why do you hit us? What are you gonna say to your own kids when they ask you?’
It was getting dark when the police decided to get rid of us. The attack was ordered without any previous assault or provocation from our side. They started throwing a huge number of teargases, screaming ‘bitches’ ‘fagots’ chasing and beat the ones left behind. I could not run so I entered the woods. I was lying down inside a cloud of teargases with riot policemen walking around me. As soon as I managed to escape from them, I joined small group of demonstrators who were ready to return back with a small truck. There was also a young boy badly beaten in the ribbons.
This was the last image that my camera captured. What followed is hard to describe… Like mad dogs they started attacking everyone and throwing tons of teargases. Women were pulled by their hair, people were beaten while they were trying to enter their own cars and whoever was lying down were trampled violently. The cars could not move fast due to the big number of demonstrators and the traffic jam. Many drivers collided. The riot police was running among the cars, breaking glasses, opening the doors furious and kicking everyone out. One of them saw me wearing a surgery mask and tried to open my door calling me ‘bitch’.
I saw with my own eyes a policeman breaking a glass and throwing a teargas INSIDE THE CAR! The interior of the car turned black from the smoke and the driver was thrown out and beaten. They did the same in many cars.
Without any doubts I claim that the police order was ‘SMASH THEM SO THEY WILL NOT RETURN TO THE MOUNTAIN’. They didn’t want just to disperse the mobilization (this is anyway easy for them with the plastic bullets and the teargases while we were not prepared). Their attack (as we were departing from the place and we were no harm to them) is an organized crime (there is no other way for me to describe it) and I am sure that if they had guns they would have used them.”
The Independent article ends like this:
“Eldorado’s Moure is betting more than $3 billion that objectors to expanding gold exploration in Greece will be swayed. The company intends to invest about $1 billion in the next five years. ‘I think people realize we are part of the solution, that part of the economic recovery will be due to mining,’ said Moure. ‘I’m convinced that people who oppose our projects will come to realize that mining can be a positive force for change.'”
(This video is from a similar protest in Romania)
This is the follow-up I received after I responded to the letter from Greece:
“The general political situation in Greece is that after the election people have lost hope, they are so disappointed and they don’t believe the political parties in power can save them from the economic crisis (the truth is that they understand it a bit late). In everyday life the only news that we learn about is the actions that fascists do. People don’t react because they are afraid and they think that it is not so important and that whenever the system decides to marginalize them it will be something easy.
The truth for us is different, we believe that the system wants to create a situation that leads to a “civil war”. They have made 2 groups/fields, one that is fascists and the other that is left or anarchist or communist.
All the time in the news you have to see fascists – guys from the gym, like gangsters wearing a black T-shirt – hitting immigrants, destroying, hunting artists and (some) journalists. Fascists control also youtube!!! When you go to this website the top videos are from a speech of a deputy of them (Chrisi Augi). Examples:
(the most shocking video. The title is “Crisi Augi cracking down the illigal trade”)
(this image is from the popular meal they organised only for Greeks).
(in this video Chrisi Augi with some religious people have been outside the theater protesting about a play that insults God. Their slogan is : “Greece means Orthodox”)
In all theirs attacks always the first man will be a deputy of this party so the police obviously don’t do something.
The other field/group is sleeping. Don’t do a thing all the time, the only things are talking, blaming or a march.
Another thing that the system have done is that it not only controls all the press but now they started to threaten and to arrest bloggers that don’t like them. The accuses most of the times are ridiculous, for example insulting god!!! Day by day we become a more conservative and religious oriented society.
The purpose of all this we believe is that they want to control the situation after the imminent default and the expected insurrection. So they have to feed us and fill us with fear… The people watch from a distance and they don’t want to be involved, they are afraid.”
I got a letter today from two very dear friends whom we met in Patras on the March to Athens. I was shocked. This is Europe, AD 2012…
“Here in Greece things are getting worse every day, but except for some strikes one day per week, no one seems to care. Everyday fascists attack the immigrants. Now they want to know how many immigrant children are in kindergartens. Anarchists don’t do much about it. The only time they do something is when the mayor decides that the buildings they occupy must return to the city. The people that wanted to “clear” the occupied buildings were the fascists of the political party Chrisi Augi [Golden Dawn]. So only then anarchists react and burn a fascist hideout. Police arrested them…
Yesterday we were passing in front of the political office of the fascists and they were there with shields and bats like they are in a war! I was so afraid. Now they expand and attack artists and journalists as well.
In my life now I am officially unemployed. Greece is dying and we can’t do something about it.
Please send me your news and something to hope for.”
Μ & Σ
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.