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The revenge of life

IliasZ | 14.12.2008 00:38 | Analysis | Repression | Social Struggles | World

Some thoughts on the events that are reshaping Greece these days

It's been a week since Alexandros was murdered. 7 days, which i spent mostly at home, because of a bad case of flu. Besides cursing my bad luck, i spent these days stuck in the internet and the telephone, reading and watching what was happening and what was being said, talking with friends that were on the streets. So, this is the view of an observer and i hope that such a view is useful as well.

Starting from a strictly political perspective: These days, the days of Alexandros, mark the fiercest social explosion this country has experienced since 1990-91, when the great pupil-student movement and the assassination of teacher Temponeras shook Greece. It's a revolt of the youth, and especially the pupil youth, that right now is writing its own history. Depending on how the situation evolves, a whole generation has the possibility to emancipate itself, to define its own starting point, to add another link to the historic chain: the 1-1-4 movement in the '60s, the Polytechnic uprising in 1973, the 1990-91 movement, the generation of Alexandros. Without underestimating the other big youth events of the past (the student movements of the late '70s, the recent movement against privatisation of university level education, the pupil movement of '98, the exploding moments of the "wild youth" like the '95 Polytechnic riots), it seems that this uprising has the amplitude, the symbolisms and the intensity to constitute a real catalyst for important social shifts. In a few words, it can change things.

And then a more sentimental reading of the events: Theses days donated generously to everyone, even to TV-viewers, unbelievable moments of beauty. Sometimes "classic" beauty, like thousands of 16 year old boys and girls in the streets, shouting, throwing stones, locking the cops in their police stations and then offering them flowers, crying and laughing. It opens your heart. Dwellers of cafes in Korai square, freeing "our children" from the riot police, residents in Nea Smirni, and in many other neighbourhoods and cities doing the same. There were also moments of "surreal" beauty, with the huge Christmas tree burning in front of the parliament being the most characteristic of those. And finally, so many moments of "wild" beauty - even if lots of people cannot appreciate them - hundreds of stones in the air, molotov cocktails lighting up the streets, and yes - banks and corporate stores burning. It doesn't really matter who started the fire, if people could do with their minds there would be no bank standing in Greece right now. Such was the intensity of the collective craving in the streets.

The media, greek as well as international, reflecting i think the general feeling of "orderly" people worldwide, are under a state of shock. Especially the greek media change their "line" daily, sometimes even within a few minutes, trying to come up with a familiar, reassuring discourse, that would provide a feeling of safety in the face of events that they cannot understand and scare them to death. They try to fit what's happening in schemes they know (or think they know) and feel that they can control. But still, the "society of the orderly" was shocked last Monday when they saw thousands of organized pupils attacking police stations all over Greece. Where can one catalogue these images?

Comrade Halvatzis (an MP of the Greek Communist Party), last Thursday in a Parliament Session, declared with absolute certainty: "Pupils do not smash banks. Pupils, youth, students do not smash, do not destroy things". So then who does? The middle-aged, the public servants or the pensioners? See nothing, hear nothing, know nothing. In the face of the unexpected, a part of society (at the top as well as at its base) resorts to pure denial. They expel the cause of the events to the realm of the supernatural, discovering again the mythical and exotic creature of the "hoodbearer". They don't care why these people wear hoods in the demonstrations (a wild guess: because they don't want to be identified by the cameras and later receive a not so polite visit by the police). It doesn't matter one bit who is under the hood, what's his or her story. Anyways, the hoodbearer (the source of evil) is not entitled to any social or human attributes. Neither young, nor old. Neither a pupil, nor a student, a worker or simply unemployed. It's neither a boy, nor a girl. Hardly a person at all. It's simple the hoodbearer, who lives in another planet (the planet of the Enemies of Democracy) far away from us, and lands every now and then in the centre of Athens to destroy things. Or else, total absurdity is sometimes preferable to the fear of the unknown.

Another part of the society, fortunately much larger, understands that the events carry great importance, that they constitute an expression of social feelings that have grown to explosive dimensions. They are trying to locate the "why" of this uprising, to create linear relationships between cause and effect, in an effort to give meaning to the unexpected. The global media also fall in this category, attributing the uprising to the economic crisis, the unemployment and the government scandals. This logic is telling us that the youth are revolting because they fear that in the future they won't be able to find work, they won't be able to support a family, they won't be able to afford a house and a car. They rise up because they feel that they are denied the chance to live like the "grownups" live now. Which is to say: See everything, hear nothing and explain the "other" with your own values.

But if you really want to understand what other people are telling you, you just have to hear them. Clear your mind for a moment, open some space for new thoughts. The youth is revolting because they want to live. With every last one of the meanings of the word "life". They want to live freely, they want space to create, to emancipate themselves, to play. They don't want to spend their adolescence in 12 hour days of school and extra courses, their first adult years in the pointless chase of a university degree, the passport to a glorious 800 euro - 48 hours a week job in a boring office. They don't want to be dependent on their families in order to start a family of their own. And honestly, they don't even care about starting a family. Bored of "having fun" in video games cafes, clubs, stadiums, shopping malls and commercial concerts. They are not jealous of "normality" and do no seek it. On the contrary, they see this "promise" of normality getting even worse: the school even more exhausting, the hideous job getting even more hideous, the university starting to resemble the school. And marriage looking like a sentence to prison.

This is not a "no future" generation, it's simply a generation that does not accept the present as its future, that simply can't stand the idea that this present will freeze and reproduce forever. At 32, still "unsettled" in every sense of the word, this is how i feel part of this youth. We do not share the cynicism, the dysthymia of a society that keeps on repeating "what can you do, that's the way things will always be". We crave to construct our own, autonomous future. And there are a lot of things standing in our way. That's the point of unity between pupils, students, young working /unemployed /precarious adults. When you really want to live, a spark is enough to make you instinctively attack anything that you think stands in your way. In these moments the youth feels that police stations, riot police squads and banks are blocking their way, so they're just trying to push them aside. If they won't budge, you just have to burn them down (which of course doesn't work that way, but that's the drive to do it). And in personal life, the obstacles are being realized as your family, your bosses, your "responsibilities".

Still, the intensity of this particular uprising also comes from its own starting point. When one feels that his or her life is in danger, even in the strict biological sense, reacting is also a matter of pure survival. Alexandros was just 16 years old, and if you hear what the pupils are saying, it's clear that they have totally identified with him. No obstacle, no fear can stand in the way of the instinct to survive. They can hit me, arrest me, expel me from school, but if i don't do something i could be next. The cop's bullet has awakened life's deepest reflexes in greek kids, and now...good luck to the orderly trying to get them back to the herd.

These days life is getting its revenge, with all its force. Only the evolution of events can tell us if this explosion of the desire to live will open creative paths, smaller or larger, or if it will be contained. I fear only for one outcome: that the dynamics of violence, which the mechanisms of power know excellently how to use, will draw the limits of this uprising. Anger and rage are initially propulsive feelings, but when they freeze they usually lead to depression. Besides personal psychology, this seems to be the case for social psychology as well. The best case scenario would be a solid "victory" for this movement, like the resignation of the government or at least of the whole police administration. The youth feels emancipated right now, and it needs a symbolic affirmation. One should not underestimate symbolism, it yields tremendous power. Alexandros himself is the best proof for that...

Athens, 13-12-2008

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