In the struggle between yourself and the world, back the world
greece / turkey / cyprus |
migration / racism |
opinion / analysis
Tuesday September 06, 2011 21:56 by clandestina - 1 of Anarkismo Editorial Group
Part 2/2 (abstract)
Presented at the No Border Camp, Bulgaria, August 25-29, 2011
The May 2011 pogroms
After the hunger strike of the 300, the State had to regain its ground. Οn May 3, 2011, in Igoumenitsa, a protest was organised by an initiative of “outraged citizens”, but the call for action was joined by the mayor of the town and the president of the chamber of commerce of the Thesprotia Prefecture. While the majority of the demonstrators were busy closing the gates of the international port of Igoumenitsa, a small group of neo-nazis started throwing nautical flares towards the informal settlement of the sans-papiers towards the hill close to the port, crying “burn them! kill them!”. The migrants tried to defend their provisory shelters by throwing stones to the neo-nazis. Then, riot police intervened, violently hunting the sans-papiers up to the mountain and shooting teargas towards the forest!
In mid-May 2011, ultra-right wing groups launched heavy pogroms against migrants in downtown Athens, after a 44-year-old Greek, was killed on May 10th in a mugging for a camera. The crime was linked to immigrants, and the fact that the 44-year-old was about to get his car and take his pregnant wife to hospital to give birth, further outraged the Greek inhabitants of the area. For the Nazis, this was an ideal opportunity. During the pogroms, which lasted for days, a 21-year old Bangladeshi migrant was stabbed to death in the Kato Patisia district of Athens and dozens more were hospitalized, many of them also stabbed. There was clear evidence of police collaborating with fascists – there is even a video where you can see police letting members of the extreme right group Golden Dawn out of a police car in order to fill it with attacked immigrants instead. No wonder no immigrant filed charges against the fascist attackers…
In the same week, the municipality of Patras destroyed the abandoned train shelter of migrants in St. Dionysios, opposite the port of Patras. The police invaded the area of the train company due to the ‘inhuman living conditions’ of the migrants and for reasons of ‘public health’.
On May 18, 2011, the Greek Minister of Citizen Protection Christos Papoutsis announced (again) that new detention camps and screening centers would be constructed and that the existing detention camps would be renovated and expanded.
On June 11, 2011, representatives of the Doctors of the World (Médecins du Monde) – Athens and the NGO Praxis announced that in the past eight months more than 500 immigrants, victims of racist attacks, have visited the two NGOs’ medical centres in downtown Athens…
Here we should note that this tremendous rise in fascist violence and anti-immigrant rhetoric occurred in the first half of 2011, namely in a period during which, according to data published (but never reproduced or discussed) by the police in July 2011, there was a decrease by 45% in the so-called “migrant influx” into Greece! Remarkably, the only areas where the numbers of the two previous years continue to rise are where the FRONTEX land forces are deployed – in Alexandroupolis, the increase has exceeded 200%. So while the number of sans papiers entering the country is falling, their devaluation reaches a new high, as is evident in the following examples.
On May 17, 2011, the police announced that a 23-year-old Albanian Roma, was arrested for the murder of a 50-year-old father from Pakistan and his 24-year-old son. The killings happened one month before, during fights inside a waste disposal site in Athens for access to garbage. And there is more to the human landfill story: Since December 2010, six dismembered bodies of immigrants have been found on 6 different occasions at various garbage bins and dump sites in Athens. Nobody asked for them… Their identity and the conditions of their death remain unknown.7
The indignados movement
The 25th of May was marked by the birth of the so-called movement of the “indignados” in Athens.8 An anonymous call for a Spanish-style gathering in Syntagma square appeared on facebook and was largely reproduced by the mass media. The call was against political parties and in favour of a peaceful protest against the government’s management of the debt crisis and “all those responsible for the mess where we are in now”. The main slogan was initially a call for a “real democracy”, quickly replaced by a call for “direct democracy”.
The Syntagma square “indignados” were quickly divided into those gathered in the “upper square” (near the Parliament) and those gathered in the “lower square”. In the “upper square” you could find nationalist and extreme right-wing groups among the “indignados”. In the “lower square” you could find members of the traditional left parties, often posing as “simple citizens”.
Both the “upper” and the “lower” squares never had more than some hundreds or something more than a thousand people in their assemblies. The big crowds you can see in the photos were not really interested in the assemblies’ procedure. They wanted to gather outside the Parliament to shout “traitors!” and “thieves!” to the MPs and give them the insulting open palm gesture. In these gatherings you could see many people waving Greek flags and singing the national anthem. The demonstrations peaked on Sunday 5th of June 2011, when hundreds of thousands gathered in front of the parliament. For many, this was the first time they were taking part in a demonstration. Then the number started to decline rapidly.
The June 15th general strike demo looked much more like the usual general strike demos that had taken place the months previous to the “indignados” gatherings, save for the fact that to the usual participants of general strike demonstrations were added some thousands of “indignados” of the Syntagma square. When the grassroots trade unions and the anarchist/antiauthoritarian blocks reached Syntagma square, some fascists from the “upper square” tried to attack them, but instead it was the fascists who got beaten up and kicked off Syntagma square. At this moment, the riot police attacked the demonstrators and it was the first time that many of the “indignados” faced police brutality. So when the police tried to reoccupy Syntagma, thousands of people participated in the conflicts, experiencing a feeling of real solidarity.
Along with this radicalization of the people participating at the Syntagma square movement came a further decline of their numbers. On the first day of the 48-hour general strike of June 28/29, the number of demonstrators at Syntagma did not exceed 20.000. On the second day, the mobilization was pretty massive and faced extreme, and many say unforeseen, police brutality. Tens of thousands of people remained in or around the square, while thousands of demonstrators were clashing with the police. During the clashes that lasted for 17 whole hours, the riot police used 2,860 tear gas cans (!), and attacked demonstrators indiscriminately, even in the temporary medical centre inside the metro station of Syntagma. The Syntagma square medical team recorded more than 700 demonstrators in urgent need of first aid and 100 transferred to hospitals. According to the police, there were 131 injured policemen, 75 demonstrators were brought to police stations and 38 of them were charged.
The blind attack by the police destroyed the media-manufactured division between “violent” and “non violent” demonstrators. It also revealed the true face of the repressive forces of power – and also scared a lot of people away.
This day had something of the December 2008 “mixture” (black block, students, young proletarians) with the addition of working class folks and “common people” clashing with the police – and was also reminiscent of the 5th of May 2010 demonstration, before the tragic events at Marfin bank. Amidst the general chaos you could see cool immigrant street vendors selling scarves and goggles for protection from tear gas!
After the June 29 events and the voting by the parliament of the new IMF-imposed bill, the “indignados” movement gradually faded, with many of its protagonists promising that it will reappear in September, at the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair. Early on the morning of Saturday the 30th of July 2011, riot police evicted the few people remaining camped on Syntagma square.
Refusing to make any quick predictions, we feel we have to point out that:
a) Direct democracy has been more of a slogan than a reality…
b) …since often well-meaning, sometimes slightly patronizing, “specialists” from the traditional leftist parties took up crucial positions in the various committees created and in the end discouraged the creation of new structures and encouraged suspicion
c) …and, more crucially, since nationalist populists understood that Greek flags and hate against “sell-out” politicians and trade union leaders could easily be channelled towards a far right agenda, especially as crisis-ridden middle-class Greeks were willing to hide their fears in some sense of national identity.
d) On the other hand, many people had a long lasting experience of self-organizing and participation…
e) …and the June 29 clashes helped destroy many myths.
Even if the hundreds of thousands of Syntagma in the first two weeks were excessively encouraged by the media and proved to be easily manipulable and open to far right populism, there are truly hopeful aspects to the squares movement. Thousands of people across the country rose from their passivity and joined an experience of social and political struggle. This was much more true of mobilizations and assemblies in decentralized neighbourhoods in Athens and smaller towns, where there was room for real discussion and direct personal exchange.
The squares movement had a spectacular side, worshiped on prime time TV. Its foundations in real struggle, on the other hand, paved the way for a future movement. Before that could develop, a strategy of terror was set in motion. A minister stated that if the severe austerity measures are not voted through, the country will sink in chaos and the military will have to take over. The June 29 clashes were attributed to anarchist provocateurs. (We wish that were true: However, the anarchists and antiauthoritarians, through quite numerous and strong, could not have kept going for 17 hours non-stop – not to mention that many anarchists refused to participate in the squares proceedings…) “Anarchist violence” was compared to the Nazi pogroms a month earlier, so that, in this new atmosphere of “fear of extremism”, the government could plausibly proclaim the necessity of water canons, rubber bullets, police dogs, and military exercises for crowd control and riot prevention.
It seems that the latest strategy of the State is to “create two extremes and let democracy thrive in the middle”, by presenting the anarchists and the anti-authoritarian left on the one hand, and the fascists on the other, as equally deplorable social trends. According to this idea, crisis and immigrants “arm the extremes”, and all we need is a sense of law and order only the government can guarantee.
Perhaps this strategy has not been adequately criticized and annihilated by the Greek squares movement. Slowly it is becoming a dominant ideology.
Connecting the dots
Propaganda should be popular, not intellectually pleasing. It is not the task of propaganda to discover intellectual truths. Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred. (Joseph Goebbels, 1928)
From the true antagonist illimitable courag is transmitted to you. (Franz Kafka, Aphorisms, 1918)
Spontaneous movements are nice but they are not necessarily direct-democratic. On the contrary, spontaneous movements can be easily controlled by the mass media and self-appointed leaders. To make direct democracy more than a slogan requires a lot of effort. Honest interpersonal relations, horizontal structures and assemblies that help develop political consciousness are indispensable if we are to construct a lasting and effective movement that can fight for and through direct democracy and social justice.
Even at its best moments, the “indignados” movement had little reference to migrants’ issues. Even people with the best intentions were reluctant to speak about solidarity with the sans papiers, fearing that this way they could jeopardize their “contact to the crowds”. The fears that that had been expressed during the hunger strike of the 300 (that “the crisis is not the time to speak about immigrants”) re-emerged. But even when there was mention of immigrants, people reproduced “humanitarian” and victimizing “antiracist” stereotypes, or abstract (and never vocal) references to “common struggles”.9 In the “upper square” there was lots of national anthem singing, calls to “defend national sovereignty”, “exit the Euro-zone and the EU”, “save of the country”, “get rid of foreign bankers and illegal immigrants together” – all these mixed with conspiracy theories about evil Jewish bankers. The “lower square” would insist on the “refusal to pay the odious debt”, the need for an “Audit Commission on the Greek public debt (ELE)”, many supported the demand for an “exit from the Euro-zone and the EU” and there were calls for “anti-racism” and “social change”. The dominant analysis on the crisis of the “lower square” was the one expressed in the documentary Debtocracy– whose Greek description (=“a documentary produced by the spectator” – in the English version they use the word “audience” but the Greek is “θεατής” – spectator) is quite revealing. Indeed. Maybe the majority of the “indignados” were actually spectators of the “discussions” on the crisis and the debt that were conducted by “experts”, left-liberal and left political economists who gave speeches on the progressive management of the “national debt”. Let’s see what happens next.
For now, let us just repeat: We do not insist on the central importance of migration in the crisis/debt analysis out of some political idée fixe, neither for reasons of philanthropy, nor because we are desperately seeking some new “revolutionary subject”. The reasons we insist to speak about immigrants and their struggles are simply:
1) dignity – not only because it is insulting to think, with many “new opportunists”, that in order to gain support from the povres nuevos you must be silent about the more oppressed, but also in order to be able to proclaim that “we didn’t spend it together”, in other words, in order to have the dignity to be “indignado”. Everybody is speaking against the debt, but after all, who owes to whom? We don’t owe the banks and the multinationals. But we do owe the people exploited in the global South, we do owe the immigrants exploited in the so-called first world. We were accomplices in a system that used the banality of consumerism to hide its crimes against the poor of the world. The beast feeding on their blood got so strong it can now feed on ours. If we realize this, then we will also realize that we owe it to ourselves and to our children to rage a struggle with and not against the most oppressed, together against all oppression.
2) analytical necessity There is no way to understand mobility of capital and financialization without focussing on the mobility of people and dehumanization. The destruction of production in the West and the dismantlement of the welfare state were made possible exactly because we allowed the pillage and plundering of the global South.
That’s another reason why immigrants and refugees are crucial: Their lived experience of land and resource seizures and of endless war in the capitalist periphery makes them the best experts in IMF policies.
Understanding this will help us avoid falling into the trap of fighting for the return to a condition where the happiness of few depends on the misery of many. The fight against capitalist globalization is not “de-globalization”10, but the globalization of the struggles and the “new” (and also very old…) way of politics and organizing, i.e. horizontality, self-organization and direct democracy. De-globalization is not only unethical. It is pointless.
3) self-defence Actually, de-globalization is a slogan that perfectly suits the far right. Fascism, though, is not rising because of capitalist globalization but in support of capitalist globalization. In the same way, fascism is not rising because of the existence of immigrants but thanks to the attacks on immigrants. They are being handed their power by the State.
This was made possible only because the Western tolerance limit to severe injustice was horrendously stretched: It was only because of the total denial of immigrants’ rights that the attack on Western citizens’ rights could be made possible.
We have described how Aghios Panteleimonas has been used as a social laboratory for the creation of fascist reflexes and groups. But this can get even worse. Last May, citizens of Athens lived for some days the dystopia of a society ruled by mad violence (something like the ongoing “drug war” in Mexico which, according to sub-comandante Marcos, aims at getting people “to accept everyday horror as something that cannot be changed”).
More than a cliché: solidarity is our weapon
Solidarity to immigrants and refugees is a prerequisite for the next step, the political and social re-composition necessary for overcoming confusion, far-right populism and nihilist despair. Only then will we be able to resist barbarism and fight back!
P.S. 1: Information from: -the English section of clandestina -Welcome to Europe , -Infomobile , -Contra-info -posts by the user taxikipali at libcom.org.
P.S. 2: On the myth of the debt crisis as an exclusively or primarily “Greek problem”, see S. Erlanger’s cynical May 22, 2010 article in the New York Times: “[A]cross Western Europe, the ‘lifestyle superpower’, the assumptions and gains of a lifetime are suddenly in doubt … Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism … Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella … Europe can no longer afford its comfortable lifestyle”.
P.S. 3: On the enduring myth, even in leftist activists’ heads, that “we can’t take any more immigrants”, see the simple stats: “Greece’s population has shrunk by more than 1 percent over the last 10 years, according to the preliminary results from the census carried out earlier this year, thereby bucking the trend of the last few decades. Officials from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) said that the first count of the figures collected indicate that Greece’s population is 10,787,690 (49.2 percent men and 50.8 percent women) compared to 10,934,097 in 2001, when the last census was carried out. This is a decline of 1.34 percent. Greece has an aging population, which has put a strain on its social security system. This has been somewhat counterbalanced by the influx of immigrants into Greece since the early 1990s.” (Newspaper Kathimerini, “Census shows population decline”, Monday July 25, 2011)
1 The Filipino sailors had lived there under unacceptable conditions for 7 months, until they won their case in the court of law. The first thing they did after their victory was to support their Egyptian fellow-workers.
2 Various announcements after the Marfin Bank tragedy “May 5th events: the anarchists speak out” here.
3 “The conditions for asylum-seekers in Greece, which is among the principal entry
5 On January 19, 2011 Germany became the latest in a growing number of states to suspend returns of asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin II regulation. That list includes Belgium, Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. National courts have stepped in to halt returns, and nearly 1,000 cases are pending before the European Court. According to the Court, European governments that continue transfers to Greece are likely to fall foul of human rights law.
6 A number of broader issues were brought up during the hunger strike. Here a text distributed by the Open Solidarity Initiative of Thessaloniki.
7 The police offered many scenarios: The immigrants were killed by smugglers; they died during a smuggling operation and the smugglers got rid of them; they were kidnapped by people who unsuccessfully demanded ransom money from their families…In most cases, the dismembered corpses were accidentally discovered by other immigrants searching the garbage for food.
8 For a description and commentary of the Syntagma square movement: Preliminary notes towards an account of the “movement of popular assemblies” by TPTG (full text here).
9 The slogans and demands that were popular among the Syntagma square “indignados” are characteristic here. The general slogans and demands that everybody agreed on or considered reasonable: (“all” being the huge crowds plus both the “upper square” and the “lower square”) were: “Down with the sold out government, the Troika (= European Commission + European Central Bank + International Monetary Fund) and the Memorandum (Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies –MEFP– that was signed by the Greek government and the “troika”)”; “Take the memorandum and go away!”; “[Bastards politicians] we didn’t ate them (the money) together” (referring to a government member statement -- actually instead of “bastards” the word used was the one diminishingly used to describe gays); “Take the helicopter and go away!” (referring to Argentina’s president De la Rúa helicopter escape); “Even the maid resisted” (referring to Strauss-Kahn) ; “we don’t owe, we won’t pay”; “we don’t owe, we won’t give away public goods / national property”; “burn the parliament”; “traitors!”, “thieves!” (towards the politicians); “we should hang them (the politicians)”; “direct –or real– democracy now”
10 As proposed, for instance, by Ignacio Ramonet in his “Esclaves en Europe”, in Mémoire des Luttes, June 28, 2011.