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European dissolution

June 6th marked the 70th anniversary of the famous D-Day of World War II. It was the largest seaborne military operation in history and it marked the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.

Despite all the grand celebrations, though, despite the speeches and the moving stories of the last remaining veterans, one need to go no further than the results of the recent European Parliament elections to realise that something is wrong.

We might honour history, but we fail to learn from it.

As troops and ships from Great Britain and the Commonwealth, USA and many other countries gained the beaches of Normandy, the Red Army was marching from the East. The frantic race to Berlin, a race not only to end the most destructive conflict in the history of mankind, but to gain the prestige and possible technological spoils from the conquest of the German capital, would end almost a year later.

The World War was replaced by a Cold War, lines were drawn, walls were erected, curtains were raised, nuclear weapons were constructed and mankind came closer to extinction than ever before.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were no more enemies to be afraid of. As the spectre of another global conflict started to dissolve, political power shifted away from governments and into the hands of banks and financial institutions.

The same ills that brought about the Great Depression of the 1930s now threaten us again with a new financial crisis the remedy for which, we are told, is to be found into austerity for people of low to average income, while banks increase their profits and golden boys give themselves huge bonuses and pat each other on the back.

At the same time, however, extreme right parties gain more voters every day.

What we ought to remember is that Hitler was not some random madman who suddenly seized power and hypnotized an entire nation into Nazism. Adolph Hitler was elected into power. It was a slow process, that took both the defeat of Germany in World War I and the toxic financial environment of the late ’20s and early ’30s to grow into fascism.

In the end, slowly but surely, it drove several peoples into the hands of fanatics. Leaders in other countries seemed to worry about the situation in Germany and Italy, but they did little more than watch, until Nazi tanks crossed their borders.

Today, neo-nazi, racist and nationalist parties are growing all over Europe. In France, the United Kingdom and Denmark, anti-immigration parties have won the elections with 25, 27 and 26.6 percent respectively. Meanwhile, in Greece the neo-nazi party of Golden Dawn came very close to double digits, even though several of its MPs (including the party’s leader) have been imprisoned facing trial for planning and participation in various crimes and racist assaults up to and including murder. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a European country where the popularity of the far-right parties was reduced. Even in the generally more prosperous Scandinavian region.

If we do not wish for history to repeat itself, we ought to do more than deliver empty speeches on national holidays. Fascism is not some monster hiding under our beds, nor some kind of disease that you might catch while riding the train to work.

In fact, it is an idea that is most likely to take root where there is no work, where there is social inequality, where democracy is weakened and manipulated. Like the Weimar Republic of the 1920s. Like our democracies, today.

 

Intermission #20

If you feel that your privacy is something worth protecting you owe it to yourself to visit EFF’s website and sign this petition:

TODAY, FEBRUARY 11TH, 2014 ISTHE DAY WE FIGHT BACK AGAINST MASS SURVEILLANCE

rocktur_roger_waters_the_wall

I had the good fortune to be able to afford a front row ticket to what I think was the most important rock concert I will ever attend. Many in Greece couldn’t, and the company responsible for the event shamelessly denied Roger Waters’ request that people be allowed to attend with a low price ticket of 18 Euros.

If you are unemployed, like 1.6 million Greeks (or more) are right now, even 18 Euros is not a trivial amount.

After watching The Wall again all these years later, I can safely say that today it is more relevant than ever, more relevant than all the works of all other modern rock groups put together, at least in a political sense. It is as if the unmistakable rise of totalitarianism in the world today is accompanied by the steady muting of voices who argue, the dulling of modern music’s edge, the lapse of the collective artistic conciousness into an iStore-induced coma.

I am not talking about anger. Rage Against the Machine did that very well 20 years ago, but what did it amount to, when all is said and done? More on this later.

Darkness. A few eerie notes are heard in the distance and then the bass shatters the silence. Every notes strikes your chest, as if from inside. Somehow, the sound feels like it reverberates from your heart. Light, music, singing, screaming. A plane crashes above in a shower of sparks as a father dies and a baby is born.

And thus begins the journey of Pink into life. All the major actors in his life, his over-protective mother who guides and comforts, his teacher who punishes and conditions, his girlfriend which betrays (and is betrayed), all help him build the Wall.

The Teacher (Photo by S.M.)

The Teacher (Photo by S.M.)

Eventually, he becomes a rock star. By that time, however, the Wall has alienated him from everyone and everything around him, making him comfortably numb. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll try to fill in the gaping holes in his life, to no avail. Pink becomes violent and delusional. Finally, he loses all contact with reality, imagining that he is a dictator with absolute power over his audience, shooting anyone whom he finds unworthy.

Delusions of Fascism

Riddled with guilt, he puts himself on trial, with all the key figures in his life acting as witnesses against him. He is reduced from a man to a fleshy, faceless doll, waiting pathetically in a corner for his inescapable condemnation.

The human puppet (Photo by O.N.G.)

But the judge does not sentence him to death. Instead, he orders him to tear down the Wall and he does so, finally freeing himself as an eerily happy music fades in the distance.

The basics of the story are unchanged and still, 34 years later, they are all too relevant, as education deteriorates, people turn away from meaningful relationships, governments turn away from democracy, religious and racial hatred flourishes and war continues to thrive. The story is not just about one man, but also about the way each individual Wall becomes another brick in a huge structure representing our entire society.

The Wall

Waters enriched the original vision of Pink Floyd with modern elements, as the Wall is “painted” with graffiti inspired by Apple’s iDolizing marketing. iNeed, iBelieve, iTeach, iKill. Cleverly placed amongst them is iResist with the image of a protester tossing a molotov. In the end, this kind of resistance is another marketed product, aimed at the (rightfully) frustrated people but offering nothing more than a justification of violent suppression by the government. Experience has shown that massive, peaceful demonstrations are much more effective than setting the instruments of a government on fire.

The writing on The Wall

Other lines of graffiti on the Wall were no less insightful. “Enjoy Capitalism” styled as the Coca-Cola logo. And “if at first you don’t succeed, call an airstrike”.

Another striking image, shocking in its simplicity and truth, is that of the endless line of bombers dropping symbols: the dollar sign, the hammer-and-sickle, the Christian cross, the crescent moon and star of Islam, the star of David, the Mercedes sign, the McDonald’s logo and that of Shell falling like bombs and covering everything in red. All of them symbols used and misused to separate people with walls of greed, bigotry, fanaticism and hollow ambition.

And, of course, the image of the hammers doing the duck march in oppressively perfect rows of red and black. Today, 31 years after their appearance in the iconic film by Alan Parker they are reminding us not of the past, but of the possible and very likely future.

Another new concept was that of the wall depicting victims of war, terrorism and state violence from WWI to the Gezi park protests. Famous politicians, well-known activists together with largely “unknown”, but named soldiers of every war in between, civilian casualties, rescuers from the 9/11 Ground Zero, amongst them a Greek soldier who died in the Albanian mountains in 1940.

The Wall of the fallen

The Wall of the fallen

One could be tempted to turn criticism against the work itself, with all its special effects and high tech sound and imagery, the last g(r)asp of an ageing rock star for a few more dollars. Or Euros, as it were. But the essence of the work remains, regardless of any intention, selfish or not, of one of its main creators. I was reminded of my student years, when I used to mock my left-wing colleagues, most of whom had the latest cell phones of the time, while I still didn’t have one (and didn’t want one). Their half-serious answer was that “they used the system to fight the system”.

Well, “comrades”, if I ever saw anyone using the system to speak up against it, that would be Roger Waters.

Intermission #19

The intro

Malala

The world is a boiling pot. In Turkey, Brazil and Egypt there are continued demonstrations despite the extreme police violence used to deter protesters. In Greece, anger is simmering beneath the relatively quiet surface.

If there was any doubt of this, the Greek justice system backing down in the face of the imminent death of hunger striker Kostas Sakkas should convince even the most skeptical observer that the Greek government fears a similar uprising. Do not think for a moment that the judges somehow realised their “mistake”, because they knew full well that they were breaking the law when they last extended Sakkas’ incarceration for another six months.

Kostas Sakkas

If Sakkas, unlawfully imprisoned  for 31 months without being convicted, were to die, the backlash would be completely unpredictable. There are people in Greece from every corner of the political spectrum (except the extreme right, of course) who recognize that this case was never a matter of a single anarchist’s prosecution, but a violation of justice, one more link in a long chain of such violations in modern Greece.

The decision to defy death in the struggle to defend one’s rights and freedoms is the ultimate form of courage. Even more so when the one making the stand is just an adolescent girl. A girl making a stand against an entire society’s cultural perceptions.

Malala Yousafzai became a public figure before even the fateful event that almost cost her her life. In the tender age of 11 she was already blogging under a pseudonym on behalf of the BBC about life under the encroaching shadow of the Taliban.

She later actively campaigned for the right of women to receive an education and was honoured by the government of Pakistan and the international community for her efforts, becoming the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Last October she was shot in the head and neck in a targeted assassination attempt against her in a school bus full of children. Yesterday, fully recovered, she delivered a moving speech before the United Nations Youth Assembly. On the day of her 16th birthday, wearing a shawl once worn by the murdered Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto, the first female leader of a Muslim state.

Malala Yousafzai addresses United Nations Youth Assembly

Malala Yousafzai addresses United Nations Youth Assembly

It is difficult to imagine how a girl of 12 would even dare to openly speak out against oppression in a society which believes in the inferiority of women. It is even harder to fathom that she would find the strength to recover so fast after a near fatal assault, and yet speak of forgiveness.

How can one so young find so much courage?

There is another side to this story, of course. Malala is being used as a poster child by Western powers, spearheaded by Gordon Brown, to widen the growing rift between (developed) Christian and (developing) Muslim countries.

She is being used to showcase how “evil Muslims” oppress women to justify and escalate the War on Terror. Ironically, at the same time the ineffectual austerity measures used to combat the economic crisis, measures which are supported by the majority of Western governments, often have education and healthcare as prime targets.

Even worse the crisis, which shows no signs of improvement, fuels our own Western brand of extremism, in the form of racism and neo-nazism.

Yet Malala did not only speak of education; almost every mention of education was accompanied by the notion of peace. War and conflict are keeping children out of school. And the artificially perpetuated “War on Terror” is no exception. Malala spoke about Martin Luther King and Ghandhi, about non-violence, about togetherness and about forgiving even the Talib who shot her.

The Taliban are not the only ones who fear educated people. Most governments are not much different. Our own, modern, democratic governments, would rather strip education of anything not useful to employment and thus limit our ability to question them. Most states would prefer obedient drones to thinking citizens. Programmed, rather than truly educated.

There is much to be learned by the example of this teenage girl. The courage to stand up for one’s rights against fear and aggression, especially in a peaceful manner, cannot and should not be ignored. Even if greedy politicians would try to use her to justify their own agendas. But we do not need them. Not them, nor their wars.

“Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons.”

Image

Woman makes a stand against a water cannon.

Some people confuse resistance with anarchy. They believe, or it suits them to believe, that anyone protesting on the street, or in a park is just “asking for trouble”. Even if they are doing it peacefully, by sitting on the grass, with music and books. But the exact form of a public protest is irrelevant.

Even when the purpose of a protest has nothing political about it. Such as when attempting to protect a large park in the middle of a bustling city, which is about to be turned into a mall. The 94th, if my information is accurate. But even the cause of a protest is not really the issue here.

What really matters is that the state is treating its own citizens as enemies. And it is not happening just in Turkey or Greece or Bulgaria or Spain or Sweden. It is fast becoming a global phenomenon. The difference is that police in Turkey are that much more brutal in suppressing protesters. They don’t need to use agents provocateurs, like the Greek police still do (on most occasions - the last time I was in a protest all it took for the tear gas rain to start was a few kids tossing fruit towards the Parliament).

I never thought I’d see more tear gas canisters being used at once than that February evening at Syntagma. Was I ever wrong.

Used tear gas cannisters

Used tear gas canisters

The reports coming in from Istanbul (or Constantinople, as we prefer to call it in Greece) are mostly unverified because of the media blackout on the protests. However, there are now reports from Reuters that tear gas canisters were fired directly on the crowd, resulting in a woman being severely injured. A couple of months ago Greek police fired gas canisters into a schoolyard, injuring a girl on the head and sending several into the infirmary.

There are reports of four dead protesters on Friday and the protests continue today, also spreading to other major cities in Turkey.

These things are not happening in dictatorships. These are supposed to be modern democratic states and yet police violence grows unchecked. But these events force us to consider where the boundaries of order-keeping lie and where civil liberties begin.

A state which suppresses its citizens when protesting peacefully, for whatever reason, can no longer be considered democratic. At the heart of democracy lies the will of the people and that cannot be expressed solely by elections every four years. And that is because being elected does not grant politicians the power to make any decision they want, without taking into consideration the well being of the people. Nor is the police justified in injuring or, worse, killing the very civilians it is supposed to protect.

Furthermore, these democratic “lapses” also bring to light our own responsibilities as citizens. States and governments, when left to their own devices, can and will pass laws which do not serve the interests of the people. It can be as simple as demolishing a large park or as complicated as bleeding the people dry for the sins of the banking and monetary system.

Unjust laws and policies must be resisted. Politicians catering to the interests of the financial elite must be resisted. Democracy has to be safeguarded and protected, and that duty lies with the citizens. There are very few states in the world which can function truly democratically without being “reminded” to do so by the people. The proof of this is everyday in the news, if and when it is allowed to appear.

Resistance in this context is not just a right, but an obligation of the people.

An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Art by Anastasia Lambrou

Art by Anastasia Lambrou

Dear economists, dear policy makers, dear bankers, dear powers-that-be,

I have a message for you. It is aimed at you, but not really meant for you, rather for the rest of us who are struggling to make sense of this mess you have created.

We are not commodities.

We, the People, vote and elect individuals who are supposed to represent our interests and uphold our ideals for a fair and humane society. Just one glimpse at the news, especially the uncensored/non-sterilized news reports on the Internet, should be enough to convince anyone that we have strayed very, very far from this basic concept of Democracy.

Commodities do not vote. Commodities have no rights or voice. Commodities are bought, sold and utilised as required.

The very moment that our financial system started treating people as commodities, was the moment when democracy started to decline. And now that this very system has come to dominate politics and governance to an absolute degree, what do you suppose has happened to our precious democracy?

Commodification is nothing new. In fact, it is a fairly old concept introduced by Karl Marx. The problem is that many people will dismiss the concept without thinking, just because they might disagree with Marxist theories.

But you don’t need to be a Marxist or a communist, or even a left-wing sympathiser to understand the fundamental truth of this simple statement: people are not commodities.

No amount of reasoning, no financial theory, no argument can be used to change this. In a world which has formally renounced slavery, human labour cannot be thought of as a commodity.

Because when this happens, then the fundamental right to work becomes subject to the principles of the free market and unemployment is suddenly thought of as a financial indicator, instead of a social problem. Even worse, unemployment becomes a useful tool that can be used to force salary costs to lower and work rights to disappear.

It’s all in the name of “rationalisation”, of course. It is “good business”. “Rationalisation” is a very interesting word, used in business circles (and more recently in politics) as a euphemism for salary and job cuts. In psychology, however, it is used to describe a defence mechanism in which perceived controversial behaviours are logically justified.

Or, simply put, “making excuses”.

But we are not commodities and there is no excuse for treating us as such. No one cares what lumber thinks. What matters is that you get the best quality at the lowest price. Iron ore does not need to start a family. All it needs to do is to be good and cheap enough to be used for production.

When you drive the need to optimize production to the extreme, there would be nothing better than a worker that costs nothing, demands nothing and never stops. In other words, a robot. But robots are still pretty expensive to acquire and maintain. Humans remain a better choice for all but the heaviest and most repetitive tasks.

We are now treading on very dangerous ground. A society which places business concerns and interests over that of its own members will naturally push them to become as robot-like as possible. Is this the kind of society that we want?

Is this the crowning achievement of our technological and cultural evolution? Filling up factories and office buildings with human drones and streets with masses of starving, unemployed people?

Somehow, I do not think this is the bright future which we were promised. Somehow, I don’t think that all those billions of people living in democratic countries are voting to become slaves or beggars.

Or things to be exchanged.

Intermission #18

Remember the SOPA and PIPA legislations which governments around the world attempted to pass in order to facilitate control of the Internet? Well, they are back in the US under a different name. Now it is called CISPA. You can find more info here.

And sign the petition here,

or here, if you live outside the US.

This concerns every user of the Internet, since recent experience shows that similar bills always spawn “sister” bills in Europe and elsewhere.

Bulgarian protesters

In Greece the only thing that stirs these days is the occasional ceremonial 24-hour strike or a continuous strike action in a particular sector, which is condemned by everyone (including even a large part of the media-addled population) and put down by the police and the abusive use of law by the state. Meanwhile, in neighboring Bulgaria there are political developments which should be of particular interest to the Greek people.

Assuming that us Greeks still have the ability to see beyond our nose and our TV screen, which bombards us daily with a lengthy “analysis” on the absolute necessity of the Memorandum and the endless austerity measures which support it.

Although Bulgaria has experienced unprecedented economic growth in recent years, the minimum wage remains at 159 Euros, the second lowest in Europe. In the second half of the last decade, it went through a period of intensive privatisation, in accordance with the mandates of the IMF and the principles of modern economy.

Unemployment is low (below 10%) in comparison to that of Greece, but wages are not sufficient, despite the fact that prices are also quite low.

The energy market is in private hands and is completely self-sufficient. Bulgaria produces all of its energy and does not import even a single TW of electricity from another country.

Apparently, these ideal conditions are not sufficient to make market competition work. So, following the recent increases in the price of electricity, people took to the streets en masse to protest, defying even the bitter cold.

The main demand is the re-nationalisation of the energy market. Does that sound backward? Absurd even? Let me tell you what absurdity really is: expecting a pensioner who receives 79 Euros per month  to pay a monthly electricity bill of 89 Euros.

“We are witnessing how the refrigerator overcame TV,” said political scientist and analyst, Arman Bamikian, referring to the fact that television bombards people with the macroeconomic achievements of the government on a daily basis, while at the same time the standard of living is low and fridges are empty.”

Hunger cannot be fooled. Obviously, then, the point where civil unrest is almost assured is the point where basic needs are threatened: electricity, water, food.

The example of Bulgaria shows us that it is not just the austerity policy that is ineffective. Apparently, so is the uncontrolled privatisation of everything. And especially that of basic utilities, such as water and electricity.

Neoliberalism threatens to smother every last bit of common sense left, and make us forget a basic fact. Water and electricity are NOT luxury goods, the distribution of which can be determined by profit.

Unless, of course, we have decided that in the name of “economic growth” the majority of the population must resort to using oil lamps (assuming oil is affordable) and wells (assuming that people are still allowed to dig).

And why not indeed? According to the Greek Minister of Finance, Mr. Stournaras, the recent equation of prices of heating oil with that of diesel was deemed successful. For just a moderate increase in tax revenues, many oil distributors went out of business (since heating oil consumption went down by 70%), smog covers the air of Athens at night from stoves and fireplaces and millions of Greeks went cold.

Fatalities due to use of coal heaters and wood stoves by people without any prior experience are not uncommon.

The macroeconomic picture of our neighboring country is excellent. The IMF is happy with the compliance of the Bulgarian government. Daily reality, however, is completely different. In Greece, although a similar course has been plotted, no one will admit what lies behind the promises of ‘growth’, simply because misery does not appear in the statistics which interest the Troika.

The government of Bulgaria resigned in the face of widespread public protests. Not only that, but their Prime Minister made the following statement regarding police beating of protesters: “Every drop of blood for us is a stain. I can’t look at a Parliament surrounded by barricades, that’s not our goal, neither our approach, if we have to protect ourselves from the people.”

Of course, this statement was made for the sake of keeping up a pretense of decency. But it was made, nonetheless. That is much more than what could be said about the Greek Prime Ministers of the past three years of crisis and escalating police violence. And the Greek Parliament has repeatedly been surrounded by barricades and even, on occasion, by the military.

The Bulgarian minister of finance was forced to resign after the first public demonstrations. And when this proved ineffective, the entire government resigned. In Greece, unreasonable and unpopular fiscal measures are a daily reality. Anger is simmering, but nothing yet stirs. And thus, Greek politicians have nothing to worry about.

It seems that in Bulgaria, where people call their own politicians “mafia”, there is still a little dignity among the “mobsters”.

 

Intermission #18

Nick Cave sings/recites about the modern Greek tragedy.

In Athens all the youths are crying from the gas [...] and in the cradle of democracy the pigeons are wearing gas masks [...] we are, I say, mostly lost.

The face of tragedy: Connecticut shooting survivors

Personal life has a way of sneaking up on you. Often in unpleasant ways. Still, upon reading the news on the latest shooting that took place in the US, I felt that I had to write a few lines.

A few lines should be enough. There is little to say when a 20-year old man walks into his mother’s class and kills her and (at least) 25 other people, including 20 children. There is little to think. The very idea is mind-numbing.

So I won’t dwell so much on the tragic event itself, but rather on what it means. What it should tell us.

Tragedies of this kind are not just freak occurrences. Naturally, they will try yet again to blame videogames for this. After all, a young man of 20 years is a prime candidate for the homicidal gamer archetype which the yellowish side of the Press loves to sell whenever it can.

They will also try to blame lack of religious instruction in American schools. You see, God raises a mighty hand and stops bullets in places where His word is taught. Right?

Easy “solutions” are easy to sell and easy to swallow. No videogame ever, no matter how violent, can push a boy to murder little children, let alone his own mother. No religion has managed after thousands of years to end violence. Most of them actually encouraged it with great zeal.

Not even gun laws can be truly blamed. Of course, more restrictions in the sale of firearms would have made such incidents less common, but the gun itself is not responsible for the will that pulls the trigger. And if we truly wish to put an end to senseless violence, we should look for the root cause, and not just trim the branches.

No, there is no easy way out of this one. A mass shooting is always a sign of an ailing mind. And ailing minds is exactly what our wonderfully “advanced” society is mass producing.

Think of what we are being subjected to from our moment of birth, till the moment that we are pushed into the world as “fully functioning” members of society. If the world we witness every day is enough to seriously trouble a mostly sane mind, think of what it does to those that are troubled by nature.

So do not look for your answers and scapegoats in games, gods or guns. Look around you instead and consider what could help ease a troubled mind and what would help push it overboard. You will find that the scale tips decisively on the negative.

And that is what we have to fix.

Intermission #17

My interview on RFI (Radio France International) by Mr. William Niba, concerning the recent acquittal of Mr. Vaxevanis, freedom of the Press in Greece and the Lagarde list affair. The press abroad is starting to realize exactly how serious the issue of freedom of the Press has become in Greece.
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