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

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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

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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

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.

Who could explain to these children what the hell is going on in this country?

What does one call a national holiday without the attendance of the nation? An irrational holiday. It sounds like a bad joke and in many ways, it is.

On the 25th of March 1821 the Greek people, which had been subjugated by the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years, rose up against their oppressors and began the long fight which led to the liberation of Greece and the founding of the modern Greek state.

Every year this historical event is celebrated throughout the country with parades by pupils (on the 24th) and the army on the 25th. The streets are lined with proud parents and representatives of the civil, military and religious authorities attend the parades, make speeches and lay wreaths on monuments.

Last year on another national holiday, enraged citizens protested against the government’s corruption and destructive measures of austerity. In some cities, the parades stopped altogether and in others government officials and members of Parliament were forced to depart.

It was made clear many days ago that the government was not willing to let this happen again. The security measures taken to protect the celebrations were extreme. The police (7000 strong in Athens alone) was everywhere, 40 squads of riot police kept citizens (those without official invitations to attend) hundreds of meters away from the authorities.

The rooftops were manned by “armed observers” as the Minister of Citizen Protection called them, men of the antiterrorist squad were also deployed, and agents of the Greek Intelligence Service (EYP) were dispersed with surveillance equipment among the crowd.

All this in celebration of our independence.

Strive as I might to avoid comparing these two days with the 25th of March 1942, the first celebration of this national holiday during the Nazi occupation of Greece, I cannot deny the similarities.

Celebrating independence by invitation, under police surveillance, is much like a conqueror pretending to honour the independence of the conquered.

On the 25th of March 1942, the puppet government of Greece prohibited the citizenry from participating in the celebrations, decorated Athens with Greek flags, and made grand speeches about the “fascist and nazi revolutions” which Greek youth ought to follow, while mounted police patrolled the streets.

But the people ignored the orders and gathered to honour our heroes en masse. Despite the use of armed force, the protesters did not disperse. Eventually, the fascist authorities, Greek and non-Greek alike, were forced to retreat and let the people pay their respects.

Our current government, our non-elected puppet government of the international banks is pretending to honour independence and democracy, while blatantly ignoring the outrage of the Greek people.

Today there is no occupying army. There was no invasion, at least not with tanks and bombs. It was a covert invasion, with loans and bonds, facilitated by our own governments.

All for the good of our country.

They placed bars everywhere, distributed invitation lists to the families of policemen and the military to control the crowd surrounding the representatives of the authorities, so that they could all watch the parade in absolute peace and order.

All in honour of our national heroes of old.

I wonder, what would they do, simple, honest and unpretentious as most of them were? Would they laugh? Would they weep? I have no answer to this. Perhaps, if they saw the sorry state of “independent” Greece, they would take up arms again.

The sorry police state of Greece celebrating an irrational holiday.

Intermission #8

A group of young people chose a different way to celebrate this year’s national holiday and protest about our obvious lack of independence and democracy.