Skip navigation

Tag Archives: democracy

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

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

“”It is well enough that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system for, if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”
-Henry Ford

This quote, attributed to Ford by Charles Binderup, reveals the most fundamental fact of life in the modern world. That it is governed by an economic system that is in no way fair to all parties involved. In fact, it is actually exploiting the majority of the population for the benefit of the few.

That, of course, has been the state of human affairs for most of our known history. However, it was thought that the abolition of monarchy and oligarchy in most modern states of the world, and the gradual adoption of democracy during the previous two centuries, would result in the diminishing of social and financial inequalities.

The struggle for human rights during the 20th century, particularly in its second half, made great progress on every level. Working conditions improved, gender and race discrimination was considerably reduced, freedom of expression and speech was solidified and the future seemed brighter. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, everyone in the developed world believed that we were heading towards a new, more enlightened age of peace and growth.

As we now know, that was very far from the truth. The truth is that while the economy has been globalized to an unprecedented extent, a number of political, legal, national, cultural and religious boundaries and differences have made a comparable progress impossible on an administrative level.

Take the EU for example. The monetary union was achieved before any kind of meaningful consensus could be reached on how the European Union could ever become a single entity politically, socially and, to an extent, culturally.

And since, as we all know, money makes the world go round, there are people and corporations now with the means of small countries who can move freely on a financial level with very little control.

Think of it this way: if the people play the role of a King, then banks, corporations and the rich are the barons. And these barons can now act as they please without really being accountable to the Crown. Because the King depends on them to keep his treasury running and because he has no effective way to control them.

If a King has no real power, then we are no longer talking about a monarchy. And if the “King” is actually the people and the people have no real power, then we are no longer talking about a democracy.

The dawn of the 21st century brought with it the promise of growth, equal opportunities for all, and a wealth of goods and services, all courtesy of the “free market”. Unfortunately, these hopes were quickly dashed by the spectre of a financial crisis with no apparent end.

In fact there is no crisis. Or rather, there would be no crisis if the global financial system was equipped with the proper safeguards against fraud, misuse and exploitation. Or, quite simply, if it was fair and sustainable. But that would entail more governmental control and that term alone is enough to send any economic liberalist screaming.

Because the “free market can regulate itself”. Only that it can’t. It is like thinking that you can put two death row prisoners in a cage to fight for their lives and expect them to play fair. They won’t. They will use any trick in their disposal to beat their opposition, no matter the cost.

Likewise, a corporation will do anything it can get away with in order to increase its advantage over the competition. If its customers or employees are hurt in the process, it’s fine as long as it is never proven or detected. Substandard equipment, processes and materials, abominable working conditions and practices, legal loopholes and tricks, literally anything will be employed in the fight.

Not all of them do it, but when most “players” do, then their competitive advantage either drives the rest out of business or into the same game.

Banks are no exception to this rule. Once considered one of the main structural pillars of any economy, they now operate solely and openly for their own profit, with any thought of promoting sustainable growth taking a back seat or getting kicked out of the car altogether.

If a prosperous country like Iceland can be effectively ruined financially by its own banks, then one easily understands how this could happen to any country in the world. All this happened with the government and the central bank of Iceland turning a blind eye to the incredibly irresponsible dealings of a handful of people.

Nevertheless, the first order of the day was not to arrest the persons responsible, but to hand the bill to the people of Iceland, as if they were somehow accountable for this mess.

The exact same thing is happening in most countries of the developed world right now. The people are asked to take the brunt of the cost for gross mismanagement on the part of bankers and corrupt politicians, even from other countries, all in the name of avoiding the deepening of a crisis which, by all accounts, is a bottomless pit.

The crisis will never end because we are trying to treat the symptoms, while the root causes remain unaddressed. The majority of people will see their incomes steadily decreasing, there will be steadily fewer and fewer jobs; work rights, which have been paid for in blood, will vanish.

This has been happening for two and a half years in Greece and in the poorer countries of Europe. Greece is on the verge of total collapse, socially and financially, the neo-Nazi party is on a meteoric rise and the troika is still demanding for more cuts and “reforms” which will be nothing short of disastrous.

But it will not end with Greece.

This system which kicks people out of their homes, jobs and deprives them of a future, which sends young people abroad as immigrants and which has replaced constitutional rights with violently enforced austerity measures will spread. Once the people of Greece and the other “PIGS” countries have been forced to work for wages comparable to those of China or starve, where do you think that most major corporations in Europe will move their manufacturing to?

And what will happen to their own workforce at home?

Fascism now wears a respectable face, a suit and carries a tablet. You may call it “austerity”, “reform”, “free market”, “economic rationalization” or however else you wish. I call it Finanscism.

 The contempt of the powers-that-be towards the average citizen and their perceived intelligence becomes increasingly obvious today from the quality of the excuses which they use to justify war.

Once upon a time, on the eve of World War II, Nazi Germany elaborately staged an attack by Polish forces on a German radio station close to the border with Poland. SS troops dressed up in Polish uniforms attacked the station and transmitted a short anti-German message in Polish.

They even dragged along a prisoner, also dressed in a Polish army uniform, to shoot so that they would have some hard evidence to present to the Press. This was the culmination of a campaign of similar events, 21 in total, which led to the supposedly defensive invasion of Poland by the Nazis.

65 years later, only the vague accusation from the US and Britain about the possession of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq was enough to start an invasion whose death toll is still counting, and will continue to do so for years to come.

Now, the shelling of a Turkish village close to the border with Syria by a position within Syria is apparently enough to trigger an armed response from Turkey, which could very quickly escalate to a large scale conflict in the Middle East and beyond.

The innocent victims “were struck by a mortar round fired from inside Syria and thought to be aimed from the military base at the Tal al-Abyad border post, which fell into Syrian rebel hands last month.” The response from the Pentagon was the following: “This is yet another example of the depraved behaviour of the Syrian regime, and why it must go. We regret the loss of life in Turkey, a strong ally.”

It is remarkable how quickly the US and Turkey became strong allies again, since in this particular case the Turkish government’s expansionist policy serves US interests in the region.

Reports at this point are inconsistent. Even within the same article it is unclear whether the mortar shell was fired against or from a rebel occupied border post. This whole incident brings to mind the shellings of Muslim graveyards during the Bosnian War, which often originated from friendly positions.

Even supposing that this attack actually came from the Syrian Army, to claim that it was not accidental defies all reason. What could the Syrian government possibly stand to gain from shelling a small village and killing innocent people? When faced with an 18-month insurrection in your country the last thing you wish to do is to anger your neighbours and drag them into it on the side of the rebels.

Need I remind my readers of the countless reports and incidents, some of them even recorded on video, of US army attacks (accidental or targeted) against unarmed civilians and journalists, embassies, hospitals, even school buses?

I am not in any way a supporter of totalitarian regimes, such as that of Bashar al-Assad. However, most countries in the Middle East are not democracies. It becomes interesting, then, to note which countries are picked by the West as targets for subversion and, most importantly, why.

In the case of Syria, the most likely reason would be that it is merely the doorstep to Iran, the next target in line for “liberation”. It should be clear by now that this kind of intervention does not and will not result in a transition to a stable, democratic state. It failed in Afghanistan, it failed in Iraq and, so far, it doesn’t seem to be succeeding in Libya either.

It is almost certain that Syria will not be any different, but that is irrelevant to the decision makers. They do not care about democracy, because if they did they would try to reinforce it in their respective countries, instead of attempting to enforce it in the ruins of “liberated” regions.

It is a sure sign of arrogance and hypocrisy when the West is professing to teach the East democratic values which it no longer respects, and preaches peace while it constantly breeds war.

People in most of these countries are not ready for democracy of the “instant” type. People in the developed world have grown complacent in the “fast food” democracy of their own. We all have to fight for true democracy, but (hopefully) not with weapons and not as invaders in foreign lands. It seems, though, that any attempt at reason is going to be drowned once again by the sound of bombs dropping and the televised green flares of missile launches as the “fight for freedom” show will go on.

Intermission #15

WAR

What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing.

This is a world steeped in lies. Lies permeate every aspect of human life, from the moment they become self-aware (what a lovely child!) to the moment of their death. Even then, if they could, they would still hear lies uttered above their coffin (he was such a good man…).

There are lies and then there are lies. Some are spoken out of courtesy, some out of selfishness. And some, the worst kind, are used with malicious intent. These lies are like pests thriving on the soil prepared by the other, more “innocent” kinds.

Small, white lies are the ones that cannot be realistically avoided, at least if we care to live as harmoniously as possible in the company of others. Selfish lies stem out of our inability to admit the truth, especially to ourselves, and are very hard to avoid. Even though they harm us and everyone around us much more than we realize.

Those selfish lies are the ones which better condition us, so that we can accept the big lies, the ones that become an art and a profession in their own right.

The greatest liars of all, without doubt, are the politicians. They do not simply lie the most, but also speak the worst and most dangerous lies. Lies that start wars, that convince the people to vote for them, even against their own interests. Lies which grant them power.

The grandest liar of all time was the one whose most important contribution to modern civilization was the use of misinformation on a massive scale: propaganda. Adolf Hitler managed to lead an entire people, well-known for being level-headed and practical, into believing the most outrageous things.

He persuaded the Germans that they were racially superior to the rest of humanity, that the ones responsible for Germany’s inevitable deterioration after their defeat in WWI were in fact the Jews and that the destiny of the German people was to dominate the world.

All this with the help of the full resources of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, at the head of which was the infamous Joseph Goebbels. Today, this role is played by the mass media.

The media achieve this goal not only by what is said by anchormen and written by journalists, but also what is implied and by what is never mentioned at all. Gradually, methodically they can convince people about almost anything. If it were not for the effect of the media, the masks of the politicians would crumble in an instant.

Let us take Greece in particular. I am often asked by foreign friends (and thinking Greeks wonder themselves) how it is possible for our politicians to lie so outrageously to our faces and yet manage to still be taken seriously? It is all a trick of the media. For years they’ve been going back and forth between the two major parties, gauging public opinion in order to strike at the most unpopular of the two at any given time.

The less unpopular party is given a reprieve, while the scandals of the other (usually the ruling one) were given plenty of air time, without ever leading to real investigations. Eventually the older scandals would be overshadowed by the new, and the previous party would slowly be promoted by denouncing the corruption of their opponents.

Even before the media reigned, however, the Greek people seemed eager to trust in a “saviour”. Thus, the “socialist” PASOK party won the 1981 elections by a great margin, using “EU and NATO are the same syndicate” as its central slogan. And also “out with the bases of death” referring to the US military bases in Greek territory.

31 years later, our politicians speak of the possibility of Greece outside of the EU as a terrible eventuality and leaving NATO was never even remotely considered. Any reduction of the number of US military bases in Greece came solely as a result of the need of the Pentagon to cut its costs.

Whether leaving these international organizations would actually benefit Greece is beside the point here. The point is that these claims were proven false, but this did not stop PASOK from being reelected in 1985. In other words, Greeks swallowed the lie without thinking. And that was not the end of it. Lies form a chain, one link at a time, with each lie supporting the next one in line. And we bound ourselves tightly with this chain until any hope of escape seemed impossible.

This chain of lies led us to the execution of one of the greatest international cons of all time. Greece, with the “kind” help of Goldman-Sachs, managed to fool the entire European Union into accepting us into the Euro zone in 2001.

This gargantuan lie could have been turned to the benefit of Greece; it could have become a white lie.  If our governments truly strove to restructure our economy gradually and put European funds and subsidies to good use by promoting growth. If they truly had the better interests of our country in mind.

Any such illusions had been dispelled two years earlier, when the Greek Stock Exchange bubble burst violently, marking the end of the false prosperity of the ‘80s and ‘90s. The total lack of state control as to the actual assets of companies entering the market, combined with the shameless advertizing of the Greek Stock Exchange by government officials, including the Prime Minister himself, led to a catastrophic free fall.

Market analysts looking at the big picture would tell you that the financial disaster was not so serious, however this event initiated a great redistribution of wealth in Greece, which continues to this day. Those Greeks who didn’t lose their life savings in the Stock Exchange certainly know someone who did.

The chain of lies continued with the Olympic Games of 2004 in Athens. Besides the obvious fact that the modern Games have become an impressive show for the benefit of multinational corporations and TV consumption, the Greek government used them as an excuse to indulge in an orgy of overspending. It is painfully obvious today that the billions of Euros which went into the Olympic Games of 2004 (and into various bank accounts) were money we could not afford to spend.

Most of the public infrastructure which was marketed as the legacy of the Olympic Games for the Greek people (such as freeways and the Athens Metro) was planned years before our bid for the Olympics was accepted. The lucrative delays were cut short so that everything would be ready in the nick of time and at several times the normal cost.

The two major parties alternated in the government, but their promises were never kept. Perhaps the low-point in these 30 years of history was the infamous slogan “Lefta iparhoun” (there are enough money) of our former Prime Minister, George Papandreou, together with his firm declaration that we did not need the help of the IMF.

By blindly accepting their lies at face value for an entire generation, we have nurtured our politicians’ arrogance to the point that some have openly admitted the obvious: that their promises before the elections should not be taken seriously. And despite everything, we keep on voting for them, ensuring that the chain of lies which binds us will eventually strangle us and keep our children bound for ever.

The shadow play has become so obvious that not even the pretenses are kept anymore. Lies which would be forgotten in the span of a full 4-year government term are now exposed within months, weeks or even days!

The new leader of PASOK, Evangelos Venizelos declared on June 2011 that the electric utility bills could not possibly be used as a means of tax collection, because electricity is a “social good”. A mere three months later, it ceased being so.

The leader of the “opposition” (now that’s a lie if I’ve ever heard one!) a few weeks before forcing all the members of Parliament of his party to approve the new memorandum agreement, had accused it of being “catastrophic”. One of his party’s newest acquisitions from the extreme right party of LAOS, Adonis Georgiadis, just one day before the CDS were triggered claimed that this would not happen “if the PSI was successful”. Which it was. Or so they tell us.

The lies of our politicians have now a minimal “half-life”, like unstable nuclear isotopes which vanish within minutes and are forgotten. But the damage that they cause remains. And there is very little time left to undo it. Perhaps none at all.

A Greek woman during an interview to BBC a few months ago described the Greek debt crisis using a very simple, yet extremely lucid metaphor. She likened our politicians to an abusive husband, who cheated on his wife and abandoned her with a huge debt to her name.

I partly agree. Our “husband” has not abandoned us, but keeps on lying to us incessantly, he abuses us and forces us on his creditors to pay his debts. And he keeps us “in line” by persuading us that only he can keep the banks from taking our house and that we are also to blame for not keeping our home’s finances in order.

Indeed, we are to blame because we kept believing him for 30 years and didn’t kick him out of our home, as we should have done. We are even more to blame now, because even though we’ve finally realized the truth, we are still too afraid and ashamed to kick him out. Much like an abused woman.

How can we blame women like that for being weak and not taking control of their lives, while we as a nation react in pretty much the same manner?

Isn’t it time to put an end to the lies?

Intermission #7

Cover versions which are equal to or even better than the original version of a song are rare. Especially so for translated songs. Greek composer and singer Dionysis Savvopoulos translated and covered Bob Dylan’s “Wicked Messenger” in his album “Vromiko psomi” (Dirty bread) in 1972 under the title “Angelos Exangelos”.  In my opinion, his translation added a lot to the original and the arrangement is also remarkable. This is an attempt at re-translation of his lyrics:

A messenger, a crier, he came from afar,

leaning on a crutch so battered,

he did not know how to speak at all,

for his tongue it could not speak, but only flatter.

 _

The news that he brought us, they were all a lie,

yet sounded pleasing to our ears,

for his every falsehood sounded like a truth

and so freed our souls from all our fears.

 _

He made his bed behind the agora,

and spent his time jesting in the tavern,

he wandered jovially in barbeshops and baths,

and idly gazed at fish inside the cistern.

 _

The winter passed, and summer came

and then again came another winter,

until one night, what came over him,

he started yelling in a wild temper.

 _

The soles of my feet, I feel their burns,

in this wilderness where night alternates with night,

the news I brought may have pleased your ears,

but are a far cry from being right.

 _

We knew at once what he was saying,

and numbly bid him go away.

If ye have no good news to give

then don’t give any.