There is also an extremely vibrant culture of social discourse here. The cafes and tavernas are on fire with heated debate about politics and economics today. Cable television and internet aggregator sites do not frame debate here â€“ an informed and outraged citizenry is arguing with itself as we speak, pitting youth against parent, friend against friend, social class against class, native against outsider (hey, thatâ€™s me!), and all against all, to some degree.
Formal politics is not limited to a two party framework either. While the Socialist and New Democracy parties dominate formal political power (more on them later), there are many other parties with significant constituencies, from National Front-types on the extreme right that are fascists (immigrant haters for starters), to the more genuine leftists of the Communist Party (KKE) and Syriza, a union of leftist groups. There is also a rising Green Party faction. But in these days of rage, formal politics is not where the action is, as that is the realm of accommodation to the demands of international capital and the IMF (International Monetary Fund), namely in the form of George Papandreou and the Socialist Party.
One of the most dynamic political groups in Greece is decidedly non-formal, however â€“ the street protesters than unite under the banner of anarchism. This includes a wide range of people, especially the disaffected youth of Greece, who actively critique their society and the forces of corporate globalization. They understand what IMF â€œstructural adjustmentsâ€ mean and are horrified to see the IMF active in their own country.
They regularly convene meetings to discuss what is to be done, and their direct action orientation gets right in the face of the Greek people and their occupying armies (the police and the forces of international finance). While all favor direct action, some groups engage in more aggressive and violent actions, their wardrobe of choice being the black hooded sweatshirts.
Everybody across the world has seen pictures and footage of Papandreou scurrying from capital to capital, with tin cup in hand. Even non-engaged US students have heard of the famous â€œBailout of Greece.â€ While â€˜bailoutâ€ is a misnomer at best, weâ€™ll leave that for the next post. The issue at hand is political action, and itâ€™s going on in spades in Greece as this is written. The biggest issue locally is the most recent general strike, which shut down the country last Tuesday and Wednesday (May 4 & 5, 2010), and hampered your humble observerâ€™s flight plans.
This general strike was called in the wake of the extremely aggressive structural adjustments forced on Greece by central European bankers and the IMF in exchange for loans to cover Greece sovereign bond debt coming immediately due. The strike wave captured the attention of the global community, especially in light of the burning of a bank by street protesters, and the resulting three deaths associated with the incident.
Everyone in touch has heard that the black-clad anarchists lit the bank on fire. What is not generally known across the world is the role played by the larger group of protesters. After the bank had been lit on fire, the three victims (among others) had come out on a balcony calling for help. They were met with an angry mob shouting â€œburn them, burn them.â€ And thatâ€™s exactly what happened.
This no doubt will horrify people in the US, who are so afraid of social disorder that they overwhelmingly favored the tazing of a youth who recently ran on the field during a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game. However, in Greece the response has been far from unified. Of course, the law and order types want the culprits strung up, and theyâ€™d do the same to the lot of them if they could, guilty or not. This constitutes a minority, though the police have been using this as a pretext to bust up the anarchistsâ€™ squats in the Exarchia Square area.
Many more are upset with the violence, but are not calling for the protestersâ€™ heads, and are prepared to continue with the general strike strategy (the next one is called for Thursday, May 20, 2010). Here the sentiment is for the protesters to rein in their more radical elements, since they distract from the very important tasks at hand. Others see the three as unfortunate collateral damage, with much of the responsibility borne by the bank owners, who wouldnâ€™t let them strike like the rest of Athens, and essentially locked them in at the bank. This is one topic thatâ€™s pitting friend against friend, etc.
The national slogan of Greece, â€œWe Shall See,â€ is most appropriate here. The historical patterns of violence and the Greek state must be considered to make sense of the situation. For example, Greeks actively tolerate aggressive youth actions in public in part due to the roles played by such youth in ending the fascist dictatorship in Greece in 1974, among other reasons. A future essay with address these very issues.
This is the latest dispatch from our correspondent on the scene. Click here for his initial essay.