“It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right…”
– Henry David Thoreau
By Mattheos Tsimitakis
from the May Day International initiative
In an article published in the Wall Street Journal, Takis Mihas, a right-wing politician and columnist, pointed out that Greece’s main problem is not of economic nature, but a problem of Governance: “Greece is slowly becoming a society where ‘low-intensity conflict’ dominates, the legal order is breaking down and appeals to universal values become meaningless” the story goes, for Mihas. He is not unprecedented. The myth has been constructed for years now, by conservative analysts in the established media, in order to justify the capitalist attack on the European social contract and its domestic instantiations. The old recipe of divide and rule is again in action.
The resistance activities that express the growing discontent of the Greek people are linked exclusively with the left political opposition and are utilized to promote the myth. In this narrative, left parties, movements and trade unions are “extremists defending and covering harassment against citizens, damage to public property, the taking over of whole villages”. These miscreants are even responsible for the tragic death of three employees during a demonstration organized by the Greek TUC in May last year by a fire caused by a petrol bomb. In short, the Left is accused for the breakdown of law and order and the spread of ‘anomie’ in the country. Political honesty, truth and reasoned interpretation of facts are the inevitable victims of this travesty.
Mihas’s basic point is true however. Greece suffers a governance crisis. It was caused by the economic crisis which has ignited a broad movement of civil disobedience. What follows is a record of the main resistance actions and initiatives, the reasons leading to them and the methods employed.
The village of Keratea is a conservative and peaceful place, about an hour’s drive from Athens. When, a few months ago, the central government decided without consultation to create a garbage landfill destroying antiquities, polluting the environment and defying the European Commission’s rejection of the plan as unsustainable, Keratea erupted into violent confrontation with the police.
For the last 25 years, the two ruling parties tried to find a solution for the problem of Athens’s refuse. Every time they came up with a plan, one of their politicians, counting the political cost of the proposed solution, would do everything in his power to remove the landfill plan from his constituency. A few calls to friends in government would suffice to scupper the plan. The people of Keratea agreed to discuss the landfill. They argued however that the technology to be used was outdated and it would lead to serious damage to the environment. The government was not prepared to talk. It insisted in carrying out the unsustainable plan, which had been offered (once again) to a corporation that belongs to the establishment and has received major governmental contracts in the past. After 25 years of lies and corruption, the local movement of civic disobedience demands transparency and democratic decision-making. The citizens of conservative Keratea took to the streets, irrespective of political affiliations, age, ethnicity or gender. Only last week and after weeks of confrontation the government accepted defeat, removed the riot police and started negotiating with the citizens.
The Keratea resistance is part of a series of low or higher intensity confrontations with the government, its preferred contractors and the repressive apparatus of state brought in to protect the corporations. Such local movements have spread all over the country for some time, defending public spaces against privatization (this has happened repeatedly in Athens where the last remaining green spots are consistently given over to construction companies), natural resources (the Canadian gold mining corporation TVX is facing a strong resistance movement in the North of the country), or protesting against the repeated corruption scandals.
Reason and respect for the social contract is the aim of the other major civil disobedience movement, “den plirono” (‘I’m not paying’, or ‘cant pay wont pay’) which raises the toll booth bars and passes through without paying the extortionate tolls. The government raised the tolls for using national highways more than 100% in recent years. It is now cheaper to fly from Athens to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second biggest city, than to drive there. And it is also safer. Despite the continuous repairs that line the pockets of big companies, the Greek highways are still the most dangerous in Europe. People are even asked to pay now for works that will take place at some time point in the future – not just for those that have already been paid. In short, capitalism in a time of severe crisis is increasingly turning to public money for profits! Increasingly however people all over the country don’t find this extreme exploitation acceptable. Local committees are formed on a daily basis, following the same platform, organizing their resistance online and rearticulating action according to local needs. The movement now is spreading to big cities where people refuse to pay tickets for public transportation, after fares went up by 40% at the beginning of 2011. And it’s not just the civic movements. The detained prisoners in Greek prisons, went through the biggest hunger strike ever recorded in Europe during the Autumn of 2008 demanding humanitarian conditions and are still active. And the 300 immigrants that went on a hunger strike just a couple of months ago, managed to cancel the anti-immigration policy that condemned people in fear and a life at the margins of society.
Anomie, discontent and the right to civil disobedience
In a TV debate of political party leaders during the November 2009 national elections campaign, Alexis Tsipras, the president of the Coalition of the Radical Left, a parliamentary party of the Left, questioned the then prime minister Costas Karamanlis about the continuous scandals which have rocked the political life of Greece in the last decade. “Would you consider what is lawful in our country to be morally right too?” he asked. It was a rhetorical question. Every Greek knows that their rulers are corrupt and democracy has been seriously undermined. Since the 1990s, there hasn’t been a single government that hasn’t been justifiably accused of corruption and of favouring the interests of big domestic or foreign (mainly German, by some weird coincidence) capital. But it’s even worse. Although in most cases sufficient evidence has been presented, not a single politician of the two ruling parties which have dominated politics for 35 years has ever been held accountable for his/her actions.
On the other hand, statistics shows that increasing numbers of working Greeks are pushed to the margins, below the poverty line and struggling for survival. This has coincided with a rapid rise in violence against children, women and immigrants. Suicide rates have suddenly doubled. Fascist and racist attacks on immigrants and asylum seekers have multiplied in the traditionally democratic Greek society.
Rage, against the anomie of the rulers, was the message of the insurrection of December 2008 in Athens and all main Greek cities. Rage, against corruption, nepotism and the disrespect for basic, democratic principles. It was lowered when the Socialists gained power with a promise to restore the economy, preserve the welfare state, invest in employment and avoid by all means the intervention of the IMF. Right after the election of Dr Jekill Papandreou, he became Mr Hyde Papandreou and started doing exactly the opposite. IMF officials’ statements show that that the Socialists knew all along and were simply lying to win the election.
The nature of power is well known to Greeks. Capitalists and corrupted politicians are in close alliance as Nikos Poulantzas has shown. Greece is going through what Gramsci called a long organic crisis of capitalism. It is expressed at all levels and provides the opportunity for the articulation of various types of resistances. Every small victory of the movement leads to the increase of class-consciousness at a broader level. Governmental anomie and corruption are becoming the platform for the development of a political alternative. Whether successful or not, this is something that goes well beyond Greece, to Europe and the popular movement in its countries. The Icelandic “NO” to the recent referendum, the Irish opposition to the imposed measures, the Portuguese youth movement and the awakening of the British working class are signs of hope in a continent under neoliberal attack. European resistance is not only possible, but absolutely necessary.
Read also: Anomie: On civil and democratic dissobedience by Costas Douzinas
*Matthaios Tsimitakis is a freelance journalist and one of the editors of the political blog https://greekleftreview.wordpress.com