Statement about the politics of fear by Joanna Bourke

Fear Can Be Used for Good

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The European and Greek elites have raised a crescendo of scaremongering. But the response of people to fear can be positive. In Φόβος Στιγµιότυπα από τον πολιτισµό του 19ου και του 20ού αιώνα [Σαβαλας, 2011] I observed that people in frightening situations turn time and again to one question: what does it mean to be human? Sometimes they answer by giving in and accepting their predicament. Often, however, fear spurs people to connect with others and to challenge in creative ways those who use the politics of fear to oppress them. Fear led people to fight against inequality; it led them to engage politically with social justice initiatives, feminism, eco-movements, anti-racism and LGBT struggles amongst others.

In the current Greek tragedy, the European and local elites and the IMF use fear to subdue people into submission. But fear resisted and combined with a powerful sense of hope – “there is another way “ – can become positive. It can stimulate attention, sharpen wisdom, energize activism. The rich tapestry of public and private resistances, the vistas of popular sovereignty and social justice the NO campaign is opening can inspire. There is a short step from atomised fear to collective hope. The people around the world are anxiously looking to Greece expecting that hope will put an end to the politics of fear.

Joanna Bourke, Professor of History, Fellow of the British Academy, Birkbeck College, University of London

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