pavlos hatzopoulos on Tue, 14 Feb 2012 09:46:47 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> An absolute refusal? Notes on the 12 February demonstration in Athens

published at

1. The 12th February demonstration in Athens, consolidated, what is
becoming clearer in the past weeks: a growing majority of the Greek
people support the refusal of the memorandum no.2 no matter what.
In spite of the fear mongering spread by the pro-memorandum forces
that a negative parliamentary vote would entail an immediate euro
exit and the ensuing Africanisation of Greece, the popular support
for the new EU-ECB-IMF loans and the correlated austerity measures
is waning significantly. The formal political debate is increasingly
based on a politics of fear: the government's and mainstream media's
principal argumentation is stripped, on the one hand, to the bare
threat of what a disorderly Greek bankruptcy would entail -invoking
often assumed similarities with Greece's plight during the World
War II occupation by German and Italian troops- with basic food and
medicine shortages and a lack of basic public amenities like gas,
heating, electricity; on the other hand even mainstream media cannot
but be critical vis-?-vis the most dismantling provisions of the
memorandum no.2 for any sign of consensual legitimacy, such as the
automatic decrease by 22% of minimum wages, the content and scope
of collective bargaining and so on, insisting however ?in the final
analysis? that the dilemma posed leaves only one choice.

In the current conditions, the growing impoverishment of the wider
population and the collapse of state welfare structures makes this
line of argumentation less and less effective. In the everyday lived
experience of the wider population the spectre of destitution and the
destruction of universal public services and amenities is embodied as
a direct result of the austerity policies. The massive refusal of the
memorandum no.2 tends thus to becoming absolute: it is consolidated
beyond and besides any types of rationalisations of existing or future
formal policies and calls for new beginnings that the government and
financial interests can articulate. In the coming critical period, the
site of openness in the political sphere relates to the struggles over
what forms this absolute refusal might take and what type of political
actions can be constructed around it.

The social composition of the massive absolute refusal of
the memorandum no. 2 crosses existing societal divisions and
categorisations and reflects its informal and fluid character. The
demonstrations in Greece include more and more actors with different
social backgrounds, different political aspirations, and different
desires for mostly non-representable futures. Apart from the material
outcomes that successive austerity plans produce, mainly the violent
downgrading of large parts of the late middle class, a strife against
injustice is drowning by numbers the whole society regardless previous
political affiliations. In addition, demonstrations in Greece more
and more seem to escalate, precisely when they are less organised
and when they are not called by formal political organisations.
Although, a 3 day call for action (February 10 to 12) was set against
the parliamentary vote of the memorandum no.2, during the first two
days that coincided with a 48 hour strike supported by all the trade
unions, the turnout was unexpectedly low, the protests pursued the
usual tactic of marching towards the parliament grouped largely in
political blocs and ended relatively quickly. On Sunday, February
12, when there was no strike, no precise formal call for action and
no foreseen march itinerary at all the participation in the protest
became unprecedented. Everyone just knew that from afternoon onwards
people should go to Syntagma square, outside the Parliament. Most of
the participants just walked from different parts of the city joining
the demonstrations in small groups of friends, at random with people
they met on their way to Syntagma, in neighbourhood associations,
in neighbourhood assemblies that have been formed the past 6 months
throughout Greece. There was no starting point of the ?demonstration?,
but only destination. People were trying to reach Syntagma many hours
after the demonstration was supposed to have started, most were
intermittently leaving the tear-gased areas to catch their breath and
returning after a while. Even some political groups that managed to
form a few blocs of demonstrators near the parliament dissolved soon
after the first rounds of teargas were fired by the police as early as

The only political group that retained its cohesive character and
tactics during the course of February 12 was the Greek Communist Party
(KKE), whose activists remained largely outside of the geographical
scope of the demonstration, on the outskirts of central Athens trying
to avoid any mingling with the rest.

3. The police tactics during the 12th February demonstration, were
primarily aiming to deface the mediamatic image of this consolidated
mass refusal of the memorandum no. 2 by evacuating the square ?by
any means necessary?. It was as if the whole crackdown of the
demonstration unfolded around interrupting a panoramic visual
representation of the mass of demonstrators and of course avoid
any unpredicted shortcomings that could hinder the parliamentary
procedure. Therefore, the principal concern of the Greek police was
to prevent the demonstrators from gathering in one unified body of
people tear-gassing massively all areas around Syntagma square, even
before the beginning of the protest. As a result of this tactic, a
large -quite possibly the largest- number of demonstrators never
managed to reach Syntagma square and wandered around side streets,
engaging in street battles against the police or trying to avoid them.
This prevention of the emergence of a centralised mediamatic image
depicting the mass refusal of the memorandum no.2 was quasi-celebrated
by mainstream media and the government precisely as it enabled them to
avoid to visually represent, address, or respond to the mass character
of the demonstration. At the same time, however, it expressed their
apprehension: the realisation that their usual formal reaction to
these types of political conditions is becoming null, that they can no
longer appeal to a supposed silent majority supporting them and so on.

The widespread rioting during the night of 12th February was also
a result of this police tactic. The difficulties faced by police
forces in dispersing the demonstrators as far away as possible from
Syntagma square, when their primary desire was to return there every
time they were pushed back. The dispersion of rioting in the wider
city centre of Athens in the 12th of February is also related to the
radicalisation of wider groups of demonstrators and the unexpected
participation of certain social groups experienced in street battles
against the police. In an unprecedented action, for instance, the
principal football fan clubs in Greece, along with youngsters from
other clubs, joined the 12th February demonstrations in a united
fashion, setting aside club differences.

4. Through the absolute refusal of the memorandum no.2, an impossible
situation is emerging for formal Greek parliamentary politics,
particularly for governmental politics. The formal political solution:
parliamentary elections cannot be easily pursued by the government
coalition, even if the conservative partner in the coalition (Nea
Dimokratia) insists on asking elections ?just after the state of
emergency? is overcome. This because the result of these elections
will probably make it impossible to put in place a pro-memorandum
government, regardless of what type of electoral system will be
chosen. The movement of absolute refusal will tend, in this way, to
push Greek formal politics to or even beyond their limit.

This movement of absolute refusal is emerging out of the exceptional
material circumstances of crisis contagion and catastrophe. But
the most fearful for parliamentary politics development-factor
that emerges as a mute ? therefore unpredictable ? monster is that
catastrophe can be pursued, produced and imposed by a frenzy multitude
that feels it has nothing to lose apart from the joy of destruction.
Although, similarities and connections to the December 2008 revolt
might seem evident, there is no necessarily linear or evolutionary
process that connects the two, apart from the cumulative experience
that has moved everyone a step towards radicalisation in thought and
in practice. It is true that this growing radicalisation of more and
more larger segments of Greek society hasn't produced in these past
3 years any permanent democratic structures for organising or for
articulating political struggles. The critical political question,
however, might not necessarily be how to create these structures
in the Greek context, but how to immediately transpose them in
their fitting European setting, to think on how will this movement
spread like contagion from one country to the next, from one urban
context to another. In other words, how this absolute refusal will be
internationalised in a continent that already lives its future through
the lenses of a fist of experimental animals.

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