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<nettime> Athens: the Refusal of the Streets
Patrice Riemens on Mon, 15 Feb 2016 16:34:15 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Athens: the Refusal of the Streets

original to:
(bwo Katalin Hausel)

An Absolute Refusal Notes On The 12 February Demonstration In Athens


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-à-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 5pm.

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.

2. 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 

3. 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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