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Criminalizing Radicalism — The Bombings in Greece

via the NYT Examiner

By Costas Panayotakis:

In an article that reports on a number of bombings in Greece in recent weeks, Liz Alderman presents contrasting interpretations of these developments and what precipitated them but, in subtle ways, ends up acting as a megaphone for the dubious claims made by Greece’s ruling coalition. (i) The article provides some of the context for the bombings by pointing out that the government has in recent weeks targeted occupations of public buildings that had long been abandoned before they were taken over by young people who turned them into residences and cultural and political centers. The police raids have been carried out in the name of restoring ‘order’ and combating lawlessness, as the article mentions. What the article does not mention is that, as many of the occupations’ neighbors would attest, the occupations in question were not a source of disorder since, on the contrary, they restored buildings that were crumbling and that had been in the past loci of criminal and drug trade activity. The occupations were also centers of anti-fascist activity, fighting back against a form of violence that has already led to the death of a number of immigrants but has not attracted as much attention by the government as the recent bombings, which, as the New York Times article points out, have not produced any victims since they “seemed intended more for effect than harm.”

In this respect, the Greek government’s appeal to ‘law and order’ is a highly selective one. When it comes to murderous attacks on immigrants by sympathizers of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, the government does not show zero tolerance. For example, even though there is a provision in Greek law that makes punishments for crimes much more steep when these are racially or religiously motivated hate crimes, this provision has never been used even in cases of assaults against immigrants that led to their deaths. On the contrary, the largest party of the coalition, the Conservatives, has been flirting with the neo-Nazi agenda, using war-like metaphors to describe immigration-related problems in Greece. When cabinet ministers claim that Greece is being ‘invaded’ by immigrants, that this invasion is a greater crisis than the economic crisis that has devastated the living conditions of the vast majority of Greek citizens, and that cities need to be reconquered from immigrants and lawless elements, they are fueling the kind of scapegoating of immigrants that the neo-Nazis are thriving on. Instead of learning from the past and trying to defuse the dangerous social dynamic that can fuel fascism in times of deep economic crisis, the government in effect chooses to send the message to Greek society that Greeks are at war with immigrants, with all that this implies.

The article also quotes a representative of Syriza (Coalition of Radical Left), which is the main opposition party in Greece and whose popularity has, in recent months, grown rapidly in Greece as a result of its opposition to the austerity policies that have brought the country to its knees. According to the Syriza representative, the government’s ‘law and order’ campaign is meant as a diversion from a scandal in which pro-austerity parties in the ruling coalition failed to use a list of rich Greeks with deposits in HSBC bank in Switzerland to combat tax evasion. While the Syriza representative’s assessment is correct, it’s worth adding here that the scandal in question is yet another example of the selectiveness of the pro-austerity coalition’s law and order agenda. This agenda does not bear witness to an unconditional allegiance to the law in the abstract but is an integral part of the class war against working people and ordinary citizens that is currently being waged in Greece (and beyond). The law is sacred when legality can be used to smash any form of resistance to the ongoing project of immiserating the mass of Greek society, while the law is simply ignored when that suits the economic oligarchy in Greece that controls the pro-austerity political elites. The class dimension of this ‘law and order’ campaign also becomes revealed in the NYT article when an unnamed government official admits that the raids on occupied buildings in Athens are meant “to demonstrate that the government will be willing to move forcefully against other groups – including militant trade unions that might stand in the way of [the Greek Prime Minister’s] efforts to carry out painful economic reforms and unpopular plans to privatize state assets to meet … demands by Greece’s lenders.”

Here the real motivation behind the Greek government’s propaganda war regarding law and order becomes clear. Part of this propaganda war is to identify forces of the anti-austerity left, such as Syriza, with lawlessness and terrorism, thus resurrecting the kind of rhetoric that the right wing used in the aftermath of the Greek civil war in the 1940s. The period that followed the Greek civil war was one of unrelenting persecution of left-wing citizens and has left a deep scar on Greek society and its political culture to this day. It is, therefore, unfortunate (though not surprising) that the New York Times would play into this propaganda by entitling the article in question ‘Bomb Attacks in Greece Raise Fear of Radicalism.’ This title obviously criminalizes anyone (and that’s a big portion of the population in Greece) who thinks that fundamental changes in the structure of Greek society are necessary. It would be more accurate to say not that these attacks raise the fear of radicalism but that they are skillfully used by pro-austerity political and economic forces to discredit any radical challenge to their destructive rule.

This title also confuses the level of political goals (which is what makes someone a ‘radical’) with that of the means that one uses to achieve these goals (for example, violence). This confusion, so pervasive in mainstream media, is far from innocent because it obscures the great violence on people inflicted by the injustices of existing capitalist society, while attaching the label of violence on anyone who argues for fundamental social change. Indeed, given the fact that the current Greek government has been very tolerant of racist violence and even of police torture of anti-fascist protesters, this kind of confusion would justify an article entitled ‘Racist Violence and Police Torture in Greece Raise Fear of Conservatism.’ But (for obvious reasons) we are unlikely to see any such article in The New York Times.

 

Costas Panayotakis is Associate Professor of Sociology at the New York City College of Technology of the City University of New York and author of Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy (Pluto Press).

Notes:

(i) See Liz Alderman, ‘Bomb Attacks in Greece Raise Fear of Radicalism,’ http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/21/world/europe/bomb-attacks-in-greece-raise-fear-of-revived-radicalism.html?_r=0 .

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