By Dimitris Dalakoglou & Antonis Alexandridis
Since early December 2016, following the Italian referendum that cancelled Renzi’s government, most newspapers and news-sites have expressed fears about the populist and anti-EU comedian Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement winning the next elections in Italy.
Simultaneously, the same progressive media seem pretty happy about the Austrian elections that took place that same weekend. In that case the victory against a right-wing populist, with neo-Nazi tendencies, was celebrated. What is striking is that even left-leaning news sources expressed their relief at what was in fact the victory of a highly neoliberal political agenda.
There are two basic problems, however, with this entire pattern of response. One, it is in principle antidemocratic. At least given the predominant definition of democracy that was promoted after the collapse of socialist states in Europe. Namely, in representative bourgeois democracy the voting majority will establish via key decision-making events (elections, referendums) their will over that of the voting minority.
Two, many of these progressive public commentators threaten us with the far-right who might rise, and indeed, who are most probably already rising. For example, Trump’s discourse is not much different from various European far-right leaders like Wilders or Le Pen. But what is often omitted is the genealogy of this rise. This is not a natural occurring phenomenon: it was constructed by decades of elitism, ideological contradictions and increasing inequalities.
Who is afraid of representative ‘democracy’?
Nevertheless, it is not only certain liberal journalists who bemoan a malfunctioning democracy. Lately, they are joined by many European politicians. Since 1972, 66 referendums have been organised in the EC/EU and EEA area. Four of the most recent ones were in fact on EU participation and policies and have taken place within only the last two years. In all these cases, the EU elites of Brussels more or less blackmailed European citizens into voting the way they wanted and punished them when they refused.
One problem though seems to be that people often vote for or against something – even if this decision is against their own interests – simply because the hated political and media elites advise them to act differently.
In Hungary, on 24 February 2016, the right-wing coalition Fidesz-KDNP leader Victor Orbán called for a referendum on whether or not the country would accept the refugee quotas dictated by the EU. Orbán argued that the 1,294 refugees from Greece and Italy that his country was supposed to receive, would “redraw Hungary’s and Europe’s ethnic, cultural and religious identity, which no EU organ has the right to do”.
The referendum took place on 2 October 2016 with the Hungarian public refusing the country’s participation in the EU Asylum Relocation Program with the unprecedented 98.36%. However, due to the participation rate being below 50% the referendum was deemed invalid. Nevertheless, only a month before the referendum Luxemburg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn had called for the expulsion of Hungary from the EU due to the country’s lack of respect for European values in raising walls against refugees.
Asselborn sent a message to the Hungarian people to proceed carefully to the voting stations. He certainly did not send a similar message to Austria that is currently building a fence across the Austrian-Italian border. After the referendum results were published, Brussels bureaucrats celebrated its failure due to the low turnout.
Dropping the ‘wrong’ ballot
The most discussed referendum in the history of the EU has been the one that took place on 23 June 2016 in the UK. In this referendum the British voted for their country to leave the EU by a majority of 51.89%. This result brought a domino effect with one after the other European political leaders proposing that the same type of referendum should take place in their own countries.
After Brexit, the leadership of both the Tory and the Labour party have proposed a form of new deal whereby Britain would not entirely leave the Union: at which the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, promptly responded that not only was a new deal not possible but that Brexit presented an opportunity for deeper European integration.
A few months before Brexit, on 3 December 2015, Denmark held a referendum on whether or not to convert the country’s EU full opt-out on home and justice affairs to a case-by-case opt-in. This proposal was rejected by 53% of the voters. A consequence of this rejection was that Denmark could not be a part of Europol. However, the Danish government tried to negotiate a parallel agreement in order to opt-in to this specific directive. The response of EU Commissioner Frans Timmermann, which came only a few months after the more dramatic vote by the British to entirely exit the union, was that:
“You can’t be slightly pregnant, you’re either pregnant or you’re not. If you vote to be out of Europol, you’re out of Europol. I don’t see on the basis of the legal situation any alternative for that […] the vote of the Danish people was very clear, and the consequence of that vote is that Denmark will not be in Europol.”
In Greece on 25 June 2015, the Greek people were called to answer whether or not they agree with the proposed austerity package that resulted from months of negotiations between Greek minister of finance Yanis Varoufakis and the rest of the Eurogroup finance ministers. In this referendum 61.31% of the Greek voters voted against the plan. As a result, not only was the decision of the Greek people ignored but eventually the Greek government adopted an even harsher package. As a response to the result Juncker said:
“The momentum [for finding an agreement] was destroyed unilaterally by the announcement of a referendum and by the decision to mount a ‘no’ campaign to reject this agreement.”
Additionally the Council of Europe said that the referendum was not valid because the voters were not given a two week period to make up their minds.
The limits of a representative democracy?
According to social theory events are catalytic, but they are only representing ongoing social transformations. These four incidents manifest that representative democracy in Europe is reaching its limits.
When socialism collapsed in 1989-90, the spread of the multi-party representative system all over Europe came promising democracy. Twenty years later, in 2011 protesters in Spain, Greece and elsewhere revolted under a central slogan ‘Real Democracy’ . They were proposing alternative, horizontal and non-representative forms of democratic decision-making.
But most importantly, the protests were bearing witness to the fact that the current economic and political system is far from democratic. After all, when a system calls itself democracy, but forces increasing swathes of the demos (people) to live under poverty, its own central concept gradually becomes hollow. This hollowness manifests itself, more clearly than ever before, during the Euro-crisis.
It remains to be seen how and what will replace the current representative system that we are witnessing decompose in front of our eyes. Meanwhile, history has a lesson for us, Nazis and fascist governments in Europe emerged within systems of representative democracy under free market capitalism, similar to the ones we have today.
However, there is another striking resemblance: before the far-right parties took power in interbellum Europe, it was the democratic state apparatuses who first devalued their own polities.
This article was first published in Open Democracy
By Aimilia Voulvouni
On December 4, 2016 the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the federal agency involved in the construction of the Dakota Access pipelines project - a multi-million development concerning the construction of an underground oil pipeline - denied key permit for the pipeline to be drilled under Lake Oahe, the large reservoir of Missouri River which extends from North to South Dakota close to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The decision was received as a victory of the activists who were protesting for months against the construction of the pipeline in the area. The objections of the activists who are mainly members of the Sioux Tribe dwelling in the Reservation are related with environmentalist concerns but also with concerns relating to the damage of their cultural heritage. The Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation is home to Dakota and Lakota people who maintain a sovereign interest in protecting the natural and cultural resources of their land that includes water reservoirs, sacred places such as burial grounds of their ancestors and sacred natural monuments. According to US federal law, in the decision-making process such as the development of infrastructures of the scale of the Dakota Access pipeline, local tribes are supposed to be consulted, which according to the anti-pipeline activists has not happened (http://standwithstandingrock.net/history/). The protesters claim that they are entitled to have a say on this, a claim which raises issues of democratic participation, accountability and civil rights.
As an anthropologist specializing on grassroots protests related to environmental disputes, the #NoDAPL (the social media hashtag by which the Standing Rock protests came also to be known) presented an extremely interesting case of what in my work I call (borrowing the term of Kousis and Eder 2001) ‘transenvironmental protests΄. Collective action that centres around environmental concerns but does not remain action just about the environment or better said, it conceptualizes the protection of the environment as something a lot more complicated than the protection of our natural surroundings. The repertoire of such actions follows certain patterns: a) They are vocal, in the sense that they make use of every possible means they have at their disposal in order to communicate their struggle with the wider public; in our days it is mainly social media, b) this makes them diverse as the initial core of activists is complemented by ‘peripheral’ groups of people; that is, people who are not immediately affected by the development against which the struggle is held, c) they occupy public or “privately owned public spaces”, d) they attract ‘power brokers’; that is, middle-class professionals, academics, professional associations and celebrities who assume representation of the struggle in the mainstream media and elsewhere by taking advantage of their statuses and their reputation (Voulvouli 2009).
The case of #NoDAPL exemplifies both the above mentioned repertoire and the transenvironmental aspects of the struggle in a way very similar to the protests I have witnessed in Turkey during my fieldwork in Istanbul at the beginning of the century and again during 2013-2104 when the Gezi uprising took place (Voulvouli 2009; 2011; 2016; 2017 forthcoming). In an article about #NoDAPL, which was published last September, there was an account of a protester claiming that if the pipeline ran near the reservation as was planned, many sacred sites in the area would be despoiled. One of them is the flooded forest of the Standing Rock Reservation which used to be a burial ground of native Americans and the trees of that forest are said to be skeletons of Lakota (a Sioux tribe) spirits. Another protester quoted in the article said that "This (the protest) is about water. Water is the life of our people. Without it, we cannot exist" (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37249617). This narrative brought to mind narratives and scenes from my ethnographic experience in Istanbul. One of them is actually very similar to the one above: “I do not so much care about my house. I care about the sea. The sea should not be destroyed. The sea is everything to us” is the narrative of one of the activists of the anti-bridge campaign which was launched in Istanbul at the end of the previous century in order to protest against the construction of a bridge the construction of which had been planed since 1998. The other is the scene of Sırrı Süreyya Önder of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (Bariş ve Demokrasi Partisi – BDP), standing in front of bulldozers, trying to stop the demolition of trees of Istanbul’s Gezi Park which was going to be demolished as part of an urban renewal plan to reconstruct the Ottoman military barracks that existed in the area until the middle of the 20th century and the construction of cultural centres, an opera house as well as shopping facilities. This scene is not very different from pictures that reached the media of Standing Rock protesters standing in front of bulldozers trying to stop them from continuing their works for the construction of the pipeline or Jill Stein, the presidential candidate of the Green Party spraying a message on a bulldozer during the protests. Similarly, the protesters in both cases have set up camps in the area in order to be able to remain there, ready to act when needed.
Both the Gezi and the Standing Rock protests have gained world media attention as well as the support of political parties, civil society organisations, professional groups and intellectuals. I actually came up with idea of the present piece, when I read the statement issued by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) supporting the Tribal Nations opposing DAPL. The statement concludes with the following sentence: AAA believes in the protection of human rights, including those of Indigenous peoples; we have a collective responsibility to the environment and to future generations to protect these ancestral lands and water. We call for the respect of the sovereign rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its peoples, and the immediate halt of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (http://www.americananthro.org/ParticipateAndAdvocate/AdvocacyDetail.aspx?ItemNumber=20656). In this statement the AAA suggests that indigenous rights protections goes hand in hand with the environmental protection of the Reservation which seems to be also the claim of the protesters. Similarly, the Faculty of Anthropology of UC Berkley, has issued a statement of support to the protesters stressing the destructive consequences that the construction of the pipeline would have on the lives of the tribal nations of the area and commenting on federal law violations on behalf of USACE in “its failure to consult with the tribe about its sovereign interests” (http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/news/statement-standing-rock-uc-berkeley-anthropology-faculty). Similar statements of support have been issued by the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), Society for American Archaeology (SAA) and many other national and international associations.
#NoDAPL such as the Gezi Protests of 2013 along with many other grassroots campaings around the world constitute typical cases of transenvironmental protests. Anthropologists who are ethnographically involved in such cases of collective action, are trained and methodologically equipped to understand the complexity of the motives of these initiatives which at first glance might seem as NIMBY or perhaps naïve environmental campaigns and like AAA and the Faculty of Anthropology of UC Berkley, they have a duty to communicate these motives to the wider public not only as courtesy to their informants but most importantly as a statement against corporate greed and legal violations which are almost always involved in such cases at the expense of the environment, human rights and democracy. At the end of the day, from Gezi Park to Standing Rock, the efforts of the protesters to protect the trees of Gezi or those of the flooded forest are never just about those trees but as one of my informants in Istanbul put it: “At some point those who rule this country, must understand that people, all Turkish people should be heard and their opinion should be a factor to their decision making” or as the official website of the Standing Rock protest mentions about the motives of the opposition “this is a fight for survival”.
Kousis, M and K Eder 2001 Introduction: EU policy-making, local action, and the emergence of institutions of collective action. A theoretical perspective on Southern Europe. In: Kousis, M and K Eder (eds.) Environmental Politics in Southern Europe: Actors, Institutions and Discourses in a Europeanizing Society. Dordrecht, Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Voulvouli, A 2009 From Environmentalism to Transenvironmentalism: The Ethnography of an Urban Protest in Modern Istanbul. Oxford: Peter Lang Publications.
Voulvouli, A 2011 Transevironmental Protest: The Arnavutköy anti-bridge Campaign in Istanbul. Environmental Politics 20(6): 861-878.
Voulvouli, A 2016a The protest against the Third Bosphorus Bridge: A part of town, a part of movement. In: Petropoulou, K. and Vitopoulou, A. (eds.) Urban and Regional Social Movements. E-book.
Voulvouli, A 2016b (In Press) Place, Space, Environment: The case of the relocation of a power plant in Lesbos AEICHOROS 25.
Voulvouli, A 2017 (forthcoming) From Tarlabaşı to Gezi and beyond: The 2013 Gezi event in the conjuncture of Neoliberal times. Urbanities.
American Anthropological Assocation 2016, AAA Stands with Tribal Nations Opposing Dakota Access Pipeline Accessed in: http://www.americananthro.org/ParticipateAndAdvocate/AdvocacyDetail.aspx?ItemNumber=20656
Department of Anthropology, UC Berkeley 2016, Statement on Standing Rock from UC Berkeley Anthropology Faculty. Accessed in: http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/news/statement-standing-rock-uc-berkeley-anthropology-faculty
Official Website of the the Standing Rock protest http://standwithstandingrock.net
BBC 2016, Life in the Native American oil protest camps. Accessed in: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37249617
By Anna Giulia De La puppa
“...Bacause your heart still breaks apart when you listen to clarinet
Come, my love, come
let's do another Greek
who will forget with songs
who will excuse her mistakes, like us,
because Greece wounds us as no one”
Charis Alexiou, The Greek (1999)
In this text what I am trying to deal with is a complex cluster of sentiments, moral norms, implicit narratives, aesthetic perceptions, collective beliefs constituting the Greek nation, as a “solid community moving itself throughout history” in Benedict Anderson's terms (Anderson 1983).
In this sense, I believe worthy to be underlined how the construction of this dispositive not simply affects the way gender roles are socialized and practiced in modern greek society, but also and more interestingly how this is actually gendered since the really beginning and can hardly be understood out of this perspective.
It is easily verifiable that throughout the long period of economic crisis, gender scarcely appears both in the mainstream narrative and in the academic discourses about crisis. When it does, most of the time, it is in terms of salary inequality or lack of appropriate welfare state, often in the perspective of the biological predisposition to motherhood, and so linked with the difficulties of greek families, and so on and so forth. It is not that all these features are not real, but what I would like to point out today is something more eradicate in greek society, something the actual recession has simply exacerbate, even if it seems to remain unseen.
As Alexandra Halkias pointed out:
Gender, moreover, ostensibly invisible (...) is nonetheless omnipresent, in its most sexist forms, and constitutes privileged ground for the expression and management of profound trouble at the level of the national imaginary. (Halkias 2015)
I would like to argue, in addition, that both the automatic link between women and family conditions in time of crisis and the uncritical biological assumption of what “woman” means, can be seen as interesting quasi-freudian shifts precisely enlightening this imaginary.
But what's this national imaginary we are talking about?
One of the most discussed phenomena throughout the greek crisis was, in fact, the unprecedented success of far right discourses and the rise of Golden Dawn. I argue that there are important, although not evident, connections with the wide and prismatic “Syntagma square movement” of 2010, and the antipolitical thrust belonged to part of this mobilization. It may remind of what Giuliano Santoro, using the theoretical tools of the Italian philosopher and philologist Furio Jesi, writes about “5 Stars Movement” in Italy: it has been able to speak to people at a loss of words, with a sort of abracadabra. As for advertising language, there is no need for these words to be true, but they aim to an uncritical and totalizing approval (Santoro 2012). In this sense, in order to comprehend the affirmation of Greek far right today, I believe that the understanding of social bases is pivotal and it can be possible only through the deconstruction of Greek identitary dispositive, a central aspect of which is its biopolitical gendered construction.
In doing so, I pose a particular attention on language, both in terms of rhetorics and of vocabulary. In this I found particularly interesting Furio Jesi analysis of “right wing culture”. Furio Jesi's main interest was the function of Myth and Mythology in European (and indoeuropean) culture. He researched the permanence and the instrumental usage of classical mythology in modern European culture. He has postulated the concept of “mythological machine”, which I find very useful in my inquiry. Precisely at the intersection between myth and language, and so in the production process of myth, where the relationship power/knowledge takes place, the mythological machine is described as the appointed dispositive to convert a mythological material in a common heritage of truth. In doing so, it actually invents myths on the bases of what Jesi calls “ideas without words”. They are
Simplified images of reality, providing easy answers to any kind of doubt. (…) They define authoritatively ideal models and crystallization of identities. (Jesi 2011)
In “Right-wing culture”, a book Furio Jesi published back in 1979, a year before he tragically and prematurely died, he analyzes the hidden hallmark of Italian neofascism, comparing fascist and nazi heritages in this perspective. And he argues that (1) There is no “myth”, but only “mythological material” variably manipulated (technicized) for contingent purposes. (2) The “origin” is always an ex-post invented moment. (3) There is no possible critical thought where ideas without words exist. (4) The far right wing thinkers are never respectful and need to be unmasked. (5) The perpetual evocation of “pureness” “ancientness”, “highness”, having just a perlocutive function, has always a kitsch aspect in its aim to evoke “spiritual splendor”.
In this sense, every unquestionable assertive discourse, and so authoritarian and “mythical” in their establishing a presumed “natural” state of being, is “right-wing distinctive”.
Filotimo, seems to conform to this description.
Impossible to be translated (literally it corresponds to “love for the honor”), Filotimo mirrors the foucaultian argument according to which a state, in order to well
function, needs specific embedded power relations between men and women, as well as between adults and children. Filotimo's first philological evidence is traced in Thales (VII cent. B. C. ), who defined it as much fundamental for a Greek person as breathing.
In current usage it indicates someone's “right behaviour” in the social dynamic, and it consequently defines his or her role and social identity.
Sometime ago, I found myself in a very uncomfortable discussion with an educated person, during which I was accused to betray my foster country, the cradle of European culture. The bone of contention was that I claimed Athens used to be little more then a village during the Ottoman Empire. I was not filotimi, I've been said. It was the first time I heard this word and it was related to my attitude toward Greece as a country and its historical memory. No matter if my remark was right -as it was- or not, this memory is true as long as it is perceived as such by Greek people.
The image of Greece as the cradle of European culture, already enough biopolitical I woud say, is, indeed, a central feature of Greek state's founding ideology, even though it is based on a reification process. Again, it has been used many time both from Greek people and from foreigner commentators in this time of crisis to express the anger of the Greeks betrayed by Europe from one side (the son betraying the mother), and the scorn of Europe for the “lazy borrower” and its glorious past (a parental decay) .
But it has deep and internal roots, too. In the common rhetoric of contraposition, everything in Greek society considered to be spurious and jumbled has to be attributed to Ottoman, turk heritage. An heritage that has disrupted the harmonious order of western antiquity, and the embedment of this process does not lack in sexual references. In this sense is worthy to be considered the reified dichotomy of Ellinismos and Romiossini (as Romoi used to be the definition Greeks gave of themselves during the ottoman empire), where the first (masculine noun) is always connected with the proud, public values of virility and the second (feminine noun) relegated with the womanly private, tawdry sphere (Herzfeld 2005).
This dichotomy is precisely what Filotimo is all about.
There is a video made by OxiDay foundation, a Greek-American foundation dealing with the divulgation of Greek culture in America. It is called “Filotimo, the greek secret”.
In it, Filotimo is described as the immortal value allowing Greece to be always “to the right side of history”, embedding all the positive human values that, it is claimed, constitute “greekness”.
Not at all by chance, the name of the foundation recalls the day when the dictator Ioannis Metaxas refused to allow Mussolini troups to enter Greece. Metaxas was a fascist dictator himself, who took the power with the coup d'etat of the 4th of August 1936, and always exalted by Golden Dawn members, whose political principles reflect Metaxism as main inspiration. In the video Metaxas is always identified as “prime minister” and never as a dictator, nor his coup d'etat is ever mentioned.
OxiDay foundation is not a fascist organization, it just reflects, accumulates and spreads the mainstream Greek culture toward a Greek-American public. It is actually part of the Greek nationalistic mythological machine, and Filotimo in its undefinability, is a perfect material, the absolute idea without words.
Filotimo appears to be an everlong values for Greek society, even though in the passage between rurality an urbanity it acquired new features, less openly patriarchal but always linked to a traditional way to conceive social relationships and stances (Avdela 2002). In these, the centrality of the family (taking along an ubiquitous rhetoric about the shared blood of the greek ancestry and the innate features of greek mentality) as the first and more important core of Greek society remain uncontested and it is the main vehicle for social transmission of values like filotimo.
Of course, it appears crystal clear that women and men are filotimoi in different ways, depending on the social, always sexualized position they occupy in the social dynamic. It has much to do with gender roles definition as historical and unalterable values.
The heterosexual representation of the greek nation as a family where the submissive womanliness has to be conquered by proud virility is precisely where the nation and the construction of the sexual bodies meet up.
In this sense and to conclude, I would like to stress the necessity not just to consider gender as a fluid, cultural concept, of course, but most of all to pay serious attention to the roles it implies. More then gender identities, implying canons to align with, being more normative and for this reasons more comprehensible by the state, the analysis of gender roles and their moulding through social interactions, I argue, can show the social dynamics as the main field of the biopolitical struggle.
Anderson, Benedict (1983), Imagined communities reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, Verso, London-New York
Avdela, Efi (2002), Dia Logous timis. Via, Synaisthimata kai axies stin metemfiliaki Ellada, Nefeli, Athens
Halkias, Alexandras (2015), 'Democracy and Greece-in-crisis. Contesting masculinities take center stage', in “Finestra sul presente”, Rivista telematica di studi sulla memoria femminile DEP n°27, Venice
Herzfeld, Michael (2005), Cultural Intimacy. Social poetics in the Nation-State, Routledge, New York
Jesi, Furio (2011), Cutura di destra, Nottetempo editore, Roma (or. 1979)
Santoro, Giuliano (2012), Un Grillo qualunque, Castevecchi editore, Roma
E urope was shocked by the newsthat a boat full of migrants sunkinto the Mediterranean Sea takingwith it 57 people. The episode occurredwhen the Italian Navy vessel ‘Sibilla’, inits effort to protect the common EUborders collided with the migrants’ boat.Some serious debates took place then,raising questions as to whether it wasan accident or part of a political effortto stop the flow of migrants or whetherthe Italian Navy could have intervenedand rescued the migrants. The year was1997 and the non-EU migrants wereAlbanians fleeing the 1997 civil war thatfollowed the collapse of the ‘pyramid’banking system in their home country.This incident is known as the Otrantotragedy.
It is one of history’s ironies that the name‘Sibilla’ refers to the ancient Greekprophetesses or Oracles who foresaw thefuture. Almost twenty years later as the Alba-nian together with most other European gov-ernments are sealing off their borders torefugees, sinking boats and dead migrantstrying to enter the EU are a commonphenomenon in the Mediterranean.Obviously the then Others, who did nothave the right to enter into Europe, were of a primarily different ethnic origin than thecurrent Others; yet, the persistent refusal of the right to mobility and, more generally,the border securitization regime currentlybeing witnessed was rehearsed and shapedin the early 1990s. Although the exactlocation of this border has moved, qualitat-ively the border regime of ‘FortressEurope’, as we know it today, remains thesame over the last decades, protecting thecore of Europe and its strategic peripheries.The issue is that at the moment, this is theonly spatial pillar of post-cold war Europethat remains intact and even enhanced.
Arguably one should clarify that we have aseries of ethnographic studies that reveal themicro-dynamics, the flexibility and perfor-mativity of these post-cold war spatialities,e.g. borders (e.g. Green 2005). In thecurrent brief note there will be minimumengagement with such material or with thediverse conditions and the complex relation-ships under which such spatialities were pro-duced. The dramatic events of 2015/2016along the South-Eastern European bordersreminds us tragically that despite the actualdiversity of experience, such spatialitiesmatter concretely for those who are excluded.Hence, although schematic and slightly rigid,the current text aims to be heuristic due to theurgency of the matter examined.
Historically, the 20thcentury has witnessedtwo major pan-European constructionprojects that have taken place over theentire length and width of the continent,renewing its built environment. The firstone is the post-World War II reconstructionof the Old Europe powers and the secondone is the post-Cold War ‘reconstruction’.Besides being a much larger-scale project,the post-WWII project had an explicitlytwo-fold character. The two sides of theCold War divide were each building theirown urban and infrastructural materiality.Via this material reconstruction, they aimedto engineer their respective social and politi-cal entities. Moreover, the constructionproject of the 1940s and 50s was to (re-)build a devastated continent. The ensuingphysical construction project, from the1990s to the 2000s, was tied to the metaphys-ical destruction of the Communist regimes’infrastructure and materiality — its veryethos. Thus the building construction waspart of the destruction both physical andsymbolic of the defeated enemy.
We have detailed ethnographies of thesocio-material transformations that occurredin Eastern Europe at that time (Buchli 1999;Dalakoglou 2016), and these have also beenrecorded and recreated in art. For example,the celebrated film ‘Goodbye Lenin’(Becker 2003) describes on a fictional level,this process of deconstruction of theenemy’s material culture and its replacementby the capitalist version, which was novel tothe former socialist countries. The movie’shero is desperately trying to reconstructEast Germany’s material reality for hismother who wakes after a long coma - shemust not get shocked to find the world haschanged lest she fall ill again. He tries torecreate the GDR’s material culture andwith every passing moment this becomesmore difficult as the material samples of theprevious world are systematically erased.Beyondfiction,theColdWarwasawarandat the end its outcome was one that most warsshare: the winner occupied the territory of theloser. Because this war was waged betweentwo economic/political systems, this ‘occu-pation of territories’ meant the instant trans-formation of the vast majority of immobileresources and real estate of socialist countriesfrom state, public or cooperative hands toprivate ones. The enormous influx of resources into the west European capitalisteconomy resulted in its overnight expansion.Another type of resource that was added tothe capitalist European economy was themassively impoverished parts of EasternEuropean populations who either migratedto the West or worked in their owncountries—often for Western Europeaninterests and in the interest of the new localcapitalist elites who replaced the nomencla-ture of the socialist period—whilst drawingon the private property of productive meansas yet another source of power. This vastinflux of real estate and labour power fueledthe European capitalist economy andespecially unskilled and low-skilled labourmarkets all over the continent. Thus it wasonly a matter of time until the constructionsector evolved into the ‘steam-engine’ of economic growth during the 1990′s and2000's, occupying an increasing percentageof GDP all over Europe. Indeed, after 1990Western Europe witnessed some of thelargest construction projects, both in termsof publicly funded works and in terms of private contracts. Within this context thewhole phenomenon must also be linkedwith the emergence of the infrastructuralmega-event of which the European continentsaw three over the period of twenty years to2012 (Olympic Games of Barcelona,Athens, London) which fundamentallychanged the profile of three of its metropo-lises in the West.This particular project of the built environ-ment’s reconstruction not only created profitbut also engineered the new socio-culturalcapitalist subjectivities and relationships. Forexample, in the case of Eastern Europe, thesesubjects had to get used to the world of private automobility, the private housingmarket, the cosmology of super markets ormalls, the new capitalist social hierarchies,etc. Similarly, the West was being reengi-neered socially, first of all quantitatively,thanks to the intake of human and financialresources and accelerated growth, but alsoqualitatively. This is evidenced via the influxof a new inferior ‘social class’: ‘The EasternEuropeans’. These were often added toWestern Europe’s previous ‘inferiors’: themigrants from the Mediterranean countriesor those from the former colonies. However,in some cases the influx of Eastern Europeanmigrants added an entirely new social classand social category of immigrants that didnot exist previously, e.g., in Greece with theinflux of Albanian migrants during the1990s. This transformation caused by EastEuropean migration was such that the word‘Albanian’ became synonymous with theunskilled, underpaid manual worker, withphrases such as ‘He made me work like anAlbanian’ appearing in Greek everydaylanguage. Of course, during Greece’s enor-mous economic and construction boom(mid-1990s to mid 2000s) immigrants fromAlbania dominated the sector’s workforce.Thus, Western Europe’s periphery acquiredits own Others, thereby solidif ying its newlyfound identity of ‘Westerness’1.
Apart from this reconstruction of the builtenvironment, the post-Cold War era alsohad another significant spatial dimension.Following 1990, an ongoing process of internal and external reconfiguration of theEuropean borders ensued. Primarily, thenew borders created a new privileged Euro-pean space and identity, which was promisingor even providing the dreams of wealth andgrowth alongside those of a supposed terri-torial/cultural exclusivity. The sudden col-lapse of the main division between socialistand capitalist Europe made the previousinternal Western division between CoreWestern Europe and Peripheral WesternEurope much less significant. Just as theGreeks felt more Western, the Old Westembraced the periphery in the face of theOtherness of East Europe. Thus given thecapitalist past that the entire WesternEurope had experienced, Western peripheryand Western core shared commonalities incomparison to the Easterners. Events suchas the wars in Yugoslavia or the brief Alba-nian Civil War (1997) were attributedmostly to the primary ‘sin’ of communismand were used to confirm the former distinc-tion, where the West had to intervene to ‘civi-lize’ the East of Europe.Despite the various infrastructural cross-border projects between EU and non-EUmember countries on the continent, whichattempted to materialize the new links, thenew United Europe’s identification processesbecame problematic (see Dalakoglou 2009).The division had strong roots as for over 50years the archetypal enemy were the ‘other’Europeans and, as the Otranto tragedyshows, overcoming such old divisions is along and hard process.These EU/non-EU borders became thefavored arena for testing, developing andshaping the policies of ‘Fortress Europe’ inthe first instance. Indeed as more and moreEastern European countries enter the EU orgain potential member status, the geopoliticalborder is constantly redrawn. It is forexample worth noting how within just twodecades the Western governments’ attitudetowards the Easterners who crossed theborders of the old EU of the 12 memberstates, has radically altered. When the firstEastern migrants started crossing the(former) iron curtain towards the West,Western governments perceived this as a pol-itical success and as a positive development,which indisputably manifested the defeat of the enemy—the socialist regimes. However,only a little later, the Eastern Europeansbecame an undesired flow for EU membercountries. Therefore, the borders weresealed off, and by 1999, with the AmsterdamTreaty, the EU member-state borders wereupgraded into common EU borders, securedand sealed by common EU political and poli-cing measures. Despite the gradual inclusionof many Eastern European countries to theEU, the zones of the inexpensive sex or gam-bling industries along the old East/WestEuropean borders are an explicit example of the fact that the whole process is indeedongoing. The initial example we used, theOtranto tragedy, demonstrates how theEastern Europeans were the first to sufferfrom the ‘Fortress Europe’ politics. Eventoday, Great Britain for example treat theEastern European EU members as secondclass Europeans in comparison with the citi-zens of old EU-members.Nevertheless, currently we are witnessingthe turn of Eastern Europe to claim its rightto European-ness and Western-ness over thebodies of the new Others, precisely as theperiphery of Western Europe did in the1990s over the bodies of Eastern Europeanmigrants. In February 2016, the AlbanianPM announced that he would seal off theborders of his country against refugeesusing it as a passage on their way to Northern
Europe via Greece. At the same time, severalBalkan countries came to an agreement withAustria to seal off their own borders, thusclosing down the Balkan corridors to refu-gees from Syria, other Middle East countriesand Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Hungariangovernment highlights a growing trendwithin the Eastern European states of theEU of openly racist and anti-refugee rhetoricand policy. In early 2016 the Dutch Presi-dency of the EU silently accepted all thesetactics and decisions. The Western Europeanstates thus conveniently export their ownracist and anti-refugee politics to the pre-viously excluded Eastern European and newmember states.The confirmation of its European-ness forEastern Europe implies better mobilitywithin Europe but also the violent sealingoff and guarding of the common Europeanterritory. It is not accidental that the mostrepresentative event of the communistregimes’ collapse is the fall and crossing of the Berlin Wall. At the same period, Alba-nians overthrew their socialist dictatorshiprevolting on the street and occupying theembassies in Tirana, demanding the issuingof passports. The core of Eastern Europeans’participation in the new European projectconsisted in the potential of easier mobilityto the West and fewer border controls. Thisdesire has evolved historically as a processsynonymous with the reconfiguration of thecommon European borders into an arena of strict control and violence against non-Westerners echoing the exclusivity of OldEurope. After all Eastern European ‘Other-ness’ may have passed mostly over thebodies of heavily exploited and underpaidemployees, but the non-European ‘Other-ness’ passes largely over the dead bodies of the men, women and children who wash upon Europe’s shores every day.
Corridors and borders
After the outbreak of the European FinancialCrisis in 2008, one of the main spatialdimensions of the post-Cold War Europe--the qualitative transformation of the builtenvironment and real estate—has either beenderegulated or has slowed dramatically. Inlight of such events the only main spatial axisof reference of post-Cold War Europe thatremains intact is the border securitization.Hence, the sudden transformation of theBalkans from Europe’s proud border to anexpress corridor for countless refugees in2015 was perceived as an expression of amajor crisis for the entire Europe. All thecross-border infrastructures that were builtin order to cement (quite literally) therelationships between EU and non-EUmember states during the post-Cold Warperiod, including port facilities, cross-border highways, border control stationsand pan- and trans-European transport corri-dors suddenly became infrastructure corri-dors for refugees. This activity has gravelycalled into question the planned commercialand touristic purposes of these infrastruc-tures, but most importantly challenged theentire European project.Thus Frontex, the European Border Police,has for some time now taken the right tooperate in the region. This has proved insuffi-cient, however, and as the EU does not haveits own Navy, in February 2016 a decisionwas taken to allow NATO to take over theguarding of the sea borders between Greeceand Turkey. NATO will officially patroland control the borders between twoNATO member countries, aiming to showexplicitly where exactly Europe’s bordersare located. Indeed, the notion of bordersbecomes more important than Europeanmembership itself, as the Greek governmentsubmits the control of the country’s bordersto NATO in the name of the hypotheticalthreat coming from the 1 million refugeesfrom war-torn countries that have crossedthe European borders during 2015–16.In early 2016 the whole humanitarianrefugee tragedy that unfolded along theSyrian-Balkan corridor was of little impor-tance—if any at all- compared to the questionof the region’s border policing. Europe’s leaders have spent their time negotiatingwhere exactly the European borders lie, towhich countries Europe will externalize therefugees and how it will guard its commonborders in order to decrease the flow of refu-gees. The life of a few million human beingsseems to be a secondary question to bedebated by the European leadership—accep-table collateral damage for the protection of European spatial exclusivity. On the onehand, this securitization of the common EUborder is one of the last things that mighthold Europe together; on the other hand,this process exhibits more and more explicitlyelements from what Marc Mazower (1999)has called the history of our ‘Dark Conti-nent’. Europe is not only the continent thatbecame, in the Post-World War Two era,the champion of human rights, refugeerights, bourgeois democracy, etc., but alsothe continent that produced Nazism andFascism, and previously had produced colo-nialism, imperialism and the genocide of various populations characterized as inferiorand undesired ‘Others’.
I wish to thank Anna Christofides, ChristosFilippidis, David Harvey, Anna Richter andBob Catterall for discussing with me someof the ideas appearing in this article over thelast three years. The first notes for this brief paper were written during my visiting pos-ition at CUNY Graduate Center; the paperwas completed for my Lecture in AmsterdamAnthropology Lecture Series at Vrije Univer-sity Amsterdam. I am thankful to the col-leagues in these two institutions. Part of thisperiod I was funded by ESRC with aFuture Research Leaders grant for theproject Crisis-scapes.net. This paper was pre-sented for the first time in its current versionin the workshop ‘Greece in Crisis’ organisedin Oxford University, thus I would like toalso thank the organiser Dimitris Papaniko-laou and the rest of the participants for theircomments and help.
1 Notably, the experience for these migrants hasmultiple layers, e.g. see Dalakoglou 2009.
Becker, W. 2003. Good-bye Lenin . Berlin: X-Filme Crea-tive Pool.
Buchli, V. 1999. An Archaeology of Socialism. Oxford:Berg.
Dalakoglou, D. 2009. “Building and Ordering Transna-tionalism:The ‘GreekHouse’ in Albania as a MaterialProcess.” In Anthropology and the Individual: A Material Culture Perspective , edited by D. Miller,51–68. Oxford: Berg.
Dalakoglou, D. 2016. The Road: An Ethnography of (im)mobility. Space and Cross-Border Infrastructuresin the Balkans. Manchester University Press.
Green, S. 2005. Notes from the Balkans: Locating Magrinality and Ambiguity on the Greek-AlbanianBorders. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Mazower, M. 1999. Dark Continent . New York: Vintage.
PREVIOUS PUBLISHED IN CITY
In a series of raids on July 27, the Greek police arrested and moved on dozens of migrants and refugees living in squats in the city of Thessaloniki. The clampdown on these squats, which were run by refugees, volunteers and anti-authoritarian groups, is an example of how refugees are being criminalised at the hands of the authorities across Europe.
Some of these migrants and refugees had come from the largest makeshift refugee camp Europe has seen since the end of World War II. The camp, based at Idomeni on the Greek-Macedonian border, was evacuated in May 2016 by Greek police. Thousands of Syrians, Afghans and other refugees of different origins resisted their displacement from Idomeni. They knew that by staying on the border they were highlighting the real international scale of the migration crisis gripping Europe.
The next chapter of this refugee drama moved into Greece’s cities. Upon the closure of the camp at Idomeni, the Greek government, in co-ordination with the EU, UNHCR and international NGOs, began to move people into smaller camps around the country. The majority are situated on the peripheries of Athens and Thessaloniki.
There, contrary to the promises made by the authorities during the relocation in May 2016, neither are the conditions better nor is the pre-registration for the EU’s asylum relocation programme taking place.
As our own ongoing research project is showing, the summer heat in many of these urban camps makes life unbearable. Often the food is insufficient and food markets are too far away. Daily outbreaks of violence among different groups that fight either in competition for the scarce resources or due to their frustration for the uncertainty they experience makes life in these camps dangerous. At the same time, entry for everyone apart from the staff working in camps such as the one at Idomeni is usually prevented by the police and the military who are guarding the periphery.
Now activists and volunteers who have spent the last year carrying out all the tasks necessary for the welfare of refugee populations face increasing difficulties in gaining access to the camps unless they are certified by an approved international NGO.
Squats offer hope
Since September 2015 refugees and migrants began to be offered an alternative to the camps: a refugee shelter squat was set up on 26 Notara Street in Athens. This was organised by groups of refugees together with the organisations No Borders and Refugees Welcome and other anti-authoritarian and left-wing movements. These have been very active in the effort to tackle this humanitarian crisis.
The idea behind the squat was not just to provide shelter but also to provide tools for the refugees to help manage their own lives. The overarching aim was to help the residents regain their humanity by escaping social marginalisation and creating new social bonds. By actively participating in decision-making and everyday tasks regarding the place where they live, migrants and refugees developed avenues to take part in the social and political life of the city. Due to the success of this project, other Greek and international groups followed this strategy and over the last year from Thessaloniki to Amsterdam unused buildings have been appropriated as refugee settlements.
But on July 27, three of these self-organised refugee shelter squats in Thessaloniki were evicted in a mass police operation that aimed to shutdown unofficial shelters for refugees. One of the buildings, a former orphanage, belongs to the Church of Greece. Although the building was abandoned for decades, a few days after its occupation by refugees and activists in December 2015, the local Orthodox Church of Thessaloniki claimed it wanted to demolish it to build a hospice. The evacuation triggered protests against the archbishop of the city who has made xenophobic statements several times in the past.
In the raids, 74 people living in the squats were arrested. The “criminalised” migrants from countries including Morocco, Algeria and Pakistan living in the squats were sent to detention centres. The “legitimate” refugees – for example those from Syria and Iraq – were sent back to their predesignated camps.
Volunteers pushed out
On the one hand, the European and Greek authorities are not effectively helping migrants and refugees. On the other hand, they are cracking down on any alternative self-organised initiatives by refugees and members of the public. So how will the refugees' welfare be organised?
Only two days after the evictions, it was reported in some Greek media that millionaire and Lionsgate Films founder Frank Giustra intends to open a refugee housing facility in Greece. This news, together with similar philanthropic initiatives, has received plenty of positive publicity and was welcomed by the authorities. It shows how the migrant and refugee crisis gripping Greece is gradually being used to advance a privatisation of welfare, which is being outsourced to philanthropic institutes and other non-state professionals of aid. Volunteers, activists and self-organised refugees are paradoxically excluded.
It looks like this attack against the refugee squats is just part of an effort to create a controllable, gentrified international aid environment. Within this context, the humanitarian aid industry can operate without interruptions from those who expect nothing more in return for their help than friendship and human solidarity.
THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE CONVERSATION
By Aimilia Voulvouni
Friday evening, July 15, Turkey: Tanks on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, the Boshporus Bridge was blocked by military vehicles, TRT (the Turkish National Television) was invaded by military troops and was transmitting the message written by the usurpers, read by one of the newscasters in hostage, the Turkish National Assembly was bombed, F16s were flying really low, windows were crushing, people scared, the Prime minister issues a statement about an attempted coup, the President tweets, goes on TV through facetime and informs people that there is a coup attempt and calls for people to take the squares, Müezzins call for believers to pray (ezan) for their Democracy, for Turkey, people on the streets, on the Bosphorus Bridge, in front of the tanks, people shot by soldiers, police and military clashes. The coup is failing, the President arrives in Istanbul and is welcomed by thousands of people in Ataturk Airport.
The next evening people take the streets again, they celebrate, they pray. Public and private buildings are decorated with huge Turkish flags and huge banners of Ataturk and/or Erdogan. New gatherings (Demokrasi mitingiler, nöbet) are organized, by the ruling party, the major opposition party and the leftist pro-Kurdish party. In the meantime, law ranking soldiers and other military officials are being arrested and detained. Thousands of dismissals of judges, school teachers, university professors, civil servants of the wider public administration. Leaves of absence of all public servants are revoked, deans are asked to step down of their administrative duties. The following days private schools as well as universities and civil society organizations are shut down. There have been reports about Alevi Muslims being attacked in Istanbul, Ankara and Malatya.
Six days after the attempt I was travelling from Ataturk Airport and the praying room (mescit) of the international departures terminal was so crowded that many of the praying people had to say their prayers outside the designated area. Customs control was jammed as thousands were leaving the country.
In a piece she was asked to write on last week’s attempted coup, a friend of mine mentioned that in his initial statement the Prime minister, mentioned that a kalkışma (attempt) was under way which was something that puzzled her. She was not sure what the Prime minister meant. Was it a coup? she wondered, was it a kind of mutiny (isyan)? She was not sure but she tried to make sense (Usta-Lazaris 2016). Ever since July 15 the public life of Turkey is dominated by certain words, the vocabulary of the coup: Darbe (Coup d’ etat), FETÖ (Fetullah Terrorist Organisation), OHAL (State of Emergency), idam (capital punishment), hain (treason), Demokrasi (Democracy), meydan (square), nöbet (guard). How do these terms make sense for a Turk? Surely, a more detailed analysis of Turkish society is in order, to explain the complexity and the various meanings that these terms hold in different settings within Turkey. However, in this text I neither discuss the official definition of these terms nor analyze the media discussions that attempt to normalize them. I only refer to random encounters in which ordinary citizens try to make those terms their ‘property’ and move on from there by celebrating, praying, waving their flags or by discussing with their friends at a coffee place about what the future of their country might be and re-define their relationship with the state. In other words, I am referring to what Michael Herzfeld (2004) calls ‘social poetics’ and not just as an intellectual process but also as action. Because ‘poetics means action’; celebrate, pray, fetishize the state is action. Even discuss about it, is action as language and action cannot be seen separately.
“We already know what coup d’ etat is in this country. We ‘ve suffered enough. I might not support Erdogan but I want to demonstrate that no coup can be better than any, even a bad one, elected government” is one common narrative.
“You said guard (nöbet). We’re on duty!” posted someone of facebook with pictures from sites where Democracy Celebrations were held.
“If the coup was successful we would be 100% finished. Now we still have 10% of chance to get by” mentioned one of my friends a couple of days after the attempt.
“OHAL!! We’re not going to be able to go out at night! Martial Law will be apllied!” commented a friend while we were listening the President’s speech after the National Security Council meeting in which “state of emergency” has been decided.
“Those FETÖ people, have penetrated all civil sector. From the military to the judiciary system, from police to education” said another friend.
“We’ve come so far. We cannot go back to capital punishment era. The parliament will not allow it. You need to change the Constitution for that and there’s not enough votes to do it” commented a colleague.
“Treason should be tried according to the existing laws. This is how Democracies are governed, by the rule of law” a demonstrator shouted.
A banner held by one of the demonstrators in the Democracy Meeting organized by the main opposition party read: “We neither want a coup d’ etat nor dictatorship. We want democracy”
“Yes, we’ll go to the square. As we did in 2013. The answer is more democracy!” posted another Facebook friend, informing us where she would be that afternoon.
These are some of the hundreds of narratives I came across the days after the coup, while discussing with friends, colleagues, while visiting my Facebook timeline. It is still too early to say who is taking this stance and who is taking another one. People are still in shock, they don’t know how to react, what to think but they are trying to make sense of what is going on in Turkey and of their own actions. They try to make sense of why the coup attempt made them go to the squares, why they want or they don’t want the capital punishment to be re-enacted, why they support the government, or why they neither support the government nor the coup and while doing that they use the vocabulary of the coup in a very distinct way, in a way that helps them justify their own thoughts and actions.
History in the making
If there was ever a time in modern Turkish history for which analysis on “grand theory” level seems somehow monolithic, this is it. I am not just referring to the most recent political developments in the country, namely the attempted coup d’ etat of July 15 but to ‘events’ occurred during the last three years, that will undoubtedly leave their lasting mark in the country’s historical course during the 21st century. “This is history in the making” wrote a friend, as was the Gezi uprising in summer 2013, the constitutional reforms of the same year, the first election of the Turkish President of the Republic by direct vote in 2014, the national elections of June 2015 and the subsequent snap elections in November of the same year, amidst suicide attacks claimed by ISIS and finally the attempted coup of last week.
In such dense political times, when almost everything seems and feels fluid, with no certainties, no black and white, with the polarities of the past rendered obsolete both in theory and in everyday nuances, an anthropologist can only do what is trained to do best: be in the field and report the scenes and the narratives always within the cultural context, that these unfold.
Any attempt for anthropological interpretation of the political must focus almost exclusively on ‘living social actors’ who try to make sense, who try to give meaning on the symbols that accompany any event of such magnitude such as an attempted coup; In this case, as a ‘living social actor’ him/her self, an ethnographer of Turkey is called to make sense of the ‘social poetics’ of the post 15th of July, everyday life.
The ‘political’ in Turkey has always been very present even in seemingly non-political domains (if there are any) (Voulvouli 2009) to venture a separate analysis between people and politics. Politics, the state and ‘it’s faces’ (Navaro-Yashin 2002) are everywhere. Not only in state functions, but in non-state encounters. Not only in bureaucratic establishments but also in non-bureaucratic structures. What’s more its symbols are appropriated in everyday life and its ‘rhetoric’ is being adopted, altered and given new meanings.
My friends here in Turkey, say that you cannot be considered a real Turk unless you experience a coup d’ etat. ‘Coup d’ etat’ is a French expression meaning ‘Stroke of State’. A ‘coup’ (even a failed one) is exactly that, a blow, a hit, like a punch in the face. It affects not just the state apparatus but every possible expression of public and private life. I guess it’s time to apply for citizenship.
Herzfeld, M. 2004 Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation State. London: Routledge
Navaro-Yashin, Y. 2002 Faces of the State: Secularism and Public life in Turkey. Princeton: Princeton University Press
Usta-Lazaris, N. 2016 A personal account of the coup d’ etat. http://www.athensvoice.gr/article/city-news-voices/θεμα/μια-προσωπική-μαρτυρία-από-το-πραξικόπημα
Voulvouli, A. 2009 From Environmentalism to Transenvironmentalism: The Ethnography of an Urban Protest in Modern Istanbul. Oxford: Peter Lang Publications
By Anna Giulia Delapupa (Vrije University AMsterdam)
There are things that thrill me and others that don't. Football doesn't, really. Nothing against the sport performance, I don't think my disregard is being related to some kind of biological aptitude, simply I've always been unsettled by the religious zealotry surrounding it and reaching its jingoist peak during international events such as the European Cup we are witnessing at these days, so I generally prefer not to meddle in it.
Nevertheless, my current research is precisely about the nationalistic drift of my foster country. Indeed, here in Greece, it's really easy to run into nationalism. It is an everyday experience, less linked with jingoist phenomena then one could expect reading about Golden Dawn and their imitators. It has to do with a more subtle idea of national identity (confused and welded, in time of crisis, with the concept of national sovereignty against European bureaucracy), of an ethnic mentality that supposedly marks a certain kind of hematic feature of greekness. This is the fil rouge I would like to investigate and deconstruct during my fieldwork.
Dealing with nationalism daily, one keeps the ears open on whatever has to do with topics of this kind. And this is precisely how I ended up following England-Island football match on social media yesterday. Totally by chance, I ran into a veiled rant of a social network user about the incongruous participation of England in the match, now that it is not to be considered a European country anymore. A whole new world opened up to me. I realized that the large majority of interactions reporting #Brexit as hashtag during and after the match were, actually, uniquely concerned with the match itself. The same rhetoric was shared by all of them: “#Brexit 2.0”, “Out of Euro(pe), once again”, “England, this is for #Brexit!”. I wondered myself what all this acrimony was about. Is the sentiment of European citizenship so strong in this Europe that tried so hard to be disliked by its inhabitants, especially in the so call “periphery”, to instigate a feeling of betrayal? Isn't there a big contradiction between the fear of contagious effect of British referendum on the rest of Europe on one hand, and this feeling of revenge prevailing now that a national football team left the competition merely because of its athletic demerits, on the other?
By a funny coincidence, quite precisely at this point last year I was writing about another referendum: that unexpected one, announced by Syriza-ANEL government in Greece. The issue at stakes was not immediately clear: sure, the question was if the Greek government should or should not accept creditors' terms, but, as Antonis Vradis correctly pointed out in its article on VersoBook blog, there was «a veiled suggestion, a hint at questioning Greece’s place in the euro (and potentially the EU)». Personally, I was really happy not to carry the weight of the decision to vote or not, even though the class connotations of a “no” victory, openly hostile to Greek national status quo, couldn't leave one indifferent.
One of the reasons why I was so happy not to be directly involved in the referendum, leaving my personal idiosyncrasy with vote procedures as a whole aside, and the common denominator with this British poll, was the centrality of ethnicity and nationality concepts. Both in Greek and in British referenda the recursivity of ethnic “Us” rhetorics hinging on a ethereal idea of “the people” as a homogenous set were pervasive. Now, what's interesting here is that both these rhetorics (although quite different, one being based on the bogeyman of migration as invasion and the other on the necessity for the nation to rise up against oppression) have been used in two countries where discourses on national homogeneity sound little more then a gag. England is, indeed, a colonial country, with a huge rate of immigration at least since the dismissal of its colonies, and Greece, located in the very center of the Mediterranean sea, is a gate between West and East, the extremity of the Balkans, looking at the African coast.
I have a pretty clear memory of an uncomfortable situation in which some friends and I found ourselves, last year during a massive demo in favor of the “no” vote at Greek referendum. After an enthusiastic moment of a spontaneous chant of thousand of people against mainstream media and their cheeky propaganda for “yes” vote, we gasped in puzzlement when a famous pop singer waving a Greek flag and singing «Greece I love you because you taught me how to breath wherever I am» incited the Greek people -clapping their hands and cheering her- to rise up (again) against German oppressor.
Therefore, in light of these left nationalism hegemonic rhetorics, of last night's football cheers vehemence, and of course in light of the shocking xenophobic raving the majority of British people have aligned themselves with, in voting for the exit from a Europe so much besmirched with the pressing issue of refugees, I wonder myself why are we still talking about Europe. And not so much because I believe in the necessity to put an end to this blackmailing, bureaucratic machination. It is primarily because, as the fool looking at the finger instead of the moon, all this talk about an European lower class, a “common stock”, fails getting to the core of the issue that is the advance, the renaissance, the return of far right thinking, of nationalistic populism, of a morbid, massive and very fascist passion for national consensus.
As I have already said, there are things that thrill me and others that don't. Subcultures, and especially countercultures, definitely do. The reason for this is that I strongly believe in their ability to unmask all the facade rhetorics they oppose. Thanks to a good 2006 movie, the large audience could be acquainted with a extremely important stage for European countercultures. The movie title is “This is England” and stages the moment in which Skinhead culture irremediably split up, during Thatcher's era, because of a far right, jingoist turn a part of it took.
For those not familiar with this subculture vicissitudes, can be rapidly said that it was born as a reaction of the English working class youth against middle class and aristocratic life style in the end of the 60s. It grew and nourished itself in the poor London suburbs, and can be easily described as the rage cry of this youth actually cut off both from intellectual left disquisitions and whitebread parlours. Among the Skins (whose music preferences were mainly influenced by Jamaican sonority of ska and rocksteady and later of punk, giving birth to Oi! music, where Skins' social positionality is always blatant) there were many youngsters who would be called “second generation” British nowadays, being part of suburban proletariat of that age as much as the British.
The schism between apolitical and antifascist Skins from one side and Naziskins from the other occurred at the very prime of Thatcher's “Authoritarian populism”.
It is placidly possible tracing some similarities between now and then. To begin with, English society, and specifically the lower classes suffering the most for privatizations and neoliberal policies, is undergoing now, as it did hen, a sizable economic crisis that exacerbate class divide. Additionally, this class is and was overall more easily influenced by nationalistic-reminiscent rhetorics, mainly because they exploit migrant cheap labour and public housing support discourses, which seem not to have changed much. Of course, it would be a shoddy mistake attributing a clear ideological penchant to the sentiment of consent around this issues: this is the class of people that, after all, has the most left to lose. And here is precisely where far right discourses get a foothold: they establish a solid, imagined community where there is nothing to be scared about, as long as it is composed by illusory “kinsmen”.
In step with our times, dominated by the postmodern definitional undefinedness, it is worthy to be noticed how Europe as a whole is crossed by identitarian thrusts nurtured precisely by this semiotic confusion. As the bygone straightforward nationalisms, by the way, these thrusts are concurrently populist and conservative: they create a founding mythology, a history of oppression to be released from, a redemption up to our ancestors' struggle and, at the rock bottom of this discourse, there is always blood: the one “we” shed, defining “us” as an identitarian set, that is pure and that of the enemy, dirty, threatening to corrupt us.
Let the struggle begin, then!
Exploited against exploited, while capitalism and free market, having doddered for a moment because of a temporary, structural disease, are being accurately restructured without many recoils.
And yet, there is always a betrayal being evoked to maintain this beneficial conflict alive. There is always someone who breaks the social contract, who makes the unsteady system stumble and has to be punished. «Leave the drown!» the Lampedusian people are being told while saving people from the sea; «Vandals!» become those how create self-organized experiences in neighborhoods and highlights the many contradictions within modern metropolis; «ISIS's whores!» the two Italian aid-workers kidnapped in Syria has been called. Betrayal, then. Such as that England has committed against this sort of raft of the Medusa from where everybody would gladly escape, in order to defend themselves from the scary arrival of those Cavafian barbarians who in turn ran away from out smart wars, all post-modernly far away from our guilts.
«Two thousand years this little tiny fucking island has been raped and pillaged, by people who have come here and wanted a piece of it - two fucking world wars! Men have laid down their lives for this. For this... and for what? So people can stick their fucking flag in the ground and say, "Yeah! This is England.» States Combo, in order to convince his small group of Skin friends about the necessity to politicize themselves and become ultra-right militants, in “This is England”.
Isn't it maybe that, in this post-modern loss of significance and certainty, where representative politics has tried so hard to blur all ideological differences, where big illusions (Syriza, Podemos, Corbyn) have fallen -finally!- and anti-politics spreads scattering its nationalistic stench, isn't it maybe that the time has come to stop talking about Europe as a fortress -and a securitarian fortress is exactly what Europe is all about- from where to escape or in which to remain, and to simply smash its mental and physical borders?
Giorgos Poulimenakos (Vrije University Amsterdam)
Dimitris Dalakoglou (Vrije Univesity Amsterdam)
Footage that shows the Abdeslam brothers having fun in a nightclub in Brussels, even after their so-called radicalization, came as a bit of a shock to many. In the images, the men now known to be terrorists were smoking, drinking, and dancing; they were using the same body language and slang to the other people in the club. They did not look like were following different than usual norms, but on the contrary they were behaving more or less as one may expect from young males of Northern Europe to behave in such situation.
Generally, sociological and anthropological research often shows that in European countries fewer and fewer second-generation Muslim immigrants pay attention to religion, let alone political Islam. What one sees in daily life amongst second and third generation male migrants in North Europe is self-expressions that prioritize different things than religion. If one was to observe ethnographically some examples, self-expressions through urban pop subcultures, the pursuit of material goals including consumer goods like fast cars etc. seem much more common than religion.
The majority of the analyses that appeared in media and social media discourses after the two recent attacks have not failed to reproduce the motifs that emerged after 9/11. On the one hand, there is the ultra-conservative Islamophobic discourse that argues that there exists an intrinsic, ontological violence inherent in Islamic scripts and values, and therefore that the Muslim population poses a continual historical threat to the Western world.
On the other hand, there is the leftist-oriented interpretation of the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism, which traces the origins of brutality to the consequences of historical Western imperialism in the ‘Orient’. Many centuries of Euro-American interventions has often forcibly altered the economic, political, and social realities of peoples all around the world, according to Western geopolitical interests. From the Syces-Picot agreement, to the role played by the USA in the formation and strengthening of militant organizations of political Islam, these approaches expose the dark historical processes that ensured Western global domination at the cost of the well-being of other populations. Thus, these more leftist opinions call for the blame to be placed on the geopolitics of capitalism, and not on a religion or a specific group of people.
The first argument, the conservative one, remains very popular; nevertheless it has been already criticized heavily, and rightly, and to this we do not have much to add. In this brief text we wish to focus a bit more on the latter argument and to examine some of its own logical discontinuities.
This second, progressive line of thinking explains a source of monstrosity that ‘we’ (the West) created ‘out there’, which has now begun to invade ‘here’ – rather like the ancient Greek myth of Nemesis. But what if our Nemesis appears in a more familiar guise?
One perhaps should start their inquiry by wondering what collective subjectivities are produced amongst European youth when they witness, and are invited to remain indifferent to, the mass deaths of migrants and refugees along the European borders? According to the Greek Minister of Migration, his Belgian colleague Theo Francken told him: ‘you must consider letting them drown’ as his official position on the refugee crisis. The Belgian government denied the statement; however, it remains a fact that this has been the European governments’ collective attitude towards refugees for some time now. Might not the word nihilism be an appropriate term to describe such attitude?
Before fear become a norm in the European capitals because of the consecutive attacks, there was another condition producing fear for substantial parts of the European population – that is, for the working poor, those occupied in precarious or undocumented labour, subcontracted labour, and in general those who are victims, or remain continually potential victims, of the flexible labour market. It might not seem a proximate reality (at least until now) for middle-class white college educated Europeans, but this is precisely the reality for many second-generation migrants in countries like the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and the UK. A brief visit to blue-collar workplaces like factories, logistics warehouses etc. – those industries that keep everything moving smoothly in European metropolises – would be enough to make this phenomenon apparent.
A British Imam, giving his opinion about what draws young people to radical Islam for a TV show, stated recently: ‘I believe that European societies are not giving ways out to young people anymore. For example, here in order to play tennis you have to pay five pounds. You have to pay to do anything.’ Everyone who has lived in the UK has heard the typical joke: ‘every breath you take costs you one quid in London’. During the post-1990s era, the hegemonic discourse in Europe was claiming that social class inequality is a myth that does not apply in contemporary World. The mantra of depoliticization of everyday life, and the erasure of visible social contradictions was repeated by intellectuals, journalists, politicians etc. Unlimited growth of an economy where everyone would be benefited via increase of the consumption were promised and there was space supposedly for everyone in that European Dream. However, this did not happen and since there is no political-economic antagonism, it is nobody's fault, this is how it is, some people will be excluded from the party. But maybe if we teach people that there is not such a thing as social class or class antagonism, and that such ideas do not explain social asymmetries in contemporary society, it follows that there is no one to blame for poverty and inequality. However, if there is nobody to blame does not follow that everyone is to blame?
This is not to say that the religious factor is of absolutely no importance. However, living between a very politicized European country where axes of reference are political (Greece), and northern Europe ( Netherlands and UK) where politicized explanations of the world are almost invisible among the younger generations, we are examining the possibility that the pain we are facing in northern Europe has little to do with what is happening ‘out there’. Perhaps religion is being used as an a posteriori explanation of a phenomenon that actually has its roots in modern secular European culture.
At the end of the story might it be that this kind of twisted radicalization is not the product of a failure of integration of migrants into the European setting, but the opposite? Such attitudes might rather be indicative of a deep assimilation to the unethical ethos of the neoliberal Europe of the 1990s-2000s. Is it too extreme to say that the creation of these nihilistic subjectivities that spread terror in Paris and Brussels are compatible with – if not a consequence of – the neoliberal systemic shift of Western capitalist societies?
This article was published before in the Voices from Around the World, the Global South Studies Centre of the University of Cologne
Dimitris Dalakoglou Vrije Uni. Amsterdam
Antonis Alexandridis Vrije Uni. Amsterdam
In late May 2016 riot police buses were rolling on the Greek highways system travelling from Athens to Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian borders. Today the evacuation of the camp started, the activists who were carrying out most of the welfare work on the camp together with refugees were prevented from being present.
The situation in Idomeni was tense over the last weeks as rumors about the current operation were spread. Protests and clashes are a daily phenomena over the last few weeks. Greek police changed its approach to the camp from one of tolerance towards refugees and the politicised independent volunteers to a much more aggressive one. This shift came after the Greek minister for Migration, Yiannis Mouzalas, announced his intention for a “peaceful evacuation of Idomeni camp” a couple of months ago and the transfer of the refugees to reception centers created in former barracks and other state-run facilities.
Nevertheless, refugees in Idomeni seem to be well aware of the politics behind this policy. If they are removed from the borders the refugee crisis stops being an international European problem and becomes a domestic Greek issue. So their collective protests are of increased frequency and intensity.
Meanwhile the Greek authorities seem to organize a criminalization of the solidarity of independent volunteers. First the authorities requested every volunteer to register and be certified in order to operate in the area, something that many independent volunteers refused to do. These ‘uncertified’ volunteers, have been carrying much of the burden of the humanitarian crisis since the summer of 2015 and rightly had second thoughts about the policy. However soon their harassment by the police forces started, sometimes with the silence of the larger and certified organizations operating in the area. This harassment included from stop and search operations and detain for hours in the local police stations to arrests for “carrying walkie-talkies”.
Blame the Anarchists
Simultaneously some well-known mechanisms from the recent past seem to be mobilised again as some of the so-called by SYRIZA’s spokesmen ‘corrupted TV channels’ have changed their discourse to serve the governmental plans. Alpha, one of the largest Greek TV channels reported: “Suspicious games in the camps. The situation is explosive in the refugees front, with the slightest provocation chaos prevails. This atmosphere is stirred up by groups and organizations, which with the pretext of help, motivate refugees and migrants in tensions, telling them that in this way they will open the borders”.
Blaming this mysterious external factor (activists and volunteers) serves many purposes. First of all reminds to the refugees that they have no right to their own political agency. More widely it reminds them that they are non-citizens with very limited rights including the democratic right to protest. Moreover instead of focusing on the obvious ineffectiveness of the EU-Turkey agreement and the ill-functioning asylum relocation programme, which makes these people to revolt, putting the blame on volunteers imply that arresting and kicking out the Anarchist volunteers will resolve the problem as refugees themselves are happy with this.
We saw a very similar tactic over the last few months when refugees’ entire human agency was put into question. Smugglers (as people are contraband commodities) and traffickers were the sole target of EU policies. As if tackling smuggling networks would stop the war in Syria and Afghanistan or the refugee flows. Of course such an approach treats smugglers as the cause of migration and not as the expensive mediators in the absence of safe corridors of passage.
Thus altogether refusing the rights to self-determine their activities is again EU washing its hands clean. The refugees seem to be according to the EU governments victims of provocateurs, smugglers, ISIS, the civil war etc.’ They are never the victims of EU and its border policy, or the victims of the decisions of European governments to declare wars, never.
Georgos Poulimenakos, Vrije University Amsterdam
Dimitris Dalakoglou, Vrije University Amsterdam
“If you got money you vote in, if you haven’t got money you vote out”
This phrase belongs to a woman of Collyhurst, a working-class neighborhood in the periphery of Manchester (Harris, 24 june 2016). For her a possible exit from the EU will not have these catastrophic implications that highly educated young British people are mourning as she feels that she has very little to lose. The majority in Collyhurst residents do not afford to go anywhere abroad, so they do not worry about things such as the free movement that the EU promises. However, what is more concerning is that people who claim to talk on behalf of the Left and progressiveness do not seem to even imagine such a reason for someone to want to leave the EU.
From Greece to the UK, the working-class (employed or unemployed) has been bitterly betrayed by the Left. Both in Greece and in the UK the real needs of the common people seem like a foreign language to the parties of the Left and to people like the so-called leader of the radical left Tsipras, or the radical “new age” of the Labour Party, Corbyn.
A lot of prominent social and political theories these days argue for the supposed “end of the working-class” (see for example Pakulski and Waters, 1995, Clark and Lipset ,1990, Andreannini, 1993). If anything, current events are showing that it is not the working-class that has ended. It is its political representation. As both British and Greek referendum shows, the losers of the capitalist globalization are keep wining under immense pressures, but under the current political climate they cannot harvest their gains, whilst their victories are profiting politically the far-Right.
“Why the hell would someone vote to be enclosed to ourselves”
The first day after the British referendum our social media accounts were filled overwhelmingly by comments of our British friends who voted for the Bremain. What was very noticeable was the homogeneity of the general discourse. The referendum's outcome was paralleled with the death of modern Britain and a return to medieval self-referentiality and inwardness. The values that for them were at stake by this referendum, such as the sense of global citizenship, the habitus of constant mobility, the “diversity” and the erasure of the geographical obstacles in their social imaginary, consist simultaneously the self-realization of the contemporary British middle-class.
Almost nobody we know in Britain and voted for Bremain was slightly critical about the EU as a reactionary institution which is mostly imposing austerity while promoting policies which serve the interests of the economic elites. For them EU was a metonymy of exclusively positive values and the voters of the Brexit were to be blamed as having some kind of personal inability to realize those values.
The material factors that pushed the majority of the working-class people to vote for Brexit, as the social geography of the outcome shows (Kirk & Dunforth 2016) were not included in the critical comments. Perhaps, this happened because this middle-class hexis as Bourdieu would say inclined them not to think with material criteria, as their physical survivor is more or less secured, but with cultural or humanistic ones.
Andreanni, T. & Feray, M. (1993). Discours sur legalize parmi les homnes. Paris: L’ Harmatan
Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction: A Social critique of the Judgment of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
Clark , T. N. & Lipset, S. M. (1991) Are Social Classes Dying? International sociology, 6(4):397-410
Harris, J. (2016) ‘If you’ve got money, you vote in... If you haven’t got money, you vote out. The guardian, 24 June 2016. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/politics/commentisfree/2016/jun/24/divided-britain- brexit-money-class- inequality-westminster
Pakulski, Jan and Malcolm Waters. 1995. The Death of Class. London: Sage.
A version of this article is included in the Forum on Brexit of the journal Social Anthropology.
And a longer version of this article will follow soon.
Diatribe is an online journal created by a collective who consider antagonistic politics to capitalism and authoritarianism
as part of everyday struggles for freedom, space and the commons.
Diatribe is 'an angry and usually long speech or piece of writing that
strongly criticizes someone or something'