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'