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?
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'