Monday, June 21, 2010

focus on greece

Across Europe, the governing technocrats of parties in power have responded to the new phase of meltdown (the so-called sovereign debt crisis) with neoliberal reflexes conditioned by three decades of there-is-no-alternative orthodoxy. Fortify the banks of reified consciousness and re-launch the New Enclosures: no matter that orthodoxy is bankrupt, administration is incapable of proposing anything else. Capital punishment, aka “austerity measures,” will now begin to bite; the product of the process, spiking social misery, won’t be long in coming.

So this winter and fall, struggles will intensify in those places where the power of labor and traditions of resistance are strongest – certainly in Greece and Spain, probably in France and some other countries as well. What will follow remains to be seen.

Greece has already been rocked by a series of general strikes this spring. The strike and protest demo of 5 May, the first undeniably massive rejection of the misery plan, bringing two-hundred thousand angry people to the streets, was a warning ignored. The confederated unions of the GSEE and the public sector ADEDY have called for another genral strike on 29 June. Meanwhile, the Spanish unions, now stirred, have planned a general strike for 29 September, which may turn out to be a day of resistance across the Eurozone.

The Greek conjuncture looks most explosive:  there, economic insolvency, social neglect and weaknesses in the state combine with relatively robust and militant unions, the remnants of an organized radical Left and a vibrant anarcho-autonomist counter-culture – all in a social force field that continues to activate material legacies and cultural memory traces of Nazi occupation (1941-4), imperialist intervention (military, by the British, in December 1944; thereafter by overt and covert American “aid”), a civil war (1946-9) and seven years under a military Junta (1967-74).

We’ve just been ten days in Athens, hearing from friends and comrades, discussing over meals, coffees, beers, tsipoura and ouzos; in an old mageireio on Praxitelous Street; in an alley bar in Monasteraki, where the local rembetes stop by to jam in the afternoons; in numerous joints in Exarheia, where the assassination of Alexis Grigoropoulos in December 2008 triggered an uprising (the complex character and resonations of which are still being debated); and on a poly-union demo, from Propylea and Klafthmonos Square to Syntagma, where walls of robocops blocked the approaches to Parliament, and drifting back along Panepistemiou before veering off, up Emmanouil Benaki.

We’re full of impressions and relayed insights, and it will take some time to process them. The news is not all good. Synaspismos, the largest party within SYRIZA (the radical Left coalition) and heir to hopes for a non-Stalinist alternative to the KKE (CP of Greece), has been distracted by a series of crippling splits and rancorous departures.

So far it has been the unions that have given form and tempo to popular resistance, choosing the days for major strike actions. Will the struggle pass beyond those forms, if the ruling parties remain intransigent over fall and winter? In theory, the parties to the left of the governing pseudo-socialist PASOK – the KKE on the one hand and the parties and groupings bundled in SYRIZA on the other – should now have their chance.

But up to this point this Left has shown more disarray and indecision than readiness for the coming test. The complex relations between parties, unions, classes, constituencies and counter-cultures – the constraining scars of history – have long tended to block the formation of a united or popular front against neoliberal rollback and plunder. Will the terrors of austerity finally break through these inherited impasses and produce effective defensive alliances?

Behind the Greek state, the EU (on economic matters long ago integrated into the Washington consensus, occasional spats aside) is armed with some formidable powers of enforcement. These impose a structural constraint: Greece cannot realistically hope to leap out of the austerity zone all by itself.

The critique of the Euro has been compellingly argued by a group of Greek academics teaching in the UK – namely, Costas Lapavitsas, Stathis Kouvelakis and their associates. But any viable exit from the Eurozone would need to be part of a new counter-bloc and project organized across the most affected and dissenting peripheries of Europe, through shared interests, alliances and strategies that have yet to be seriously proposed and debated. And it would need to be supported by new alliances outside Europe – a major diplomatic challenge.

Recent attempts to invent a cross-border politics and culture of solidarity under more or less radical new-left umbrellas such as Transform! and the European Social Forum processes have so far not counted much in the balance of forces but certainly point in the needed direction. Such aims in any case open quickly onto the democracy-deficit of the governing Euro-technocracy and the problem of effectively confronting it from below.

Of course, it matters how alliances, coalitions and fronts are put together – what balances are struck in the organization of practical force, which principles are never compromised and which are bent or sometimes allowed to bend. There are good reasons why Synaspismos and the KKE are divided by a wall of distrust: their organizational forms and principles diverge drastically.

The KKE's refusal to critically process its Stalinist past is notorious. No one doubts that the KKE’s rigidly centralized, top-down party-model amounts to a form of technocracy aimed leftward. In the current crisis, however, real alternatives will be driven from below, by demands for radical democratization, rather than by diktat from another technocracy, albeit one more disciplined than the status quo.

Meanwhile, the anarchists and autonomists, organized in affinity groups, are the ones practicing everyday democracy: focusing on their neighbourhoods and workplaces, discussing, writing, initiating micro-projects. While they are riven no less than others by sharp divisions and debates (notably, over the perennial problem of violence), the anarchists have been the staunchest supporters of immigrants and the most consistent critics of nationalism in Greece. Their general rejection of the party-organized Left, along with the state, leaves them isolated, however. What will they offer to this struggle, when it reaches the point of demanding the remaking of the state and the requisite diplomacy with other states? And – the burning question – where do they stand on the Euro?

Out of these blocked potentials, a new constellation will presumably have to emerge, before the rage of the base can be translated into adequate counter-proposals and programs. If this struggle is to prevail, new aims and the power blocs to realize them need to be organized from the legacies that still constrain it. There’s still time, and things can move quickly, but alternatives to the ruling logic aren’t plucked at will out of thin air. Or, to put it differently: if the Greek people are expected to decathexize from “Europe” and transfer their politicized libido investments to a new counter-hegemonic project, then that project needs to be envisioned with compelling clarity and appeal. Who will – or can – organize that?

Meanwhile, rumors are flying. We’ve heard that default will come next week, or else in August, when many Athenians are out of the city. We’ve heard that night after night on the docks of Piraeus, ships from Canada have been secretly offloading the rolls of paper needed for printing drachmas, and also that PASOK has already started to print them in secret, also by night!

Yannis, our Lacanian friend, thinks these rumors are a clear case of people “enjoying” their own ruin. More optimistically, maybe, they suggest that unconsciously people are preparing for default and a possible exit from the Eurozone.

Resistance has opened a real political moment in Greece. Reified normality has begun to fissure, exposing naked relations and interests. For the moment, in the lethargy of a mid-June heat-wave, normality is still holding. But come autumn?

As this key struggle unfolds, there are many risks – including, if the Left fails to project a clear alternative to restoration, a swing to the Right. But in this risky mix is also a real chance for a re-alignment toward radical democracy and away from the terror of capital: possible steps toward a different Greece and a different Europe.

In this context, we’ve invited Greek friends and comrades to share their thoughts, and to send us texts in their own voices, with images of their own choosing. We’ve also asked some artists and critics to share their work and insights. We hope this ongoing thread of posts on Greece, the opening front in the Eurozone struggle, can supplement other sources of critical news and reflection, and in that way modestly help to disseminate resistance and foster needed solidarities.


vlahos: piraeus tower/elounda summit/kotsakis

Vangelis Vlahos, The Differences between the Parts Are the Subject of the Composition, 2009.

This and the following post introduce here the work of artist Vangelis Vlahos, whose researches and installations probe recent Greek history by combining architectural models and photographic archives. The presented three-part project, with Vlahos’ own textual notes, was installed in The Breeder in Athens in 2009. The essay in the following post is a commentary on Vlahos’ project by artist and theorist Kostis Stafylakis.

The models depict Piraeus Tower, an abandoned high-rise building in Piraeus port, Greece. In each model of the Piraeus Tower the number of the building’s floors alters. Taking into account the modernistic design of the Tower, the models appropriate the grid structure of its minimal skeleton in order to produce an almost symmetrical composition of 6 different pieces with seemingly regulated changes. The images in the archive involve [PASOK Prime Minister] Andreas Papandreou's personal "mediation" between France and Libya over arrangements for bilateral troop withdrawals from Chad, in a summit meeting in Elounda Bay, in Crete, on November 15, 1984. The photos, taken from different media, depict Papandreou, Mitterrand and Gaddafi seating around a table. All the photos depict the same scene from different angles of view.

The title of the project is based on a found sentence from Sol LeWitt’s text “Serial Project No.1 (ABCD),” Aspen Magazine, 5-6 (1966)

About the Piraeus Tower: Piraeus Tower is a 24-story high-rise building in Piraeus port, technically the second tallest building in Greece. Architecturally the building follows the rules of the American International Style. Originally the building was planned to become a business and trade center similar to the World Trade Center in NY and be operated in a similar manner by the Piraeus Port Authority. Although the building was planned to serve as an icon signifying the progress Greece was making during the years of the military Junta (1967-1974), after the completion of its frame in 1974, it was never fully used apart from the first two floors, which have been occupied by a toy store, a home electronics chain and a school. The last serious development to the 24-story frame came in the early 1980's where it was gladded with glass and marble but without any other development on its frame. 

In the past there have been many rumours about the cause of its incomplete construction status, including an engineering mistake or miscalculation that greatly affected the building's overall stability. However, nothing of the above has ever been confirmed officially.

The particular building along with a series of other initiatives, investments and infrastructure works held during the period of the dictatorship tried to create the impression both in Greece and the West that Greece is a modern country which could play a leading role in the wider area of the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe.

The Elounda Summit (The differences between the parts are the subject of the composition), 2009. About Greece’s relationship with the Arab World: Greek governments have traditionally pursued a policy of friendship with the Arab states. This relationship is based on both historical and contemporary factors. In the wake of the oil crisis and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, both in the mid-1970s, Greece's Middle East policy appeared to slant strongly toward the Arabs. This seems to be dictated by two needs: for Arab support for Greece's Cyprus policies and for stable oil supplies from the Arab oil producers. After the fall of the Greek dictatorship in the mid 1970s, Greece asserted its intermediary role between the Middle East, North Africa and the European Community hoping to become an economic and financial centre and a crossroads in the region. In the early 1980s, the Papandreou socialistic governments continued this policy, establishing close relations with most of the so called at that time radical regimes of the Middle East such as Syria, Libya, PLO etc. The PLO was granted recognition at the end of 1981; closer relations were cultivated with Libya and Algeria; Papandreou visited a number of Arab countries; a direct line of communication was established between Greece and Syria; and an agreement was signed with Syria against world imperialism and racist Zionism. Papandreou’s initiative to invite Mitterrand and Gaddafi to discuss an issue not directly connected to Greece’s affairs can be seen in the context of a broader Greek foreign policy at that time to play an intermediary role between the West and the Arab world.

Kostas Kotsakis (The differences between the parts are the subject of the composition), 2009. The photographs depict Greek architect Kostas Kotsakis, whose name was found in the agenda of an associate killed during a bomb attack attempt against the American embassy in Athens in September 1970. This project is presented as a grid of 49 small size b&w photographs where the amount of light is progressively reduced. The title of the project is based on the same found sentence from Sol LeWitt’s text cited above.

About Kotsakis: Although not widely known, Kostas Kotsakis (64 years old today) took an active role in the fight against the Colonels’ Junta. After the capture of the active members of the November 17 terrorist group in the summer 2002, Kotsakis was represented in the Greek press as linked to terrorist networks. According to reports at the time, he seemed to be a member of the Epanastatikos Laikos Agonas (Revolutionary People's Struggle, known by the acronym ELA). After the group November 17, ELA was the most important terrorist group of the Greek radical Left. Kotsakis’ name was also found in the archives of the Stasi, the former East German secret police, connecting him with the terrorists Carlos the Jackal and Weinrich. Kotsakis denied any link with ELA and none of the above allegations was ever confirmed.

For the record, according to his own statements, Kotsakis had only a supportive role in the bombing attempt against the American embassy in Athens in September 1970. The attempt failed because of a defect in the bomb mechanism, which killed his companions Giorgos Tsikouris and Maria Elena Angeloni. Kotsakis’ name was found in Tsikouris’ agenda, and the regime declared him a co-perpetrator, putting a reward of 100,000 drachmas on his head. He succeeded in fleeing to Paris and did not return to Athens until 1975, after democracy had been restored.

Both November 17 and ELA developed out of the opposition to the military Junta and both groups were widely identified with the period after its fall in 1974. They were both strongly anti-American and sought the removal of US military forces from Greece. Until the end of the 1980s their activities and declarations were to a certain extent viewed favourably by the Greek people. ELA ceased its activity in 1995, while the November 17 group was disbanded in 2002, the period before the Olympic Games in Athens.

Photos courtesy of the artist and The Breeder, Athens:
The Piraeus Tower (The differences between the parts are the subject of the composition), 2009. Six scale models 1:150 on a wooden base (210 x 135 x 15cm).

The Elounda summit (The differences between the parts are the subject of the composition), 2009. Eight press photographs on a wooden shelf (c. 2.5 m). 

Kostas Kotsakis (The differences between the parts are the subject of the composition), 2009. Forty-nine photographs (6.5 x 9.5cm each) in glass frame 50 x 70cm.

stafylakis on vlahos

The Tower

by Kostis Stafylakis

“The Differences between the Parts are the Subject of the Composition.”
The first years after 1974, a key period for Vangelis Vlahos’ research, saw a great boost in the production of historical literature/testimonies. As Nikolas Sevastakis points out, it was the issue of seeing justice done for the crimes committed by the colonels’ regime and for recent events in Cyprus that fueled such production, in a general spirit that called for the moral vindication of the victims and the punishment of the perpetrators. If, in previous projects, Vlahos’ main intention has been to provide the necessary material for the construction of an anti-narrative, or an alternative version of Greece’s recent political history, then the Piraeus Tower project makes such an "elliptic" use of the historical document as to allow for the emergence of a space that is open to a host of associative processes. In the lines that follow, we will attempt to navigate this enigmatic space of association.

What could be the link between this decaying, half-finished tower of Piraeus, whose construction was a project undertaken by the colonels’ regime, and Andreas Papandreou’s foreign policy in the Middle East? At first glance, the two appear wholly unconnected! It is as if the work were suggesting something to which we have no access; something we cannot possibly grasp for lack of the necessary cognitive tools that might facilitate our understanding of it. Still, what we are confronted with belongs to the recent past – the very recent past, to be more precise! Today’s eighteen-year-olds may have no picture of the state of "hyper-politicization" that was typical of the 80s in Greece; they may not be familiar with the trials and tribulations of Greek foreign policy and its inexorable dependence upon crises fitfully breaking out in the interior, upon reversals and swings shaking the country from within. And yet, no matter how apolitical a younger generation may be – now between 25 and 35 years of age – it may very well recall some of the slogans chanted during the 1981 election. Young Greeks have surely heard, even as a distant echo, slogans such as "Out of the EEC" or "Out of NATO," although none of these "threats"’ ever materialized. Perhaps they may even be carrying, stored in their memory, images of Papandreou’s meetings with leaders of the so-called "independent world" of "anti-imperialist powers." If anything, they are certainly aware of Greece’s excellent relations with the Arab world, although they may be less familiar with such political choices as a verbal support of the Jaruzelski regime, a close relationship shared with the PLO and declarations made in favour of the Sandinistas –choices stemming from a determination to make perfectly clear that "Greece should no longer be considered a submissive satellite of the West." They may well remember the era’s dominant anti-Western and anti-American rhetoric, which was nevertheless accompanied by a full renewal of the contract allowing US military bases on Greek soil. They may have heard something about the strategy of greeting EEC and NATO communiqués with endless memoranda, as about the steady course steered by the Papandreou administration in constantly adopting a different position to that stated in such communiqués. They may even have heard that this strategy went hand in hand with a warm welcome of development funds provided for by the EEC’s Integrated Mediterranean Programs.    

What then happens when one is confronted with Vlahos’ stark, indexical space? What would a younger viewer surmise from a first, hasty attempt at "reclaiming" historical time? They would probably form the impression that Piraeus’ emblematic commercial tower, a token of an economic policy that directly depended upon the geopolitical realities of the Cold War, is a symbol of the past that remains unconnected to the sort of "independent," "heroic" foreign policy pursued in the years of the metapolitefsi [“regime change,” referring to the return to democracy following the Junta]. The historical circumstance that established Andreas Papandreou as a leading figure on the international diplomatic chessboard, the notorious "Elounda Bay Agreement" (1984), is mysteriously cited alongside the architectural models of the Piraeus Tower. A series of photographs showing Papandreou, Qaddafi and Mitterrand, taken at this event from different angles and by different photographers, serve to remind us of Papandreou’s initiative for Greek mediation in the conflict between France and Libya, which ultimately led to a compromise between the warring parties the two countries supported in Chad. On a first level then, an associative processing of the information at hand might allow us to identify a gap, a discontinuity that supposedly symbolizes the transition from a period of oppression in Greek history to one of "freedom," of popular sovereignty and socialist political choices. As a matter of fact, a large portion of what is known today as the "socialist or democratic wing" continues to view that "heroic" period of Greek socialism with intense feelings of nostalgia, perhaps as a reaction to the "discontent" and "embarrassment" caused in them – for reasons open to discussion – by the period of "modernization."

I think this might help us draw certain useful political insights. It is helpful to understand that the identity of contemporary Greek political awareness is still largely determined by a stereotypical "before-and-after" type of division. Thus, the documentational space that Vangelis Vlahos creates by juxtaposing photographic documents and architectural models operates as a sort of psychological experiment, or a general knowledge board game like the ones we used to play when little. The document reveals nothing about history; it rather reveals something about subjects themselves, who project their own fragmentary narrative upon the historical trace, attempting to ensure their ideological integrity by means of identifying a clear distinction between a "before" and an "after." 

And yet, things are not that simple. Those on the receiving end of the project feel that there is something disturbing lurking within it – something that threatens their very own ideological makeup. There is something slightly off about its image. This lifeless building of Piraeus does not rise in the middle of some ruined Balkan or Middle-Eastern ghost-city, but right at the heart of a large and thriving port of the Mediterranean. Moreover, it seems that it was always on the agenda of successive administrations of the metapolitefsi years, which was ensured mainly through the Piraeus Port Authority. Still, despite political planning, the building continues to stand in its place like a menacing apparition. For several reasons that remain largely unknown, including unsubstantiated rumors about the building’s flawed statics, it was never used, save the few stores that were occasionally housed there. How ironic! After 1974, the building’s first two floors would house a toy store, a home appliances chain store and a school. What could best describe the period’s pervasive hope for prosperity if not that? At the beginning of the 80s, part of the building’s exterior was covered with marble and glass. Nevertheless, there is some inexplicable reason that still prevents completion of the building, keeping it in this state of the modernist grid/framework that forms the core of an American architectural style now adopted internationally, which one may identify in almost all the buildings Vlahos chooses to examine in his work. Of course, the marble and glass fittings on the exterior of the Piraeus Tower seem to bring this international style closer to the sort of "Greco-international" style later to be imposed by a fledgling class of managers along Kifissias avenue. Perhaps what this citing of seemingly "incongruous" documentation really achieves is to intimate a sense of continuity – the enduring nature of the imaginary realm of political power, on which the change of regimes or administrations has no bearing. It is indeed hard to offer an explanation of the building’s mysterious "resistance" to governmental plans. In the end, the building is nothing but an empty shell, a modern carcass that remains unaltered – or, perhaps, keeps returning to the same place, if a metaphor might be allowed.
On the issue of justice for the crimes of the Junta, see, Nikolas Sevastakis, Koinotopi chora: Opseis tou dimosiou chorou kai antinomies axion sti simerini Ellada (Commonplace Land: Aspects of Public Space and Value Antinomies in Contemporary Greece), Athens, 2004. For an analysis of Greek foreign policy during the early 1980s, see Nikiforos Diamandouros, Politismikos dyismos kai politiki allagi stin Ellada tis metapolitefsis; in English as Cultural Dualism and Political Change in Post-Authoritarian Greece, translated by Dimitris A. Sotiropoulos, Athens, 2000.

postcard from alabama


From The Guardian, via Joni Guitar: "Delicate patterns in the sea breaking on Orange Beach, Alabama, more than 90 miles from the BP oil spill, cannot distract from the mess four to six inches deep on parts of the shore."


Friday, June 4, 2010

beyond enforcement

Beyond Enforcement:
Traversing State Terror and the Politics of Fear

by Gene Ray

Crises arrive, as if from somewhere, fall like night, bear down, take hold, bite like jaws of teeth, squeeze like vises, break like storms or bubbles: effects ripple pitilessly, positions crumble, assets vanish in a spreading slippage, a sucking from below, an awful culling of the weak and exposed. Planetary meltdowns loom, impend.  Economies grow, and slow, but must grow, must be made to grow, to expand, spiraling incessantly, an immense entwining of flows, the dance of commodities, the “ever new production of the always-the-same.” And resources deplete, oil produced over millennia is turned to fume in two centuries, atoms are split, waste accumulates, like a darkening shadow, a hovering toxin, another ghost of capital. And still the frenzied racing, the rivaled eyeing, muscles flexing, markets judging, terminal arsenals still on fifteen-minute alert, a world awash in arms, skies filling with terminator drones.
Within a given social process, a field of forces and relations in motion, one generated tendency becomes a dominant, mastering logic. One antagonistic logic, a calculus of advantage, a mode of instrumental reason joined to a relation of domination, spreads, expanding its field, overtaking, overwhelming, deranging, pulverizing, liquidating whatever constrains it, consolidating, entrenching, and becomes global – the master logic of a global social process. And reason thereby recoils, becomes unreason, hostile and heedless, eating its own tail. Capitalist modernity and the social world, ours, it has produced: a world turned against its producers escapes all control, is seen finally to have been a terminal, omnicidal logic, busily, blindly undermining its own conditions, the ecological basis, biosphere, the condition of life on earth.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

postcards from the gulf

postcards from canada

Jess MacCormack works with communities of marginalized women and young people.  She sends some postcards from Winnipeg, made with women she met in the context of her Crossing Communities project.

postcard from conquest

Theodore A. Harris, Postcard from Conquest, 2008.

postcards from ireland

Greg Sholette sends these snapshots of crisis fallout: ghostly voids and contrasts from Sligo, Ireland, formally known as the Eurozone's Celtic Tiger.