Saturday, 13 December 2008

Who is protesting, how and why (2)


It is being repeatedly noted by Greek and international media that this is the most widespread and violent protest in the recent years of Greek history. I just want to have a closer look at the ways this protest is actually taking place:

- Peaceful ways of protest are veastly downplayed. People are having peaceful marches and conducting peaceful 'sitting protest' e.g. in front of government buildings, or sit-ins/occupations of buildings (broadcast media buildings which they use to transmit a message and then leave peacefully, schools and universities - in the Greek embassy in Berlin protesters peacefully went in, hang a banner protesting about the murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos by the state, and left also peacefully).

- Different groups of people take part in marches and deminstrations, where some of them are involved in material damages and some are not.

- Material damages: the main targets are government buildings and banks, followed by banks and large chain stores. There have been damages of smaller stores as well.

- Fighting with the police.

- Fights with civilians.

It is important to account for and explain all this.

First of all, media will focus on the violent aspect of the protest for obvious sensationalist reasons. Clearly a violent protest is more spectacular than a peaceful one. But there is more to it than that. You can see ideologies at stake in every single form of protest and protest reporting. Many have blamed the media for also blowing up police violence, who also makes for better news stories, and thus rekindling people's rage and thus indirectly motivating conflict. The problem with this is that it is a game of attracting audiences as opposed to genuinely deconstructing and criticising police violence.

The media are also fond of overplaying the danger caused by these 'uncontrolled anarchist mobs', 'hoodies' and 'masked men'. I was initially excited to see for once the protesters being represented as 'young people' and not as 'anarchists'/'masked men'/'known-unknowns'. This was during the first days of the rioting, when it would have been reidiculous and unacceptable to link both the dead boy and the protesting groups to any political group or planning which would potentially be interpreted as sympathy for the killer. This is not so now. Slowly we see the reporting shifting to the usual blame of anarchist groups for all evils, away from state violence. Unanimity is threatened as the days go by.

Damaging selected capitalism temples is more controversial. Not everyone shares the critique of the capitalist system as the groups attacking these buildings. There are two ways to go with this on the micro-level: local managers and lower rank employees of these companies who cannot work now because these buildings are burnt. OR shrug it off - irrespective of whether you are happy with these damages or not, this is immaterial and the point is to focus on the causes of the trouble, including why this boy has been killed and why people are so angry.

Smaller shops ruined is a shore point for everyone. There is evidence by now that provocators have been engaged in such damage to turn the public opinion against protesters. There are also claims that some of these small shops were damaged by the same groups who attacked larger shops and banks, and that these groups engage in blind violence. Comparatively, the number of small shops damaged is small. What you think on (provided that you accept that even one small shop was damaged by anarchists and not fascists and provocators) this depends on how much you sympathise with the cause of the anarchist groups. What I mean by that: if you see the police still as an institution which protects you, you are more willing to see the shooting of Alexandros Grigoropoulos as an isolated incident of one untrained and violent cop. Likewise, if you see the cause of protests as overall justified, you are more likely to see material damages (or the ones you would see as unjustified) as a side effect, and not redirect your anger towards the few who cause these damages but still towards those who caused the indignant protests in the first place. As someone put it in the early days online 'this is war, and it will have collateral damage'. I cringed to see the phrase 'collateral damage' by an anarchy sympathiser/anarchist, but this is true. In a war (metaphorical or literal) you never have one side displaying saintly behaviour and only one side being violent. It goes both ways, and the question is, who is right.

Rage is a big factor. Even without ideology, rage can cause people to break things. Now I am referring to the not-so-strongly politicised masses outraged by the killing of the boy (and more...) I saw early videos of schoolchilrden throwing stones at policemen and yelling at them for killing this boy - are these organised anarchists or brainless vandals? None of these - naturally the police would be the first target of the rage. One facebook poster mentions that a relative who was a policeman quit soon after the incident, embarassed to be a member of an institution who behaves so brutishly. There are debates about whether there are honest policemen or not - this is beside the point. The honest ones should have quit their jobs, or refused to participate in stifling the demonstrations (at the risk of losing their jobs). Psychologically, it takes an inclination to violence to be an efficient cop.

Fights with civilians again include fighting with plain clothes policemen, fascists and provocators. But sadly there are also reports of attempts to lynch 'anarchists', the anarchist being any unsuspecting passer by or teenage protester. Witch hunting. These angry mobs may not necessarily be well-indoctrinated fascists, but are definitely influenced by the ideologies depicting anarchists and leftists as trouble makers, worrying about their shops more than the state of their country and possibly fearing for their lives for no reason - but brainwahsed by the sense of danger pushed forward by the government and the media.

Questions about unanimity and heterogeneity of the protest are raised once again. But the protests are continuing for a second week and they are clearly not the isolated efforts of scattered groups of anarchists and/or 'troublemakers', however defined. There is more to it than that.

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