Saturday, 13 December 2008

Who is protesting, how and why (3)

Why?

State violence exercised upon and killing a boy, innocent by all accounts, and the rage caused by it have been powerful triggers. Trying to make sense of the extent and the persistence of the rage is another story altogether.

Early on I was dismayed by the reporting of the international media. The point that the Greeks are 'feisty' is as essentialist and ridiculous as it goes. The other point was the issue of problems the Greeks face. How to approach this issue is very complicated. Both Greeks and non-Greek colleagues have mentioned economic factors, iincluding inflation and the credit crunch. Goverment corruption is another big factor. The thing is, focussing on economic factors can be simplistic and steroetyping. Greeks have not been crawling in hunger and extreme poverty as a total. To depict Greece as a thirld world country which inevitably erupted conveniently helps other Western countires keep their distance from the events.

Economic factors cannot be seen separately from social and political factors. I have been commenting on how Greeks have been whining but never moving from the couch. Scandals of the current government have been also linked to the rage - but again, you can be angry with the current government for being incompetent and corrupt, or you can see how the system encourages, condones and rewards corruption. The majority of the Greek society is middle class, which is not surprising. The lower strata of middle class, plus working class, farmers, pensioners, are routinely hit by free-market measures. This is also not surprising. But Greece also has an overblown state sector, where the dream of everyone (or of everyone's parents) is to get a job for the state, with a regular if insufficient salary and eventually guarantee of permanence. This can later be complemented by semi-legal additional private work. So you have a combination of evils of a state-driven system and a free market system.

The majority of Greeks have not been galvanised with the virtues of free economy and can see, feel or suspect how this leaves the people unprotected (uninsured, jobless, or with a job that might be lost at any point), they can see how working in a low-paid job in the private sector involves not privileges whatsoever. The incompetence, clumsiness and harshness of introducing more capitalist measures has only made this more obvious, together with the scandals of governments (especially the current one, but also previous ones) abusing public money, bribery etc. There is no faith in the system, whatever the system is or is trying to be.

There are two ways to see this, the bright side and the dark side. This uprising, unlike in France, is not the indignation of the very lowest. It is much more unanimous.
If you want to be optimistic, you will see this as a victory of anarchy/left wing ideologies over the capitalist system, and believe that something is changing (but it is not yet clear what) - see http://carlton74.blogspot.com/2008/12/hell-to-pay.html (in English).

But 'the uprising of the middle classes' creates questions... Is it that the masses have awoken? And are they angry for the right reasons? (Because the reasons of the rage are crucial to what outcome we are working for).

Interesting commentary in http://aumilieudelempire.blogspot.com/2008/12/blog-post_12.html (in Greek).

Also see http://www.tanea.gr/default.asp?pid=10&ct=13&artID=4491662

Is it just the middle class losing its comfort? How is this going to evolve? Are we superficial, or are we finally realising that a rampant capitalist system involves all (but a few) losing their comfort, losing security, and making it a matter of degree how much discomfort one will suffer (up to breaking point)? Are we finally seeing the structural problems of our mindlessly introduced capitalist system, are we going to stop trying to wiggle through difficulties on an individual basis? The middle class youth has had the education (and free time) to sympathise with the major and extreme victims of the system (including the racism and other discrimination the system needs, apart from economic issues). They have also seen the mismatch between their hard earned education and job prospects. But is this all, and is this enough?