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Posts Tagged ‘Athens’

Reflections on Revolution

In #GlobalRevolution, Athens, Greece on 25 June 2012 at 19:25

Athens, June 25

Dear people,

In Spain the summer marches are getting under way, like last year. Only this time there are just three marches confirmed. The Northwest column from Galicia, the Northeast column from Barcelona and the Southern column from Málaga.

A few weeks ago Mami told me that this spring, leading up to May 15, there have also been various Catalan marches directed to Barcelona. I believe there were four. They entered the city along the river valleys and over the ancient trade routes.

Some of us have left Athens to join the Barcelona column going to Madrid. Again like last year, the columns are expected to arrive at Puerta del Sol on July 23.

Me, I’m still in Athens. You can find me on my rock, growing a beard and contemplating the fact that I know so little. Yet as a longtime revolutionary and veteran of many campaigns, people come to me sometimes and they say: “Oscar, what do you think of all this?” The marches, they mean.

Usually I scratch my beard in a very wise and meaningful manner and I respond something like: “Things are not what they seem…” Or: “Fire, walk with me!” But that is just because I used to watch a lot of Twin Peaks.

In fact, I don’t know. On the one hand, it has been done, and it’s never going to be the way it was the first time. On the other hand, by all means let there be marches. Any initiative is better than no initiative at all, especially now that Spain is in the situation that Greece experienced last year.

Also, a recurrence is a good reason to reflect. When you return to the same places after a year, and you continue to return there, you will be able to see changes. You can detect what’s improving and what isn’t. Most of all you can share your experiences by speaking about what’s happening in other towns, regions and villages.

It’s important to keep making revolution every day, all year round. But if the revolution doesn’t advance to the next level, the popular impulse will fade away. It’s what happened in Greece last year. During the occupation of Syntagma and the massive daily protests outside parliament, the Greeks came very close to toppling the government. They could have done so. But they knew that even if the popular revolt succeeded, the outside world would intervene to reestablish order in one way or another.

If there is still any hope left in Greece now, it’s hope for some kind of divine providence to turn things around sooner or later. But people here don’t seem to believe that they can make a difference themselves any more.

In thinking about the concept of revolution, I’m convinced I’m starting to understand some things. Not yet on a rational level, but more intuitively. Both about people themselves, and about the system that keeps society together.

Sometimes, while contemplating modern society my greatest worry is that this is us. All this mindless exploitation and senseless consumerism is simply what we are. In that case, there is no such thing as revolution. It’s a fairy tale like the ones religions are made of.

Fortunately, there is often someone who reminds me that this isn’t true, not completely. The variety in human forms of organisation is huge, just like the variety of values on which humans have founded their societies in the past.

If modern society is what we are, it’s because it’s us who hold it together, but it hasn’t got anything to do with human nature. It works both ways. We give shape to the system, and in turn it’s the system that shapes our mindset.

The same goes for the crisis. It wasn’t caused only by the banks. It was caused by every one of us. A bank shouldn’t give easy credit to people who can’t afford to pay it back and then sell off that debt to someone else. That’s not fair. But as a client, if you can’t afford it, you have no business taking a loan in the first place!

With this I don’t mean to say that there isn’t something inherently wicked in our current banking system. There is. First because money is created out of debt by private enterprises for the sole purpose of private gain. And secondly because of the phenomenon of interest and inflation.

These two are obviously linked. They serve as an incentive to invest, to make sure money keeps roling. You have little choice, because if you put your money in an old sock, it will lose its value. Interest and inflation are at the core of the Gospel of Economic Growth. In certain societies – most notably in the muslim world – interest is forbidden by law, and money is first of all a public asset.

But the economy is only a part of the story. On a wider scale, before we even start to think about change, let alone revolution, we have to be aware of the fact that we have only recently entered a completely new era. In the last fifty years human society has been subject to change in a way which can only be compared to the agricultural revolution at the basis of civilization, and the industrial revolution, of which it represents the final stage.

What I mean to say is that all throughout known history human society was rooted in the land. City life was only made possible because the majority of people were working the soil, producing more than enough for city dwellers to be sustained.

With the advent of industrial agriculture the ancient link between people and the land was broken. Machines had taken over, life in the city had become the heart of society and the country side was reduced to an appendix of the city itself. Rural life as people had known it throughout the centuries, had ceased to exist.

Today, in a world where population keeps growing exponentially while precious resources are being depleted at ever increasing rates and the climate shows signs of a potentially devastating change, the most important problems are not economical.

A revolution will have to be a change towards sustainability. And as such it will have to include a reevaluation of rural life. Not that people should go back to being farmers, or live together in hippie comunes. I don’t believe in all those things. I see it more like an evolution towards a hybrid of country- and city life. Or, in other words, a redistribution of space.

In general, we all have our own very small private space in the city. We work most of our lives to be able to pay for it and call it our own. This space, and often the furniture, is similar to that of other people. Hardly anyone lives in a space that is authentically his own.

All around our little home, life is dictated by the fast pace of the outside world. The thin layer of neighbours, friends and collegues is not enough to divide the two.

A redistribution of space would mean first of all amplifying and personalising the private space and establishing contact with the outdoors. Second of all it would mean the creation of an intermediate community space, where you can be part of a society on a human scale. Then all around this community space, there is the world.

It’s going to take a long time, people. And it’s not going to start here in Greece. Tomorrow morning, at daybreak, I will make another attempt to escape from Athens.

If I’ll make it, you’ll know.

Helpless

In Athens, Greece on 19 June 2012 at 16:07

Athens, June 19

In 1948 the Italians were asked to vote on the future of their newly founded republic. If they voted the right, Italy would become a liberal democracy under the umbrella of the United States, and as such eligible for Marshall funds. If they voted the left, Italy would become a socialist state under the influence of Moscow. There was no third way.

The right wing Christian Democrats presented themselves as guardians of civilization, with a shield and the holy cross as their symbol.

The left wing socialists and communists had united in the ‘Garibaldi alliance’, after Italy’s iconic hero of the wars for independence.

The election campaign was completely based on fear. In people’s consciousness it wasn’t the name of Garibaldi that became associated with the leftwing parties, it was the name of Stalin. If Italians would vote communist, it would mean another barbarian invasion, and it was going to be worse than Atilla and Barbarossa put together. Or so the establishment predicted. From the Vatican, the pope didn’t care too much for subtlety when he excommunicated every single communist.

It worked. Italy voted for the right. The country became a member of NATO, and a founding member of the European Community. The Christian-Democrats gained power, and clang on to it throughout the Cold War, until the first republic was blown up by a corruption scandal of epic proportions in 1992.

Dear people,

No-one came after me any more, the house still stands, and with a little twist of fate, I’m still here. Long enough to witness yet another general election.
For some reason, the Greek elections of May and June this year reminded me a bit of what happened in Italy in the wake of WW2. Only now the big question on which the people got to decide was if Greece should stay in the eurozone, or if she should default and start all over.

The left wing has managed to unite into an alliance which ranges from social-democrats to various radical communist denominations. They don’t want to pay the debt. They want out of the euro.

The right wing, which includes both major parties, wants to stay in the euro, and they based their campaign on fear. To them, a default and a return to the drachme would mean complete collapse and misery. Simply because Greece doesn’t have the economic basis to stand on her own. She needs Europe and the rest of the world.

Naturally, a majority of Greeks doesn’t want international institutions and markets to dictate national policy, but that’s not what the election is about. There is no third way. Either you want in, or you want out.

Greek society is so deeply divided on the subject that two rounds of general elections have been necessary. The first one was held on the day after we arrived, and the second one was last Sunday.

Nothing really changed in the mind of the Greeks over these last few weeks, so the results were pretty similar. The only scarry news is that the fascists gained even more than last time. As if to say that Greeks didn’t vote them out of frustration. Almost ten percent of the electorate support the neo-nazis, and they mean it.

In general the results show the following. There is a small majority that wants Greece to stay in the eurozone. There is a large minority that wants a return to the drachme combined with an evolution towards a certain degree of socialism. There is a small but significant minority that wants to turn Greece into an independent nationalist dictatorship, and there another small but significant minority that doesn’t want any form of government at all.

Last year’s dream of direct democracy and popular participation is not an option. There is no spirit of revolution in the air. Instead you can feel the desire of many people to return to how things were before the crisis started. It had only been a generation or two since Greece had turned from basic rural misery to urban consumerism. People had only just got used to the western way of life.

Now, even if people really wanted to make a real change, a revolution, they wouldn’t know where to start. And this goes not just for Greece. We modern city dwellers might be the best educated generation in history, but when it comes down to practice, we are absolutely helpless.

On average, we have no idea of how to work the land. We hardly even know which crops are typical of our climate, and in which season they grow. We don’t have any real technical or mechanical knowledge either. We wouldn’t know how to build a shed, or a fence, or a house. We wouldn’t know how to fix a car or a pump. We don’t know much about electric circuits and how to create energy. Finally, we haven’t got any profound knowledge of computers, be it hardware or software.
We are perfectly capable of using the front end of the system, but we haven’t got a clue of what’s going on under the hood.

Sure, we can learn, but who is seriously prepared to do so? To many people it feels unnatural, as if it were a return to the past. We came from being hunters to being farmers, to being artisans and labourers until we reached the final stage of evolution. Our own office chair.

Once you’re there, in the office chair, it’s hard to go back to doing or making real things. And so you delegate.

The Greek people have delegated. They have given the traditional parties a mandate to negotiate a way out of this crisis. They want them to get this train back on track, or else things could get unpredictably ugly.

In the midst of all this the only true revolutionary gesture that I haven’t even witnessed, but heard about, was that of a compatriot of mine. He came to Greece years ago, he fell in love, and now he bought a piece of land with the ferm intent to make it bear fruit.

About Last Night

In Athens, Greece on 13 June 2012 at 05:00

Athens, June 13, 5 a.m.

I have been too cynical after all, I admit it. Life is not easy in Exarchia. To me, and to those who came here with the march to Athens, it might have seemed that way, especially after months of walking and camping in the public squares, but that doesn’t give me the right to say life is easy for people here in Exarchia.

Also, I admit that it is incoherent of me to speak about ‘drugs’, if I have been saying ‘grass’ and ‘weed’ all along to indicate the same thing.

With that I rectify what I said in the original first paragraph of yesterday’s post. I also explicitly add that all views expressed on this blog are my personal views only. None of the people from the march, from the squat, or from the photographs is to be held responsible for what I say.

Dear people,

I didn’t manage to escape last night. And maybe it’s better that way, because in my naive cynicism I could have left burning ruins in Exarchia, without even being aware of it.

At three o’clock this morning three people came to the door of our squat. They were looking for me. They demanded access in order to beat me up, all because of the former first paragraph of yesterday’s post. I do hope they didn’t read any further.

The Old Man denied them access. They threatened to come back this morning with a hundred people to burn the house down and club us all out.

It was slight overkill. A heartfelt but pressing advice would have been enough for me to rectify. Because I am a reasonable person, and as such I am perfectly willing to admit I’m wrong, in case I really am.

Also, as a reasonable person, I think that violence is a problem and not a solution. The threat to use it against people because of their opinions is not going to create a fruitful debate. It’s also typical for those repressive societies that many of us, free human beings, are so determined to fight.

I don’t know exactly in what kind of society I would like to live, but I’m damn sure it’s a place where I can freely share my views without having to be afraid to go out on the streets, or to stay at home.

It’s 1515. Nosotros turns out to be closed. If anyone wants to speak to me, come to the house at 1900. Without arms. If I’m not there, last chance tomorrow at Nosotros 1400 hours.

Oscar.

P.S. For those who are wondering what this is all about, and for completeness’ sake, I add the original first paragraph of yesterday’s post:

“It has been a month and it’s time to get out of here. Exarchia is like a trap. Life is too easy in this place. You can find abandoned houses anywhere, rampant consumerism brings in more than enough food to be recycled, drugs are abundant and cheap, and illegal tobacco as well. You don’t need much here to get wasted every day.”

Escape from Exarchia

In Athens, Greece on 12 June 2012 at 14:36

Comrade Cansino / Kourasmenos

Athens, June 12

Dear people,

It has been a month, and only now the last of the marchers are leaving Exarchia in small groups. The road that took us here has been long, and for many of us the road out of here has been hard to find. Some of us went a couple of days to the islands on holiday. Me too, I went to Paros with a comrade from the indignados in Paris. We did ‘Occupy Paros’, and the ‘March to Naussa’, eight kilometres. In Naussa we came across two Greeks who live in Scotland. Last year they participated in ‘Occupy Dundee’.

Cat on Paros
Having experienced live abroad, they were pretty hard on their fellow Greeks. For once I didn’t hear the usual story of the evil IMF trying to enslave the poor Greek people through a fictitious debt. Instead they gave the simple example of a normal Greek family who goes to the beach and leaves the place littered with trash. “They don’t care. And as long as they don’t care, things are not going to get any better around here.”

We also met an entrepreneur who has been living in Greece for years. He complained a lot about Greek mentality, in particular the buraucracy and the corruption. Nothing special for a businessman to complain about, I know. But this man wasn’t from England or Holland or Germany or even France. He was from the Dominican Republic. And if I’m not mistaken, the Dominican Republic is one of those countries who regularly top the charts when it comes to corruption and bureaucracy.

Goat on Paros

Sundown

Camouflage

Back in Exarchia things were the same as before. Only some people had managed to escape. I don’t know if they ever made it out of Greece.

It has been an interesting experience living in the anarchist quarter. It’s a very peculiar place. On the inside you won’t find any police. The cops are around. You’re in a ghetto that is under siege twenty-four hours a day. Usually you find four officers in riot gear guarding each of the exits, with a bus full of backup on standby.

Within their own neighbourhood, it’s the anarchists themselves who uphold law and order. Fortunately they don’t have any clear ideas on either subject, so they usually won’t bother you. But if they do, you better watch out. Standard anarchist armament consists of clubs and helmets. Supposedly it’s the only thing that Greeks use their helmets for: to smash them on other people’s heads.

I’m sorry, I’m getting cynical. But that’s not my fault. It’s the result of three months of living in Greece. Still there’s no need to worry, I’m working on an exit strategy.

So, Exarchia is a fascinating place. If I had taken university seriously and had a couple of years to spare I could have written a monumental sociological study about this neighbourhood. And it would have been worth it, because the organisation of anarchist society in Exarchia is absolutely striking.

I’ll try to give you the short version.

Comrade Sabina, heroine of the revolution.

First, there are the upperclass anarchists. They gather in their own exclusive societies where you can only enter if you have reached at least Political Awareness Level 7. You also have to be able to quote fifty pages of Bakunin by heart. Not for us mortals. You need Political Awareness Level 4 just to talk them on the street.

Second, there are the bourgeois anarchists. These people don’t lock themselves up in exclusive clubs, because they want to be seen. They drink their expensive Nescafe frappe from cocktail glasses on the terraces of luxury bars named ‘Revolt’, or ‘Che Guevara’, or something similar.

Comrade Leonidas

Third, there are the middle class anarchists. They take their frappe ‘to go’ in large American-style plastic cups, and they drink it out on the square. In the evening, they switch their instant coffee for various international brands of beer.

Fourth, there are proletarian anarchists. They roam the square and the streets all night to collect the empty bottles of beer. If they bring back seven empty bottles to the store, they get a full one in exchange.

Fifth, there must be some anarchist anarchists here as well. They probably have their own block on the neighbourhood somewhere.

One thing that all the anarchists have in common, maybe the only thing, is that they think they are cool. They are cool in ways that we normal people will never understand. As a matter of fact, they don’t even consider us, normal people. They only consider themselves (‘cool’), the communists (‘losers’), and the fascists (‘assholes’). All other political or social denominations are rigourously snobbed.

Outside the house

In case of conflict, the anarchists take their clubs and helmets and form their own ‘anti-fascist’ militia. These are very hard to distinguish from the fascists themselves. Both have a preference for the same dark colours and for the same primitive type of violence. The difference lies in the fact that the fascists go out to beat up immigrants, and the anti-fascists go out to beat up fascists.

I’m sorry, am I being cynical again?

I don’t think so. Take a look in the mirror.

Another striking aspect of life in a decaying city like Athens is recycling. There is only one impelling incentive that makes people really care about recycling.

Hunger.

As a result, you see people loading up their shopping carts at the dumpsters. Most of them are immigrants. If they find metal, paper or other potentially useful things, they sell them. If they find food, they eat it.

The sight of these backdoor shoppers is nothing special in a city where entire districts are shrouded in the chilly air of bankruptcy. For now, there is still enough production being stashed through the throat of the system for people to live on all the things that get crapped out without having been digested.

A Duck, a Renault 4 and a Beetle.

But if the input decreases, the competition at the dumpsters will grow. And then people will start to behave like chickens. The weakest ones will be picked on, so they don’t get to eat valuable food which could nurture the strong. This phase has already started.

At the moment, the weakest creatures in this henhouse called Greece are the immigrants. They get picked on, because they have no protection from the law. Only from the anarchists.

Thank God for the anarchists.

It all doesn’t make the situation any better. I’m breathing a creepy 1930s atmosphere. I see apathy turning into despair. I feel the spectre of violence.

For me it’s enough. I can’t stand all the petty ideological divisions. This is not why I joined our movement. Quite the opposite, I joined because our movement is aimed at tearing down all the artificial barriers that divide us, so that we can start to reason together as free individuals.

“We are workers, unemployed, retirees, youth, who have come to Syntagma Square to fight and give a struggle for our lives and our future. We are here because we know that the solutions to our problems can only be provided by us. We call all residents of Athens, workers, unemployed and youth, to come to Syntagma Square, and all of society to fill the public squares and to take their lives into their own hands. In these public squares we will shape our claims and our demands together.”

That was last year, the ‘Declaration of the People’s Assembly of Syntagma Square’, adopted on May 27. I was moved to tears when I read it in the tent of the Communications commission on Puerta del Sol. I had wanted to there.

Now I am there, here, in Athens. And I want to get out. I want to find some hope somewhere, before I get too cynical to care anymore. I must go now. Only a handful of people from the march are left, and they are ready to go.

Tonight, under the cover of darkness, we will make an attempt to escape from Athens. Destination unknown.

If we’ll make it, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Take care,
Oscar

P.S. Today our two comrades got judged for carrying bottles and weed and for resisting arrest. Comrade Bernard got acquited. Comrade Elisa got sentenced to 6 months conditional. It’s an outrage. The judgment has been appealed. Elisa’s equipment has surfaced and was resistuted, minus the memory cards.

Cats on Paros

Photos and Update

In Athens, Greece, March to Athens on 2 June 2012 at 10:54

On the Cote d’Azur. All photos by Laurent.

 

Dear people,

I present you a series of pictures from the early stages of the march, between Nice and Rome. They were taken by comrade Lorenzo.

Also, a short update. Four days ago, two of our comrades were arrested while taking pictures of police officers at an anti-fascist demonstration. They were kept in custody for the full three days. Only after two days we found out that they had been arrested.

They will be judged on the twelfth. Their crime was that they carried dried herbs and empty bottles around with them. The herbs are said to be illegal, and the bottles could have theoretically been filled with an inflammable substance to create a Molotov cocktail.

One of the people who got detained is a guy from France, the other is comrade Elisa, a girl from Valencia. She carried her photo camera with her, plus her laptop and harddisk. All of this mysteriously got lost during the arrest. The data on the lost hardware contained photos and films from one year of 15M revolution.

I have encountered Elisa various times this year, in Paris, in Brussels, and here. She was with Occupy La Défense among other initiatives. The material she shot is unique.

So I wonder who should actually be judged here. If it should be our comrades for the dried grass and the empty bottles, or the Athens police for ‘losing’ valuable equipment and priceless historic footage.

*

Before departure in Nice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mimo at the Italian frontier

 

Genoa, Piazza dei Ferrari

 

Tuscany

 

Ollie and Bobo’

 

Communications Commission

 

Christmas tree

 

Siena

 

 

 

Unloading the van

 

Camping in the Christmas stable

Cleaning Syntagma

In Athens, Greece on 15 May 2012 at 11:25

Athens, May 15

Comrades Cansino and Aristocrates

Dear people,

The comfort of the squat is dangerous for the revolutionary spirit. Especially when there is little of it. It’s evening and we’re sitting together in the living room, a dozen marchers. In the small kitchen, Mami is cooking for her hijos de puta. The cloud of spicy smoke is so thick that it’s hard to read the writings on the walls.

It’s the first time that our clan has a roof, sofas, a kitchen, a shower to call our own. At least for the moment. After half a year of camping, people enjoy it. And no-one will deny that we didn’t deserve it.

But on the other hand, it’s 15M’s eve. Tomorrow we celebrate the first anniversary of our movement, and right now there is a handful of our people holding the square of Syntagma.

I have been there the first two nights, and I’ll be damned if I don’t join them now. So I rise up from the soft pillows of the sofa, I cut my way through the cloud of smoke, and I go. “Later, people. I’m going to see what’s cooking on Syntagma.”

It’s a twenty minute walk. When I arrive, I see we occupied the center of the square. People with sleeping backs and covers are gathered in a circle. I squeeze in, I lie down and I listen to humming of the conversation as I start to doze off.

Just when I’m about to get some sleep, police arrive. Two dozen officers in riot gear. Because of the blankets, this is considered camping in a public space, and we have to move.

We are not the only ones. All over Athens, thousands of homeless people are ‘camping’ as well. They are more every day.

We take away blankets and sleeping bags. We leave the cardboard. We lock arms and legs together and we humm. It takes as while, but in the end police retreat. We take our stuff again, and we stay in Syntagma for the third night in a row.

The third night in Syntagma

After the retreat of police

Occupy the tree

In the morning, at six, it’s police again for the wake up call. We have to move, seriously this time. The reason is that the sprayers come to clean the square.
We stay put. Riot police is deployed on two sides, and then they send in the cleaning car to put us pressure.

In a white cloud, the water vapour bounces of the tiles of Syntagma. The machine moves slowly towards the group. People start to evacuate, to try and safe their stuff. It could have ended right there. Indignados simply washed away from Syntagma as yesterday’s dirt.

This morning, 15M.

The sprayers arrive

But it didn’t end that way. The real heroine of the day was comrade Sabina from Belgium. She laid herself down in the streaming water in front of the spraying vehicle. And the firm look in her eyes said she wasn’t going to move.

It was the key moment. Max joins in and others follow. Comrade Cansino takes a bath straight in front of the vehicle and comrade Aristocrates plays the guitar. It’s a fabulous scene. And it’s true what they say. Our movement has an innate taste for drama and beauty.

Comrade Sabina, resisting the water

Comrade Cansino

Then police proceeds to evacuate, hesitatingly. They don’t really know how to handle us. If we were a band of hard core anarchists they would have just beaten us off the square and into the bus in ten minutes time. But these crazy foreign pacifists are different. They have to be handled with gloves. Plastic gloves to be exact.

The first people get dragged away. But just before they get to the police car, others come running in and piling up. Police have to start all over again. First, they surround the pile. Sabina got left out, but today she has revolutionary spirit for ten. She charges the police like a wild horse, demanding access to the circle.

Comrade Sabina charging the police

In the end the arrest took more than two hours. About a dozen people resisted, passionately. I didn’t add to their numbers. I preferred to document the scene and spread the news.

Today is the first anniversary of our movement. Here in Athens the marchers and locals on Syntagma marked it appropriately with a determined act of resistance. Not so much against police, but better, against the water.

Democracy and Revolution

In Athens, Greece on 10 May 2012 at 12:57

Athens, May 10

Dear people,

While many of us keep chilling on the hill, or wandering through the desolate city, Agora Athens is going on, every day. Surely it’s not a big event, but it’s an event. We were told to nurture no illusions about it, so the fact that it exists is definitely positive.

It’s all thanks to the people who kept believing in this opportunity to meet and exchange ideas. They have been working on it for time, on the ground and on the net, and in the last few days they have been putting up manifestoes all over Exarchia.

The agora has attracted some attention from Greek activists, immigrants, and foreign travellers. It has addressed major themes like the debt, immigration, police violence, the dangers of tear gas, and the psychological effects of repression, with interventions by experts on the subject.

Yesterday the agora changed its usual meeting place in Syntagma with the quiet hill of Pnyx near the ancient stoa, meeting place of the philosophers of old. The topic would be direct democracy and self organisation.

The whole scene is like one of Plato’s Dialogues. In between the marble, the bushes and the trees, a few dozen people – mainly Greeks – are sitting in a circle on a hill. They are discussing the concepts of liberty, equality, solidarity, justice, democracy.

Far from Syntagma and the oppressing dailiness of the city all these words sound like perfectly unreal ideas, exactly like Plato himself would see them. This event is not going to change the world, but here on Pnyx, it has a very evocative aesthetic value.

Assembly on direct democracy at Pnyx

Athens is not one of the major cities of Greek tragedy, like Thebes or Mycene, but in the great Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylos, the city symbolically represents the triumph of reason and right.

The Oresteia is the only complete trilogy that has survived. It is practically the oldest pieces of theater, but it has one of the most beautiful opening sequences that I know. It’s a simple summing up of names, as if it were a biblical geneaology. But with a little bit of imagination, those names become incredibly cinematographical. As if the intro were written for wide-screen 3D.

It’s told on stage by the introducing character. Troy has fallen, finally, after ten years of bitter strife. The Greeks are inside the citadel, the Trojan men are killed, the women and children are enslaved and the babies are thrown off the walls without mercy. The palaces are plundered, the city is in flames.

Those flames spell a message, a message by supreme commander Agamemnon, king of Mycene, to his wife Clytaemnestra. It says ‘Mission accomplished. I’m coming home.’

Opening credits. Burning Troy fades into the distance. On a hilltop far away, a guard notices the flames. He runs to pile up wood, he takes a torch and lights it.

The camera zooms out again over the nightly panorama of the Aegean. As the poet spells the names of land and sea, the light travels over islands, hills and forests like a telegraph. In every one of those places a man spots the light, and passes it on. Cut to space, you see all of Greece and Asia Minor, in the middle you see a red glow where Troy had been, and all around you see little white lights expanding over the earth to bring the news that mighty Troy has fallen.

At sunrise, the message reaches Clytaemnestra on her balcony of the royal palace of Mycene.

Cut to Clytaemnestra. Her eyes are dark. She is all but delighted by the news of her husband’s return. She hasn’t been faithful to him.

Agamemnon hadn’t been faithful himself either. He had claimed more than his fair share of female booty during the conflict. His greed had caused Achilles to retire from the war and almost brought complete doom over the Greeks. Finally, he wasn’t ashamed to bring one of his conquests home with him. She was called Cassandra, she had the gift to foretell the future, and she was cursed by the fact that no-one ever believed her.

When she crossed the treshold into the house, Cassandra started to scream. She cried doom, death and destruction over the house of Atreus. But people laughed at her impatiently, and told her to shut up.

Her cruel predictions came true when Agamemnon was killed in his bathtub by his own wife, with the complicity of her lover.

This is when the real story starts. The tragic hero is Oreste, son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra. He has to avenge his father. And his perverted fate is that to do so, he has to kill his own mother.

In a certain sense the Oreste tragedy is a mirror of the tragedy of Oedipus. Oreste would do anything to avoid his fate, but he doesn’t have a choice. He asks the god Apollo for help, and the god confirms. However painful, revenge is a must, and only Oreste can do the job.

And he does. With a dagger, Oreste kills the woman who gave him life. At the instant she dies, the hero breaks down and he is attacked by clouds of black-winged goddesses of remorse, the Erinyes. They swirl around him constantly, hissing that he is the most despicable of all creatures, and that he has committed the gravest of all crimes.

Oreste flees, he is on the verge of going mad, he returns to Apollo, begging to liberate him from his sense of guilt. “I had to do it. You said so yourself. Why don’t you help me?”

And Apollo: “There is nothing I can do for you. You have to go to Athens. Run, boy. Run. In the sanctuary of Athena you will be judged.”

Oreste runs to Athens, to the temple of the goddess of wisdom. Athena herself presides over an assembly that hears the case of Oreste and the case of the Erinyes.

Oreste is absolved. And yet the Erinyes get their recompensation. While Athena orders them to stop harassing Oreste, she acknowledges their importance, she offers them a place in the pantheon and with it the right to be revered.

The piece ends with a triumphant parade to celebrate the victory of reason.

According to Pasolini, who made a splendid translation into Italian, the Oresteia symbolizes the transformation of ancient tribal society based on force to an urban society based on the law. It’s a hymn to Athens as founding city of democracy.

The concept of revolution, of revolt against the ruling system in the name of human principles, is buried even deeper in the human psyche.

It starts with Prometheus, the bringer of fire.

In Aeschylos’ Prometheus Bound, the son of man is nailed to a mountain in the Caucasus. He had brought light among men, he had tought them the arts and the crafts of the gods. And he alone would pay for it all.

Every day Prometheus’ liver is eaten out by an eagle, and every day it grows back again. Crucifixion and eternal torture is his share for stealing the fire.

While he is up in agonising pain, various visitors, gods and humans, try to persuade Prometheus to make his peace with Zeus and ask for forgiveness. But Prometheus sends them off with words of rage and folly.

Where Jesus on the cross stoically accepted his fate, except for a single lament, Prometheus remains defiant all the way, against all hope. He is the archetype of the revolutionary martyr, when he screams with all his fury…

“Go away, and kneel! Fold your hands in prayer and be the dog that licks the foot of power! I don’t give a damn about Zeus! Let him do whatever he wants with the world, his time is almost up! He won’t be the king of gods for long!”

Camp

Syntagma at Last

In Athens, Greece, March to Athens on 5 May 2012 at 23:58

March to Athens
Day 180-CVI, from Περιστέρι to Αθήνα, 6 km.

May 5 2012. Foto by comrade Juanito.

Athens, May 5

Dear people,

The tents are packed, the shopping carts are loaded, the sun is high. We have no more time, we have to decide where to go.

The answer was obvious all along. There was only one place where the March to Athens could end. At Syntagma square.

The only real issue was the road that would take us there. We narrowed the options down to two. Either we’d pass by the tourist area of Thisio near the ancient Agora, or by the anarchist quarter of Exarchia.

People’s preferences were clear on this. We would pass by Exarchia. And comrade Mami would take us there. She is in charge of the map.

Getting ready to depart from Peristeri

After Madrid, Paris, Brussels and Rome, the march has reached the outskirts of the European Union. This is Athens.

In all the other capitals the march had entered with defying confidence, but this time we are really far from home, in one of the black holes of the crisis. We heard a lot stories about this city, maybe too many, and you can sense that people are a bit nervous.

We paint our faces, like custom. We prepare to make noise with pots and pans and flutes and drums. And when the time has come, we march for the last time, all together.

Along the way we are escorted by one police car. Before we left, they warned us. “Tonight no free camping.”

Passing Omonoia square

We walk and we try to combine our shopping cart parade through the city with a jam session.

In Exarchia we find a burned out Mini and we turn it into a drum and base. It’s like rocking in an urban jungle.

The wildlife of the zone opens windows and eyes to see who has come to disturb its habitat.

It’s the March to Athens. “Hipipipeeeooo!

On the little square we halt. People are surprised and dressed up in various shades of black. We mix with them and we drink beer. There’s sudden tension because of the tv-camera that came to follow us. The camera soon disappears, and it only returns when we exit the quarter half an hour later.

The march in Exarchia

It’s the last metres to the square, along the artery where the big demonstrations pass. Mami is ahead with the map. She has been very diplomatic in the preparation of our arrival. To avoid troubles with comrade Mimo she wanted the members of the junta to be the first to enter the square.

Field Marshall Mimo

At the last turn we are welcomed by the heavy cavalry. A batallion of Greek indignados on motorbikes. Their honking and the humming of their motors is the soundtrack of our entry in Syntagma.

Here we are. We drop bags, we park prolleys and we abandon ourselves to collective and individual embraces. This is the final square.

On Syntagma at last

The bikers

Music, immediately. The beat is good. The square is ours and it feels like home. All ages and styles come by, and many of them keep hanging around. The comrades who organised the agora had put up a little exhibition with fotos from the march, and the locals brought food and drink.

Police didn’t interfere in any way. They simply warned us that we can’t put up our tents.

Assembly in Syntagma

A welcoming assembly is celebrated. We exchange courtesies and emotions in Greek and English. It’s a satisfying scene on an impressive stage, and it goes on and on. Darkness falls and then comrade Mimo decides that the time is right. He reclaims his position of supreme commander, he puts up his tent and he takes the square.

Field Marshall Mimo occupying Syntagma.


The generals of the junta gather around him, they toast to victory. Among other marchers, tensions go up. Fear for police is high. If we have to believe what we have heard, they are worse than animals, they are monsters.

Three officers have taken note of the tent. Soon, from the southwest corner, a dozen police start to move up to block the stairs on the side.

Syntagma is like a giant pool. From the upper side it’s easy to control. Even though they are only few, the presence of the officers causes a shock. For many of us, but not for the natives. The Greeks in the square don’t even notice the police. Young boys keep whizzing past the officers on their skateboards with complete disregard.

Mimo lifts his tent. An emergency assembly is called for to decide if we stay, if we move or if we camp.

Emergency assembly

Many people don’t bother to participate in the assembly. They have scattered in small groups on the various lawns to enjoy the evening. They don’t see what all the trouble is about. After the tent was lifted, the officers had taken off their helmets and stepped back.

The assembly tries to find a difficult consensus between resisting here, heroically, or going elsewhere to try and get rest. Most of the Greeks gave us the advice of going. They wouldn’t stay here with us, but in other places there would be many people to support us.
Field marshall Mimo was soon fed up with it, and he planted his tent, again. This time he wouldn’t lift it. He was going to sleep in his headquarters on Syntagma.

The second time it wasn’t even necessary for the cops to arrive in order to create tension. Nothing was moving, but the cry of “they’re coming” had immediate effect. After that, it was Mami herself, together with the other members of the junta, who forced Mimo out of his tent, and folded it up.

The second occupation of the square, comrade Mami and general Ollie plotting a revolt against the field marshall

The supreme commander cried treason and hurled threats around, but Mami set him straight with one of her devastating explosions of fury. She is the smallest of us all, but she’s dangerous.

So the field marshall was betrayed by his own generals. Deeply embittered, he picked up his tent, he put me in charge of the square, and he left for the squat in Exarchia.

I walk around. I check the angles of Syntagma. Everything is okay. Little groups of people are smoking weed on the green. Others are passing by. A never-ending assembly is going on. I take a piece of cardboard, I put it next to the fountain in the center of the square, and I sleep. Like the first days in Puerta del Sol.

When I wake up, people are already preparing to retreat. Thirty odd police officers in riot gear entered the square from the side. With or without tents, they want us out.

It would be too much effort to arrest us all, so they just say we have to take our trolleys and they force us down, out of Syntagma.

We put up some lamentful vocal resistance, and we let ourselves be guided down to Monasteraki where there’s the saturday night crowd drinking in the square.

Visually, it’s quite a scene. The cops leave us in an urban desert of graffiti and bankrupcy, where people try to be hip in the bars that remain hip, even if decadence is fashion. The illuminated Acropolis is hovering over it, and we are in the middle, passing through traffic with our trolleys at half past one in the morning.

We move down to Thisio. In the park next to the ancient agora we put up our tents. The march is over, and it has already transformed into something else. But for now we are too tired to realise it.

Following the Current

In Greece, March to Athens on 4 May 2012 at 23:47

March to Athens
Day 179-CV, from Δάφνι to Περιστέρι, 6 km.

Peristeri, May 4

Dear people,

In Dafni field marshall Mimo had subtracted a pipe from one of the newcomers, and he used it as the symbol of his position as supreme commander. From early on in the morning he walked around with the pipe and with a mug of whisky, making sure that everything was under control, inciting his generals to do a good job on the route.

The members of the junta elaborated various proposals for our entry into the city. As the day advanced, the supreme commander accepted every one of them as the best option and kept requesting more routes and more whisky.

Within the group, people shrugged their shoulders. But finally Mami decided that she had enough of it, and she seized the map. Initially the field marshall nominated Mami as one of his generals and ordered her to advice him on a new route, but she wouldn’t have anything of it.

Hijos de puta! We have our entry into Athens to prepare, damned! Time to play is over!”

So the junta came to fall, and it was mamicracia again.

Mami

 

Washing dishes

Mami verbally maltreats anyone for any reason all day long. But if you know how to close your ears, you will have no problems with her. She usually goes ahead to prepare the square, and once we arrive she supervises the food collection and distribution. She is a driving force of the group, and she always complains that people don’t appreciate her.

This time she moderated the assembly, something which she hadn’t done before as far as I can remember. She showed a lot of patience. It surprised me, because I didn’t know she had any. But nevertheless it was obvious that the assembly wasn’t going anywhere.

We are one day away from our arrival in Athens and we don’t know yet where we will camp, how we will enter the city, if we pass by Syntagma, etc. After hours of discussion the only thing we tried to decide on was if we should decide right away, or the day after.

Both options were blocked. There is going to be no decision. We are on a ship and we pretend to decide together where we’ll go, but in practice it’s the current that guides us.

Comrade Max

 

Comrade José Miguel

Today we march into the city. More people have joined us, from France, from Spain, from Canada. And from Athens, the comrades that took their distance from the attack on José Miguel. Still we aren’t many, just over thirty, but we keep growing.

It takes less than two hours, we walk through the suburb of Chaidari to the central square of Peristeri, guided by one of the locals. Police escort us with one vehicle. When we arrive, they let us take the square without problems.

Walking into town

 

On the square of Peristeri

 

Dinner

The square was abbandoned to the hot sun. Only in the early evening it starts to fill with people old and young, and with the participants in the popular assembly of Peristeri. They gave us a warm welcome and they brought us a wide variety of delicious home made food. We improvised a little assembly with them and they shared their knowledge about Athens city center and their advice on where to camp.

It didn’t help us reach a decision however. Until late at night we held an assembly of the march to decide on our primary destination. Syntagma, Exarchia, or Thisio, the site of the ancient agora.

Once again all three options were blocked. Tomorrow we march for the last time, we don’t know where we’re going and we don’t know how to get there. But I’m not worried. This is our way of doing things. And besides, Jesus Christ has joined us for the last leg. Now we only need to have faith, and everything is going to be alright.

 

Late night assembly in Peristeri

“Golpe”

In Greece, March to Athens on 3 May 2012 at 22:45

March to Athens
Day 177-CIII, from Ελευσίνα to Δάφνι, 14 km.
Day 178-CIV, Δαφνί.

Monastery of Dafni, May 3

Dear people,

In Eleusis three of our French comrades took control of the Route commission. I ceded them the maps, I gave them all requested clarifications, and I was actually relieved that it was out of my hands.

We had crossed the hills in two legs to be at Eleusis on the 30th, hoping that our comrades from Athens would be there, so that we could decide on our entry in assembly all together. They didn’t show up, and what’s more, some of them insulted one of our comrades.

‘If you touch one of us, you touch us all,’ is what we sing to police. And the same goes for anyone who betrays us. It left a scar on the march.

Waiting to leave Eleusis

In this situation, with no first hand information to go on, one route or another doesn’t matter. It was going to be a surprise for everyone.

There were two important reasons for the junta to stage a coup. One was the desire to take a day off in nature before entering. We didn’t do so in the mountains, so this would be the last opportunity. The other reason was to counter certain ‘manipulations’ of the march by people who had accepted an invitation of the assembly of Peristeri to go there as our last stop, without discussing it in assembly.

The junta consists of comrades Nicolas, Mimo and Ollie, of which Ollie is one of the two persons who did the entire march from Nice. As far as I know they never made the route before.

Yesterday they would have guided us to a lake, or to a place on the coast where we could take a holiday. Nicolas and Mary departed as vanguard in the morning to localise the place. In the afternoon, the group would follow.

It became an infernal day. We marched along the highway under the hot sun to a rendez-vous spot without any shadow. All along the way we had to bear the stench of the refineries. No place here to camp in the green.

 

 

Deciding where to go

 

Comrade Max, one of the supposed ‘manipulators’, was enraged with the Route commission for not doing a good job, but it would have been hard anyway. They took control of the route at the most difficult moment. I wouldn’t have done a better job myself.

In the end, after frying for hours on the contaminated coast we decided to move inland to the Byzantine monastery of Dafni. We found a park, hills and fresh water. The place is in a gorge along the main artery leading into Athens, and it’s located exactly at the entrance of the metropolis. On the one side, there is nature, on the other side the first houses.

We put up camp, we start cooking and exploring the surroundings. It’s already dark when four jackals on motorbikes arrive. Police. They ask what we’re doing here. We’re camping, we come walking from France and we go to Athens.

They go, and fifteen minutes later they return with reinforcements. Four bikes, eight officers this time. They say it’s illegal to camp, we have to show id, and we have to go immediately.

We explain who we are, and that we have been camping all over Greece.

“This isn’t Greece. This is Athens. Things are different here. You must go, now.”

So we put up our little piece of theater. We call an assembly, and we start with lengthy translations into four different languages to speak about what to do and put their patience to the test. All the while some of us keep calmly discussing with the officers. Police make phone calls to head quarters, and they go.

Frying potatoes next to the monastery

The tension remained. They could have come back to arrest all of us, and here we don’t have the advantage of the square. No-one will see us. We have to know how to act.

I stand in the middle of camp with comrade Mimo.

Mimo has emerged as the strong man of the junta. He has his history of carjacking, violence and schizophrenic tendencies, but he has joined the revolution with all his inphantile enthusiasm and he was miraculously cured at Easter in the church of Eratini. At this crucial moment, to protect our principles of horizontality, Mimo has adopted the title of ‘supreme commander’ and the rank of field marshall.

Among all the other things, he has also done the military.

As we are waiting for the cops to return, he explains the situation to me.

“We have to retreat to the edge of the forest. We form a first line of strong people. With four or five of them we immobilise one of the flicks and we take his gun. Then we fire a shot in the air. The other cops will be running like rabbits to get reinforcements. At that point we take the hills. We will dominate the battlefield from above, and we will start a guerilla.”

“With one gun?”

“Gun? What gun? No, no, no. We are non violent. Taking the hills would be a strategic error. Look, there are two paths that connect the monastery to the road. When police arrive, we have to secure at least one of them. We would take the highway and block the entrance of all traffic into the city.”

Field Marshall Mimo is in charge of all the maps. To avoid any further manipulations, they are only accessible to the members of the junta. And even though I knew about these ‘manipulations’, Mimo has appointed me his ‘first councillor’ with the rank of general. My task is to advice him on our advance to the center of the city.

It’s going to be fun. But contrary to what I said before, we will not be alone. We don’t need the support of our former vanguard, we have the support of all the Greeks we met along the way. From Preveza, from Agrinio, from Misolonghi, from Patras, from Itea, from Thebes, from Kriekouki. They made us feel at home when we arrived, and after we left they have come to visit us when morale was low, they brought us gas when we couldn’t cook, they brought us food, drink and joy. I’m sure that many of them will come to meet us in Athens.

They are more than comrades, they are friends.

Internal assembly in Dafni

 

 

 

Friends.