Athens: ‘I was looking for you in the night, and I was burning with fire’

thoughts on recent events in Athens
from random personal blog

Last night, February 12th, in front of a bank that was burning with an eerie blue flame, an old man was standing with a national flag on his shoulder, while his closest relative was taking pictures of him. Perhaps he’ll hang the photo above his TV set, in a cheap frame, with a handwritten caption on it: ‘It’s time to see the banks burned’. Without being aware of it, this man was signing the death covenant of a virtual country. He will not live to see national grandeurs to narrate to his grandchildren, so he’ll keep this memento for his descendants to watch and say: ‘Ah, grandpa was a brave lad’. The spectacle has taught us to appreciate such bravados.

We are used to thinking of events based on our strict political and moral principles. To separate the wheat from the chaff: this person is good, that person is a snitch; this is right, that is ugly. The street tells us that things are not quite so, that events and people are full of contradictions, and situations can be judged so or otherwise.

We are used to envisioning the dialogue, the collective decision-making, the movement and the classless society as a moral, beautiful, angelic fashioned world. Even those who are not politicized, have in mind an ideapolis, an ideal way of being where all intensities are normalized, all contradictions are solved, everyone is happy.

In reality, though, violence is a key component of politics, of everyday life. Violence is also a key component of collective decision-making. People prefer the telly and the spectacle, because there they reach the fulfillment of this desire, of everything to be all right, everything to make sense, everything to be weighed. To make sure we keep the violence within the home, where everything has its place, beautifully arranged by patriarchy —all in their seats ready for drama. To make sure we exorcize the violence elsewhere, therein where it’s not visible, inside the immigrant ghettos, at the borders, in the third world slums. We cry out and bemoan our fate whenever the same violence invades our lives, unexpectedly, authoritatively. We don’t cry out because we suffered violence, but only because things are not in place anymore, the good guy doesn’t win in the end, the cavalry doesn’t show up to the rescue. Things get confused in the street; you must act to change something, you have to join your voice with others, to find a way to start or stop an event. Democracy is a filthy thing, you have to get your hands dirty; it’s not about small suits and espressos and farts in the chambers of parliament.

Ah, what a shame that a historic building of Athens got burned. Ask those who regret, do they know where is Attikon? When was the last time they went to the movies? Did they really have eight or nine euros to shell out, to watch the latest ass production in ‘the most beautiful movie theatre in Europe’? I have no regrets over buildings; I regret that people have wasted lives and clenched teeth. Let’s admit it, Attikon had nothing to teach us rather than death; let it die too, along with all museums of death.

But look how many historic monuments gained: the marble paved surface of Stadiou Street, at Korai square, the nearly razed sidewalk edges of Panepistimiou Street, these are the new monuments. Who will walk these streets and not get goosebumps, after hours of battles in which thousands of people with head-to-head clashes resisted the attacks of a hireling fascist gang, who basically unload on anyone that comes their way —and were running in panic when they ran out of chemicals? When was the last time you got goosebumps in Attikon? Was it perhaps when a crude person had left the door open and a stream of air rushed into the cinema?

I am sure that even those who were strained by the destructions and riots, even those who were constricted, who gasped for breath, who came face to face with their weakness, their contradictions, their inhibitions and hang-ups, all of them will once again take to the streets, changed a bit next time. But they will find themselves on the streets. Because they got once again this taste of adventure, the idea that everything is astir, this sense of deep excitement that electrifies you whenever ones grabs your hand, drags you from an uproar and rescues you, the chill that penetrates you to the bone whenever you join your voice with thousands of other human voices.

Going up the desert city centre, I went through a place where many homeless people are sleeping (there, near the ‘jewel of Athens’). One of them was awake and peering in wonder at a pair of trendy sports pants, which still had the price tag from the store on: it was left there by youngsters that had looted shops in Ermou Street. The man was wondering if and how he could wear the trousers. Value in use is what it’s called.

You sit down and count the zeros from damages caused to the multinationals, in order to calculate your poverty. Should you count something else, though: how many couples had sex last night, after a long time, reeking of tear gas? How many friendships were re-attached? How many people that hadn’t spoken for years, found each other? How many glances of lust were exchanged through ski goggles, or over anti-gas masks? How many people let a tear fall from their eyes, not from chemicals but caused by a secret pain that managed to find a way out only last night? This wealth languishing next to us for so long; did you even sense this wild wealth last night? And did you feel that some day it will be ours once more?