Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Rumour has it - survival on scarce information


            "Lost and found"          Anagnostopoulou Street  January 12, 2014

The early death of Alexandrous at the age of 15 on Dec. 6th 2008 shocked many and moved some parents to admit for the first time to their children what mistakes they made in following only the path of consumption while neglecting their upbringing and future. The youth replied in one letter written for all: "we do not need the tear gas of the police for we cry already too much."

What the youth did not state at that time but which became obvious since then, is a need for more than scant information to go on. Rumour has it to make everyone believe something even if based on misleading information. With many not really listening or heeding details, a half truth can easily be taken as the whole and nothing but the truth. Once that given version of events has become common knowledge, no one is allowed anymore to express any doubt. Such is the strength of something which started as a rumour but which can solidify itself into an insurmountable dogma once everyone believes in this and in no other version.

Rumours are set into motion by various means and are readily accepted when no one knows really what to do but all have to pretend and be convinced that things can be handled despite being in crisis. It may help to avoid panic as one version is better than having no answer at all. But it fuels an illusionary claim of knowing to perceive what is at stake in a complex situation and what is best to do as a consequence of this perception.

The response by the youth taking to the streets after Alexandros was killed even before the entire situation could be appraised implies there was a readiness to believe the worst is to be expected whenever the police is involved. That is why many spoke about the spark that was merely needed to bring everything to an explosion. It explains at the same time why the rebellious youth resorted to such symbolic actions as overturning rubbish cans and setting them on fire since the creation of barricades was linked in their imagination to revolutionary times. Naturally anyone wishing to walk around them or at least go around the block and re-enter that same street from the other side of the barricade, could do so nearly without any problem. This simple fact underlines in a self evident way that violence can only be responded to by highly symbolic violence. The theatre of revolt was thus played out in the streets.

Rumour reminds of how Shakespeare showed how someone could be lead to believe she does love him when much ado about nothing was but her way to mislead him. In a modern theatrical sense, politics of the street involves many more players than what is visible in the streets itself. For this reason, graffiti depicts in a much clearer, equally clever way that this invisible battle is being staged not just on one day, but whenever there is a call to take to the streets. For over time the political movement has learned to distinguish partially the difference between rumour and hard sotten facts, the killing of Alexandros such an outstanding example that it called for more than symbolic action. But once the death of an innocent boy is involved, and death making it into an absolute fact, the need to confront the full truth of a rumour about why this happened can be accepted more easily. After all it was not merely the police which did it, but they are bastards or even worse killers. It is only natural that this justifies in turn a full response, indeed actions underlining how outraged is the youth.

Quite different from rumour is the search for substantial knowledge of what is going on. The need to know relates to the desire to judge and to appraise what is still possible. This includes the question whether or not the conflicts can be resolved peacefully or not i.e. what is an adequate response to an incidence of violence without letting things escalate into still further violence.

Given different viewpoints to such a grave incidence as the death of a boy, many responses were conceivable, but the spill over effect of taking to the streets to smash everything in sight took over for nearly two weeks as the commanding language. It drew a line between the police and the youth. In retrospect, it can be said that all the soberness would have been required to bring about a response with human measure. Yet many factors and other events led up to many drawing but one conclusion or collective decision, that street riots was the only proper way to respond.

The missing political philosophy

If the truth is ever to be known, then justice has to be served in such a way that not everybody takes the law into their own hands. Since Ancient Greece, metron or measure was meant to know what hard task it is to realize a just society. Such a measure was at the same time a mediation between the ideal of a just society and what was possible to be realized. Critical would be to uphold the tension and to continue working on the realization of a just society. Consequently it mattered what lessons would be drawn out of failures and whether or not a society was open to a discussion about reasons for these failures.

Since the existence of the ancient polis with citizens directly involved in the passing and applying of law, society has become much more anonymous and theories altering the sense of responsibility from the individual to structural levels. The latter would explain but equally justify certain dispositions. To claim then completely the political responsibility for a response to one single incidence in the name of a collectivity, one which was and is composed mainly of a youth educated and socialized in a certain way since 1974, that requires careful scrutiny as to how such a common ground for such a response of 'outrage' could be found within the very same hour when the news of Alexandros' death was spread.

Some other political theories had been articulated beforehand but which did not play a decisive role when the response was shaped. Already Jürgen Habermas had stated during a visit to Athens well before 2008 that human rights requires a careful monitoring, so that injustices are not corrected by adopting such methods which risk becoming themselves unjust. He cited at that time Feminism which ressorted to quotas regardless of what job and qualities were needed to fulfil that specific task of putting more women into jobs and leading positions. Habermas meant the method was still applied even when the quota of 50% had been reached.

Habermas as philosopher is equally famous for saying "where no theory exists, there is violence." Since culture is theory, and therefore a matter of perception in relation to various details which can all be interpreted differently, any outburst of sheer violence has forsaken the cultural demand to talk things out rather than simply burst into the open by throwing stones, overturning cars and setting even buildings on fire at the risk of lives.


              Destroyed building after general strike turned violent in 2012

There were incidences in the sequences of riots and demonstrations that three bank employees were burned to death but not only due to those who had put the builings on fire but because the management of that bank had shut the back doors to keep the employees locked inside on a day of a general strike when all other banks had closed. Defiance of a general practice but also improper treatment of employees combined to suddenly spark another tragedy. One of the woman who burned to death was even pregnant. It shocked the Greek society into general realization things were going too far. Repeatedly such turning points marked the sequence of events. It was as if political theatre had gone too far once all the hate of the system unloaded itself onto the streets.

And again rumour has it as to who really did this?

No mediation

Long before the confrontation of the youth with the police became an enormous outcry in the form of riots in the streets, one crucial position to prevent violence had been forsaken, namely that of mediation. Repeatedly one prime example thereof can be cited: when a child runs into the streets and a car approaches at high speed, if there is no mediation any more possible between the child and the car, then the child shall be hit and even may be killed.

Mediation is, of course, a term which requires not taking sides between two conflicting parties but to seek to mediate. It means making both sides getting rid of their extreme negative opinion of the other side, in order to start a dialogue. However, in order to be able to do this, the person or party seeking to mediate has to be perceived by both sides as trust worthy and not biased to the one or the other side. Naturally other qualities go along with that, including the ability to resolve conflict and to promote human dialogue. It goes without saying, this requires a lot of imagination and human empathy.

To recapture those moments, it seemed as if in an intense crisis some things are lost and above all the life of Alexandros cannot be revoked; on the other hand, there is found a new way of showing and expressing what is going on in reality. Above all, it took many by surprise how large the youth movement had become, and more so that even not only students, but high school and elementary school pupils joined in as much as the already unemployed segment of the greater youth population. 

Rumour galvanized into political truth

Something else could be observed in what followed. Immediately thereafter the news spread like wild fire throughout Exarchia, and then gripped Athens and the entire country. At first there were mere rumours about had happened, but once the death was officially confirmed, there was no doubt a serious turning point in the relation between the youth and Greek society had been reached. It solidified this time not merely opinions, but theories about the state, police, family life and above all what the future entails in such a society. By galvanizing critical opinions, it also radicalized not just a minor but rather a major part of the youth.

There is a need to take a closer look at the news which spread so rapidly for it was much more like a patch work of different items. It prompted general views on how corrupt society had become and what to do next. There were the immediate accusations by the youth and opposing that, the counter claims by the police. While political developments and the reactions of the larger population were followed closely, it was also alarming to hear new extreme voices saying, "if the police does not put that under control, then we shall." This fraction of Greek society was ready to take guns and go into the streets to re-establish an order. It fed at first unnoticed the extreme Right Wing response which peaked by 2012 in the form of a Neo Fascist Party making entry into the Greek Parliament after elections were held first in May, and then on June 17th and which brought Samaras of Nea Democratia into power and the position of governance of the Greek state.  

Still others had their theories as to what had taken place in reality. One woman was cited that she had seen the skirmish between Anarchists and police with Alexandros and his two friends standing by, but contrary to her habit of having always a video camera with her, she had left it at home. It so happened that her home was at the next corner where then the shooting took place. She had run home and managed to film some of the sequences which took place down below at the street corner. Still, it remained inconclusive as to whether or not the police man had fired directly one or more shoots at Alexandrous or the bullets ricocheted off the wall or some other nearby object like a car and then hit. There is a difference between warning shoots and direct killing. Whatever version was to be believed, rumours were flying half mast but also in a most virulent way.

Political rituals

At the same time, a kind of ritual made itself felt. By ritual is meant a political act to bemoan the death of one's own. Having said that, it should be noted that Alexandrous was transformed immediately into a martyr. Once any rumour about what had happened solidified into what those wishing no doubt in their version of a political truth, they took to the streets to riot. Literally they wanted to turn everything upside down. It was like taking revenge more on objects than on people but nevertheless outrage justified what happened in the course of subsequent actions. Demolished cars, shattered windows of banks etc. put Athens and Greece at the top of world news.

There are different ways to bemoan a terrible loss. When Nelson Mandela had died at the end of 2013, people of South Africa sang and danced in the street. It was their way to show sadness over such a huge loss. Grief and deeply felt human compassion can be shown in different ways. Moreover it seems that the youth had seen at the beginning of the 21st century already enough of political rituals. It can do so on television when witnessing Intifada in the Palestinian territorities or how in Bagdad people reacted after a car bomb had struck and once again innocent people had been killed even while attending Friday prayers. Since 911, there was this world wide phenomenon of arbitrary bombing and terror. It seemed the peace thought to be possible at the end of the Cold War in 1989 when the Berlin wall came down was but a temporary illusion. Rather everything had been done to convince the people living on this globe called earth that there was no such world without war, without enemy pictures and without vengeance. It left people virtually drowning due to being overflooded by especially negative information.


       "British defiance - Exit 37"

Like rumours in the past which can very quickly solidify into a definite version of what took place, something else was added due to the existence of social media. The youth was well equipped with their mobile phones and thus even if no one coordinated the outburst of protest, it was still possible to see in the streets the news unravelling. Only the rest of society seemed to lag far behind in an effort to modernize the information system, and to be informed by means of public debate.

Loss of reality and disappointment

In the years that followed the death of Alexandros, Greece went ever deeper into crisis. Partly due to a huge state deficit which had to be rectified somehow, the very size of that deficit took literally everyone, so the general claim, by surprise. Once the deficit became known, the popular anger turned against Jorgios Papandreou. He had won the election in 2009 by a huge majority. They ascribed his victory to him having made the statement that there is money available, only to declare the very opposite once in office.

Alone that indicates before and after 2008, knowledge about the true state of affairs was at best a rumour. Even the official statistics proved not to be reliable despite the European Commission having attempted with the help of Euro-Stat to ensure proper accounting would reflect accurately flows of payments and expenditures of the Greek state. 

However, there had been made many years before the outbreak of the crisis sufficient warnings, but no one seemed to heed them. Once that deficit was no longer subject of speculation but a reality which had to be faced both collectively and individually, people did not know what to make of it. They could not believe anymore the politicians, but likewise they did not exercise any self criticism since all problems were not put on the table. Moreover everyone had difficulties to come to terms with the staggering sums of money involved. Since the deficit went into billions, no trillians, no normal person could really relate to such sums. How could they when compared what everyone would earn even in a life time. Also no one could really explain as to where these tremendous sums of money could have disappeared to. If a state deficit has gone way out of proportion, and the state was unable to raise money on the market, then something had to be foul. That is to say short of an absolute default of the state, something else was lost. For there was no longer trust in what politicians declared as being the state of affairs but it extended itself to no longer believing in the system. It left simply many more people short changed and this on many fronts and in terms of countless relationships.

Public knowledge deteriorated rapidly after 2009, at the latest 2010 and onwards. One clear indication was the closure of ERT, the official state radio and television station in 2013. A trusted public institution with an archive which contained the memory of the entire country over the past 80 years, and which had survived through war, civil war and dictatorship, could be wiped out with one single stroke by Samaras.

Another alarming signal was the undermining of the general assembly on Syntagma Square. People had gathered there to protest, but also they wanted to inform themselves and come to terms with the others as to what can be done together when faced by such a crisis linked to an open wound: the state deficit. It meant for the first time in modern history of Greece to bring together public space and public truth. But the political parties, trade unions and other interest groups did not like people becoming independent. By July 2011, Syntagma Square was swept clear of all signs of self organisation by a demonstration which turned violent and thereby gave the police the excuse to charge. Anyone still in the tents was driven out.

What followed in 2012 was a political fragmentation with an Extreme Right Wing group getting 18 of its members into the Greek parliament. This was ample proof that due to a lack of substantial knowledge, one rumour chased another and created panik. Repeatedly the example of the Medusa Raft was cited, that is many were thrown over board while the rest scrambled to survive. Entering parliament made possible the grap of resources which any elected party has at its disposal. To let this happen when in fact it was not merely an Extreme Right Wing group, but one willing to incite hatred against migrants and still be protected by parliamentary immunity, meant in the eyes of the youth condoning violence rather than questioning such a political assertion.  

Of interest is while this fragmentation and radicalization of politics was developing for all to see, the media engaged instead in a kind of fear mongering by focusing solely on what was demonstrated in the streets, and this mainly by a rebellious youth.


                                 The Economist, 4th - 8th of May 2010

The fear was projected upon the increasing presence of the youth in protest. It was largely ascribed as outcome of an Anarchist movement. Consequently many overlooked what it feels like to face a loss of reality. Alone to be without job and perspective to be able to earn a living was but one aspect thereof. In brief, this youth was facing prospect of being unemployed. Only in 2014 it dawns that this youth may end up being a 'lost generation', and therefore can very well spark the next crisis as far as pension systems are concerned.

There is still another, more terrible truth, since no one, not even the best experts, never mind politicians seem able to get a full grip on the crisis. For one, the financial crisis is as evasive as hardly explainable according to conventional economic theories. The reason for this being all the money manipulations which have been going on with everyone wishing to make money, but no one really interested any more in making sound investments in the future. But this is not the full circle of the crisis which was indicated well before by those atuned to the environment and who warned about climate change. Yet car makers went into the Chinese market to make ever more profits by selling cars so that by now Beijing and many other cities are no longer free of smog. Yet if more and more cars are put into circulation, that was predictable. But an economy which uses merely quantitative criteria of success, and may that be the number of cars sold per year and therefore the profit made, has no measure to realize when its productivity is heading into full catastrophy.

Unfortunately no one wishes or seems able to question the failure of the profit orientation as a sound business praxis. The connection to human ethics can only be made when not business and institutes of learning get together to ensure young people are trained for the jobs current business practices have to offer. Rather the deeper challenge to the system has to be made on an ethical basis. For no young person can be expected to work for a company which keeps on destroying the environment and on top of it makes its profits by selling ever more weapons. The arms race has reached over the past years and especially during the crisis ever higher quotas. Likewise the crisis in Greece can also be attributed to a faulty weapons procurement programme which allowed huge sums of money to flow in order to secure lucrative contracts, but what difference does it make to 'security' if there have been bought 70 or 170 new planes? The scale of things has outdistanced any human measure.

Clearly all had failed to make any prediction. But once no certainty in any possible explanation can be given, never mind be obtained from newspapers and the traditional media, public debate will disappear or go underground. Yet as shown by the Arab spring and the sudden uprising in Egypt, more and more will turn to the social media and new ways of informing each other. Still, as subsequent events in Egypt have shown since then, the military take-over of political power is basically the consequence of technology becoming more and more the key tool to control people and their actions.

Although international news media like the BBC had to heed this alternative source of information, still some definite lines of thoughts prevail so as to pretend the system is still functioning. There is not much space given in preference of this or that alternative explanation or stance. Noam Chomsky would chide here the educated elite to function only in a certain way rather than search for an alternative way of life.

In Greece, the sense of political responsibility did support any attempt at a sound public debate. For instance, the Left Wing opposition refused altogether to acknowledge any full responsibility for the deficit. Others simply chanted we will not pay back anything. Most of the time, the chorus went in the direction of acclaiming an independent Greece, as if foreign intervention was at fault. Alone one could do everything better.

It was like inviting default not of the state in terms of money, but in terms of political responsibility. For lack of thought through answers to the crisis, many were prepared to risk everything. They wanted simply the system to break down, in order see better what would happen next. Yet if the plug is pulled out, the sinking ship will surely go down faster.

Interestingly enough nothing of this sort did not happen until now. Even the worst predictions did not materialize. This was mainly due to the astonishing ability of many people to improvise and to live despite the new difficulties and hardships imposed by many new but mainly financial constraints. And once it became clear there was no real solution forth coming at political level, a technocratic government under the leadership of Papademos took over from 2011 until 2012 when twice elections were held to bring forth a government with a new legitimacy to follow through the demands of the Troika. Samaras and his coalition partners managed the crisis by simply restoring first of all a kind of calmness, or rather wait and see attitude, to ensure an overall civil order so that people could go about doing their business. 

Civic order was all the more needed since in the meantime the Extreme Right Wing in the form of Chrysi Avgi had swept in the wake of the two elections in 2012 into public lime light and into a position from which they could obtain public funds to finance their activities. It astonishes many that this force till then marginal had managed in 2012 to have 18 of its members elected into Greek Parliament. One year later, or after the killing of an anti faschist artist with an outrage demanding that the government undertakes some actions, some of the leaders of this party were arrested. This was in October 2013. On November 1st two of its members were killed outside the party headquarters, and immediately another wave of popular sentiment redirected the energy flow from being completely anti Fascistic to hedging some sympathy again with those who were now potential or real subjects of state repression. Still, one thing has changed since then. Many people had grown afraid due to the intimitation tactics by the Extreme Right, but once arrested, people dared again to speak more freely. Still, popular support for this party is said to be around 9 to 11% if there were to be held an election. It makes this grouping into the third strongest party, and therefore spells a huge danger.

Consequently any reading of what is written on the walls indicates an increasing polarisation between Anarchists willing to take on the Neo Fascistic forces, and those who sympathize with this extreme Right Wing orientation. How things shall play out all depends on the level of crisis reaching everyone and radicalizing unwantingly or not those desparate for a way out of their own default e.g. loss of house since they cannot repay the loan they took out from the bank. That and the added tax burdens while given low income makes it hard to see what solutions can be found in the forthcoming not years, but months or even days.

Naming reality by its name

Graffiti along with writings on the wall, tagging, stenciling shows not only how the youth seeks to identify itself with the various issues. Rather it reflects the fact that they have no substantial knowledge to rely upon when faced by a future full of uncertainties or only negative certainties. Once they do not really know what they have to deal with or are confronted by, replacements of all kinds can kick in. Childish pranks become then more calculated attempts to address issues in a far more radical way than what their parents or teachers are prepared to name as being the reality.

Depending on this naming of reality, but also what information about current state of affairs is available, there is at risk to engage only half heartily since the name itself entails already a compromise or else the making of new tautologies. The last aspect is linked to the risk of self fulfilling prophecies. If everything shall get only worse and nothing can be done about it, then it is like sitting in a car without driver while the vehicle is heading straight for a wall to crash.

On the other hand, there is something to not making a compromise. Too often it has led to a 'corruption of the mind'. The latter has to do with all kinds of rationalizations and finally with the giving up of 'theory'. Indicative of that trend is that suddenly all talk only about the need to undertake something, to see 'actions'. However, naming reality in accordance with a certain theory has deep implications. It is the theory which should not be compromised even when this theory is not identical with reality, but a way to take a position in life.

When Freud was advised by Jung to give in and to alter the more complex concepts in his theory of the unconscious so as to be more acceptable by a German audience, he refused. Freud added if you give in just with one word, you will lose the entire substance of the theory.

This loss of theory was all the more at risk once the youth felt surrounded by only a crisis and a society with no exit strategy readily at hand. Following such shouts like 'don't shit on me' or 'don't make shit', there was still the other advise given by the older generation which had gone through Second World War and came out alive but determined to put their minds to an organizational logic based all the more on technology and technical know-how: "learn how to make out of shit gold!" Yet in no uncertain terms, there is this one graffiti depicting a graffiti artist with a most telling self comment becoming a huge question for the 'self', but not only!


 "Why do I feel free only when I do this shit?"

What happened after 2008, needs to be traced more thoroughly but definitely many of youth simply gave up a possible life within society. They perceived the latter as being merely corrupt and undemocratic. But what happens to a society when its youth turns away and rejects anything what society has to offer? Unfortunatley many parents, teachers, politicians and academics did not ask themselves that question until what happened in December 2008, and then it was too late to reformulate this question into a novel problematization of what is entailed when growing up in such a society.

In the end all of them, parents and youth included, they may have to pay a huge price for not talking enough to each other, in order to let each other know the truth of the matter. Once there is no more talking, then the very conditions under which work seems only to be possible, becomes impossible. Impositions shall be rejected, while all efforts to socialize and to organize the transition from childhood to adulthood shall have failed. Moreover those who gave in to the demands of society, and this includes those from low income families who join the police to secure a stable, even if only a low income, they will have become in the eyes of the critical youth not only conventional and therefore boring, but on top of everything else highly reactionary and dangerous to themselves and to society. Once a majority of the youth thinks all this is due to having made too many compromises, they will become uncompromising. They will set a definite tone of definance. Hand in hand with that goes their perception of what they believe to have been the prime neglect of society, namely to safeguard the ethical foundation upon which everything else depends.

Once ethics have been neglected, they see and realize how all succumb to the 'avalanche of stupidity' (Adorno). For everyone shall do what everybody else seems to be already doing: bribing the doctor and agreeing to kick back practices in order to get the contract. For no one wants to be stupid and be left out. Or as an architect exemplified it, her clients had to wait for one year to obtain the building permission while all others bribed the officials and they got the permits within three days or even less. No wonder that she lost more and more clients even though that was due to unfair competition or rather illegal practices having become the norm. As is usual the case when everybody does it, no one feels to be at fault if one does the same. 

By so doing, they fail to realize all this will go at the cost of the whole of society. It is like a bank giving huge loans to its directors who buy houses and huge premises which they rent out to the bank and thereby obtain a solid income. Contrived reasoning abounds once these deals are made. For then the illusion prevails to survive in such a system you need only to be really clever while in reality it amounts to merely managing to cheat the system. In the final end not the system but oneself is cheated out of a honest life. The youth notices that first of all and shall be the one to suffer the most for aside from rumors they have but scarce information to go on as to how to continue life.

Imagined reality: creatures from outer space

Whether in Berlin or in Athens, the youth tends to adopt a similar life style. They do copy a lot of what is 'in' at the moment. One such trend is to see the youth taking the S-Bahn or U-Bahn in Berlin and always they would have a bottle of beer in the hand. Likewise in Exarchia there is a certain street where they gather and rather than sitting down in any of the tavernas near-by, the stand around in groups or else sit on thresholds to buildings, and always they have in one hand a beer bottle, while in the other a cigarette.

It would be difficult to know what they imagine as a possible escape from the immediate surroundings, but the graffiti on the wall gives an indication. It seems a lot is being projected into outer space while from there return creatures not akin to the human beings to be found on this earth. 



   "Creatures from outer space"                                                     

The images depicted as if from outer space resemble figures from Mars or another planet. Such an image can have been easily evoked by Steven Spielberg's little man learning to say 'outch' once this estranged creature reached earth. In so doing he learns to utter the first human sound within the confined urban space. Similar to those who feel trapped within the urban grid of Athens and Exarchia shall think deep inside this society must learn again a human language, indeed, to treat each and every individual as a human being of a reality which is liveable and does not reduce people to bare bone and skin - the outward sign of poverty!

Poverty is more than being with clothes and food, for the very lack of money leads to many other, equally invisible constraints. There is the poverty of experience which prevents the youth from qualifying for certain key jobs still attainable within society, but in the Greek one hardly accessible if without any connections to those higher up. It is also said if a soul has never been touched by a kind word, that creature may end up like stone. Hardened over time, not moved by suffrage of others, the stance draws ever tighter circles of indifference around any issue which might come up and challenge the daily pattern of life. In that sense of interest is the kind of injection a graffiti gives by being painted on a garage door for a large underground parking lot.


   "Sitting figure in a weird world"

Incredible is a figure depicted as just sitting there as if in wonder about such a weird world. It can reflect shattered dreams, lost relationships, but the posture of the figure is also one of wonder as to what misconstruction has been achieved. At times the structures have the resemblance of a large spider with a red eye, at other times it reminds of Picasso's famous way of showing the eye or simply air in a three dimensional manner. But this is not the twentieth century. Man has flown already to the moon and the millinium turn in 2000 came and went without any of the catastrophes many had predicted. Literally speaking, it left the world in a mumble and jumble at times most difficult to make sense of. If the graffiti artist or artists wishes to depict the absurdity of it all, no better place could be picked than this entrance to a parking lot. The poetess Katerina Anghelaki Rooke would describe this sanity / insanity of daily life as cars leaving in the morning and returning in the evening in the hope to find the same parking spot they had left in the morning. During the day they would enter such a parking lot and come out when it was time to return home. The latter would be located way outside the centre of the city.

As if this is life, the separation of work and living at home made it all the more difficult for the youth to bridge the gap. Lewis Mumford had already in 'Story of the City' remarked that men (and of course women) would prefer their work place to be outside the house for then they could have a mistress or a lover besides the family unit pretending to be real. What disgusts youth the most is this pretense of what is social reality when everything appears to them in one sudden stretch of life as absurd, unreal, fictitious and even worse than pretense a real fake.

Consequently they would know only to escape by projecting their future life as far as possible from this immediate and immanent devastion of all what they had believed in. Literally speaking, it would mean to be without any self confidence and also no more trust in the pillars they could have leaned onto as long as they believed their parents and peers would uphold something worthy of love and respect.

The force of transformation of reality into dream like images can be noticed onhand of a huge woman seemingly afloat when walking past this graffiti and through that street looking up to Lycabettou Hill.


The dream to leave the city

The unease had to do with the youth having expressed not only their disgust with the system, but by so doing they started to expose things which having been running afoul already for a long time.

For instance, there was brewing for a long time already their deeply felt dissatisfaction with the education system. It is based on making everyone just memorizing things in order to pass the exams. Moreover, the formal education system was labelled as being inefficient, thereby prompting parents to send their children to expensive 'frontistior' establishments. Consequently that system of education was dubbed as 'criminal'.

Still, while all have to find a path into the future, and that is especially most difficult in a country hardly offering even a glimpse of hope, it seems that this particular youth has not lost the ability to improvise amidst all uncertainties. This applies in particular to those who decided not to leave the country, but stay and resist all the negative tendencies they see around them.

Always amidst all misery, this youth which stays knows that there have always been exceptional personalities in the history of Greece. The modern youth replicates this fact. Along with a strong and honest character, there goes with it a touch of human kindness. As a matter of fact, they manage to bring a bright sparkle of humour into life and onto the wall.


                        "Growing up in a bus stop we did not learn to travel"

The contrast between those still able to travel and those who cannot, could not be greater at the time of the crisis. Freedom of movement is severely limited once there is no sufficient income available to afford even a decent meal, a place to sleep and other things needed to just cope on a daily basis. The slogan says something as well about the typical sheds constructed as bus stops but which would often deteriorate very quickly since used for other purposes, including toilet.

The sense of neglect is, however, not the only tragic dimension. While someone like Jeffrey Sachs, economic advisor of different governments in need of a spiritual bail out before they succeed in an economic sense, would praise the Greeks as adventurous travellers, he could not be further off the mark as to what the majority can afford, what not.

Turning to art to make it

The Polish writer R. Kapuscinski confessed when he was stationed in Ethiopia that he found journalism to be no longer a reliable method to get at the source of truth. In order to know what to make out of the different fractions all fighting each other, he had to ressort to art i.e. literature and more specifically to fiction writing. But to let the imagination become the light of a miner finding his way through the pitch darkness, there had to be some trust in the use of language bringing out things not seen beforehand.

Likewise, so it seems, the movement is turning to graffiti to flush out some unexpected, equally unpleasant truth, provided a distinction is made between acts similar to text messaging not per computer via Internet but along walls, and forms of propaganda which can include just setting oneself into scene as a way to grab attention.

As a complicated and complex process, graffiti brings the 'making of meaning' comes ever closer to memory work. The latter includes the specific notion of 'Trauerarbeit': mourning over all the losses. This includes the loss of life but also of innocence as still known when a child. Mitscherlich in post war Germany said that Germans were unable to trust again as long as they did not go through a period of mourning. Naturally there are different ways to come to terms with the real suffrage of all kinds of losses, but here to pick up the historical thread is quite an undertaking.

Michel Foucault called it the line of suppression while Freud would give it the term 'memory track' to be discovered by no longer living within the system but stepping out and into the world which awaits one when being just in the streets of the city. Learning here takes on another form. As Piaget would put it, formal and informal rules are created to indicate a new system of morality which includes equally forms of punishment if these rules are violated. Hence the political morality of any movement is a specific codex and reflects how things are preceived as well as interpreted.

Above all a youth struggling with the term of 'political responsibility' will have to cope with the loss of innocence as a child while not wishing at the same time to succumb to the usual methods of the adult world. The latter entails definitely for them having made such mistakes made far worse by not admitting them. In turn, the adults wish to corrupt the youth so that they cannot be challenged.

Rumours have it that all call for an end of the economic war but no one heeds the call and thus there shall continue the waging of wars at the very least along walls.  As if this is not enough, not only walls but empty shops reflect all the more the losses due to a crisis persisting to continue taking its toll left, right, centre etc. Thus at the end of 2013 one slogan of revolt in such an empty shop says it all in a most humble way: "we just making art!"



Before...."We just making art"                            and after mid December 2013


Stark beauty exists in forms of empty spaces and walls. At times, things left unsaid are more powerful than what has been said. Yet life as much the economic space demands not to leave anything unused, or the emptiness is taken as a sign of inactivity. How then to respond?

Rather than traveling to gain another perspective, quite different would be to climb just up a huge ladder. Once up high, the view would allow one to escape the dreary urban surrounding consisting of only walls and hostile faces. But unfortunately the one who stays shall be confined by what determines the urban landscape, namely streets, squares, buildings and walls. That is a different terrain from nature but still in need to be crossed every day. The city is full of hidden and more obvious messages which can easily end engulfing the individual once a part of a crowded street with everything being a mere mumble and jumble.

A solution can be found by finding some calmness. The latter may well be depicted as a sleeping child. The image allows for some peace amidst all the scribbles and writings on the wall. Specifically this graffiti due to its location being in Exarchia shows how important is to stir the imagination. In the case of this child, it is possible to imagine it dreaming while fast asleep. And sleep is always a sign of trust since the most vulnerable moment of the human being.


      Sleeping child in Exarchia                                               2012

Of course escape routes out economic and social disasters are never easy to find, but as pointed out in reference aesthetic of resistance (Peter Weiss), beauty can allow one to walk rather than to run. By not going fast, as if in sheer panic, it will be possible to show strength of conviction in being able to alter the course of action. Some course into a more promising future shall be found for sure. Once convinced of this, some sense of beauty is still possible to be expressed. Once out on the wall, it can reinforce the disposition to stay in Athens rather than to leave Greece by going abroad.

Aesthetics of resistance

Peter Weiss in 'Aesthetics of Resistance' describes how one man is being chased by Franco's police during the civil war in Spain. He runs into a church to hide but upon entering he discovers such beautiful paintings on the wall, that he stops in his tracks and just marvels at their beauty. Somehow he forgets completely in what dangerous situation he finds himself in. He calms down. The sweat on the forehead due to fear and being chased disappears. When he walks out of the church again he is literally a changed person. The police run past him as they look for quite a different person, one filled with fear and definitely running away.

Of interest is to observe attempts at the creation of a sense of beauty. At times, it can just amount to a kind of beautification of the urban surrounding. It may even go in the direction of a mystic sense.

For instance, there can be found an example thereof at the entrance to a house on Dafnomili and where a tourist guide lives. Whenever she returns from work, and that means having visited with tourist groups places like Delphi or Olympia, she would be glad to return to her own dream world. The black marcation at the entrance is for her both a reference and greeting to have arrived back home. The figure is veiled slightly to indicate the element of mystification. The figure is seated while contemplating her hair - a simple gesture of frank beauty.



               Stencil at house entrance on Dafnomili May 2013

Expressions in black are more often found when not only illusions are being addressed, but an effort is made to imagine the things which lie beyond the immediate dismal present. If this entails travel, all the more an enticement of a longing to get away from it all. Such thoughts of flight are then often countered by a healthy dose of scepticism. For travel would mean hardship and include going over mountains and many seas.

Aesthetics of resistance entails literally a search for new forms to express this desire for change while not losing sight of sublime beauty and a sense of balance. There can be seen on some walls even attempts at such artistic expressions which reflect a respect for the economy of space while using skillfully what is given, whether a beautiful wall or just a pillar. In respect of this economy, beauty shows itself by demonstrating some simple, equally subtle lines will do. For the embodiment of freedom to dream is at times best expressed by the sublime beauty of simple lines.


      Graffiti found on the periphery road of Likavitos Hill

Along this peripheral road along Lycabettou many former offices are now empty. Gone is the striving city when it was preparing for the Olympic Games in 2004. There is no longer this sense of a crowd roaring as they witness the bicycle race. Maybe some will still recall the sound the riders made when passing by at high speed: 'swoosh, swoosh'. Everything went past so fast that the races had already ended on the first two days of the Olympic Games back then before they began to realize there were not so many people to make up a noisy crowd capable of shouting 'bravo' or else applauding as sign of encouragement to the athletes.

But just as the lights dim out eventually, so the years go by without the call 'but the show must go on' being taken up, except for some other city as was the case in 2012 when it was the turn of London. But this particular graffiti painted onto a pillar uses the background as a slim form to emphasize what has become the modern version of the centaur, only now it is half man, half woman, and in between the hints provided by this graffiti like drawing is what Picasso would show as being the heels of a steer and not just simple feet. Run along, my imagination, it seems to suggest, run along and don't forget to steer free from troubles ahead.

From fiction to reality - a difference to cartoon like images

Refinement of what can be imagined as to what lies ahead, requires a new transgression from fiction or fake fights with the shadows on the wall as described by Plato in his cave analogy, and to step outside, into the real light, so as to confront both beauty and the difficulty to share this experience with others.

A counter argument to this could be to view this entire graffiti scene as having both a critical and an apologetic stance. This can be seen best when tagging and art works combine to mark the wall. All this is promoted still further when an abandoned house offers a natural frame for such an interaction at various levels, so that cartoons can be depicted while former windows are used as frames for realistic images. Confined to that special space, the images take on a clear artistic expression. This may be due to moving within a clearly defined space as marked by the frame which elevates the form of expression to another kind of reflection or play of associations with the imagination as to who used to live there and who could have looked out that window?


                            Wall of abandoned house in Exarchia

The entire array of graffiti on this abandoned house shows a wide range of expressions, from cartoons to real painted images. No wonder, for the youth has been exposed to cartoons but with the coming of youtube and social media, they start to see and to read images of virtual reality. Along with other pressures and exposures their identities are at best fragments of their true self when seeing how little they can do in society. The obstacles and refutations, but also smashing of dreams and identities requires of them to turn to quite another form of expression, in order to unify their senses and to have some certainty in perception.

Here some reference can be made to the philosopher Kolakowski who wrote about 'Husserls and the Search for Certainty'. He stated that once people search for a lost paradise, their effort to unify an otherwise chaotic world would lead them greatly in disarray. For any attempt to give the world a sense of unity similar to paradise would end up resorting to cartoons - in reality, a fake caricature of reality.


       "Superman - figure of comics" at Free Thinking Zone bookshop     2013

Since in many cases graffiti resorts to a cartoon like language, further analysis and interpretation thereof must look at how images are organized and what meaning is intended to be conveyed despite being within a confined 'urban' space. Definitely this language on the wall does become over time a part of the collective consciousness. Such image orientated expression does make a definite imprint upon the mind, but at the risk to erase any sign of individuality.


                         Detail of head in window frame        Exarchia 2013

Naturally associations eject a certain meaning to let us make sense of what we perceive. For instance, the image of the man with a brick wall as background reminds of Humpty Dumpy who 'sat on the wall, had one day a great fall, broke into thousand pieces, so that even the king's men could not pick up all the pieces and put him together, in order to let him sit once again atop of the wall!' What is wonderful about this graffiti is that the well known image becomes a signature within a former window frame. The materials of the abandoned house create a natural aesthetic, and thereby accentuates this imaginary story about the risk to fall or to be completely walled in.


                            Detail of cartoon like images                   Exarchia 2013

To be walled in, or confined only to urban space, as was the fate of Antigone, would mean according to an interpretation by Klaus Heinrich in his lecture about Antigone and called "der staub und das denken" (dust and thinking), to be buried alive. For she was put into a cave and then walled in. It gives a profound meaning to a no man's land, for there no one dies, but no one is really alive. Likewise with a youth caught in-between childhood and adulthood. Once without a job and therefore without any money in the pocket, it will be impossible to affirm whether one is dead or alive.


Text and photos by Hatto Fischer

Athens 14.1.2014



Klaus Heinrich (2009) der staub und das denken. F.a.M: Stroemfeld

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