Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Street theatre of memory and meaning


        "Urban Vietnam"                                        Asklipiou Street  Feb. 2014

Surely those belonging to the movement, and therefore take to the streets to leave their marks on the walls, are able to grasp immediately the full meaning when a new graffiti speaks from the wall. "Urban Vietnam" expresses in a dramatic way that the youth believes to be living in extreme, indeed violent conditions. Memories of Vietnam are being evoked as was the case during the Student Movement, but now the economic war rains down not in the forms of napalm bombs, but in invisible denials which rob the youth of a chance to see a chance for a peaceful life within the city.  

The connotation of urban life being violent has both a political and a poetic-philosophical content. Such a graffiti at the entrance to a house tends to cast a different light on what is not only happening, but as well the current state of affairs. This description underlines how graffiti seeks to address issues quite differently when compared with what the official medias brings across and seeks to convey as 'news'.

Graffiti does illuminate upon news items in such stark colours and pronounced forms of expression, so that other things become important e.g. in this graffiti of 'Urban Vietnam' a figure (it can be either a boy or girl), clad in jeans and with a cigarette but in the mouth, is depicted in such a way that the forlorn sense of being left alone with such a violent situation is exthailed. Hence graffiti tends to address things in the form of 'street theatre'. It is a way of acting out things not on stage, but in a visible form, and in such a way not used by the official press. Unfortunately these much more subtle connotations are rarely noticed by the general public even though they pass by these kinds of graffiti every day.

As forms of oppression and censorship go hand in hand with other forces undermining any serious publicness, in the Greek case the closure of ERT in 2013 leading to a replacement by a new public broadcaster NERIT by 2014, such media strategies indicate a loss of 'memory work' (1) as both the archive of ERT and the continuity of identity have been jeopardized, closed down, interrupted and subjegated in a most brutal way to new forms of media obedience to leading interests seeking to govern the country in their own special way.

All that has been identified by the philosopher Jürgen Habermas as a sign of a 'pathology of communication'. Consequently vital links to a search for truth are not upheld and if they become dangerous for the power holders, neutralized and erased from collective memory before any substantial demands can be articulated. All this is done to gurantee the practice of mendacity. Martin Jay describes the use of the 'public lie' as a way to deny the demand for truth. It paves the way for using the 'public' as mere mask for private interests.

This is all the more the case once public channels disappear while private newscasters and TV channels no longer address any common sense or even common identity, but instead ressort to 'sensational news'. They pretend to still address a common ground of interest, when this holds in fact no longer. With it goes, as formulated by George Frangopoulos, a negation of collective responsibility. Instead the individual will have to bear all the burdens for being responsible for everything, even for the welfare of the Capital, although he or she has not the capacity to uphold its value. Yet the domination over the common ground results in giving power to those institutions which deal directly, and are affected fore mostly by any alteration in this value. This means everyone is disposed towards the need to uphold the common value expressed best through the purchasing power of the currency. The latter is used to facilitate all kinds of simple to complex transactions, and underlines what Michael Polanyi stated as being the claim of Capitalism, namely that 'money is the most complex decision carrier which gurantees at the same time a maximum of freedom to the individual, insofar as he or she can do what likes once he has obtained this money through some kind of transaction e.g. labour for money.' (2)

Once exchange breaks down - no work, no money by which to enter the distribution and allocation process of resources - as is usually the case in time sof an extreme economic crisis, then other economic forms are tried out e.g. barter trade or communities attempting to exist free of any money. Precisely in such times graffiti and tagging of walls become then a much preferred media to express common sentiments, visions and demands. It is also a visible attempt to sustain memory of important matters and to address issues the entire movement sees itself being confronted by.

The memory to go by


    "In honour of Lambros Foundas"

Graffiti includes a kind of collective memory which works on behalf of those who are at risk to be forgotten. They may be sitting in jail or else they have died like Lambros Foundas who was shot by the police on 10th of March 2010. (3)

Creating a graffiti to remember not only the person but the very incidence which provides further proof about such things as state violence both feared and fought against, that then intertwines with what political sense prevails to keep certain memories alive. In the case of the Anarchist movement, the memory base is linked to a protest directed above all against state violence.

The handling thereof does not seem to differ whether someone has died in jail or else as was the case of Aleksandros killed in the street. What matters is whether or not state violence in the form of the police was involved. Still, there is a difference between Alexandros and Lambros Foundas since the latter is hardly remembered outside the Anarchist movement, whereas the former is much more conscious in the collective sense of memory kept alive as to what happened once the Greek crisis started to unfold since 2009 at the latest. Nevertheless one common trait can be traced in all of this.

Many of the youth feel violence is being constantly imposed upon them and others, in particular the migrants with whom they identify strongly. They do not wish to be silenced by either forms of direct repression or intimitation nor by their own fear. Consequently they recreate constantly battles with the police but few of them seem to realize that the term 'fight' plays a special, indeed fatal role throughout history.

That term has been given a special meaning by Heidegger. It can be linked directly to the means by which a false sense of heroship can be created. Heidegger said the true human being reveals him- or herself only in a fight and since no one wants a fight, this has to be provoked in an artificial way - by creating a dispute with your neighbour. (It is an interesting contradiction in Heidegger since he did study Ancient Greek philosophers and perhaps as well poets who were developing ideas especially on how to keep peace with your neighbour). Heidegger cautioned but before one would start such a fight, one should be well prepared i.e. armed. Heidegger legitimized through his philosophy Hitler going against the Versaille Treaty which had sealed First World War by re-arming Germany to prepare it for war. Hitler translated directly this term of 'fight' into an action which all too many were willing to follow blindly without ever asking themselves to where all of this nonsense would lead to!

Not only for this but for many reasons, it is crucial to understand the graffiti on the wall. For once everything is expressed within a specific context of such memory spans, specific political meanings begin to play a role. While they are in need to be decoded for outsiders to understand, this anonymous writing on the wall can give orientation by indicating above all the mood within the movement.

Hence these signs of the wall cannot be ignored. Tragically they are often overlooked because so easily to be seen by anyone who happens to pass by. Still, graffiti intends to address not only those within the movement but as well the rest of society. As a matter of fact, in their own and silent way, they are also cries for help but which no one seems to hear. No wonder then that silence occupies more space than what can be imagined.


Identification of issues at hand



     The issue of an abandoned city - waste land                                Nov. 2012

Graffiti has a special way to identify the various issues at hand. They show what the youth has to deal with or are confronted by. A good way to describe their location is somewhere in-between social reality and the imagined alternative to the given. After all this youth is faced by a stark economic situation while they have many more doubts on how they can survive in such a world and still preserve not only their dignity but integrity. They have seen to many being broken once they enter the money making machines and become complicit but silenced workers of the modern world. 


"3 faces and a machine gun"                    Lycabettou photo taken January 2014

One thing is for sure, the world in which they are forced to grow up, shall never become really their home. Rather than being stateless, they are primarily homeless and therefore lost in an unknown way. Consequently the most desperate can easily be recruited by all kinds of false prophecies. Linked to an ideology of self sacrifice, such recruitment for suicide bombers cannot be ruled out as others are driven into all kinds of forms of fanaticisms. Enzensberger called them the 'radical losers'. The name underlines the frightening aspect as to what happens once a youth thinks they shall never have success in society. This despair they will transform in a sudden outburst of extreme violence their action into a proof of the most terrible loss. For going down, they will take so many other lives with them. Freud would call this loss a breakage of the 'libido' or what connects any human being to humanity. Once empathy for other people has gone completely astray, and this mainly due to sitting for hours alone in front of a video or television screen, then the other cannot be perceived any more as 'enemy', never mind as friend.

Graffiti reflects a life gone lonely by transforming the streets and walls into a theatre which can be played or rather staged everywhere and nowhere. Rarely do they find a resting place. While edging ever close to the feeling of being burned out, they nurture one prime sensation, namely that their parents cannot understand what they are going through. Even worse, the terrible loss is extended as to what they see as inherent characteristics of the established part of society. In their eyes that society has lost all sense of proportion. Highly intelligent, they are most perceptive as to how the system works and therefore how people arrange themselves within but at the high cost of giving up their ethical foundation. Games are being played with many pretending that they still can retain at least a decent core of themselves. Consequently the youth see corruption being institutionalized by collaborators of the system almost everywhere. 

Corruption is to them not merely a matter of what the established power holders do but includes as well a vast portion of the business sector and all those who have gone along with the need to make bribes or comprises if to get anywhere. Repeatedly they see not qualified people getting the job, but those with connections to the upper tiers or who come from families in a privileged position not merely be wealth but access to still other possibilities. They see doubtful projects being financed with ever more money wasted while others in society are expected to work for nothing. That contradiction is aggravated in a society like the Greek one where there is no public space available to experience a good debate.

Unfortunately their need to have a voice in society, in order to shape their own destiny, goes largely unanswered. Moreover it has become a general requirement to be ready to accept any work under all conditions and perform accordingly. Parents, schools and other institutions socialize them from an early age onwards not to question forms of organisations of work despite of many overt and hidden exploitations going on all the time. Consequently learning is reduced to a mechanical memorization of what shall be asked on the exam. It is high performance but does not allow the youth to dip into the memories of both history and humanity.

Due to the economic uncertainty, the youth cannot plan ahead or prepare themselves for their future lives. If they get paid at all for some job they may have obtained, they never really know if on time and if not when. There is nothing to count on! This lack of 'morality in payment' reduces working relationships to such low degree of reliability that a system of inefficiency has institutionalized itself. In reality, it amounts to an exploitation of those willing to give their time for society and therefore tend to sacrifice themselves for doubtful endeavours. They end up in a vicious cycle. To this can be added the fact that many highly qualified end up in low paying jobs, if they manage to obtain any at all. If they do not wish to wait passively if there might be an overspill of something as promised at political level, namely once debt repayment has been completed and the economy back on a growth path, then there will be available new jobs, they have to do something now.

The rule of chaos as opposite to 'nomos' or law

As long as these and other issues remain unresolved, the popular saying has it that chaos rules more than anything.

Chaos may not even be the precise description. Rather the apparent absence of law seems to support the idea that a life in freedom is possible, or at least as one outside observer would attest there is still much space to breathe in such a culture when compared to others like the one prevailing in America where business is the only dominant culture and no real enjoyment of life seems possible. Hence the outcome of this ability to live, and that means to transform the given into an opportunity to talk and share a cigarette with the neighbour underlines this notion of being free to live and therefore not to be bothered at the moment as to what will happen tomorrow. 'We shall see' is the usual answer when asked how things will develop next.

There is a negative side to this kind of anarchy or life in freedom. For once rules are made up as one goes along, then governance by privileges becomes exemptions become a need. It entails the risks that commitments to a legal and formal process end up being highly arbitrary. What is kept reflects what is subject to deeming to be possible under given circumstances. Consequently the binding power of the social contract is so weak that decisions once made to pass a law can be simply discarded very soon thereafter.

It was Stefan Zweig who explained the fall of Constantinopel by a readiness of Byzantine Greece to abandon treaties once a crisis was over and the assumption was in normal times such extra or precautionary help in times when attacked by someone else was not needed. When the real crisis cames after the Sultan had decided to launch a full out attack against that heavily fortified city, it is too late for help to arrive in time. For the other side could not take serious the cry for help by Constantinopel.

Such a dilemma people living in Greece have to face once the period of a deep economic crisis started with a huge state deficit appearing suddenly insurmountable. The Greek state could no longer raise money on the market and to avoid outright default was forced to seek a bail-out but under harsh conditions. The latter were dictated by the creditors in the form of the Troika representing the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank. That deficit still needs to be explained. If the Greek state is ever to gain in trust, the full public truth about what led up to this crisis must be discussed in public spaces so that everyone can hear and share in the responsibility for the crisis. That social dialogue is needed if the people in Greece are not to be  abandoned by the European Union. What this means is being demonstrated by Ireland as to how a member state of the European Union can return to 'normal' governing principles once the situation has been resolved.

Naturally the Greek deficit is much higher than the Irish one and no one thinks in reality that this enormous deficit can ever be reduced to a normal level. Thus a comical paradox is constantly being re-created. While progress is claimed to have been made, warnings are constantly issued as to what would happen if structural reforms and privatization schemes are not followed through. The threat of default, whether orderly or not, is never far away, so it seems.

Street behaviour

For while no one tolerates anyone standing in the way, still an ontological mind set seems to make everyone want to stop suddenly even it means to stand in the middle of road and therefore obstructing the traffic or the path for others. This sudden still-stand reflects itself a seeming lack of logistical thinking or anticipation what shall do the next one who will come this way. Likewise the entire city replicates a failure to implement a sensible urban plan. Streets and locations of houses or buildings hardly reflect a wise use of scarce space. It seems as if a mentality of collective individuality is played through all the time. Consideration of the needs of others is as much negated as made only possible through something else. The latter depends upon an 'alter ego' best shown how everyone is taken into the family and how neighbourhoods would allow talks in the streets. In some places this is still possible but is becoming less and less the case as apartment buildings with drive in garages go up and the contact to the neighbour becomes almost non existing.

What happens in the streets might explain also why often the discussion turns to one reason for the crisis, namely that Greeks find it, generally speaking, extremely difficult to work together. Rather rivalry and strive to secure a powerful position so that an own hierarchy of priorities which favours oneself can be imposed upon the others prevents any open ended discussion leading to an equal sharing of work and benefits. Consequently the outcome is resignation expressed best by giving up any active search for a solution which could be accepted by all. Thus the strive towards a social contract which is based on social dialogue has been abandoned a long time ago or never had a chance once Greece emerged out of dictatorship in 1974. 


The anti-political movement is by far greater than just the anarchists, and includes Far Right Parties as much as forces not yet represented in the present political spectrum. To remind, the term 'anti politics' stems from a dialogue Heinrich Böll had with Stemislaw about 'Anti-Communism in East and West', for they came then to the conclusion that this would prepare people for the strongest yet school of thought, namely anti-politics. It negates anything coming close to assuming common responsibility nor does it wish to give any thought as to what society requires to govern itself, namely workable institutions needed to implement policy.

Behind this difficulty to accept any solution offered by the official side prevails a kind of defiance akin to what the 'market of different voices' constitutes in a post colonial society. Since success is hardly to come by if the experience has been to be a loser, learning to survive and adaptating to circumstances is reduced to a mere imitation of the supposing successful models. Nothing of that is tested or validated but since propagated by powerful media and other institutions, a kind of convincing network springs up to reforce common held opinions. In that sense, Twitters has become in recent times more powerful than even Facebook. Yet that unchecked way of responding to what is believed to be a common held opinion e.g. the crisis of Greece is due to an inefficient bureaucracy, prevents any sensible political discourse. Instead value judgements are transformed into prejudices and once convictions no longer really possible to be challenged. It leaves politics increasingly exposed to a language of hatred and incitements of hatred of anyone who is identified as opposing or daring to contradict the common held belief. It becomes a 'vicious cycle' since anyone attempting to create a basis for political reflections to make possible governance is undermined right away as if a worse enemy than anyone else they had been fighting against till now. That radicalization of opinion assumed to be a common held truth ensures only that still more injustices are inflicted upon the other despite claiming to be against injustices. Presumably the reason for that is the lack of sense of justice. 

Some may want to say by showing defiance to all of that, you need not to immigrate to America to experience freedom.


Text and photos by Hatto Fischer

Athens January / February 2014



1. "..perhaps as a result of the collapse of ideas of national destiny, there is the growing importance of 'memory places' in ideas of the historical past. Landscape, and in particular those vast tracts of it which is now come under the administration of the National Trust, is now called upon to do the memory work which in earlier times might have been performed by territorial belonging." p. 39 in: Raphael Samuel (2012). "Theatres of Memory". London: Verso.

2. Karl Polanyi. (1968). "Primitive, Archaic and Modern Economies" Collection of Essays.

3. It is very revealing when reading the texts which have been written in memory of Lambros Foundas. See, for example,

Honour forever to anarchist comrade Lambros Foundas, member of ...


The web page is dated 05.03.2012 and states that Lambros Foundas "lives in the flaming hearts of those who fight continuously for dignity and freedom." Thus the task is to keep alive the memory of those rebels who fought against the police and search like a wolf and a tree for the human side in life.  




Böll, Heinrich (1984) Heinrich & Lew Kopelew in: Anti-Kommunismus in Ost und West. Zwei Gespräche. München. dtv.


Raphael Samuel, (2012) "Theatres of Memory". London: Verso

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