Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Writings on the wall

Lathos - mistake - should we open governments?

             Exarchia Feb. 2014


 "Don't think we are a few"

             - the Anarchists



Outside 'Free Thinking Zone', a bookshop well connected with others, with events for Feb. 2014 posted besides messages on the wall.



What one does not need to know!







    A choice of life

"Poverty is freedom"



 "We grew up in a bus stop, but did not learn to travel"

Lines of death extend in a

Triptycon on Ippocratous Street to say

what one feels when there are "cops, pigs, murders"


When the "writings on the walls" do all the talking

“The walls are most eloquent, allowing an observer to put together from the graffiti - by stitching words, texts and decoding images – a fragmented narrative of Athens with the thoughts and dreams of the city’s young population, a collective history which unfolds on a ‘common ground’."                 

       - Nicholas Anastasopoulos ("Through the eyes of the Youth", 2014)

Walls are unmoveable. They serve as background but also come to life once graffiti and writings appear on them. By letting the walls do all the talking, those who write and paint on them, they seek to distinguish the environment in which they move about from a dead city, and therefore from death itself. The youth wants to contemplate life in society but not deny the existence of death.

Philosophers have taken 'being alive' as start of metaphysical speculation. They ask why then the existence of 'death', but then continue their speculation by hiding the latter in reflecting solely 'being' in 'not being'. Only Adorno in 'Negative Dialectic' added that being and not being is always connected by 'something'. The latter comes in the form of thoughts materialised by actions bringing about experiences. It sets the entire topos of philosophical discussions but to no avail, so it seems, for philosophy appears to have in the words of Jürgen Habermas no political ramifications. Yet it was Dostoevsky who said that to deny philosophy is also a philosophy, but a very bad one. All the more of interest, therefore, when philosophy materialises itself along the walls of Athens.




 Above: "It is 15th of August, and I am alone; cops, pigs, assassins"                                                                           German church wall Oct. 2013

Below: The written message was painted over two months later, that is by Dec. 2013

Not ancient Greek philosophy is on display on the walls, even though some may evoke some reminscence of wisdoms expressed back then. Rather a different approach reveals itself in this context of Athens in the 21st century. For the "writings on the wall" do not follow so much a wish to clarify what perplexes man; rather they seek to evoke something else, namely 'political literacy'.

For example, the statement about being alone on 15th of August, the day when everyone is out of Athens due to being the peak of the summer holidays, is a personal one, but the second half of the sentence is like a signature. It describes the general situation which Anarchists feel that they have to face alone.

Based on knowing the difference between what is written and what stands out in reality, all writings point in the direction of what happens in reality. It is like reading out aloud a poem. The aim is not merely to denounce and to criticize what is happening, but rather to make a difference in how reality is named, and therefore perceived by those passing by. It amounts to an explicit and implicit revolt against the official versions of events. Too often the latter amount to being just convenient narratives for those in power. They serve the purpose of justifying what is done in the name of the system although anti-human and anti-life.

Consequently almost all the "writings on the wall" contradict and denounce especially such actions which are committed in the name of the system, but which lead to such negative treatment of others, and especially of the weakest and migrants, that a lot of the writings on the wall amount to an outcry against such injustices. Named are those actions and conditions which cannot be justified by any normal human standard. 

Altogether there can made out a huge difference between the kind of loyalty to the state and which a particular political system interprets as a need to take a certain stance aligned with a specific ideology and what stands written on walls. That difference is best expressed by having behind these critical statements or messages on wall a 'love of life'. It reflects a youth no longer willing to demonstrate obedience to any of the political parties and their corresponding ideologies. Since the latter tend to recognize only a limited kind of reality as formed by state institution, it leads to a kind of abstract governance based mainly on 'invalid' models and decision mechanisms relying mainly on probability calculations. Out of that follows only what seems to work best not in the interest of all people, but only of those who share this interest in power. By contrast, this youth does not want to have anything to do with that, let alone serve the interest of such an inhumane system leading merely to over alienation and broken personalities.

Clearly 'love of life' differs from any political ideology. It has all the potential to contribute to a democratic life because open to doubt and human experiences. Due to its artistic and imaginary content expressed in public, such a source of inspiration can contribute potentially at collective level to the making of a cultural synthesis. The latter would entail the freedom of human beings with all their possible attributes (Robert Musil), and therefore allow people to take up other forms to communicate and to interact with one another. This is because such a cultural synthesis would include empathy for the other, that is provide the imaginary level is touched upon. By making possible another kind of mutual understanding, and thereby evoking 'human self-consciousness', such a cultural synthesis would no longer rely so much on 'common sense' which ends up being too often a self understanding although not self-understood at all; rather it would make possible a collective sense of responsibility, and this out of a 'love of life'.

If taken further, and through practical experiences in assemblies and actions of solidarity that is made possible, it amounts to a commitment to continue life. They need the freedom to do that for such a vow or oath is the only thing older generations can ask of younger generations. After all they have their futures still ahead of them. (Jean Paul Sartre).

In other words, what is written on walls tends to facilitate the search for another way of life based on such a commitment. By making use of common spaces to express this, these acts of writing on walls go further than making simply something visible in public. For this collective effort is made to overcome the usual private-public duality. As a matter of fact, the public is regularly misused to mask private interests. It becomes self evident when a private media store on Syntagma Square calls itself 'Public' or when the city declares a private development project as being in the public interest. By naming these issues in declared common spaces, the writings act like cultural lenses to focus on this reality otherwise covered up by highly ambivalent and manipulative use of words and terms.

The prime aim seems to be to raise awareness for what is obviously needed by everyone. It includes the need for protection against 'invisible violence' becoming explicit in the rise of Neo-Fascism and implicit in the danger to become oneself inhuman. The latter is obviously linked to injustices and corruption by being forced to accept a system which is based on such coercive powers which protect the value of money and not human beings. "Who are we? as answer is in reality an outcry of non identity in the overt sense of meaning; implicitly, it is nevertheless an expression of an assertive power by means of the imagination that we are all 'human beings'. 

By not heeding the human beings, the coercive forces of the system threaten life in the city. This happens daily and in many subtle but also brutal ways. The fact that so often reality is not really perceived, it reminds of the need of an 'ethic of seeing' as became in the wake of the Holocaust. 'Ethics of seeing' was a series of lectures developed by the theologian Herring in the Neatherlands. He did so in response to so many Germans claiming after Second World War that they did not see the Jews disappear out of their midst of society. Hence these efforts to make things become visible, it has to do with a subtle resistance against all kinds of propaganda used by the system. It includes advertisement but foremostly it is a response to attempts by the government to mask its real measures e.g. detention of migrants and exposing weak and elderly people to still further health risks by privatizing the health services, so that only those who can afford it are treated.

What the "writings on the wall" refute that there is but one official narrative of what is happening in the city. Rather all the writings make explicit that there is a need for multiple stories to be told and to be listened to. It goes hand in hand with the demand that especially the urban agenda should initiate such programmes in which people do recognize themselves, and feel themselves to be understood. This is not the case with the official narratives claim and what the media in unison with the government and market forces propagates as the sole successful model to be followed by all.

No wonder when graffiti and writings on the walls are too readily dismissed by the media and officials declare them to be but signs of pure vandalism. This denial tends to distract many from looking seriously at what stands written on the wall. That is often too stark a reality for many people and hence they tend to dismiss it, generally speaking, without having made an effort to distinguish between different types of expressions and corresponding meanings. Far worse is something else. In the absence of a political literacy, many people tend to miss out as to what philosophy, and therefore 'love of life' these writings can convey, if the time is taken to really read and discuss what stands there on the walls.

Needless to say, a way out of the crisis can only be found when there can be made visible a way of life, and this in agreement with the people who live in that city. Therefore it is crucial that this other level of communication is interpreted in a way that the subtle meanings become accessible to all.

Life in the city is both precious and precarious. It needs to be safeguarded by being lived i.e. experienced. It starts with caring parents when having been just brought into this world, but already the youth requires a change in attitude. For the youth has to shake off the tendency of over protection by parents who often miss out on the real meaning of love. The latter is equally trust. It is a trust which sets free energies which are needed to express oneself and to live.

Rather than victimising the victims of the system still further, this setting free of energies has to be given space for identities to form themselves. If not, then it should not surprise that this youth in revolt uses the common spaces to express themselves. To do so, it requires a lively imagination and an appreciation of the more subtle forms of communication made possible by finding suitable poetic-philosophical forms of expression.

Altogether society can only uphold life if the organisational principles are based on an ethical vision of mankind. This was not the case in Europe after First World War. According to Bertrand Russell, during that first war there was made the discovery that technology means a lot more power can be gained over the masses of people, even if it drives them into a senseless destruction of each other. Andre Malraux describes how the first tests were made with gas. It was Kafka who tried to follow those scientists who made these experiments with gas possible, but they had gone already beyond what orinary people could understand and only a writer like Kafke could follow them a bit with his imagination. Bertrand Russels in "Fathers of Fascism" made the observation that after First World War, many young men threw themselves into research to help improve this technology; he concluded that all of them were highly intelligent, but they had one fault, insofar as they conducted this research without any ethics.

It goes without saying, that 'love of life' seeks to realign personal development with the need to work having an ethical basis, for otherwise an alienated scientist or technician will help reproduce such threats to life as the nuclear bomb. Naturally a common self-understanding based on an ethical vision of mankind recognizes the need to avoid hunger but also the importance of speaking with the other.


                "Talk with Elsa"                Wall of French Institute Jan. 2014

Hunger is more obvious, but 'poverty of experience' more subtle as to what many in Greece and elsewhere fear as a result of the economic crisis being resolved at the cost of collective responsibility for the individual. Alone lack of money hinders already the freedom to travel - a clear contradiction to the legitimacy the European Union seeks by claiming to promote mobility.

The crisis is equally one of morality. Reflecting the past in terms of what happens when there is only governance by sheer power, that is without an ethical vision of mankind, can serve as reminder how dangerous politics can be once people are governed solely by 'contrived reason' leading to corruption and still further manipulation. This dangerous political development occurs when people have not found in time the ability to question power. They seem then unable to avert political suppression and unjust treatment of the others i.e. denial of them being human beings like everyone else. With such abuse of power goes then a brutal exploitation of natural and cultural resources to the point of making a life in dignity impossible. And no one shall be able to address the human self consciousness so as to make someone having power over the other impossible. It would end a life in freedom and a society without realiance in its political discourse.

In short, many writings on the walls of Athens seek to question what is going on in order to bring about some political sanity. Their political content is a reflection of what they understand is happening in reality. More often than not the "writings on the wall" are not so much political messages, but fore mostly poetic-philosophical statements and, therefore, in need to be read and understood not like text books studied by philosophers in libraries, but by people walking in the street. They need to be comprehended in their often subtle meanings since embedded in a collective imagination and memory filled with associations as to what has happened already before in a similar way. By attempting to uphold an ethical spirit, these writings seek to preserve the human self-consciousness. It is self evident that  already a play on words often written can affect the mind in a most profound way once the subtle meaning is grasped. They entail that potential because they go well beyond the images used by media aiming to replace contents by design of marketing strategies. These 'writings on the wall' are after all more substantial because expressions of human reality being lived right now in Athens and elsewhere.

Philosophical interpretation

Sometimes the "writings on the wall" need no further decoding; they are self-understood. But when taking a second look, the most obvious is no longer so obvious. A third reading makes it even more apparent if 'the writings on the wall' are to be understood, then another approach is needed. Crucial is to grasp the more subtle meanings. For most of them cannot be read merely as simple and straight forward political messages, but rather as messages of 'resistance'. Above all, "writings on the wall" have to be seen and read as outcome of a poetic, equally philosophical way of perceiving and interpreting the current state of affairs.

Since these "writings" are to be found on the walls of Athens, it makes them rather unique within that given urban space. Interestingly enough, aside from using the Greek language, reference and associations are made to all kinds of historical, social and personal meanings linked to Greek history, so that an outsider can hardly grasp the obvious, equally hidden meanings. As such they relate as 'memory of a specific time' to definite events, persons, situations, and which people keep alive in their memories through especially songs. (1) Naturally other languages are used as well, among them English the most dominant one. For this has to be in this day and age, insofar as reflections at local level indicate as well how global challenges are to be faced.

The point about resistance to current circumstances prevails in all of these writings. Most telling is that the prime question on the wall is not any set identity, but rather the question: "who are we?" It reveals something Adorno said about 'identity being non identity' if resistance against an inhumane society is to be expressed through the arts. That is directly linked to the wish to create an extra space for expressions on the walls of the city. More so like in Ancient Times, the walls are used to express freely something which links the individual to the whole society in which everyone is forced to live in. As such, this freedom of expression has to be taken literally and at the same time in terms of this non identity as an aesthetics of resistance. For further comprehension thereof, a reminder might suffice that Adorno's entry point into aesthetical theory was that for him 'the art of expression' rested on only one self-understanding, namely that nothing is any longer self-understood. (2)

The obvious is not that obvious

Many times what is written on the walls seems obvious at a first glance. For example, there is an abandoned house on Dafnomili. It has not been used for a long time, but apparently the owner is unknown as reflected by a peculiar still-stand. As if standing in 'no man's land', it is not being restored or else torn down to make room for something new! Many of its windows are smashed. For safety reasons someone has put up provisional barricades made out of simple boards. On one of them, there has been written in small letters the most obvious: "This is not a door!"


                 "This is not a door"                                Dafnomili Feb. 2014

Every day when passing by this message. 'this is not a door' resonates as obvious meaning with political matters which are not self understood, or even worse, in times of crisis, it can mean that all entry points are closed off. If survival in society depends upon finding access to society, then such an obvious meaning is transformed into a more general statement about the prevalance of mere negative orientations. Nothing is said where a door for entry could be found. The absence of the positive marks the space as being entirely negative. 

Consequently upon second thoughts, the obvious is no longer so obvious. Especially in times of a crisis, that is when ever more people are made 'homeless', while migrants are being driven out by all kinds of methods or never let into into the country, that statement about this not being a door underlines more than just despair in which many people find themselves to be in. The cruel aspect is the pointer as if people cannot see the most obvious and therefore are inclined to mistake a wooden board used to barricade an abandoned house as if a door. Door stands here for a contradiction to living either in the street or in an abandoned house, since the way out of a crisis relates as well to knowing the point of entry.

Especially once an affluent society shows no longer any solidarity with those in need, the matter what has been taken to be 'self understood' in human terms until now i.e. sharing of water, bread and a place even to sleep - here Greek hospitality was exceptional -  that is no longer 'self understood.'

To all of this can be added an element of philosophical truth which departs from Kant's saying: "Ich denke, ich kann überall meine Vorstellungen begleiten" - 'I think that I can accompany my imagination everywhere!' Kant made the experience once confronted by structural contradictions, that he could not, and thus the personal 'I' and the imagination had to part ways. This would mean a limitation to how with empathy one could feel one's way into society and through the world. If understanding and reason are no longer linked by a thinking process which does not exclude or even negate the personal 'I', then difficult times lie ahead. In the times of Kant this meant the failure of the Age of Enlightenment to bring about governance through reason, and hence thought through actions made possible by emancipation from 'fear'. 

All this can be translated into another formulation of the demand for truth. A philosophy speaks only then to people and perceives their needs, if it attains the kind of 'Durchgängigkeit' - Transparenz and free access throughout - needed, so that the philosopher is capable of opening doors and in finding the doors are open to him. Quite the contrary has happened in the transition from the 20th to the 21st century since many doors have been shut to keep out a love which would challenge the Negations of the 'self', and instead by able to question basic assumptions which have prompted society to be caught wrong footed by strict austerity measures being imposed upon people who were not the reason or cause for the huge state deficit, but you are forced through these measures to close many doors as countless, and especially small businesses are shut down and many more people laid off from work. The 'closing of doors' signals such an economic and social crisis, and it affects adversely and literally above all the individual.


                              Closed shop on Sina Street             Jan. 2013

Literacy in opposition to the most obvious

Most of the "writings on the walls" range from warnings to cries of help or despair. In their usual short forms, even though some can write entire texts on the wall and this in small letters, they reveal an amazing level of literacy. It is a level of sophistication in handling language not usually to be encountered either in the media or within institutions of learning. 

They differ from usual writings as these written statements are delivered with a visual impact. They do so by means of interruption. Suddenly the letters spring literally speaking from the walls into the eyes of the by-passers, whether now on foot, on a motor bike or sitting if not in a personal car or truck, then in a taxi or bus. Moreover they are linked to the locality and denote a certain timing. Hence it matters as to where and when these "writings on the wall" make their appearance. (3)


        "Athens burns"                                           Ermou Street Feb. 2014

"Athens burns" uses, for example, the context of a major shopping street connecting Sytagma Square to Monastiraki to attain meaning. It does use the context in such a way that it transforms the context of understanding e.g. how can you continue to do your shopping when Athens is burning? It underlines furthermore that what is obvious to especially a critical youth, this does not seem to preturb those who are caught up in the system and make their contribution to a positive image of the economy insofar as 'consumer confidence' is higher than when Athens was experiencing especially in the more explosive years of unrest (2011-2013) many more demonstrations, and when the city was really burning as a result. 

All that makes it more than obvious that these particular issues are not being really dealt with to the satisfaction of those who observe things happening more often from behind the curtain when looking down into the street and yet do not know as of yet on how to take a stand and get involved in how epecially urban society is being shaped. This linkage between invisible eyes and visible writings on the wall does, however, reinforce the meaning of a particular statement as no other duplicate can be found, even though some of the same slogans can reappear in other locations. 

Such a theory of "writings on the wall" is not bounded by words having become reflective concepts of writing. Written communication entails many layers of experience and entail in their own terms another way of connecting people to the 'grammar of life!' The latter can be perceived as an extract out of Aristotle's "lessons of categories" which follow upon an identification system of what this particular society considers to be 'knowledge' to be shared and to be upheld. It does not underline or promote the very fact that thinking begins really only once one steps outside the confinement of the categorical system, and into unknown spaces through which can guide 'the honesty of drawn lines' (Van Gogh, Philippine Herring) and poetic metaphors born out of spoken intuitive "Deutungen" (Adorno: directed interpretations as much as pointed at aspects of life, and hence very much like the doctor putting his finger to a spot on the body as to where he believes enemates the source of pain from, even though he sees it only from the outside while the real source is inside the human body). The combination of the two entails very much the bringing about such a poem which can be grasped immediately as being 'made' (ready, complete), the moment it has been written down (Michael D. Higgins). 

It is not about mere transfer of knowledge. Poetic intuition and trust in language gives space to all kinds of expressions, i.e. formal, informal, direct, indirect, but as writing on the wall it becomes a literal manifest. The proof is the example it gives as to what should be acknowledged and recognized. As literary opposition to what society considers to be obvious and therefore in no need to be mentioned, it brings out the most obvious but which has gone until now unrecognized. 

Writing as "thinking, speaking, acting" - poetic gestures on walls

Learning to heed warnings in time, means thinking and actions have to be realigned. For too long 'theory' determined what should follow in practice. Then, political thinkers like Johannes Agnoli and Jean Paul Sartre emphasized the need for 'lived through experiences' before knowing really what freedom means and how to attain a just society. To emanicipate 'theory' out of practice, is no easy task, but can be done once there is a possibility to articulate reflective thoughts about what one has done. It is not in the interest of society to do away with discussions and just follow through with actions. That was the fault line of Weimar Society when people were disgusted with all the talks of the politicians and finally wishes to see actions. They got it in the form of Hitler who did provide them with jobs, but they failed to ask under what conditions and for what purpose. Once the war had started, it was too late to stop this build up of a military complex needed to wage war. Likewise the danger of movements which are in really 'anti politics' but seek through a single issue having become popular to gain access to power, in order to gain resources made available by society to ensure governance. 


                "Think before you speak and don't say what you think."   

                                                                         Exarchia Jan. 2014

A long time ago, Spyros Bokos exclaimed when looking at Greek men sitting in the cafe neon, "see, they do not think what they feel, and they don't say what they think." At that time, this tripate of emotions, thoughts and language reminded of the division Kant undertook to deal with theoretical, practical and ethical knowledge separately. It requires practical wisdom to link thoughts and actions, since the forms in which experiences are made and become expressions of throughts about these experiences, lends another meaning to Shakespeare's question: "should you suit the words to the action or the action to the words?" To this has to be added the philosophical statement by Ernst Tugendhat who follows the analytical linguistic tradition by stating words by themselves cannot be understood; only in the context of a sentence can they be understood. What this does to individual, language and degree of understanding attained in society, that might appear to be quite a jump or extrapolation, but the ability to structure communication does depend upon relating and overcoming the difference between verbal and written language. Since Aristotle has devised the 'lessons of category' as being at best a description of grammar by which language is formed, graffiti as visual language adds another important dimension to this complex form of understanding (communicating) by addressing and reflecting a 'grammar of life' in especially cities. Once this added dimension is taken a bit further, 'writings on the walls' is more than an ordered thought for it attains a degree of sophistication, insofar as it presupposes the already existing form of language and communication in society.

By stepping outside this normative form (Ulrich Beck), and by adding an interplay between visual as painting on the wall and visual as the surrounding which is reinforced by making use of the wall, it high lights the oldest form of protest. It is a public statement, if not outcry and does not so much break rules as it does the silence which seeks to cover up any kind of protest. Interestingly enough, Michel Foucault had said in 'History of Insanity': "we must discover the places of silence before the lyrical protest covers them up." The latter has to be understood as a linguistic beautification but with a highly treacherous tone and thus not the kind of aesthetics Adorno spoke of. No wonder that he too stated 'no more poetry seems possible after Auschwitz!' There are certain ramifications which have to be observed in order to know what is really possible under these given circumstances.

Through love of life going beyond death - making visible human pain

Since death can cut short 'love of life' by abruptly ending life, knowledge thereof constitutes 'human pain'. A dilemma prevails since this emotional state cannot be shared with all, and yet as common denominator of all human beings, it brings about something which transcends death. For this reason, the Greek poetess Katerina Anghelaki Rooke stated behind every good poem there is 'human pain'. It is impossible to write any poetry without this feeling being the source of inspiration and which becomes in writing about it an intuitive notion of what is happening to mankind in reality. Thus this dilemma between loving life and it ending after death can be overcome by adopting a non romantic theory of love. It makes possible that people can hold together by realizing through all forms of expressions, but especially by means of artistic ones, how they are connected with one another.

The 'self' experiences factually this pain solely in an intimate form. The self does so when realizing life is something short-lived, and which can be experienced as something real solely in the present. Since that is but a temporary moment, missing out on living in the present constitutes already a terrible loss. Add to that all kinds of forces and problems which can prevent people from living in the present, the individual and society risk to end up in a 'poverty of experience'. This is all the more the case when the official EU policy is to promote an 'economy of experience' which is based on all kinds of gadgets and technical means to imitate the making of experience, when in fact it deprives people from making real experiences. Digital games is but the latest invention to distract people from real life. Most telling is that graffiti and writings on the wall counter this artificial or virtual world by bringing life back into the streets of the city. They do so by seeking out primarily places and houses which have been neglected or completely been abandoned by recent developments. And they take these messages into the very midst of consumer passages to bring home the crisis while underlining at the same time real life is too far away to write or even to cry about.


                        On wall of German church on Sina                Dec. 2013

The huge gap between lived through experiences and an 'unlived life' can be overcome by connecting with others and affirming the existence of the human being. Still, there is the realization this real life is right now "too far away". As this implies as well a lack of human self consciousness, the latter can only be upheld by using language which contains categories of productivity and creativity (Marx). Therefore, writings on the wall try to address this by retaining the human spirit, the real sense of revolt (Camus) and thus carry with them 'memories over time'. To be able to articulate that, crucial are active insights into what constitutes 'le vecu' (Sartre): 'lived through experiences!' It allows to counter 'poverty of experience' by ensuring a 'continuity of identity'. This the self has to worked out over time by becoming consistent in terms of human values and respect of others. After all self-understanding is being upheld as much by oneself as by what the others know and remember of oneself. By letting the own consciousness become a tribute to the human stream, it makes possible a self critical connection between past, present and future. This then constitutes a sense of the times in which everyone lives in right now.

Continuity of identity

Briefly said, not the 'order of things' (M. Foucault called it 'les mots et les choses'), but the change of things is the key priority on the agenda. This includes demasking the tools by which political authorities manage to deceive the general public, and therefore society remains a slave to only a certain development. Hence not surprisingly, the "writings on the wall" express to the fullest a wish to alter the disposition of society towards but one obvious choice, that of economic growth attained by measures aiming to safeguard the banks but not the welfare of the people!

Indeed, those who write on the walls, they wish to bring about changes in many things: attitudes of people, living conditions in the city, opinions expressed by the media etc. They wish more over human solidarity and, therefore, protest against on how migrants are being treated. By seeking to alter value dispositions, they aspire for a society offering perspectives for a human development with a sound ethical foundation. The latter would be in agreement with this key aspiration not to be alienated beyond the point of human recognition. It implies not to give in to whatever those in power desire of society. Rather they wish to uphold human aspirations.

Given all the unknowns, these are at best 'uncertain times'. Substantiated human knowledge can only be gained by being consistent over time, and thereby ensure a 'continuity of identity' despite winds blowing from all directions. If being blown off course leads to social disorientation, they face the risk of a new kind of loneliness without not realizing as of yet what other factors contribute to that. Hence many of the writings take on the character of a kind of reassurance in what are no longer conventional, but substantial wisdoms.


      Off Dafnomili Street on Koronis Street                                    Feb. 2014     

Another variation of such a saying was coined in Heidelberg following the student revolt in 1972, namely that "when no wind blows, even the weather rooster atop the church tower has character." At that time, it became evident how many people had no spine to oppose the rise of National Socialism, and therefore went along with what Hitler's rise to power implied. Something similar is implied in Athens when in 2014 the risk of Neo Fascism and Right Wing Extremism has become a real danger to resolving conflicts in society in a peaceful, non hateful way of the other. 

However, the youth in revolt needs to overcome one prime obstacle when wishing to change the rigid equally spineless society, namely its value disposition or set values since everything seems to be going against life. Here the wisdom of the philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis needs to be heeded, when pointing out, that "values cannot be discussed, for they are set!" Out of these set value premises everything else follows in society! He went on to warn that any attempt to change these set premises would lead more often to conflict, if not outright to war. So what is to be done. Surely the answer of many writings on the wall is an attempt to put many set value premises and dispositions if not to discussion, then at least into doubt. If successful, it would create an open field for the imagination to flow in and out. That would concurr with the revolt resulting out of a love of life and what life can be imagined in difference to what has been lived so far within the confines of the city.

It was Dostoevsky who said that the human soul has a million possibilities, a city with its three dimensional spaces but three. Putting up such thoughts in writing on the walls of Athens makes all the more sense when perceived as a search for an answer to the identity question. It amounts to a search for conditions, so that freedom of expression prevails. Consequently the energized writings on the wall take on a special character in the form of resistance against the coercive forces of society and state.

Thus to come back to 'human pain', literacy entails and requires artistic expressions to allow the showing of all that what human beings do not understand (Adorno). Only then self-understanding can give space to the working out of what is not self-understood either in terms of self or with regards to others. It requires a special creativity. That is why the 'human scream' in Picasso's 'Guernica' transcends the immediacy of war and its consequences. This famous mural explores with the means of the art that human feeling as an outcry of 'love of life', and reveals for the first time this most intimate, equally silent form. Altogether 'Guernica' embraces a human universe exemplified best by the outstretched arms of a woman in agony.

Death was called by Hegel 'the unmoved mover'. Likewise a system and a city seems to be unmoved by the plight of so many. In Athens, the lines of those who cannot pay their electricity bills in March 2014 have grown longer, while those who can pay no longer need to stand in line. The bills are so high for several reasons. Besides including hefty tax hikes, many need more electricity during the winter months since no one seems to be able to afford any more the expensive heating oil. Hence everyone switsches over to eletrical appliances, if not to other heating devices. Consequently ever fewer who can afford to pay these hefty bills, and therefore they do not have to wait in line. The cashiers are merely waiting for the next customer to come. No wonder when especially the youth growing up during such a crisis shall link society and state to death itself, an therefore call upon themselves to open up the discussion on this topic.


           "In this dismal calamity of a city, we never speak about death!"

                                                                        Exarchia Jan. 2014

What choices are left?


                Written on wall of German church        Lycabettou Feb. 2014

The revolt against the imprint of death expresses itself best as a quest for a liveable life. Even in a crisis, there are choices to be made, or rather there is really one basic choice to be made. As revealed by the slogan on the wall of the German church, to live means to get busy! 


           "I want to die"                                 Dexamanie in Kolonaki 2014

Yet while reflections of pressing times tend to show how dangerous it would be if caught on the losing side, there is still another concern. For to realize something in life entails knowing what of a lived past remains still evident in the present! It includes tangible and intangible cultural heritage. In Athens, it is made evident by the Acropolis marking more than 2000 years of history and which is always present in the form of a dialogue with the past, without thereby being determined by it.

Since 2009 the economic, political, social and personal crisis means that there are only certain choices possible. Once without money, means of survival in society can be severely restricted with shame and 'loss of face' at times a greater curtailment, mentally speaking, than what is still possible in order to find in reality a way out of the crisis. Choices include finding another job, but in real terms often than not it seems the only real alternative remaining is the going abroad to seek another way of life. When not finding any solution, then despair creeps in and slowly life is exiled. Alone the increase in suicides and many forms of illness indicate how prospects of death as the sole way out has become a serious matter in a society which prided itself until now to be able to enjoy life, and therefore live endlessly in the present. Instead the access to the present has become severely curtailed due to being burdened by many factors, including the financial worries not to be able to make it. Sartre would say, only once future goals are known, and this means they can be realized, then it is possible to live in the present. Consequently all this and many more factors tend to narrow the mental horizon, and thereby prevent people from becoming creative in their own lives. That is why the display of a highly creative writing on the walls is of such a great significance at this crucial juncture in time. 

It is this great limitation in choices which adds still another to the 'metaphysical' pain. If Seferis could say 'Greece is a pain which exists for him no matter where he is', that pain has undergone a transformation in the current situation. For it can only be experienced as long as the difference between an unliveable and a real life can be grasped (just as sickness can only be understood out of a perspective of being healthy, and vice versa). That pain needs to be articulated, for only then can be used as a measure. It will allow a practical judgement what is still a matter of choice, an more so desirable despite faced by limited choices, or no choice at all. What seems to impede the freedom needed to make a definite decision is a kind of nostalgia more often invoked by those seemingly radical but who call for a return to 'traditional values'. They try to convince themselves and others as if this would offer a solution to a crisis marked especially by a youth robbed of having a future in this society. Yet the limited choices or in having no choice at all is but a reflection of a society in conflict with itself as to how to deal best with the situation, in order find a 'sane' and good way out of the crisis. 

Once such a reality is devoid of any experience to make through a wise choice a real difference, then the city will lack signs of a real life. This 'unmoved' indifference of an urban world which seems not to care, nor give any feed-back to people, will not merely rob them from having a voice in urban affairs, but let them go literally beserk. The latter differs from what Ritsos called the need for freedom of the individual to live his or her own specific 'craziness'.

In view of many false choices being made due to facing 'either' a fake 'or' no alternative, many draw the wrong conclusion. They think the only feasible decision in such a situation is not to make any decision. But then the situation decides for the individual. Once circumstances weigh down, then only outcries of a new madness would fill the spaces gone empty. It is something else when it becomes obvious that there is no question of choice: either Nazi or human being means simply to safeguard sanity and a free life, it is impossible for society and the individual to go down that path which reminds of Fascism with all its terrible implications from militant terrorism to Holocaust like persecution of migrants, Roma and left wing orientated people.       


                "Either Nazi or human being"                                   Dec. 2013

Contrary the 'categorical imperative' - freedom from coercion


         Lycabettou Stairs just up from Skoufa street in Kolonaki  Dec. 2013

If the state ends up deploying the 'categorical imperative' (Kant) to force people to accept austerity measures without questioning how the deficit was brought about, then a fake morality is imposed. As this tends to silence 'human morality', honest politics within institutions of the state shall be rare and instead corruption become widerspread in society. Eventually it shall lead everyone astray. The principle of human solidarity shall be abandoned and the real problems not acknowledged. Instead all measures are designed merely to enforce the need to take on identity within the system. It serves solely the purpose of making the system work, and this despite of it not working in terms of finding a humane solution for all.

In his book 'the transformation of democracy', Johannes Agnoli explains how the functionalising of the intelligence leads to a massive conformity even if it means a loss of democracy. This is the case once when those working within the system do so without asking any questions as to where all this leads to. They provide simply the know-how needed for the operation of the system. Something similar describes Chomsky when he speaks about a mislead educated elite. It leaves a society no longer knowing any difference between ideology and permanent rationalisation with regards to use of the 'public lie' or mendacity (Martin Jay). 

In view of hypocrisy of many adults, the youth is highly exasperated by this constant practice with the 'noble lie'. They realize a failure to convince otherwise when talking with their parents and other adults about what matters to them the most. Since they see society with fresh eyes, and this is mainly due to them not being corrupted as of yet, they see clearly why so much is going wrong. Above all they see that their parents and many other adults have given up this effort to realize 'liveable truths'. Nor do they find the space for open discussions either at home or in school. Completely frustrated by that 'unmoveability', they resort to the outside walls to let them do the talking.


            "Sitting still is never enough"                 Merlie Street Feb. 2014

They want to address a wider public, but in doing so, they encounter many more and new conflicts than what they have already experienced with their parents. Nor do they seem able to resolve conflicts without the need to go to the extreme i.e. take on an opposite identity to what they wish to negate. This is especially the case when something goes wrong in their socialization. If so, it does not prepare them for a need to adapt. Without a cultural anticipation of the need to act differently in other situations when facing other people, they would be confronting only either/or choices and thereby fear when giving in to be making but a bad compromise. The latter means in their eyes usually giving up this demand for truth.

Consequently they make a series of negative experiences. Many a times it indicates to them how badly misconceived is the perception of them as youth by society. Once they become entangled in confrontations with peers, including teachers, and increasingly so with the police, they realize most dangerous is in this society the stigmatization, especially if that means being branded by society with a negative image.

All that comes to the fore once they take to the street to seek a direct confrontation with the state and its authoritative system i.e. use of power. Once called 'trouble makers' with all the negative implications this designation has, they realize very quickly that they have but few chances left to exist within that society under their own terms and not those set by the 'system'. Since they have but a few choices left, they decide to make visible on the walls this 'invisible fight' with the system and society. By so doing, they circumvent for the time being the need to give up their demand for a truthful life.

Freedom from hierarchical structures 

"In the world of bosses, we are all strangers"                                    March 2014

Due to having to live in a society which is dominated by bosses, the writing on the wall makes explicit one common element, namely that all become strangers once forced to live under this hierarchical, equally tyrannical system. This is primarily due to a system giving all the Rights to the boss, and which excludes as a result any traces of real life.

To be strangers marks a difference to those who wish to claim the city as being solely "ours", the equivalent of being "theirs", and, therefore, ready to exclude others by taking only a certain, equally acceptable identity. It leaves out not only any stranger, but other identities and negates thereby reality of life as something diverse and complex as is nature. Both cannot be fitted into an over simplified system of categories. Thus the negation of the stranger runs in contradiction to principles of democracy and cultural diversity.

Of interest is this proclaimation 'we are all strangers' since poets in Ancient Greece described how everyone viewed the stranger coming into the Polis not only with fear, but with high expectations. For the people would ask themselves if this stranger will mean such changes which bring about a just society, even though not an easy task! Out of this appraisal, there follows in turn 'measures' for the task ahead so as to bring about a just society. What then are just measures, if they cannot be conveyed equally by those living already in the city and those strangers coming to live in that city?

All along, this wish to be free from tutelage resides in memories. Hence some of the writings remind of ancient tunes, or some lines made popular in a theatrical play. Therefore these writings need to be looked at a second time, for their tunes convey memories which people shared already in the past. Any reminder thereof says consequently something more than what stands obviously written there.


            "No slaves, no (female) bosses"   A. Isidorou (off Dafnomili) 2014

Interestingly enough, these writings reveal a yearning for not only a just society, but one which is not hierarchically structured. That is one common dominator in many of the political desires expressed by the youth. They revolt despite confronting a society which seems to refuse to give in to this demand, and even though it is said in philosophy that hierarchy is an issue which has not been resolved as of yet. Likewise this unresolvable paradox, even though modern organisational strategies refer to 'flat hierarchies', is reproduced in rigid attitudes. Ironically these set premises of society are conveyed and reinforced by the wall itself. That then amounts to a kind of spin off when use of walls is reflected a bit further. Such writings on the wall can affect attitudes in the hope if they do not to change, then at least become a bit less rigid so that all these sayings do to affect something. Literally speaking, those who write something on the wall hope that those passing by will be affected if not in their awareness and 'consciousness', then at the very least in their subconsciousness.

It is like the observation about demonstrations for peace when war is pending even though this might not stop the move towards aggression, but still candles lit may prompt decision makers to pause for a moment and think as to what they are about to do. Not everything is in vain. Quite often changes are not noticed, but it explains the two dimensions of many writings on the wall: poignant, even extreme on the one side, resigned or in despair on the other side. For while the issue may be recognized, there swings in the tone chosen a note of realization not much can be done about it.

Arbitrary power and no free press which ruins everything

People fear arbitrary use of power the most. That applies no matter who acts arbitrarily and this irrespective of the situation e.g. whether at home, school, at work etc. The French Revolution was preceded by an increasing arbitrariness of power. While a poor peasant would have his arm chopped off if caught stealing an apple, an aristocrat would walk free even after he murdered his former mistress just to silence the fact that he made her pregnant. The storming of the Bastille was significant because 'the' symbol of this arbitrary power, and which everyone feared like nothing else to end up being imprisoned there.

Likewise this fear expresses itself on the walls once this abuse of power linked to corruption is no longer being addressed within society by especially civil groups and journalists publishing more 'paid articles', then disclose hard truths! This fear of the media needs a critical analysis, for especially the youth feels rather than understood to be stigmatized.

A large role plays a media which wishes to sell only such news which is equally 'sensational' and 'superficial', and therefore distract from the dialectic between the visible and invisible. Consequently clever media strategies used by the government to justify its policies will make sure that the media is under its control i.e. only news which is favourable to its position let out or given priority over everything else. In Greece, a turn to the negative came in 2013 with the closure of ERT, the main public radio and television station which had an archive as collective memory of Greek history over the past seventy or more years, and this coverage pertained not only to Athens but reached out into every remote corner and included the Greek diaspora abroad.


      "Where the baton of the police does not reach, the pen of the journalist does"

                                                              - off Dafnomili on Koronis  Feb. 2014

Subsequently the "writings on the wall" act like a public consultation. Opinions are sought on how to stop what seems to have become 'unstoppable'. Intended is another kind of arbitration between walls and society. Since the latter misses a real social dialogue by which abuse of power could be stopped, or at least halted by human reflections, the "writings on the wall" convey a keen sense for a wish to stay at the very minimum alive when going through the streets.

This 'invisible' link to a common sense for life in the city can be grasped at the level of the imagination. It is what upholds the sanity of society, and makes people feel to be real in this living 'experimenti mundi'. By continuing to learn to articulate themselves, it safeguards peace.

All these writings indicate not only how people feel treated by the state and the system, but also what they expect from one another. The yearning for freedom from hierarchy is replicated in a wish for human kindness. All too often they experience the opposite, namely a readiness to exploit the other once given a chance to do so. Yet that too needs to be resolved, and it can be done if deliberations are conveyed not in the form of dictates, but take on the form of constraints designed to make everyone become creative, and therefore considerate of the others.

All that is too readily left out once everything said in public is left solely to the media which propagates a 'successful life'. The latter has the implicit message just take care of yourself and don't bother how the others fare. That leads to alienation and as the saying on the wall states all becoming strangers to one another. There will be a lack of human solidarity and everyone ruled by an arbitrary power. To refute this dominant force made up of fear and not knowing what to expect next, it is important to capture the meaning of the words written, painted or more often sprayed onto the walls of Athens. For they point to a way out even if their highly poetic and philosophical aspiration may only be fulfilled in years to come.

Branding as counter measure

Something written on the walls, or a door has far more serious implications once it becomes a tool of branding if not of someone concrete, then of society as a whole. The act itself reflects how important 'branding' has become in an image related media age. Repeatedly cities use, for instance, the title of European Capital of Culture to re-imagine themselves. For example, the communication strategy of Liverpool '08 was to discard the image of being an ugly harbour city, in order to become a modern and attractice conference city. Naturally having had the Beatles in the past helped to regain some of that fame, but the subtle nature of media related communication strategies makes it necessary to reconsider what is the purpose of branding. Originally the term is derived from when cattle owners branded their cows to declare ownership.

When it comes to brand someone as thief or society as having become Fascistic or a police state, it is not entirely clear what purpose such stigmatizatin has. Naturally a mixture of motives may prompt the desire for a simple truth, but if an absolute verdict it entails a new danger. This is because such an absolute act entails both exaggeration and generalization, and once fixed onto the wall, it allows no longer for any other verdict, never mind critical reflection. What may amount as well to a kind of imitation as to what is going on in the world, there is the risk that identification and verdict are conjoined in one and the same stigma, so that the human dimension is excluded. At world level the drone attacks with the aim to kill 'terrorists' on the spot amounts to sidelining completely any justice process in which any one charged is not guilty until proven to have committed the crime or deed that person has been accused of. Once justice and punishment conjoin, ethical principles are put aside. Likewise in the Middle Ages, witch hunts took on the form of deffamation. All what was needed for the philosopher Bruno to be burned was a business man pointing at him that he was a heredict, and the Catholic Church and its powerful mechanism to suppress anyone going against its belief systems, set off a most cruel execution process. Once that happens, it puts the entire search for a just society in doubt and has especially for the youth huge ramification. Out of despair, they might be inclined to resort to more extreme measures.  

That dangerous element is especially the case when writing amounts to a wish to brand someone or something. It may be done out of protest as to what that person or group or company has done, and therefore the desire to get back even if no other harm can be inflicted. It is a kind of helpless protest. When someone or something is labelled, then for representing something which everyone apparently detests. Implicit in such an act of negative branding is the justification of an act deemed otherwise illegal. By using the wall or door accessible from the outside, that person or object can be made easily into a target of street protest now spilling over and onto the walls.


    Writing on a door of a building on Skoufa, Kolonaki 

On this door the slogan about Costas was written twice, and twice removed. When this particular writing appeared on the door, the Lagarde list was just being circulated in Greece. The list had been handed over to the Greek government, in order to pursue tax invaders. The latter were assumed to be those with unusual large sums of money on their bank accounts. The list created controversies on two accounts. First of all, there were mentioned for the first time about 200 names when before no one in Greece had wanted to explain how the huge state deficit had been brought about or to where all the money had vanished to. The second controversy was that even once the list was out, it seemed as if the Greek government and the judiciary were very slow to respond or to pursue those on the list. In the population, there was an outcry against those with privileges. To be categorized as such, it was not enough to have just received large sums of money in semi or completely illegal way, but on top of it not to have been obliged up to now to pay any taxes for this accumulated sum of money.

Revolt against injustice 


        "Peace (yes), but justice is God's will"         Tsakalof Street March 2014

The writing on the door matches other writings on walls. All show that a great variety of outcries against injustices and the whole system having led to the crisis was making the rounds. One key protest was directed directly against politicians. People in general felt the politicians were protecting the rich while the most vulernable ones, in particular the poor and dependent ones due to the low wages, were taxed and at the same time abandoned.

Once austerity measures kicked in, many people experienced huge wage cuts or else faced the prospect of unemployment while others had to deal with new uncertainties e.g. not knowing when and how much their pensions would be. Along with these austerity measures taxes were increased. Generally speaking, there was talk as if all Greeks were engaged in tax evasion, but the real injustices inflicted by a non transparent tax system - ship owners do not have to pay taxes nor was it clear what priests of the Orthodox church had to pay, if any tax at all - were not addressed.

Added to all of that came the threat of foreclosure since many face increasingly so the prospect of not being able to repay the bank loans they took for building theor houses. This has become by 2014 a highly explosive situation since the government has not concept or willingness to coordinate efforts to salvage the homes and properties of people.  Also by making heating oil just as expensive as gasoline, people in the winters 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 started to burn all kinds of things. In Athens and elsewhere it led to smog and an increase in air pollution. Not mentioned is the fact that loss of money leading to loss of face in society will discourage people from participating in all kinds of activities. In the end, nothing is said about the loss of opportunities for people to make any substantial contribution to the city and its society. Instead rich foundations take over even the best bottom up initiatives as they are the only ones with money to distribute. It amounts to a restricted participation in an entirely new game under the direction of private and semi-private interests which wear the philanthropic mask. The bottom line of a vast majority is, however, to exist along the border line to poverty. No wonder then when a writing on the wall addresses this crucial aspect to make a difference by turning around the meaning of poverty to mean instead 'freedom'.


         "Poverty is freedom"                           Off Dafnomili Street March 2014

The graffiti in Exarchia and in the greater city of Athens reflects the kind of crude measures the Greek government applied after having come under severe pressure exerted by the Troika from 2009 until 2014. The pain of loss of money was sharpened by treating Greeks in general as if either lazy or corrupt. Often a mixture of public health and aesthetical arguments were used to deal with the crisis as if society had become a sick body. Once austerity measures are described in medical terms then sharp interventions become justifiable. They are applied well knowing what pain and suffrage they cause but it is promised that the sharper the measurs, the quicker the recovery.

Still, all measures taken so far have proven to be but an illusion.  Most people have been adversely affected since 2009 by salary cuts, higher taxes, no jobs etc., and are still waiting for some solution at the beginning of 2014. The greatest fear is to face foreclosure i.e. when they cannot repay the loans and the bank moves in to confiscate their property. That has become a real prospect for 2014 now that a new law on foreclosure is in place.

Everyone knows that the Greek debt is unsustainable.  An economic advisor like Jeffrey Sachs states that Greece is in need of a 50 year horizon at the least, if the Greek state is ever to recover under current circumstances. That includes conditions imposed by the Troika and assumes everything else stays stable, in order not to jeopardize the prospects of recovery i.e. there is no world crisis in the making. What people mind the most is not so much the need to cut back on many things were before they had gone on a consumer spree now and then, but much more that they cannot travel. Flights have become very expensive while all the savings are dwindling rapidly down to zero. There is no extra room to dream about some trip abroad. Most telling is then one saying on a wall.

The revolt against an educational system


                "We grew up in a bus stop, but we did not learn to travel!"

Needless to say pain is elongated when people see no significant changes are being made with regards to what has caused this huge crisis in Greece right from the beginning. No learning can take place, if no one is willing to admit mistakes have been made. Once former Prime Minister Karamalis was defeated by Yiorgos Papandreou in the 2009 election, he disappeared from the public surface and was never heard of again despite that a huge deficit piled up during the time he was in charge of the government. But more than structural problems requiring structural reforms, there is a malfunctioning system due to the long standing knowledge more business opportunities can be created for the private sector if the public one is inefficient even if only in nominal terms i.e. by reputation, than in reality.

The best example is the educational system in Greece. Public schools have a terrible reputation, more so since it said in the classes are all the migrant children. Hence those Greek families which can afford it, they all send their kids to private schools or at the very minimum to extra lessons. An entire sub educational system has sprung up and exists in the form of so- called Φροντιστήριο - Frontisterion. The children which go there attend extra classes designed to help them obtain the necessary grades to enter university. They have literally no direct responsibility for what they teach but take a lot of money all due to the intense fear of both parents and child not to make it i.e. not to have a high enough grade to enter the university of one's prime choice.


The language of hate

Most of the "writings on the wall" indicate more than mere anger and rage, for there can be seen expressions which use the language of hate. The latter goes with an outburst of anger over so much helplessness. As such it can be the product of a new totalitarian language in the making, and therefore can only be averted if it is realized in time what feeds that kind of language. (4)

The 'Totalitarian Language' became evident in the Weimar Republic, and preceded Hitler's rise to power. This phenomenon has been analysed by Jean Pierre Faye. It can serve as departure point for analysis of Greece in crisis as indicated by the rise of Neo Fascism and a special brand of hatred. It feds off a general anger about the rich, powerful and well connected ones getting away with tax evasion, while the common people lose their job, house and self pride. Indeed wounded pride has a lot to do with anger being transformed into first self hatred for having come so far in a negative way, and then into an outward hatred directed against some suitable object - if not the politicians in power, then the migrants who are said to be taking away the jobs. It becomes very quickly a mixed cocktail of feelings, and is intensified by entering countless political rallies and demonstrations. That spill over effect of anger into the streets can be experienced and witnessed once clashes with the police occur and not only windows of banks end up being broken, but even houses go up in flames.


   Burned out house - happened in 2012

Although many would want to attribute the general economic crisis as the cause of such an outburst of anger and rage, the direction it takes towards hate has deeper roots. For children learn at school and through the church already from day one to hate especially one prime figure, namely the traitor and thus 'Judas' as Brendan Kennelly describes him in his epic poem. (5)

If hatred is directed against betrayal, then Judas serves as a good distraction from betrayals of own dreams while growing up. In this process many false compromises are made at crucial junctures of life which are reinforced by coercive and, therefore, false choices. An indication for that are the newest digital games which penetrate deeply the psyche of children and youth, and can make them decide to go against their own better judgement. For instance, there is a game of having to kill others before being killed. It is build like a car race where the automated hero goes through various dangerous zones. At one point of the game, the player is asked to rescue himself from a dangerous situation, he has to kill one of his friends before he can continue in the game. This going against oneself in such a game is but a simulation of real life situations, but it is not innocent or without repercussions in real life situations. Everything points in these cases to what Enzensberger has called 'the radical loser': the one who has lost everything, especially his or her own clear conscience, and therefore can but prove to society that not only he or she is a loser but everyone else. This has the consequence of taking down with oneself many others. (6)

Betrayal can come in many forms i.e. parents not keeping their words, teachers speaking about oneself differently in front of class in comparison to a personal dialogue. It can include betrayal by supposing friends. More generally, a society which ends up being corrupted by a state going completely astray, the betrayal of especially democratic principles and human values will have severe repercussions amongst especially the youth.

By taking all that and more into account, it may not be so far off to assume when 'a language of hatred' hits the wall, then because a youth feels betrayed by not only their parents or by the school, but by the state and for which the police stands fore mostly since it is protecting such a state. The latter includes as well 'state of affairs'.

Hatred of police

Not unimportant was the fact that two months before Alexandros died, the police station in Exarchia had already been set on fire. For some time already before 2008, the police had become 'hatred figures' of the youth. Many more young people were ever more ready to revolt out of disgust with what their parents were doing, what was happening (or not) at school and how they saw and appraised the overall tendency of society becoming ever more corrupt. When the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games ended with everyone jumping up on the table to dance as if again in a night bar to show off money and how much one enjoys life, the youth concluded that this is the only thing which the Greek society has got to show. In that critical judgement is entailed a disgust for the kind of squattering of resources.

One of the many fires (2009)

The many forest fires which happen almost every summer, they are believed to be most often the work of arsonists. There is a system of interest behind such acts. For once the forest has vanished, then the way is open for new illegal constructions. Since the law forbids to build in the forest, over and again it happens that once fire razes the forest down to the ground, then bulldozers move in quickly thereafter and create facts on the ground. Later on, politicians make sure that the illegal constructions are legalized. Often this is done by having the owners pay a symbolic fine. This practice emerged out of military dictatorship who kept itself in power by corrupting parts of society, insofar as building permissions were granted even in violation of till then sacred archaeological sites. Once Greece entered a new phase of economic development driven by EU money, this kind of corruption became ever more institutionalized, and a common practice of political parties who gained power by promises to legalize the 'illegal'.

The eruption against all this corruption came once the news of Alexandros' death on 6th of December 2008 spread like wild fire throughout Athens and Greece. The first to experience this wave of disgust and hatred was the police facing in the streets a youth no longer willing to put up with what people had become under such a system.

The reason for so much hatred needs to be examined still further. It marks a shift away more and more from previously existing political models. While every new generation goes into some kind of revolt, this particular youth is no longer willing to just follow the lead of older generations. By discarding the path leading to traditional politics, they no longer adopt to the logic of party formation. The latter is designed to organize the will of the electorate to see through certain programmes designed to make possible governance. By rejecting the need for government, they risk not merely to become outsiders to society as they have no desire to integrate themselves, but equally to be sidelined or rather surpassed by a general 'anti-politics' movement. The latter as shown in Greece by new Extreme Right Wing parties is linked to the emergence of a language of hatred.

Jean Pierre Faye analysed already hatred as being linked to an overall desire to see actions rather than hearing mere words i.e. endless political debates. The dismal failure of society to uphold a reflective discourse based on research and analysis so that policy measures could be appraised from different angles, indicates a wish to short cut political responsibility. The demand for greater efficiency became in reality an excuse to by-pass all kinds of objections and resistances, and fed the system with an ever greater impatience, so that hardly thought through measures were applied any longer. The aim was to find solutions as quickly as possible. Fitting for this situation became the question Shakespeare posed, namely "should the words suit the actions or the actions the words?"

It goes without saying that this is itself an admittance of a loss in society to allow different people and groups to work together, while the overall rationality of the system would drive everyone into ever more irrational directions. In the final end, over dependency upon money and in having a secure job could force the person to act against his or her own free will. Once that freedom is missing, then something begins to seize more and more people with a self hatred for letting all this happen to them. They are getting then ready to unload their anger. That something which helps them to overcome the self manipulative mechanism is nothing but 'self hatred' transformed into hatred of something now the scape goat for all failures. If not the politicians, then the migrants became objects of such a hatred. Fed by fear as if they would take away the jobs, they were identified solely as a threat to the previously known way of life. The people and the entire system was then no longer open to any positive challenge, since unwilling to change and to adapt as future developments would require under any circumstance. And once the confrontations took place in the streets, the youth encoutered first of all the police who became as a result prime subjects of hatred in an open pitched battle of mainly words, but in many cases as well of physical struggles which went well beyond the strength both sides could muster to entangle themselves from such an irrational conflict. The latter is plainly evident once its highly symbolic nature is reflected, and more so, when the conflict in the streets represents but an one sided approach to pending decisions. Obviously those in power, they have the upper hand.           


                        "The whole of Athens hates the police!" Dafnomili 2013

                        ACAB = All Cops Are Bastards

Unfortunately hate language exchanged between the two parties, anarchists and police, means they tend to end up in a bitter conflict with one another and never learn from these confrontations. Each side will merely see its own prejudiced view of the other side be confirmed and therefore transforms that into convictions most difficult to challenge, if ever refutable at all.


                               "Fuck the undercover police"

There is naturally the fear of 'undercover' agents who can betray the movement and deliver individuals, so to speak, first of all to the police file and then subsequently to a longer process of prosecution. This has a special history in Greece insofar as the 'police file' hovers over a person like a threatening shadow. Since various forms of crackdowns have marked the history of Greece - dictatorship before Second World War, German occupation and its collaborators during the war, Civil War, events leading up to the military dictatorship (1967-74), and more recently during the crisis when arrests were made, that file is more than a mere possibility.

So far there has not been a real effort to link the keeping of archive with seeking social justice / public truth over time. Rather compromises included simply the burning of the files while at the same time persecution was not only limited to the activist directly, but to his entire family, including the children and therefore following generations. Just like certain families retain a grip on power over time, collective persecution made it harder for some identified as left wing radicals or even 'terrorists' to find access to society. Many of them decided to go into exile.

Very different, but still more complex is the movement calling itself Nov. 17th for it engaged itself until arrest prior to the Olympic Games in 2004 in deliberate assassinations of key figures identified with the system. Here hate has been translated into 'violence' of the lethal kind. It is quite often exemplifed as a justifiable form of seeking justice in a system which has apparently no sense of justice. The question is whether such extreme actions shall ever be reflected upon in a self critical manner as to what could bring about a correction in the wrong continuity of the system which does not seem to guarantee any 'continuity of identity'.

The police itself is not free of corruption. The report by amnesty international goes even further to underline that too many violations of human rights by the police has gone without any impunity. (7) The other side of that coin of bad and inhumane practices can be called the result of an unjust distribution of privileges within the police and which can spark hatred against weaker people i.e. at the mercy of their disgression and power. A policeman without connection in society can be forced more readily to do his duty in unpleasant places, so that the job becomes a punishment in itself. It is like in the military which is still in Greece compulsorary, so that everyone must serve, but those with connections end up doing their military duty in Athens and that means on the weekend they can go home, while the underprivileged do their duty in far outposts and often under very harsh conditions. Since the police as an institution serves the purpose that justice prevails in society, but if they experience just the opposite within their own organisation, a confusion in the minds of especially young police officers can set in when they confront a protesting youth which is of their same age. In Exarchia they make that experience almost on a daily basis.

Many kinds of confrontation with those who call themselves Anarchists, but who appear to the policeman equally privileged, because free not to follow as he did a pattern of confirmity. He joined the police force just to have a monthly salary, even though very low the pay. Thus a deep humiliation is felt by him when police orders him to stand guard in front of that police station or else at one of the street corners marking the border between protected areas and off zones. Definitely until 2008 no just measures were taken by those in command of the military and police forces to ensure at the very least some rotation, so that everyone does there for a short while his or her duty.

Facing Neo Fascism


       "Fascists Bastards The Gays are coming (to get you)"   Sina Feb. 2014

The crisis in Greece has brought once more to the fore the existence of an Extreme Right. Not surprisingly some of them came out of the youth group which the Military Junta organised from jail. It combines a disciplined militancy with a strong imitation of Fascist adherence to a type of leader like Hitler. Even though in odd contradiction due to what Greece suffered under Nazi occupation, it should not be forgotten that there were those who collaborated with these occupiers.

Altogether Greece has a long history of those who arrange themselves better than others with those who hold apparently the power and can sway therefore the opinions and judgements of those determining finally if allowed to live under these restricted circumstances. Like any post colonial system, Greece was and is under the tutelage of foreign powers. It is not entirely clear if this continuity of oppression and suppression was broken once the country entered the EU. Still, a resurgance of strong Nationalism brought with it to the fore a Neo Fascist disposition once the country had entered a deep financial crisis. Since 2009 the main rule has become that of the Troika which imposes economic and structural reforms completely alien to the way of life Greeks seemed to have enjoyed until then.

The strange thing is that not own solutions are sought. Instead many in Greece tend to adopt the practice of sheer imitation of the most successful model. The latter can be learned at foreign university or else be adopted as the new economic model advocated by the Troika and imposed as precondition for receicing those tranches of money which help the Greek state to avoid default. Likewise Chrysi Avgi seems to imitate more or less German Fascism as known during the time of Hitler, even though they do adopt their media strategy to newer conditions. It includes involving the innocent by-passer when filming their actions in order to convince even the ordinary citizen is on their side.

However, the developments after 2009 have taken many by surprise when the Extreme Right emerged in the form of a party called 'Chrysi Avgi' and asserted a specific hate language in a unpreceded way. Once Chrysi Avgi entered Greek Parliament after elections in May and June 2012 whereby they had gained 18 seats in Parliament, their terror like activities not only intensified, but went largely unchallenged by the police.

Repeatedly it could be observed that in demonstrations which erupted in clashes, the police seemed to protect the Extreme Right while being hard and brutal in their confrontation of left wing demonstrators. Since the movement in the street was made up by a large segment of anarchists ranging from literally inclined to those ready to fight back with molotov cocktails and other things, many negative experiences were made especially with the riot police. Suspicion about the police grew steadily when these clashes ended up being one sided, or the state showing a blind eye as to what was happening on the right spectrum of society.

No wonder, for it was said after the 2012 election about 50% of the police had voted for Chrysi Avgi, and that there were substantial links between police and this extreme party. Since then contradictory reports have been made public about the extent to which this link prevails in reality. Yet for those regarding the police as a mere extension of a right wing orientated part of society, that disposition can be explained by the fact as to who joins the police force in the first place. Even then many anarchist would differentiate between those poorly paid young police officers and the riot police. The latter receive special training to ensure that the protests in society against all the austerity measures stays within certain limits. In short, the police would ensure that any protest could not go so far as to seriously challenge the government in power. This power was needed to be upheld, in order to enforce austerity measures which were highly unpopular, but in need to be taken according to the Troika. The real aim was not only to bring down the huge deficit of the Greek state, but to create conditions beyond reasonable doubt, so that the Greek state could raise again by itself money on the financial markets at 'reasonable' interest rates. Thus the Greek state was forced to go against all doubts of common people. They believed these were not the right measures to resolve this problem. Yet anyone without money is in the weakest of all possible positions and thus the tensions in the street mounted into at times ugly confrontations between police and demonstrators. 

The outrageous actions by members of Chrysi Avgi e.g. acting like the police but going on a rampage in street markets by controlling who was not Greek but selling goods, went for too long unchallenged. Only after one rapper was stabbed to death did the outcry of society force the government to undertake some punitive actions against certain members, including the leader of Chrysi Avgi. They were arrested and put in jail on the charge of belonging not to a party but to a criminal organization. By early 2014, the effects of this were beginning to show. Some internal conflicts have reduced the number of members in Parliament to 16. Resignation and expulsion on the heels of a stricter crackdown of the party by state institutions forces them to reconsider their stand in society. Indicative shall be how well they do in the Municipal elections come end of May 2014, elections which coincide with the European elections. They hope together with the resurgance of Extreme Right parties in other EU countries such as France, Holland etc. that they will gain access to the European Parliament and therefore to resources by which they can continue to fund their activities.


           Anti Fascist Poster                                  Exarchia Jan. 2014

The main opposition to the Neo Fascists have been the anarchists and with them a larger portion of the youth. This is clearly on display along the walls and has become a rallying cry as if the existence of the Extreme Right calls for a Greek style of Intifada.

Some doubt about the effectiveness of the campaign by the Anarchists and more generally of the political Left in Greece against the resurgent Neo Fascism has been expressed, but this political discussion has so far no repercussions for what ends up written on the walls. (8)

In search of human solidarity with the migrants


      "Solidarity with migrants"                       University building Jan. 2014

Like a crescendo things can come crashing down once human rights are no longer respected. It is made explicit in how migrants are treated and what many would call police brutality when they demonstrate on behalf of the migrants. Something is deeply amiss in a society, once common responsibility is negated and a highly prejudiced system ends up discriminating certain groups, if not the migrants, then the Roma people.

While austerity measures mean making people unemployed, a new form of violence is deployed by the state in crisis. This state violence cannot be seen only in terms of what takes place in the streets of Athens. For there are the detention centres for migrants along with efforts by the government to grant more power to the police to deport migrants.

Practically speaking, those who write on walls acknowledge readily that this is simply not sufficient to raise the awareness for what is at stake in relation to the migrant issue. Attitudes towards each other is far more complex and subtle, especially if all have become 'strangers'. To resolve things and maintain human relations much depends on the experiences made, experiences which cannot be attributed solely and exclusively to living within a certain system! While naming existing problems within the system, there has to be found as well a way to step outside in order not to become oneself victim of a system which victimizes if not all, then at the very least the weakest and especially those stigmatized as 'outsiders' i.e. the migrants. 

Here then can be observed still another function of the "writings on the wall" best reflected in contrast to the visual language used by graffiti. Writing is a special form of realization thought and visualisation in such a way, that the imagination is not excluded. Here a study of writing over time may add still other dimensions, but important about 'writings on the walls' of the city is that not only their messages are important, but they represent a last resort to stop the flight into a fantasy world. Most of them call for a turning around to face the lived reality inside the city. Since writing gives space to the imagination, this effort to turn far more attention towards real issues or what is happening in society underlines equally what seems to have been neglected so far or went unnoticed.

For example, the drawing of attention to how the police and society in general handle migrants, underlines what matters fore mostly to the youth, namely how migrants are being treated. Hence any writing to this issue retains a still further going element, namely a wish to overcome at one and the same time indifference i.e. a society not caring how migrants are treated, and bad practice i.e. how the police is handling migrants due to having sole digression in their power. Both aspects stear fear. If other human beings can be mistreated, and such bad practice goes unchallenged, then if this continues, the sanity of society as a whole is no longer safeguarded. Even though it is never 'self understood', freedom and respect for every 'human being' has to be guaranteed by all institutions which society has set up to ensure a common life in dignity. Society would simply break down if the institutions set up to resolve the problems are themselves over demanded, equally under mined, and democratic life jeopardized. It is this stern warning what most of the writings on the wall tend to emphasize.

When society does not heed the "writings on the wall"?

Almost all "writings on the wall" tend to fulfil one prime function, insofar as they articulate 'warnings' whenever society has gone too far and no longer recognizes the risks and dangers which come from having overstepped human limitations. The Labyrinth and the Tower of Babylon are just two major replicas of such fear of consequences once moral limits have been exceeded and ignored. The downfall of empires in the past was preceeded by such early warnings. Most often they amounted to being mere rumors which were scratched onto a prominent wall by some unknown hand during darkness and before the sentries could catch the rebel behind such an act of revolt.

David Haley used 'writing on the wall' as his departure point when he sought to articulate in poetic form his opposition to what Liverpool was about to undertake once it had been designated the title of European Capital of Culture for 2008. In preparation thereof, the organizers wanted to alter the negative image of being a mere dirty harbour city. They proceeded to refurbish the harbour by bringing down to sea level new business ventures. It was a part of a huge EU funded drive to start up businesses. It made David Haley wonder why no one heeded the warnings about the possible negative impact of climate change. For this means to experience in future a rising sea level, and therefore in anticipation thereof it would not make sense at all to locate precisely business beside the sea! Just as it was a sign of irresponsibility to construct the nuclear power station in Fukushima, Japan directly beside the sea with all the consequences to be seen once that Tsunami wave struck in 2011.

To David Haley, the decision not to heed these warnings amounted to a loss of lessons in need to be drawn out of moral categories, if society is to find a path leading towards 'sustainable development'. He thought such a critical realization can be articulated best as if writing in Ancient Times for the theatre. Only he conceived it as poems to be written on the wall. In these poems he criticizes greed as hall mark of Capitalism since it misleads decision makers and society in general ignore fore mostly ecological constraints. (9)

Text and photos by Hatto Fischer

Athens January 2014



1. Damian Mac Con Uladh "Who was Theodorakis' 'laughing boy'?“ enet.gr EnetEnglish.gr, 09:46 Friday 21 March 2014


How Greeks came to love a song by Irish writer Brendan Behan, who died 50 years ago this week. Written in honour of Irish revolutionary hero Michael Collins, Brendan Behan's song 'The laughing boy', or 'To gelasto paidi' in its Greek translation, has come to stand for various Greek historical figures and events and is one of the most recognised songs of the last 40 years in Greece

2. The English translation of Adorno's Aesthetical Theory starts as follows: "It is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident anymore, not its inner
life, not its relation to the world, not even its right to exist."

Aesthetic Theory (Athlone Contemporary European Thinkers)


Aesthetic Theory. Theodor W. Adorno. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann, Editors.

The German and therefore original version reads as follows:

"Zur Selbstverständlichkeit wurde, daß nichts, was die Kunst betrifft,
mehr selbstverständlich ist, weder in ihr noch in ihrem Verhältnis
zum Ganzen, nicht einmal ihr Existenzrecht."

It became self-understood, that nothing which concerns the arts is any longer self-understood, either in itself or in its relation to the whole, not even in the Right of existence. (translation by author)

So that the English version differs as follows:

- self evident and not 'self understood'

- inner life rather than in terms 'of itself'

- nor in its relation to the world rather than to the 'whole' (the latter is most significant to Adorno in his contradiction to Hegel's expression that 'das Ganze ist das Wahre' - the whole is the truth - since he states in 'Minima Moralia' 'Das Ganze ist das Unwahre' (the whole is not the truth)

It should also be noted that Adorno developed the theory society becomes inhuman the moment the arts and culture are subordinated to the economy. The arts are a part of the resistance against this coercion to take on identity with the system, as they create space at least for a 'non identity'. This then can be used to explain graffiti and the kind of resistance it offers to a system not merely in a crisis, but largely inhumane and even insane.

3. In classical China, whenever a writing on the wall, most often in the form of a poetic stanza consisting of four lines, made its appearance, it was taken by the authorities to mean a sign of revolt. See especially the translations by Franz Kuhn of such novels like "The Robbers of Liang Shan Moor" or Old chinese State wisdom

4. Is there a new totalitarian language in the making? - Hatto Fischer

5. See Judas by Brendan Kennelly by Hatto Fischer

6. Hans Magnus Enzensberger (2006) The Terrorist Mindset The Radical Loser http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/the-terrorist-mindset-the-radical-loser-a-451379.html

7. „Amnesty finds culture of impunity, racism and violence in Greek police“, enet.gr EnetEnglish.gr, 17:43 Thursday 3 April 2014


8. Alain Badiou, „Greek anti-fascism protests put the left's impotence on display“. The Guardian, Thursday, 3. October 2013

9. See Liverpool Becoming: The Writing on the Wall by David Haley

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