Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Discussion with the youth about violence in cities by Hatto Fischer


Berlin     Photo by Hartmut Schulz

The conference ‘Myth of the City’ is about visions for the future of our cities. Hence we want to explore all possible subject matters linking the future of a city as to what goes on inside the city. We want to do this out of both a global/international and local/urban perspective. This is because what has a future in cities reflects as well if these cities have a future. Therefore a vital interconnectivity needs to be realized without which no life can be sustained in cities. Furthermore, it goes without saying, such realization must uphold a main value premise of city life, namely to be free of violence. Only then can it be claimed that within that city a good life with a promising future is possible because free of violence.

Hence a lot seems to depend to upon a city's organisational capacities and culture to stay active at both formal and informal levels to realize a good life. Unfortunately as the planner and architect Jürgen Eckhardt pointed out in the first session we had here in Chania, the fact that planning matters are hardly ever understood as a question of culture, means cities are depriving themselves of a much needed knowledge base although crucial for securing a positive future. Every young person knows how difficult it is to make the right decisions for a prospective job and thereby able to give oneself perspectives for a promising future. Equally it matters that a city altogether can determine its future by peaceful means.

As shown by Nikos Stavrolakis in his paper about what can bring destruction suddenly to a city like Sarajevo, conditions of 'peace' both inside and outside the city should never be taken for granted. There are also other ways to view what can evoke violence and thereby contribute to the fall of even the greatest cities. History is full of examples and not only that of Constantinopel, now known as Istanbul.

As a matter of fact all cities face the crucial question how violence can be avoided. To attain the knowledge about what needs to be done, it requires education and an ongoing learning process out of experiences made. All along not any means to survive will do, if people are to survive in peace. There is this example of a precarious stand-off between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East with neither side able to enter and to sustain a peace process over time, and Jerusalem as a city more often at the core of the dispute as to what the Right to exist implies for both sides.

Indeed taking recourse to violent means seems to suggest when it happens that cities and their people have failed in many other things. More often it appears that people succumb then to a kind of desparation, and in order reach whatever end, they resort to violence. In the process they loose out of sight the ends they wished to achieve in the first place.

Clearly only thought through actions can help a city and its people find a peaceful way into the future. For the sake of safeguarding a peaceful life cities need, therefore, to continue upholding both an individual and collective learning process. They need to position themselves vis a vis challenges in a way that everyone is convinced the best way to resolve questions of life and urban issues is to do so in a non-violent way. After all the philosopher Derrida reminds of the fact that people fled into the city in the first place to find there a place where laws can be passed to keep away from them and out of their immediate surroundings violence.

Generally speaking, all people wish to realize in the city a civilized, equally lawful life. That is why breaking the law is usually equated with a readiness to become violent, if not already the case. Naturally every youth would argue immediately here but this depends whether or not the power to define these laws can be perceived as being just. Yet the dispute about justice should not be taken to such an extreme that the means by which it is sought to restore justice are at risk to become themselves unjust (Habermas).

Therefore, it is assumed within cities that one main cultural consensus exists to prompt the general acceptance of one key value premise by all, namely that of non violence. The acceptance of this value premise is needed, if all people are to experience a life worthwhile in the city. For only then such a life has future in city because free already in the present of all signs of violence.

Thus in this session we will want to come to terms with 'violence in cities' but not only because there exists as well a 'violence against cities'. In the latter case Sue Tilden will explain what this entails.

In wishing to undertake this discussion together with the youth of Chania, we will have to focus on what options youth have when it comes to make a difference. That wish to find not just any future, but a promising and meaningful life has to be linked to what can the youth when they find the road ahead difficult and even worse at times any view into the future blocked entirely? In Berlin, especially after the protest movement of '68 had sizzled out, there sprang up a youth movement calling itself 'no future'. It underscored a wish to break with the past while not knowing what lies ahead.

Consequently it is to be expected if attempts to find a future fails or are blocked off by an older generation refusing to change things, but believe how things were, this should remain, then if need to be new ways have to be found. But how can the youth overcome their impatience and express their anger differently, but not violently, and still undertake real efforts to be understood in what they are trying to say about the prevailing injustices and lack of chances, when they have not many means, if any at all, except for the risks they are willing to take upon themselves by not accepting the 'status quo'? A lot seems to depend if the respective youth (and each new generation faces a similar challenge) is able to set itself apart from mere violent actions, but equally from those who give in out of resignation and sheer frustration. Indeed, every youth has yet to learn the art of politics. The latter starts by learning how to set the tone and address even 'impossible' demands, but by becoming consistent in these demands, also able to reflect the key condition under which they can be fulfilled, namely free of violence and of coercion.

A youth in modern cities faces very often a life with few if any chances at all. Alone a dim prospect about getting a paid job may, therefore, transform already hidden anger about reduced chances into open hatred, if not outright 'violence'. Rage can be expressed in many ways, staying away from school just one possibility. Once the youth resorts to violence if not directly against people, then against objects like cars by smashing their windows, then because it is to them a symbol of a luxury. They may never be able to afford themselves such a car or else they detest them as sign of waste. This especially the case when they grow up in a society claiming to aim for sustainable development.

Scene on Skoufa, Athens after a group had smashed luxury cars

Luxury means to them something not really needed but in a society which has given in completely to consumption. This was discussed already in conjunction with Walter Benjamin's thesis about the 'Flaneur' appearing in the arcades of Paris. Ofter in their frustration over a society apparently unmoved by their protest and criticism, there seems to be no other alternative left but to vent one's anger. That can easily lead to a justification by smashing windows at least this long ignored anger can be made visible. It may suffice for the moment as a hypothetical explanation why the youth feels at time the need to undertake such an action. However, the more serious connotation touched upon when referring to Bunel's film "The obscure object of desire", namely when violence turns into 'terror', that should be kept in mind as well.

The implications of waste have been explained yesterday by Yannis Phyllis. It might be, therefore, most appropriate when entering a discussion with the youth about violence in cities to keep in mind that the youth experiences still another kind of waste: a waste of time and of their many potentials, as they have come to conclude that these shall never be used since society remains largely indifferent as to what young people want and could achieve, if given a chance. And as in all other cases once there is too much waste, it becomes increasingly more difficult to sustain life in a peaceful way. That danger seems to lurk around every street corner especially in those cities which have gone astray in both local and international, urban and global direction. May that be out of reasons of entanglement of the city with all kinds of false, equally vested reasons as explained by Pavlos Delladetsima, or else cities have become such disjointed places that no one can connect anymore with what goes on inside the city as having any relevance, never mind correspondence with what is happening outside, that is on a larger scale around the globe. Once the youth feels left alone and experiences the going ever harder, if not impossible to find a purposeful life, then such cities shall suffer still more negative consequences. This is especially the case once its youth goes completely astray and urban society at risk to loose to have any future.

But before we get into that let us start with the basics: the experiences the youth makes at home and especially how they feel being treated, loved and cared for by their parents. That is never any easy task to bring up children. Any parent knows that a lot depends on treating young people growing up with a fair balance between loving care at the risk of becoming over protective and granting them all the freedom they need to unfold. At all times it is crucial that the youth learns and knows to scratch dangerous curves in time i.e. does not get carried away completely. They may wish to explore things by going further than anyone else has done before, but still in moments of risk taking they do have to trust their inner compass, in order to know when to turn back and thereby avoid entanglement in wrong fights and even in violence. They have to be able at all times to get out before it is too late.

Sometimes simple things can make a vast difference in one's behavior e.g. having no father to pay for one's studies and therefore be forced to take up a job. This can be sometimes a good thing. In one case of one young student in a story told by Jürgen Hofman about times in aftermath of the student movement in 1968, he ends up taking care of a blind woman. She ends up introducing him to literature which he has to read out aloud for her and which takes him from there to good cooking. For the woman prepares for their next reading session exactly one the meals Simmel describes in his novels. Consequently the youth obtains through such a job a more profound, equally critical and indeed aesthetical view of life. That sets him apart from the usual non-aesthetical attitudes prevailing amongst students during those days. Marxists never heard anything about culture and they dislike Adorno. Instead they prefer as suggested in their slogan that actions speak louder than words even violence for otherwise society shall never change. It seems as if they come to justify use of violent means precisely because of the absence of aesthetical considerations in their thinking and approaches to political questions of the day. All this is accounted by Jürgen Hofman in one of his short stories with the following title: "These were the days, my friend!".

To Jürgen Hofman violence can be compared to the snake which glides through the pub where the students are discussing wildly political events. The snake is ready to bite whoever buys the argument nothing but violence will alter this society. That was during the days when Baader along with Ulrike Meinhof were still mingling with the students, that is prior to them gliding into the terrorism enacted by the RAF.

That story continues to show finally what a difference a shopkeeper can make as well. That young man who had gone with his girlfriend to a demonstration. As the latter turns violent and they are forced to flee, the shopkeeper takes pity and pulls them inside his shop just in time before the police comes chasing down the street to hunt down any demonstrator. Sometimes violence is just avoided by not being drawn into it.

That experience of being saved by a shop keeper touches upon a crucial point when it comes to avoid violence and not becoming violent oneself. For what sort of contact the youth develops to common people, including the old couple upstairs and the garageman around the corner, that indicates socialization is crucial for developing a mature relationship to oneself. Violence or not depends upon what attitude is adopted towards other people.

The ability to relate to others with a readiness to deepen one's understanding of people who live under all kinds of conditions, that requires a lot of the youth. They need to keep a balance between concerns about themselves and the need to stay in touch with reality. The latter includes realizing what is happening to others. All that affects how issues are named and with whom one solidarizes, even identifies with. Yet such solidarity should not mean an over identification with others. There is at risk a kind of political perception. By over exaggerating the pains to claim how unjust society really is, a youth once gripped by such a perception will justify readily more extreme measures.

As this touches, philosophically speaking, upon a confusion between morals, criticisms and political action, some clarifications are needed at this point. For instance, changes are brought about through governance. Unemployment cannot be resolved without looking as well at the overall economic policy and the power of the market based on money and the circulation of goods. Thus a radical youth risks to become like the politicians they criticize as they too want only to show immediate and most visible results rather than invest in the future by allowing for research and a quest to think through actions and policy measures before implementation. That means no action is conceivable without theoretical reflection. Instead the tendency towards only action tends to forget on what initial insights into the complexities of life and of soicety the start of the action was based. It was Adorno who warned the students of '68 and who had turned against him, that they should not to take just one element out of a complex theory used to explain societal tendencies, for if acted upon, it can easily lead to a highly reactionary pattern of behavior.

But to return to the societal level, a lot does depend as well upon a willingness by the youth to integrate into their minds the opinions of others. That might prove to be quite difficult. Many youth find themselves still wondering how to find a way in this world, thus to demand of them on top of everything else to heed the observations and advices of other people may seem to them as being simply too much to take. Yet they can listen to what other people say on a daily basis. Heeding these advices can make a vast difference in how problems are perceived and resolved. Naturally it all depends that when on their way home from school, they do take detours to pass by the shoemaker and the fruit salesman as these two are exceptional. Not everyone will appeal to the spirit of youth in search for authentic voices but then life is a discovery and a matter of learning to listen.

Violence has many faces. When President Reagan came to Berlin in 1981,demonstrators gathered at a certain square in West Berlin. Before they had time to think, the police had put N'ATO wire around them and thereby factually imprisoned them. It was meant to prevent the demonstration from ever leaving the Nollendorfplatz. What made it worse is that the police shoot then tear gas in the midst of those trapped inside. Naturally a kind of panic broke out. Everyone wanted to get out. They managed eventually to create a gap in one part of the wire fence and thus everyone took off through that escape hole. On the way out, while going down one street, I encountered directly violence.

I was working at that time with David Smeeton, BBC correspondent located in Bonn but for this event he had come to Berlin West. When we walked down the street away from the square, a man suddenly jumped out of his ground floor apartment in front of me and held a gun straight into my face: 'you are not going anywhere, since you a cause of violence!' His accusation showed where he had obtained justification for such an act, namely how the newspapers, fore mostly the Bild-Zeitung, were reporting about the protesters. It was done in such an one sided fashion as if they were only the violent demonstrators who do not deserve anything but being beaten by the police. The anger of this man was linked to a general feeling shared by many citizens of Berlin, namely that such a high visit as that of the President of the United States should not be insulted, but be welcomed. For many Berlin people did not forget what the Americans did especially during the airlift. I looked the man in the eye and talked to him in a tone to sober him down. David Smeeton had also some influence by showing him his press card to prove the fact that we were working for the BBC. Who knows if the gun was loaded and if he would have been prepared to pull the trigger, but he did not and was persuaded to let me go. In philosophy there is an ability to question the readiness to resort to violence, but as Klaus Heinrich explains it entails overcoming the 'difficulty of saying no'! The difficulty is to say 'no' to the action about to become violent and not 'no' to the person who is needed as partner in an effort to turn the situation around. Alone that cannot be done. It requires the other to transform a potential violent situation into a non violent one.

Violence has always this ingredient of being immediate, according to Klaus Heinrich. There seems to be no mediation possible. It is like a child being hit by a car. The impact is immediate. No one can prevent it. Mediation means talking but not just about anything, but as part of a dialogue with reality a way to recognize the human being. It requires a deeper perception of people in order to touch them there, where they can become understandable to themselves and others. That is why Juergen Habermas would say that 'violence is there, where there is no theory.' He might have added as well if there is no basic human understanding.

During that anti-Reagan day in Berlin the entire area around Nollendorfplatz and other squares near-by were transformed into battle grounds. That evening the SFB, the public television station, just showed static pictures of demonstrators about to hurl a rock. A camera man who had been posted above Nollendorfplatz and witnessed the entire event from the beginning, asked the editor why the pictures of the police putting up the barbed wire was not shown? The reply by the editor was indicative of a change in policy, insofar as he said: 'the picture of violence speak by themselves'. Previously in Berlin and while the Social Democrats were still in power, the police had come already to the SFB television station to hold consultative talks with the editors. The potential of violence in the city of Berlin West had risen since the squatter movement decided to occupy many of the empty houses. The police was worried that the media would focus only on the side of the squatting movement and thereby elevate them into a youth ready to undertake real actions. The representatives of the police even supported the thesis that the media would create violence by giving the demonstrators the illusions of being heros of the day. It is always crucial how things are shown in newscasts by television networks. It matters whether or not the news is shown in the form of a sequence of events to allow the viewers to formulate their own opinions about what happened rather than being told what to think, namely that these demonstrators are only violent and have no just cause.

But to continue the story of Berlin, there came then the elections in Berlin West in 1981 and for the first time the Conversatives under Richard von Weizsaecker gained power. That was just before Reagan's visit. The new municipal government altered the previous 'line of reason' as advocated by Social Democrat Vogel into a much more precise confrontation to protect the property rights of the owners. The new policy aimed to drive out not only the squatters, but the subversive culture which came especially from Kreuzberg. In what took place then, can make in retrospect that year into a much more decisive turning point in the entire politics of  Berlin then what took place after 1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall. For 1981 altered the pivot point towards the youth, immigrants and people living in West Berlin. Most crucial for what was to follow was that Richard von Weizsaecker had campaigned successfully for his election on three points:

  1. In view of the protest or alternative culture prevailing something would need to be done about the youth and the best way in his opinioin was that they would have to serve for some time in the military in order to ensure they become citizens loyal to the state (till 1989 the youth of Berlin West was exempted from having to do military service and indeed many from West Germany had come to Berlin West for precisely this reason);
  2. Multi-culturalism with many Germans joining by adopting a non-identity in order to learn lessons of the past, this was not good in his opinion, especially not when the German people demanded to know when Kreuzberg would again belong to the them, and not only to the Turks who had settled down there. Thus Richard von Weizsaecker formulated the demand that everyone in the city should become 'either German or else get out'. Interestingly enough, the philosopher Habermas considers posing 'either-or' alternatives as being always the wrong ones, while Nikos Stavrolakis with experiences of Thessaloniki in mind, but in seeing also what is happening right now to Sarajevo, would warn of any attempt to put a single cultural stamp upon a city, for that would mean violence used to drive those out who would not fit into that scheme of a single cultural and political identity; and
  3. He proposed an active urban policy which would mean exploiting the living space of Berlin since it has a lot of beautiful flats and once renovated a lot more rent could be charged (which led to people not paying 20% of their monthly salaries but over 50% if not 70% and thereby drove them into new forms of dependencies).

Naturally much more would have to be added to explain the situation of Berlin in terms of violence as it is linked to the German notion of a state in need of having a monopoly on violence, but this is another matter not to be discussed extensively here. Crucial is, howeover, to notice that there is a difference between the narration of real events and what is shown in the end by the media. People cannot make their own criticial judgment if they are not shown the sequences leading up to the events which seem to erupt out of nowhere in the streets. Rather than being presented merely by pictures which are supposed 'to speak for themselves' such a youth throwing a stone, there entire political culture, including the Right to demonstratem but under what conditions has to be shown and explained over and again as this democratic Right is never self-understood! It is linked, however, to the notion of democracy as being a non-violent way to govern and to change power by free and fair elections.

Let us return, therefore, to a more general level on how violence in and against cities is brought about, so it seems, by how a city is perceived. Often it seems that violent action relate to what kind of image a city has acquired over the years or else is in danger of slipping into that kind of node. To be violent means not to take any chances anymore in dialogue and not to trust a peaceful form of existence. Naturally there is a difference between violence linked to crime and political violence carried to the surface by political ideas and convictions that nothing else goes in this society.

Unfortunately often an undifferentiated viewpoint is taken to explain violence as if everything can be reduced to 'self fulfilling prophecies' (Karl Popper), but before discussing this let me turn to specifically Chania and what image it might have. Under image can be understood equally reputation. For instance, it is said that the youth of Chania is often entangled in fights with American soldiers who come into town for a night, get drunk and wish to have a good time with a Greek girl. This provokes those who are really Nationalists, Racists and just Machos when it comes to viewing Americans as scape goats for their own failures with the girls, or at least this is often mentioned by officials called in to settle such disputes. Since Americans enjoy special privileges, anger is also about the fear they can rape a girl and get away with it as they do not have to stand trial in a Greek civil court. In brief, if a reputation is linked to a specific tension, then both the political authorities of the Municipality of Chania but also the American forces have to deal with this problem.

Since Chania is equally a port something else has to be taken into consideration. For all harbor cities like Liverpool, but equally Genoa or Napoli have a certain reputation of being tough and rough. For instance, the novel by Josef Conrad about Genoa has already a most telling title, namely 'Tension'. To this has to be added a new tensions. All harbors have undergone rapid changes since the days cargo ships meant huge crews of those working on the docks. With container traffic that has changed. Just a crane operator is required and the ship can be unloaded. The organisation of a harbor has become more technically orientated. This has left all the others literally stranded or else they must seek other jobs. Altogether this tendency of technology to destroy social structures made visible by people having clear cultural identities (Gurvitch) can be viewed as a neutralization of identities and therefore has given rise to if not a neutral, then an indifferent culture as to what everyone does to make a living. People in the streets no longer recognize in what the others wear what kind of jobs they do to earn a living. Since the organisation of a harbor follows the new principles of technology, it all depends whether the rest of society adapts to this trend. Definitely everyone is caught on the defensive and must come to terms with this new reality.

This is where the youth comes in. They are caught in-between modernisation and the loss of a reputation of a port city having become unsure of itself as to where it stands in terms of trade and future economic development. Still, as residual or permanent feature of harbor cities, there is the red light district and in particular the problem of alcoholism. The latter may be linked to the loneliness of those always away from home and therefore driven towards a wish to drown their romantic, equally sad feelings as Herrmann Broch would describe them with just another bottle of hard liquor. To that can be added the high risk of the youth is to loose the battle with time insofar as they stay idle, they waste time and like Pasolini would depict in his films telling stories in an anthropological way to exaggerate on laughter, food, street of death, unable to get out of this kind of trap in time.

Maybe that allows for a  better understanding of the youth who are at one and the same time at the pitch of time since no longer children dependent upon their parents but not yet adults who know their way in the society they find being hostile or even worse indifferent towards them. If anything the youth find themselves caught in a race against time even though society cultivates the highly intoxicating feeling that they have all the time ahead of them and therefore nothing to loose. Hence they are pitted against those who believe they have something to loose and may it be a bicycle which someone has come into possession after a long and hard work. Naturally this reminds of that famous Italian film 'the bicycle thief' depicting quite well this time and prevailing atmosphere. The point to be made is just this: a youth deeply worried by the prospect of time running out due to facing a point blank wall of oblivion, they will not see a future for themselves but stare into a blazing abyss of just white. They will be able to make out only at a distance some fleeting shadows as if they have entered Plato's cave and in analogy to that find it difficult to believe this society has any sense of truth left. Robert Musil pointed out in his unfinished novel 'The Man without Attributes' once there is no truth left, society will be governed instead by mere probablities at the end of which there is more likely to follow 'terror' than a discovery of some truth.

However, there are other kinds of violence in other than port cities. We have Orwell's description in "Down and Out in Paris and London". His story reveals what it means not to have any money and therefore to be relegated to washing dishes deep underground in some hotel or famous restaurant. While the rich smoke their cigarettes and drink their wine, the others have to work like slaves and not see any light as far as their future lives above ground are concerned. Charles Dickens has described as well this kind of life linked to the London Docks, but the same misery can be found everywhere still today. Yet it is not poverty alone which produces violence. There have to be added other factors, including gangs but not only. For above all there are those willing to exploit the weakest of all while not caring as to what is going to happen to their own lives if they are caught.

Street fights can erupt as shown by the film 'West Side Story' between those who wish to belong together and those others who do not belong to this place claimed as being one's own territory. The formation of collective or gang identities through the ages is a peculiar brand of violence. It works side by side with the kind of coercion Bruno Kartheuser spoke about at this conference and which he links to the coming about of concentration camps with a sign over their gates saying in the most cynic way "Work makes free", even though they were designed to be death camps.

Especially the poor and the exploited experience daily all kinds of violence and may it be just a car driver not being very careful when turning the corner. Strangely enough even the toughest and most privileged in society complain about feeling exploited. This has to do with power being linked to privileges which can make all the difference in being treated as one of the many or as someone with a special identity and reputation. No wonder then that the youth of such a society yearns desparately for one thing, namely to be respected by all others. Typically is, therefore, how they get into a fight over what appears for outsiders as nothing, but for the ones involved it is as if a matter of life and death. They pick a fight over respect if they feel insulted or ignored even though these hurt feelings have been obtained not there, at school, but possibly already at home or in the street while realizing fully they don't stand a chance to be respected in such a society. At least they want that need be fulfilled immediately by those who surround them or share with them the same time space defined as the difficulties to grow up and yet unsure in which time slot in terms of society and the economy they find themselves in at the end of their qualification attempts at school or as apprentices in workshops.

Here the thought might occur to oneself that violence is really an outburst of desparation about not getting what one wants in a city seemingly indifferent to one's own needs! Rules like "man, you have to look out for yourself" seem to be devised to justify as if 'everything goes', so long as you do not get caught. That leads to a kind of morality which is in such a reality more an amorality. The latter is linked inside these gangs to even more rigorous applications of such demands as obedience and loyalty. In the end, it may prove the saying to be right, namely that 'your best friends are really your worst enemies". This is especially the case, if holding together as a gang is based on mutal protection against any kind of criticism and therefore challenges to be more truthful than what is claimed as being the 'truth' inside the group.

At a more general, indeed political level, thoughts about the possibilities of bringing about changes in society have always been linked to the question of violence. There is this divide between those who believe without resorting to violence nothing is possible, whereas the Greens made it only then into Parliament after they renounced 'violence' as a means of change. This came on the heels of actions by the RAF in Germany or the 'Brigade Rosa' in Italy. It accumulated in the highly spectacular kidnapping of Aldo Moro. Once his dead body was found, there was an outpour of grief but also political anger. All political groups went to the Piazzas in Italy to demonstrate their protest against a violation of one basic rule of democracy, namely to attempt to seize power by use of force and therefore by means of violent actions. Of interest is what one man said to all the demonstrators on the Piazza of Firenza when the news of Aldo Moro's death broke and everyone followed their own political flag or symbol onto the square to remind of Altdoerfer's painting of the great Alexander battle against Darius: "why protest? Don't you see that we work so that the rich can eat and it is the taste for good food that will determine the direction of politics."

Of course before these events in the 1970's, there was the student uprising in Paris during May '68. The students revolted. While Andre Malraux described the fear of those in power, the students wished to take poetry to the streets. However, by September of that same years there was nothing left of poetry. All streets of Paris were again filled up by only cars filled up. Thus we may have to talk about the possibility to explain violence through the very absence of poetry in the streets, in daily life as if people go astray once they know no longer the grammar of life.

The poet Baptiste Marray speaks of Paris as a city which seems to have driven life out of its inner core, the removal of 'Les Halles' but one striking example. It has been replaced by the Centre Pompidou but this epitome of the cultural industry has not been able to continue the diversity of life which existed in that area before Les Halles vanished. Buying food is a matter of making substantial decisions on a daily basis. It has profound influence upon everything. Remove it and there is no longer this practical intelligence working to make things possible.

Centre Pompidou in Paris

Insofar as cities leave above all the youth stranded or else, if not in despair, then in a most angry mood, violence cannot be very far away. At times, it seems to be the result of a gradual development or rather deterioration, but at other times violence does erupt volcano like. So we wish during this discussion to find out a bit more as to the reasons why.

In order to do that, let us return to the policy level, in order to reflect upon measures taken by cities and governments to prevent violence in the  first place. We need not to go into the specifics such as training a police force but wish for now to make out some basic parameters, in order to judge which policy measures have a chance of success or not.

For instance, the urban policy of the European Commission reflects a wish to ensure peace within cities by advancing the notion of the ‘agora’. It is thought that many cities are in decline because they face countless problems due to a lack of people unable to get together in order to decide what measures to take. Above all many cities have abandoned to upkeep of a clearly identifiable centre or as Baptiste Marray would say they have exported too much life to the outskirts, into the countless suburbian areas. Integration and inclusion are perceived as being crucial for people to feel secure i.e. free from violence and therefore 'at home' in their cities. Thus lively centres are crucial to let people mingle freely and to make life in cities not merely possible, but also substantial. Therefore, the aim of the EU policy is to make cities to become accessible again and therefore human.

a) altering images of places to make way for new inward investments

The city as ‘human space’ is by necessity defined as a 'non-violent realm of living' which facilitates an intelligent working together and communicating with others. Yet this human space is violated in many, equally varied ways. Yet typical ideas about violence are usually linked by the media only to drugs, gangs, crime etc., that is to something most people seem to know only through newspapers and television but which is something they have never experienced themselves. These media-based images do create, however, fear and leads people to avoid certain areas, if not the city altogether.

For instance, the city of Cardiff is experiencing a separation from the port. No one wants to go into that area because they do not feel save. The entire abandoned port area has become something like a 'no-go-zone'. There area is always linked to prostitutions, drugs and more so to foreigners not really welcomed. Revamping such a port would have to mean the adoption of such a strategy that people would come again down to the port. Without them being present, investors would not regard the area as being interesting for future investments.

(Note: after 1995 the Cardiff Development Agency did find a solution. They started to install in the port first of all a 'fish and chips' joint so that the common folk would be attracted, and for those with a more exclusive taste, they build a fine restaurant. During that same period of 1997-99, the Cardiff Development Agency initiated also nearby a funpark for children to discover science. As a result many people started to come downtown and once the tarnished reputation as an unsafe area was altered into a place where experiences can be made, the Development Company had no more problems finding potential investors. Big investors could see now the value of the land alone by the fact how many people were coming into that area. The area had been once a proud coal exporting port but after the collapse of the coal industry, it lay bare. The example shows that images do play a role and matter whether or not people allow themselves to come directly into contact with one another at places they desire to be at or not. Rarely do they come into direct contact at a place with a negative image. At times that projection can affect the relationship people have altogether to the city as a whole.)

b) problem of debate about media and images as to what produces violence?

Since it is difficult to discuss in public the question of violence for several reasons, there needs to be tackled first of all one particular problem. Due to a tendency by the media to generalize out of single incidences something as if holding for the whole city, even country or world, there needs to be avoided a mixing of analysis and explaination of causes of violence with the need but also wish to draw some conclusions.

At the same time, political authorities block all too often open discussions. They fear such a discussion which would expose too many fault lines in how they respond until now to violence. Also the policy level differs from what people experience at daily level. These two contradictory components impinge upon any public debate and make it difficult to ascertain where real changes in everyday life can mark beginnings or endings of violence.

In literature, the example given by Uwe Johnson when describing life in New York during 1967-68 and therefore at the height of the Viet Nam is horrific. He quotes the New York Times since to him the distinguished aunt who has an ability to perceive things by keeping a distant glance upon events. It allows him to know how many died that previous day in Viet Nam compared to just around the corner. New York developed since those really dangerous days a zero tolerance for crime and offers now to other cities faced with similar drastic problems like Mexico City a model for reducing crime and daily lived violence.

c) preconditions for a culture of non-violence

The question of urban space and quality of culture, insofar it is able to uphold the value of non violence, can be connected with Phil Cooke’s concept of ‘cultural excellence’. Insofar it manages to give to the youth confidence about their future and therefore perspectives, it would allow for a positive argumentation about the use of culture. Always it is a key challenge on how to motivate the youth to find solutions for their questions of life and occupation.

d) not loosing touch with nature, the wild and the untamed

Another approach could be easily one which takes up Paula Meehan’s suggestion that we should try to keep together the wild and the tamed within urban spaces. As this is very much a part of the growing up process of the youth, namely how to tame their wild natures, it could be made for them much easier by accepting that wild component while learning the positive sides of being tamed as well. Yet matters are made increasingly difficult for the youth due to a loss of nature in today’s cities. Hence the question of violence in this context becomes crucial. Where are still wild environments to roam around in a modern urban environment dominated by cars and where the chasing of images is communicated by all sorts of media channels? Indeed, images may become more important due to the very absence of nature, in particular untouched nature. That loss cannot be compensated by promoting the image of the youth as being the ‘wild ones’.

e) learn to deal with city as a strange place

Today’s youth joins those born after 1945 and who have all almost no memories of wild places which are untouched by man’s hands. Everywhere there are by now paved roads so that even traveling along a dirt road has become a rare experience. Even Kamilari, the village which we had just visited, had no electricity or running water until the early 60’s but the changes since then have been significant. That is why it would be important to cite Sofia Yannatou’s key departure point for her writings about cities, insofar the prime experience is “what a strange place to grow up in!”

The city challenges the youth to trust as much themselves as others and to undertake good efforts in order to find recognition of their ideas. Feed-back to their ideas would give them already a first orientation and open them up to the still unknown future by entering a learning process. They require perspectives just as cities without vision would not be able to offer anything to its citizens. That makes all the difference on how life in cities is experienced by the youth of today.

Thematic perspective

Sue Tilden would reformulate the main theme of ‘violence in cities – violence against cities’ by putting cities into perspective and ask what happens, if the myth of a city is destroyed and meaning of place lost?

From both an analytical and political point of view, including that of the European Commission, what can be deemed as cultural actions able to bring about such experiences, that it is possible to reformulate urban policy and create within cities once again human centers and cultural spaces?

When it comes to an analysis of violence in cities, the question can be if urban structures are no longer supportive of life but rather go against people’s live, the outcome of which is the very opposite of protecting and safeguarding life, so that things go badly wrong or amiss till violence breaks out and all communication attempts break off? There is to be made as well a distinction between inner and outer violence, Sarajevo one of the worst examples of the second case.

After World War II there was circulated a theory as if cities had become sick and wanted to bring destruction upon themselves to undo the mistakes of the past. This would include ugly housing and planning mistakes of the past. Certainly some people in Manchester still felt so strongly about it after the War that they regretted that Hitler’s rockets had not brought further destruction upon the city. Another case would be if people felt trapped in urban ghettos and wanted to break out. So naturally this theme of Brendan Kennelly about ‘learned hatred’ as the most difficult one to unlearn has to be taken into consideration. This is especially the case when young people grow up to hate their immediate surroundings.

The conference ‘Myth of the City’ must come to terms with ‘violence in cities’, even if the poets and planners who have come together find it not possible to give a definite answer. At the very least a critical position should be found, in order to differ from the presumed knowledge as to why there is so much urban violence.

Aside from traffic congestion which can make people become increasingly aggressive, there are other phenomena such as noise and air pollution. There is also the fact that many people are increasingly afraid to go out alone into the streets at night. The difference between day and night has to be accounted for when speaking about different forms and patterns of violence. Once people live in fear, in constant anxiety, to the point that people lock themselves into their own houses and trust nobody, this is not at all a healthy climate. For one of the most important components of a healthy life is trust in other people. It leads to openness and friendliness in the streets and in traffic. But what can be encountered so often in streets when walking alone is a mean kind of ‘anti-city’ attitude encountered in so many different ways from random parking to very rude behavior towards the others. There is a flight tendency away from the city and back to village where no one is a stranger, and which destroys the very urban fabric made up of many different, indeed completely strange people but who stand to enrich one’s own identity through their difference. But as Brendan Kennelly would point out too many cannot take that challenge but perceive and experience this difference much more as a definite and permanent kind of threat to the own identity. Hence they answer to these provocations with hostility.

It is a fact that many people are afraid to go out at night onto the streets.  This general 'living in fear', and if not that then in a constant anxiety about children making it safe to school or the car being safe where it has been parked, shows that people prefer to lock themselves up inside their own houses and believe that they have something to loose. Altogether such a state of mind is not at all healthy. One of the most important factors of urban life is openess towards other people. Brendan Kennelly touches upon this theme in a wish to explore the deeper reasons behind a prevailing 'anti-city' attitude amongst many people, the youth included. There are many who wish to escape the city and live again in a village like Kamilari which we have just visited.

When it comes to explaining violence, it seems that most of the psychological and socilogical theories fail especially when there are sudden outbursts of violence by punks in Hannover, Germany or a bomb attack on the Paris Metro with similar events taking place in as far away places like Japan or in Oklohoma in the United States. Often that is done by people with fanatical ideologies giving them reasons to claim that the only lesson to be learned nowadays is how to become more violent. That reminds in a much more radical way of the slogan which prevailed in Berlin: 'macht kaputt, was Euch kaputt macht!' (Destroy what destroys you). Such deep seated fears and hatreds can implode as much as explode suddenly.

When attempting to explain violence as a phenomenon of cities, then we must show sensitivity towards those who end up paying a high prize for living in the city under really unliveable conditions. Some of the suburbs, including those outside of Paris, foster such violent feelings especially amongst the youth that they project their despair upon the entire city. There is a kind of urban environment which is conducive to violence. It stems from a mixture of boredom and fear. Above all alienation in cities claims many kinds of victims, petty theft but the start with rape a much more gruesome case. One thing policy makers but also planners and architects never seem to take into account but which is truly a lesson to be learned out of all such urban ghettos turned to violence once despair grips everyone. The turning point comes when all informal control mechanisms fail and the official side responds only at formal level by sending into those areas still more police forces. Yet even the best police force can counter that what happens when the community fabric breaks down and people no longer feel safe as the entire social net consisting of grandparents, neighbors, friends and just passer-bys has vanished. One indication of such an alienation is when people no longer know their neighbors or who lives across the other side of the street. All informal networks, including shopkeepers and street clearners, look after the children when they return from school. Once this informal structure of social networks in the neighborhood is gone, then anything is possible.

Brendan Kennelly suggests that we could start with a poem by Wilhelm Blake as one of the oldest poems on the city and which is about violence. It is based on the fact that the richness of the king and the queen is based on the exploitation of child labor. The correlation between violence and poverty is crucial to be understood insofar as it comes across in various forms at different levels of society. Poverty implies many things, including the possibility of the more powerful ones and especially those with a lot of money to coerce those without money and therefore with no status in society to doing things against their will. Even a woman can be coerced into marrying a man who she does not love but is forced to do so, in order to secure the existence of her parents as he is rich and can afford to sustain them. But since she does not love him and despite knowing this from the start, his anger at being turned down in reality makes him behave at times extremely jealous, equally violent towards her as depicted by Josef Conrad in his novel 'Tension'. And yet this kind of domestic violence is not usually referred to. Rather when people refer to violence, they mean what takes place outside their homes, in the streets, there were things are made visible under different terms. As such this reference can belie very much the violence which takes place behind those closed curtains (or not, when considering the Dutch custom of having none), that is at home as shown by the multiple stories of children who have been abused from an early age on not by strangers, but by either their own parents or by friends of the family.

If we turn therefore now our attention to demonstrators which resort to violence by overturning cars and smashing shop windows, then this has to be kept in mind that we speak here about an apparent self evident kind of violence. Thus it will be of interest what other viewpoints exist with regards to such actions in the street.

A leading thought for this has been given by Sartre who takes the smashing of glass to mean a wish to break into the present. Such explosive behavior has a prehistory and means as well a wish to break out of something. Such frustration must have been built up to such a level that the pressure inside cannot be contained any longer. It has all the appearance of panic, desparation and just plain anger making anyone gripped by it blind as to the consequences. Such violence does not anticipate nor does it look back. It is immediate and yet belies the fact that smashing shop windows or cars is not at all effective. It will definitely not damage the system but certainly the small shop keepers. But it is effective insofar as the media will pick it up and therefore exaggerate as much on this fact as it is plainly to be filmed and shown on television during evening news. That means the real reason for the demonstration will not be discussed but the fact that the demonstrators turned violent shall belie the need for exactly such a discussion about the reasons for the high unemployment among especially the highly qualified youth.

Still, at times such a violent outburst appears to be both helpless and apolitical since it is a sign of no longer caring what real damages this creates and what consequences it has, for instance, to the small shop keepers. By resorting to a kind of symbolism, there is always entailed a distortion of reality since over simplifications lets easily anything having to do with consumption be linked to the overall system against which the protest turned violent is directed. In many cases this protest follows the lead that the system shuts us out and therefore we have to retaliate.

Popper calls violent actions as self-fulfilling prophecies since upon the smashing of windows follows usually a similar scene throughout the world: the police chasing the demonstrators. The drama played out in the streets is an indication of how violent things can get in a system in which no one stands a real chance of survival except for those who have buried a long time ago a life free of corruption and even worse of humiliation. The thought of not being able to survive drives the conclusion towards violence with the main concern being then how to stay focused and ready to take actions whenever this brutal system shows another case of injustice. That spark can fly anytime and cause the next explosion. Social unrest is like a timber box in which a wrong move by the police can set off new waves of young people enraged.


Perspectives for a discussion with the Youth of Chania

This discussion with the youth is a part of an ongoing attempt to clarify the question of violence. Linked to that is the wish to know how to avoid in future such terrible lessons inflicted upon humanity as Second World War or now more recently the crisis in former Yugoslavia. This failure has to be understood as a specific failure of institutions to resolve conflicts other than through means of killing and intimitation, so that the 'freedom of choice' as to place of living, of working and of relating to others becomes extremely limited due to certain, equally powerful forces no longer wishing to consider life as being both complex and sacred.

In brief, it will be important to examine reasons for violence as much as to seek ways to overcome violence. One key might be to understand better motivations towards violence.

The Youth of Chania is invited to learn from such a panel discussion and workshop session with participants of the conference 'Myth of the City'. As such it links with the crucial question but how to grasp personal values, attitudes and abilities to cope within the scope of life in modern cities. So let us partake together in a lively discussion and find space and the time to articulate ideas. The discussion will give a sense of direction as to how problems linked with violence can be resolved before it is too late. Naturally this may require undertaking further efforts to bring about conditions of inner peace in a city over and beyond daily tasks. Here a dialogue with all officials of Chania would be crucial in order to secure first of all their understanding and then support. A lot will depend how the question of violence shall be posed as this will direct already what answers are possible to be given by the Youth themselves. Philosophically speaking, answers to the existence of violence in our modern life will determine to a great extent how life is imagined as something different to what has been experienced and what may not be as easy to be shaped in an open ended way as before, that is especially after having encountered violence head-on.

To put it slightly in a different way: violence is connected to the use of power. For instance, the German constitution states that the Right to pass laws is done so in the name of the people who bestow upon the state this notion of sovereignty. In German, it is said that 'die Gewalt geht vom Volke aus!': power is derived from the people. But the very use of the word 'Gewalt' implies that there is also violence at work. To this the state claims a monopoly in order to be able to pass laws, but it means in reality that the state has all the Right to develop the means to protect itself against the kind of violence people can exert if they wish to act on their own. Violence in an official state related form is fore mostly the police. Thus it does not surprise that Hegel demands in his 'Philosophy of Law' that the citizen must give recognition to the state when encountering daily in the streets the policeman to whom he should show his respect as he is the representative of the state at the local and immediate level. By respect means no citizen may address the policeman in an informal 'you (Du)', but must use the formal you: 'Sie' (like in the French: 'vous' instead of 'tu'). That means immediately to accept a hierarchical disposition with the Right of the policeman superseding the Rights of the citizen. It may be worthwhile to reflect upon this as such a philosophical disposition is not only based on the fear of people per say, but Hegel reacts here to also the experiences made during the French Revolution. He was shocked to see the outburst of  violence in the French Revolution and concluded something must be done so that 'people do not erect first institutions, and then tear them down!' Hegel did not mention that the French Revolution started with the sturming of the Bastaille, that horrific prison which symbolized like no other institution the injustices of the regime with a man getting his arm cut off for stealing an apple while an aristocrat after having murdered a girl to hide the fact that he had made her pregnant going off free. People abhor once thing: arbitrary law. They cannot take it if there is injustice which expresses itself with the law meaning one day this, the next day something else and always is different for the rich man in comparison to the poor one. But in essence the 'fear of violence' had been internalized by almost all the European nations in the wake of the French Revolution and this has lead even to the denouncement of the masses of people as the case with Heidegger. This set the stage for dictators like Franco, Mussolini and Hitler coming to power. The lessons learned since then have been harsh in the form of war and not convincing in terms of democratic progress even though since 1945 Europe has not gone again through this terrible lesson of war safe for what erupted in the most negative and inhumane way in former Yugoslavia.

There is still another problematic area not touched upon so far but it relates to state power and the keeping of not merely a police force, but of an army. The moment there are armed forces then there is a need for weapons, and in turn states enter that most dangerous game of weapons' trade. For instance, Germany has written into its constitution no weapons may be sent into conflict zones, but this regulation has been softened till it hardly applies anymore safe for the most obvious of all cases, that is when the entire world agrees the conflict in that particular area cannot continue and an embargo on weapons to that area is enforced. Yet there are always ways of getting around this. A term for that is 'rogue' state.

A basic question posed, therefore, by writers, philosophers and even statesmen has been whether or not use of 'violence' can ever be justified as being a legal means of exerting influence and power. That includes forms of punishment like jail sentence and does not stop at the brink of imposing the death penalty against which is most of Europe, but not the United States. To underline that difference in value systems, Albert Camus and Arthur Koestler linked the death penalty to seeking 'revenge', something civilized states claim to have been 'superseded' by their 'habeas corpus' or legal system. At least, this was the claim by Hegel, but he never considered the possibility that the state at times does not mediate any longer between conflicting parties in an effort to mediate and to halt the spiral of revenge by one family member hurting one member of the other family. For it can happen that the state as a whole seeks revenge and invokes the death penalty as has been the case when the German state under the tutelage of Hitler implemented the Wannsee Resolution for the Extermination of Jews. It has remained a basic problem as demonstrated daily in the Middle East: how is it possible to achieve justice without taking recourse to revenge, that is to the old Biblical law of 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth'? Taking revenge is the highest canon of Islamic law as it is sought as the best and only way to regain 'balance'. It can include just feeling insulted by the other not paying due respect to one's own deity, in fact the Mullah, who interprets the law out of his religious standing and thus reverses altogether the 'dialectic of securalization' in favor of making religious law supreme over any civil law. That is why power rests with the supreme leader, equally a religious one in the case of Iran after Chomeiny returned in 1979 and thereby initiated the Islamic Revolution. If anything, humanity faces likewise ever greater challenges and thus is maybe much further away then what Kant could have envisioned as being a desired state of affairs, namely a 'permanent peace'.

Non violence as a principle of value has been sought over many centuries. It includes Ghandi and his way of overthrowing the rule of the British Empire in India. The fact that this country has become the largest democracy in the world says a lot about the importance of such a convinction in non violence. Elsewhere and unfortunately this principle is scorned as being unrealistic given all the wars and continual fights flaring up all the time throughout the world.

Violence itself may be at first just a sign of impatience. It is a wish to settle differences or conflicts immediately. No more discussion, no more time delays! Hence violence is preceded by a destruction of discussions and open ended reflections. Instead of friendship and trust, cohesion and innovation, there prevails then mistrust, suspicion, slander, negative framing and everything else most of the Youth encounters daily on the battle fields of schools, streets and even at home. One thing violence has in common with every form of violent behavior: it does not like being questioned nor accepts the need to seek new ideas. Violence is always accompanied by the same argument: 'if people are not prepared to listen, then they must feel it'. It was Sharon of Israel who said the Palestinians must be beaten up so much that they sink onto their knees and beg for forgiveness! That kind of violence evokes hardly positive responses. Violence forces everyone to go into the same direction until there is not one drop of blood left and peace just a shattered dream of humanity.

This discussion can underline the need for Humanities: Search for Values. It can be understood best as another conviction, one strongly believing in the existence of other values than those either derived from violence or else an outcome thereof after having legitimized the use of violence. Part of that search for values includes, therefore, reading the books of those men and women who have searched themselves for answers. They respond to the plight of mankind and show an understanding of human needs. Always it includes searches for truth, a most important value by itself.

Quest for values can be reformulated in such terms: people need understanding and perspectives so that life itself can be approached in a non-violent way. Where violence exists, there is no space for the imagination to bring about empathy for others, including their fears, pains and ideas. That marks also the difference where poetry is appreciated and can be heard even through songs in the streets, and where poetry has been denied to have any claim of truth.

Reading list:

Brendan Kennelly, "Poetry and Violence" in: History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Literature, ed. Joris Duytschaever and Geert Lernout, Amsterdam 1988.

Adorno, Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, New York 1993

Jean Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, New York 1966

Leonce Bekemans and Robert Picht, European Societies between Diversity and Convergence, Presses Inter-universitaires Europeenes, College of Europe, Bruge 1993

@ Hatto Fischer 1995 (revised 2010)


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