Rembetica & Revolution
By Chris Spannos at May 31, 2009
Well, it's been a few days since I've blogged. Mostly because I've been very busy here in Athens and yesterday I forgot my camera battery so had no images to show anyway. A couple days later lot's has happened and I've gotten back in the habit of snapping some photo's so....
We arrived back to the hotel late last night, around 3:00 AM, after Michael spoke for 3-4 hours on parecon (more on this below). But it was somewhat disconcerting to see a row of 15-20 riot cops on the corner of our hotel facing the polytechnic school. The police presence in the area has seemed to grow each day so it was a little unsettling this early morning. We are staying in the area where the group calling itself Revolutionary Struggle shot and wounded a riot police officer last January in an attack on a police unite guarding the Culture Ministry. We are on the same street as the ministry but just a couple blocks away from the building. So far there have been police on both the corner of our hotel and the back of the polytechnic every day. The first couple days there were police in blue uniforms and yesterday they were in green, which I'm told means they have more power (I think like the U.S. national guard). Tonight there were many more on our street but and, again, on both the front and back of the polytechnic.
I don't want to spend anymore time on this, but simply wanted to note the oddity. Perhaps it is a show of force in the area, which, since this is historically an anarchist and anti-authoritarian stronghold, is a provocative measure by the police.
Two days ago we went to the Nosotros social space to conduct some TV interviews with some local media. Afterward we were introduced to Greek cheese pies as, apparently, the sandwich that I grabbed from the cafe around the corner that morning was "unacceptable" for my Greek friends. And the cheese pies (and cream pies, and sausage pies, etc.) were all very much appreciated by me as indicated that they have been breakfast for the last three days.
That night, two nights ago, Michael gave his first talk, on "Why we don't like capitalism" and spoke very eloquently I thought. Reasons he gave had to do with class rule inherent in private ownership of productive assets, hierarchical divisions of labor, and markets and much more. I was told two different times that people liked it because he actually gave reasons for why he rejected capitalism rather than "I hate capitalism because I am a communist" or similar reasoning that "...because I am an anarchist." I'm not sure how representative this compliment is, because most people I have met have had their own very intelligent and well thought out reasons. However the compliment came from a long-time anarchist activist here who found the talk useful.
That night after Michael's talk we listened to some Rembetica (urban Greek folk music) at one of the B-Fest stages and then went back to the hotel.
The next day we went back to Nosotros, this time to interview some organizers of the festival and as well as those who produce the Babylonia newspaper, and the longtime Greek anarchist activists mentioned above. Afterwards we went for lunch in Exarhia Square.
Above: Exarhia Square from Nosotros balcony
Back at the B-Fest we did some impromptu interviews with people in the No Borders movement where they explained their work with refugees and migrants in Greece, as this is a key gateway for refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe. We were told that in the Greek city of Patras there is a very large self-organized refugee camp. At the festival we met and interviewed refugees from Morocco and Afghanistan about the conditions they face here in Greece and some of their hopes. The U.S. war on Afghanistan has been a primary source of many Afghan refugees entering Greece.
Somewhat related, we went to the bottom of the Acropolis yesterday and I witnessed what must be the daily cat and mouse chase between the cops and some African migrants selling trinkets to tourists there. They had their goods laid out on a big sheet and as soon as cops would drive up to the corner they would roll up their sheets and hoist them over their backs walking very briskly away---however in a pack of around ten of them. When the cops would go away, the migrants would return to sell their goods and shortly after the cops would appear from the opposite direction and the game would pursue again. Luckily, no one got caught, but in this brief chase I could see how, if police were a little more aggressive in their pursuit, unlucky migrants could fall behind and get caught, and, after entering some detention facilities and bureaucratic entanglements, could be deported.
Above: At the Acropolis
In most places we have been in Athens it is obvious that there is a huge refugee/migrant community and the work that the No Borders people are doing is very important. We have heard stories of racism towards the migrants here, for example, a community burning down a mosque. There has also been violent reaction to those who have tried to organize migrant workers, such as the case of Constantina Kouneva. Kouneva, the general secretary of the Janitors and Domestic Service Staff Union of Attiki, was attacked last December when an assailant threw caustic acid on her face, resulting in the loss of one eye (and I am told she is struggling to save the other), as well as possible permanent damage to some of her internal organs (I am told the acid had reached her stomach). Currently, months later, she remains in critical condition and continues to under-go many operations.
Back at the B-Fest, Friday night, I gave my presentation on Participatory Society: Urban Space & Freedom. There was a very good turnout, and the talk, as with all the talks, were being streamed live and I think even broadcast on TV. That day Michael and Andrej did radio interviews on the (Left) Coalition radio station. It was odd, being from the U.S. and listening to this station. It was a Left wing political organ that had many of the production values as the mainstream media in the U.S., but also carried explicitly anti-capitalist content. For example, aside from Michael and Andrej's interviews, the breaks that took place in-between, with slick radio voices and fancy editing, however interspersed with the hip hop version of the anti-facist song Bella Ciao.
Afterward Michael spoke. He very carefully described the values and institutions of the parecon vision, and how we arrive at them. There were two folks in the audience who voiced opposition, but, and I was impressed by this, after at least a two and a half hours of presentation Michael tried to open it up for discussion and the Greek audience actually wanted him to talk more (!) about advocating parecon and its relation to anarchism and marxism. This went on for probably another 30 minutes before a much, much longer Q&A ensued, lasting till almost 3AM. Michael and the Greek audience displayed an amazing stamina for discussion as Lydia, Andrej, and I began to drift off.
Sunday is the last day of the B-Fest, unfortunately... Today Andrej presents again, which I hope to blog about as his Balkan perspective and those here in Greece who are also part of the Balkans, and I'm sure will contribute to the discussion, should be very enlightening for those of us from the U.S. After Andrej there is Michael again at night. I know that the organizers and our hosts, and we too, are all ready for a rest.
Above: Andrej Grubacic
Saturday was the largest day of the festival. Noam Chomsky delivered a pre-recorded video conference responding to the question "Is greed innate to human nature?" and Michael gave his second talk, focusing on parecon, the talk mentioned in the beginning of this blog. The video conference was packed as was the overflow room. And as usual Noam displayed his exceptional mental powers and grand analysis.