Banners are removed after the forceful eviction of the Occupied Rectorate of the University of Athens (photo/ Dromographos)
As the ”left of nothingness” has been striving for the rights of marginalized incarcerated minorities, a plethora of headlines labeled recent actions of solidarity undemocratic and devoid of meaning. Nonetheless, it is hypocritical to denounce sit-ins, rallies and dissent in the name of leftism as social struggles have always been the epitome of leftist ideology.
Deputy minister of Interior Yiannis Panousis, expresssed his opposition against direct action through a published statement which identified recent occupations and protests in solidarity with the struggle of the imprisoned hungerstrikers as the ”left of nothingness”. The article was actually preceded by a peaceful protest in the courtyard of the House of Parliament in Athens, initiated by members of the anarchist organization ”Rouvikonas”, which resulted in the unlawful arrest of the protesters. Insinuating that these actions were meaningless, constituted a threat to individual, social and national security and emerged from anomie, he denounced them as irrelevant to leftist ideology and disassociated from democratic principles. In contrast, Speaker of Parliament Zoe Konstantopoulou clarified that protesters were acting within their constitutional rights and warned against any attempt to twist events in order to fuel moral panics.
Panousis outlined equality of freedom and civil rights, social policy, public control and justice as essential aspects of leftism. Since these notions are taken out of context they are deemed apolitical as critical questions remain unanswered regarding the role of justice and public order as a means of reaffirming hegemonic ideologies through the penalization of poverty, addiction, ethnicity and social movements. Defending these abstract values of leftism against direct action reduces anarchists to ”public enemy” and adversaries of the left. On the contrary, the solidarity activists struggled against inequalities which are not theoretical but constitute an integral part of the lived experience of prisoners.
”He who believes that the meaning of leftism and contemporary left governments in the international and european field, means unfortified countries and cities without personal, social and national security, with no army and no policing, perhaps without judges nor prisons, he who believes that history has taught us nothing (since all nations coexist in peace) and that Education can allow actions of anomie to emerge, then not only this person is not related to the left but is not related to democracy”. Panousis’ statement
Countless stories of how agencies of state control violate the rights and perpetuate the victimization of vulnerable groups in society, establish how media can distort our perception of ”threat” by underreporting these crimes. Recently, OmniaTV’s Methexis witnessed the torture of a Chinese girl by Greek policemen in detention: the girl was denied access to the toilet for hours as a punishment for her ethnic origin. A lawyer, named Effie Mouragaki, witnessed police officers assaulting an immigrant man while visiting a client in jail. Nikos Sakellion, a university student in Athens was beaten to death by the authorities and despite the irrefutable evidence presented at court, the perpetrators were found not guilty while media never really paid any attention to the story. The hungerstriker Tassos Theofilou was confined in isolation without medical supervision throughout his peaceful protest, a condition characterized as torture by the U.N. and associated with increased health risk. These experiences of the ”law” challenge the hegemonic worldview of policing and prisons as ”necessary components of democracy and leftist governments”, since institutions responsible for maintaing ”public order” pose a greater threat to vulnerable segments of society.
As a reader of Panousis academic work, although not an expert, I recall his paper ”Media, culture and society” which was published in the collection of essays ”Crime and punishment in contemporary Greece” and contained the following paragraph:
As a general rule, and as the public and even journalists themselves commonly point out, media representations of deviance and crime are inaccurate in the sense of exaggerating the effect of the problem at issue, being selective in their content, reproducing stereotypes and misconstruing the profile of the offenders. As illustrated by a study of the way in which six Athenian newspapers reported anarchist activities in 1980, 1985 and 1995, above and beyond the common reproduction of asociated stereotypcial notions such as ”vandalism”, ”enemies of ”democracy and morality”, ”menace for public security”, ”conspiracy” and ”moral panic” media representations were also shown to be significantly influenced by the political standpoints of the newspapers in which they appeared (Kalamatianou 2007).
Since relevant research acknowledges that the political orientation of a publication determines the portrayal of anarchists, one can’t help but wonder how a ‘member’ of the ‘radical left’ has used a right-wing newspaper to express their political views. Panousis interpreted the recent actions of solidarity in a way that reinforces a narrative of securitization according to already existing stereotypes and used his academic credentials to brand these conclusions ‘scientific’. Clearly, Panousis does not represent a critical perspective but associating his political conservatism with ”science” via a medium accessible to the majority of the public, is more of an ad-hominem fallacy than a real academic standpoint.
The role of mass media in this instance extends beyond the manipulation of public opinion regarding the contemplated legality of these actions and aims at stigmatizing direct action, hindering participation of the public in core social issues, silencing the voices of dissent and shifting the essense of leftism from a force of social change and revolution to a form of social conformity.
When Panousis attempted to redefine a vulnerable population in prison facing harsher conditions of incarceration, as a threat to society, mainstream media did nothing but proliferate headlines of ”terrorist and criminal gangs are in control of prison facilities”. In contrast, concurrent violations of prisoners’ rights ranging from medical negligence causing the death of two inmates in Domokos Supermax in 2015, deprivation of education to three prisoners in the last 6 months, abolition of furloughs and limitation of visiting rights to all those incarcerated in Greece’s Supermax prove quite the opposite. Since a solidarity movement has shown explicitely its support through direct action, the slandering went on to describe participants as ”terrorists”. Then Panousis vowed zero-tolerance against social movements since ”democracy would not engage in a dialogue with terrorists”. Zero-tolerance is a tactic implementing social cleansing of public spaces from unwanted populations and was based on the discredited ”broken windows theory”.
These misconceptions based on deviant identities, purposefully restrict the limits of ”acceptable behaviour” in the public sphere and stigmatize activists and social movements as dangerous, when in fact disengagment from public life can pose a higher risk. Monolithic perceptions of social movements from a law and order vantage point fail to address their role as drivers of social change and construct a narrative of ”personal, public and national threat” contingent on increasing security measures and aggressive policing. As these narratives aim at preventing mass participation in movements capable to influence the political course of the country, they function as mechanisms of ideological coercion. In effect, as austerity Greece has plummeted into a seemingly inescapable financial and humanitarian crisis, eliminating social movements and alternative perceptions of them, means that minority elites running decision making centres can eradicate mass resistance and contain social unrest.
On April 17th, the police proceeded to the forceful evacuation of the Occupation of the Athens University Rectorate. The fourteen individuals who staged the sit-in for 18 days, are now charged and remain under arrest despite the peaceful nature of the protest. According to the Dean of University of Athens, no property damages were evidenced. The occupiers published their final announcement on April 16th, a day before the violent eviction took place. The following, is an excerpt:
Throughout the last 18 days, the Occupied Rectorate has carried out assemblies on a daily basis, actions of counter-information, organized marches and events that aim to connect the solidarity movement with other contemporary social struggles (information from the solidarity committee with the political prisoners from Turkey and Kurdistan, events promoting a broad interpretation of the counter-terror law and the prosecutions against the residents of Halkidiki fighting against gold-mining in the region and DNA samples), participated in class struggles such as the movement against the abolition of the Sunday holiday while the space of the Rectorate was used for gatherings to commemorate the dead fighters of DHKP-C and solidarity events to comrades indicted on ”hoodie law” refusing to comply with the restrictive measures imposed upon them.
The actions and the political aims pursued by all of us who occupied the Rectorate disturb political and financial leaders. Deans, ministers, judges and capitalists will not countenance the voices of the hunger-strikers and the propaganda of their rightful demands. In this context we ‘ve all become spectators of a notable alighnment of the previously mentioned institutions. The coercion of the ”left management” does not include direct conflict but uses democratic and humanitarian tactics and tricks. Nevertheless, the coalition government has consistently put forward its ”social profile” while targeting the physical exchaustion of the squatters through the prohibition of meal supplies which escalated to the prosecution of two comrades on the grounds of providing food.
As the hunger-strike has come to an end, the Initiative for Prisoners Rights highlighted this moment as a good starting point for social discource on prison abolition and alternative ways to incarceration beyond the confines of vengefulness and punishment.