The situation in Greece is reaching a point comparable to that of mid-1930s Spain. On the brink of civil war, as a lab rat in the ongoing neoliberal austerity experiment, Greek society is being pushed further and further towards the complete obliteration of democratically achieved civil and human rights and is becoming a festering sore of rightwing nationalism.
Last week, as the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the European Union, this troubling zeitgeist was clearly illustrated by further police repression and the violence of fascist gangs on the streets of Athens.
There seems to be no end to the rank hypocrisy. As hundreds of thousands of Europeans have been driven into poverty just in the past few months by austerity measures imposed by the Troika; as the gates of Europe have been slammed shut in the faces of destitute refugees overwhelmed by crises of all kinds; and as courageous, angry citizens across the continent have given democratic voice to their resentment of neoliberal policies only to be answered with clubs and teargas: Europe is being recognized for its efforts at achieving peace.
The esteemed ladies and gentlemen in Oslo are acting on false hopes, not reality. Similar to how they awarded Barack Obama the same prize shortly after his inauguration in the hopes that he would strike out on a path they mostly imagined for him, the pseudo-liberal Nobel committee seems to hope to rescue, with this now-dubious honor, the failing European Project from the rising forces of reaction and nationalism.
What awaits us if even if they do get their wish? Asian-model authoritarian capitalism, coordinated across all of Europe. These are times in which no index is nearly as important as those churned out by the Market; liberal democracy appears to the Merkels of this continent to be weak and stunted, ridiculously inefficient, and no longer factors into the value judgments that determine the futures of millions of people.
To be clear, we should not too eagerly defend the liberal ‘democracy’ we know now, which through its constant falsehood and hypocrisy fails completely to fulfill its promise. Moderate so-called democratic political parties have been trying for years and years to muzzle and incapacitate us citizens. As Slavoj Zizek told SYRIZA members just before the Greek elections in June, what these parties want is “coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice cream without sugar;” in other words, democracy without participation—without dialogue, without debate. A form of democracy comparable to the late dialogues of Plato, in which we are presented with a string of empty yet airtight sentences and all we can do is respond every ten minutes or so with, “By Zeus, that’s right!”
It is truly with great discomfort that I write the next paragraphs—though anyone who has recently checked the clock of current events knows what time it has struck. The alarm is not only sounding in Greece. It is time to wake up and stand up—to prepare ourselves mentally and physically for very trying times.
More than ever the answer to all our mounting grievances must be active solidarity. This may of course be met sooner rather than later with the inhuman resistance of state violence. The freshly-Nobel-crowned E.U. did not set EUROGENDFOR in place for no reason. But to paraphrase Che Guevara’s prediction that it would take “two, three, many Vietnams,” today we need two, three, many Athens, Romes, and Madrids.
The volunteers in 1930s Spain knew that their struggle was far larger in scope than simply resistance to Franco. They were conscious of struggling for the future of all of Europe, against the rampant fascism then sweeping across the entire continent. The question whether Hitler would have had the audacity to act as he did were it not for the prior defeat of the Spanish resistance (due in part to American arms shipments) cannot be answered. But it is doubtful.
The measures being exacted on Greece by the Troika will, if we allow it, be used in copy/paste manner on other countries as well. This is what gives the social struggle taking place right now in Greece a forward-looking, far-reaching character similar to that of Civil War-era Spain.
Now as then, the future of Europe will be decided in Madrid, Rome, and also Athens. We are again standing at the crossroads between authoritarian capitalism and a possible ascent of anarcho-socialism. “Eyes with no memory see nothing,” Carmen Castillo stated in her film about the terror of Chile’s military junta.
It is fundamental that we learn the lessons of the past, that we give our eyes memory.
Laurent Moeri, a former activist with Occupy Zurich and OccupyWEF, is currently on his way by bicycle from Zurich, Switzerland, to Athens, Greece. His article was translated from the German by Ed Sutton.