What may a major global financial crisis actually look like? How may it feel, what kind of form and shape may it take in the mundane and in the common, in the spaces of our everyday coexistence? These questions had been tormenting the crisis-scape project from the outset, questions that we in turn posed to our guests at our concluding conference that took place in Athens in May this year. Rather than trying to reflect upon the conference as a whole (which would have been a near-impossible task, with its twenty-two contributions in total), this Special Feature has chosen to focus on highlighting a relationship between it and the previous outcome of the crisis-scape.net team: the documentary Future Suspended. An experimental play, in a sense, between the main structure that we ourselves had set for our documentary—and by extension, the structure of our research project as a whole—and the contributions presented in Athens during those early May days. The conversation is intriguing, even if not entirely pre-planned; could it be so for that exact reason? The first section of the Special Feature, ‘Future Privatised’, tries to shed some light on the vast privatisation schemes that have been taking place in the Greek territory—and beyond—during the current crisis, and their tremendous implications: Costis Hadjimichalis offers us a concise overview of this process of outright land-grabbing and land dispossession—and he explains how this leads, surely enough, to domestic devaluation and to the reproduction of recession.
Throughout this time of crisis in the Greek territory,during this relentless drive for privatisations, for a devaluation of labour and infrastructures, for redrawing of the rules of capitalist reproduction, one term has repeatedly sprang up in public discourse: ‘Chinification’ supposedly reflects the idea that this vast privatisation project would be matched by a relentless dive of wages and the value of infra-structure to the bottom. Such a conceptualisation, of course, is not only simplistic and bordering on the xenophobic/racist; most crucially, it seems to ignore the complex reality that China’s astounding development consists of, and the ways by which its growth engine ,i.e. its speculative urbanisation, has been executed at the level of the state and contested at the field of the everyday. In his contribution, Hyun Bang Shin wonderfully articulates this very contesting.
In a perfect ‘bridge’ over the first and second section of the SF, Tom Slater uses his vast knowledge and experience from gentrification processes elsewhere to offer a suggestion for residents of the central Athenian neighbourhood of Exarcheia who are faced, it would seem, with early hints of the process soon-to-commence in their area,too. Athens is already heralded in inter-national media (even supposedly ‘progressive’ ones for that matter) as a city that is about to be reborn from its ashes, the ‘investment opportunities’ posed by the city, and soon. Slater acutely warns about placing disinvestment in a moral conundrum vis-a-vis reinvestment, what he terms a ‘false choice urbanism’: a tool used by its purveyors to conceal gentrification’s high political stakes.
The second section of the SF delves further, in a way, into what is traditionally the first step in capital’s transformation of land or labour—whether in the form of infrastructure privatisation, or neighbour-hood gentrification: ‘Future Devalued’ looks at all those facets of our everyday that are systematically and systemically devalued during the crisis. And so, Dimitris Dalakoglou and Yannis Kalianos look at the landfill of Fili, a town nearly 20 kilometres away from the city of Athens. They show us how the landfill site has been Greater Athens’ main dump-site for over half a century, and they take the example of the landfill—and contesting over its operation—to pose some much greater questions concerning interruption, disturbance and disorder. From the toxic pollution caused by the landfill to the area that accommodates it all the way to the interruption and dis-order caused by protests in the city of Athens at its moment of crisis, their questions concern the distinguishing of systematic interruptions from those coming ‘from below’. The two show how, for sovereignty,the aim of monopolising this ‘capacity to interrupt’, so to speak, is a crucial one; it is in its essence an aim to quell Stasis as a whole.
In her succinct intervention, Dina Vaiou then focuses on one of the most overlooked and yet most crucial facets of the current crisis, on its gender facet. Of all her series of examples of what is ‘missing from the picture’, one only has to delve a tiny bit further into two examples, the story of the cleaners of the Ministry of Finance and of the university administrative employees, to understand what is at stake, the importance of the arguments conveyed by the article. At the time of writing, the university administrative workers were re-entering their struggle, bitterly fought at the end of 2013,in face of—and in reaction to—their lay-offs en masse. As for the cleaners, this seems to shape up to one of the most improbable, uneven—and nevertheless, still fought for—among the long series of struggles in crisis-ridden Greece. The fact that all of the 595 are female makes their struggle even more formidable and admirable: bodies becoming public in their quest for ‘a decent job and bearable livelihoods’.
The section concludes with what might very well be the utmost example of devaluation and a forced expulsion from public space—and an attempt to respond to this. Klara Jaya Brekke presents the online map of racist attacks, created as part of the crisis-scape project. She explains how the map consisted of an attempt to give an overview of the scale of racists attack in Athens (and beyond), but that first and foremost it attempted to break away from a very specific, binary logic: the logic of representing migrants as either criminals or victims.What the map has done is to focus instead on the violent conditions (structural: political and social) that affect migrants’ lives. The map’s foremost aim is to become ‘a vehicle and tool for information, affinity and action—rather than for the production of pity or gratitude’.
It is in this way that Brekke’s description of the racist attack map, and its attempt to create affinity leading to action, perfectly builds into the third section: ‘The Present Fighting Back’. Opening this section, Lila Leontidou shows us how the city is fertile and historically receptive to opposing—and hopefully, diverging from and escaping—the ill fate of neoliberal urbanism. By looking at Athens’ own, very particular Southern Mediterranean past and present, Leontidou explains how—in spite of its present hardship—this is a city that very much relishes its southern spontaneity and informality.
Christy Petropoulou then moves on to tell us how this question of informality is one that spans much beyond the Mediterranean shores. Her comparative study of such informality in everyday life and social movements in Athens and Mexico City offers tangible proof that resistance has swiftly followed the application of neoliberal policies in the so-called semi-periphery. And, even more importantly, she shows us how the‘spontaneous’ has been used as a discursive label by some authors to play down and devalue what might very well be peoples’ refusal ‘to define their bodies as machines. The question is if the so-called spontaneous resistances became, or may become, under certain conditions, dangerous cracks’.
A question taken up by Stavros Stavrides in the section’s final part: such ‘cracks’ in the existent might very well be formed out of the creation of common spaces in the crisis-ridden city. In this task, ‘threshold spatiality’ is imperative and invaluable since it helps create these common spaces—but even more crucially, it supports their expansion.This might, then, very well be a way for city space to transform itself and to be reclaimed during the crisis: through the dual operation of commoning practices, on the one hand, and the shaping of commoning institutions on the other.
The very last part of the SF constitutes an attempt to reflect—and to do so at multiple registers. In their common interview, film-maker Ross Domoney and the music composer Giorgos Triantafyllou respond to the challenge of putting to words what would most often come through the intuitive, the cornerstone of their practice. Nasser Abourahme puts to paper his kind thoughts,commencing from Future Suspended, to reflect on our time—and our disjuncture, this ‘temporal disjuncture’ from the present.His intuition is absolutely correct, in that creating never-lasting circularities in Future Suspended proved purposeful: the ever-moving metro, a metaphor for the fact that‘the city of permanent crisis is one of circulation without destination, movement without telos… present without future’. The opening sounds, those ‘digital bleeping sounds that feel like something from a sputnik signal seem to index a futurism that itself has passed into provinciality’. Does that make the documentary ‘a science fiction of the present’? It is a humbling description, yet possibly an accurate one at that. But who would have been most qualified to elaborate our condensed historical moment?
In his concluding remarks, Bob Catterall makes a special—and very important—mention to this exact person, easily the most important documenter of the turbulent recent political history of the Greek territory: Theo Angelopoulos. His signature shots were the equivalent of a cinematic snapshot; in their often agonising slowness, an adagio that would halt, clear up and offer us afresh some of the most important moments otherwise passing us by. How ironic, that this poet of slowness was to die of speed, ran over by a motorbike… And how completely tragic to know that he did so, while out shooting a new film, on the crisis. How perplexing, then, to try to think how Angelopoulos would have captured this long moment of the crisis—how necessary, more than ever, his indolent gaze would have been, to transcend the doctrine of speed and emergency that dictate our times.A doctrine of emergency, on the one hand,and of excess on the other: our times are times wherein the dominant and the spectacular take over, fill our system of logic and even our imagination with their presence, allow for little to no alternative. Catterall is also very much correct in identifying an importance to the ‘less assertive moments’ of the film, then—the importance of scenes included that may had even escaped our own conscious, but very much there and important at the subconscious level.
A question that is very important—and these are the last spoiling words over scenes that should have enough force to speak for themselves: what would the ‘gaze of the young woman reflected in the window of the subway car’, or ‘the delight in the face of the boy floating in the fated paper boat’—even the ‘uncertainty expressed in the face of the young policeman’—possibly have to tell us about where we stand or even, what is to be done? By including them, we did not so much include them as characters, I am coming to think, as much as we included their very uncertainty, their confusion and loss. If there is ever a concrete answer to the what is to be done question, it will only grow out of the coming to terms with this uncertainty, the sharing of the multiform experiences of the major global financial crisis in which we are all ‘enrolled and entrapped’, in this certainly uncertain ground on which we stand.