In-between spaces

February 23, 2015 — Leave a comment

Society&Space

If there was just one device with which to symbolise our state of historical being during this time of crisis, it would be a pendulum. There is, it feels, a seemingly eternal sense of moving between one historical moment and another, teetering on the verge of major catastrophe, of an uprising, just as we start to move out of the previous one. We find ourselves abeyant between alternating historical peaks. Vavel, an old and much-loved Greek comics magazine, described itself as a great accompaniment for its readers “to pleasantly pass their time between one catastrophe and the following one”. Time and again, the sentiment whilst we experience events unfold in the Greek territories has been exactly so. Our everyday existence feels like a mere parenthesis to the cataclysmic events always following or preceding it, an ever-fleeting time in-between.

Soon enough, on January 25, Greece will play host to yet another such moment, as it is set to witness the rise of a left-wing party, Syriza, to power ― a historical first. There are those, yours truly included, doubtful that social and historical change may ever be triggered by the parliamentary process. If so, and if there is no apparent way for mainstream parliamentary processes to either accelerate historical time, or even to create much-desired ruptures within it, what reason could there be for engaging with the outcome of these elections? The answer, I think, lies not in historical acceleration, but in the exact opposite effect that Syriza’s rise to power may lead to.

There are many in the left (and beyond) who fear Syriza has toned down its rhetoric already before coming to power: its financial programme reads more mainstream Keynesian, and less radical Marxist, than those in the right fear, and many in the left hope for. This “rationalisation” and main-streaming of Syriza’s programme are major signs of what may lay ahead. After all, if there was even one way for the plexus of financial and political powers to re-legitimise themselves and to hold their reign in Greece, it would lie precisely in a political force that is conciliatory as much as it is sensible, socially legitimate as it is fiscally responsible, so that it might gently steer capitalism out of its crisis. Let that be so. After all, one can hardly argue that the wider social antagonist movement, the grassroots political communities active in Greece, did not have the opportunity to fight back against the authoritarian-financial complex that has reigned in the country in these times of crisis. Decent as it was, this struggle did at the same time expose our very own limitations in acting under this burden of constantly shifting historical time, squeezed between the impact of the events we became witnesses to. And so, here is perhaps a seemingly strange proposition for the upcoming Syriza victory, and for the apparent normalisation of the party, the governance of Greek society and the economy, all deeply entrenched in this crisis. This normalised state of being equals little other than a slowing down of historical time, a long-needed breathing space away from a catastrophe sequence of events. If that is so, then grassroots social and political communities in Greece are faced with a unique opportunity to push for a change of paradigm. Rather than teetering in the in-between spaces of history, this normalised government could allow for the opening up of certain spaces ― of which I can think at least three.

First: spaces of dignity and survival. A demand of decent survival (even survival as a whole) in the form of a minimum wage or the reinstating of elementary labour rights, is no small deal. This is also imperative for Syriza if it is to have any luck in stabilising its position of power in a social body that has become, for the most part, increasingly reactionary and apathetic during the crisis.

Second: spaces of rupture in the authoritarian complex. Syriza has promised the abolition of much-hated police units including the MAT riot police and the DELTA motorcycle unit, and the disarmament of all police units that come in physical contact with demonstrators. Already, in his twitter Q&A of January 14, the Syriza leader appeared to renege on that promise ― at least the part concerning the abolition of the motorcycle police. Yet he should not by any means be allowed to do so. It is unthinkable for a government of the left to have those uniformed far-right gangs in its service. It is unthinkable for it to operate migrant detention centres, high-security prisons introduced primarily for the country’s political prisoners, or the security wall at the country’s NE border. In short, Syriza must be pushed to open up a space toward the dismantling of the state apparatus as we have known it so far.

Third and most important of all: spaces for the building of structures beyond this apparatus. From soup-kitchens and solidarity clinics to self-organised public spaces, vital projects are already in place, striving to exist through and beyond this ever-encompassing web of fiscal austerity and authoritarian control.

In its post-dictatorial years of social consensus, sovereignty in Greece had the foresight to allow for a certain type of a spatial contract, a violence equilibrium by which:

a certain level of social upheaval and unrest became possible within the Athens district of Exarcheia under a mutual but muted understanding that such unrest would rarely, if at all, spill over to other parts of the city or the national territory as a whole.

While holding power, the greatest service a Syriza government could possibly offer would be to expedite the formation of a new spatial contract: a contract no longer based on the rigid, geographical boundaries of a neighbourhood and the violence contained therein, but on the formation of in-between spaces instead. Spaces of survival and of political openings, spaces in which people in the Greek territory can start to build a society that is in the long-term as much post-austerity as it is post-authority.