Friday, 19 December 2008

I entered the home of a woman...

From: Iason Athanasiadis Date: Fri, 19 Dec 2008 13:58:27 +0330 To: Simon Baddeley Subject: The tragedy of Greek apathy Dear Simon. In the end, I gave the piece to Guardian Comment and, as you can see, it's attracting a fairly lively debate! Thanks so much for the fascinating insight and historical background I couldn't hope to be able to provide on my own. Looking forward to hearing your comments. Warmly, Iason Guardian.co.uk 18/12/08: Moving back to Athens in 2003, I found a society living in denial. Greeks were skimming the cream off the last rounds of EU subsidies oblivious to the tidal wave of globalisation looming over them. I had been living in Qatar, the very definition of a globalised city-state. The return home was a welcome respite from the Arab peninsula's identikit steel-and-glass cities, where city centres had been abolished in favour of income-appropriate super-malls and the pursuit of business was supreme. On my first night in Athens, I sat in a leafy square and watched young couples enjoy ouzo and mezze as children played under the lemon trees. Some of those same children may have been torching the municipality's Christmas tree last week or chucking petrol bombs at its parliament. Greece's student intifada erupted over the shooting by a policeman of a 15-year-old student, but the anger and lasting power of the riots imply a deeper malaise. The violence and nihilism with which banks, government buildings and private cars were burned down wrong-footed the older generation. But after the smoke cleared, there was a self-conscious pause as both sides waited for lucid demands to be made. "Who if anyone is emerging?" asked Simon Baddeley, an honorary lecturer at Birmingham University's School of Government and Society in the UK, who offers coverage of the crisis through his Democracy Street blog. "The ideological stuff I've heard so far seems juvenile. Any new ideas would have surely to come linked to a set of workable economic and social ideas that don't look like the ones I'm hearing,"....

Dear Iason. You quote me correctly. My thoughts were shared with a Greek citizen I admire, about a land that has furnished my life. Omit that and my interrogatives make me sound like yet another keyboard colonel aching for tanks on the streets - something that anyone but a dunce can see is not going to happen. Indeed your piece in the Toronto Star, on 16 December, quotes columnist Alexandros Papahellas writing that 'Our problem today is not whether tanks might roll in the streets, but that even if they did they would likely collide into each other.' I'm very grateful for your thoughts, for the comments it's encouraged, and especially for MilesSmiles' reflections on a 'Western condition' - reminding me that this crisis in Greece is only momentarily Greek:

We now have pretty good reason to think that neoliberal capitalist democracy is a failed ideology, incapable of dealing with the real problems societies face. Part of the problem is that neoliberalism is a bit like Ingsoc – an ideology that is paradoxically set up to destroy the possibility of ideology. Neoliberalism atomizes social discourse so that talk of a common good becomes almost incomprehensible, since nobody is supposed to criticize anyone else's values and all that rubbish.

I hope to be saying I was wrong to comment on lack of leadership in Greece, because I was unable to recognise original thought - because I'm locked, with the rest of us (including most of the rioters, with their multilingual posters), into looking at the present in the mirror of history. It's an old forgivable error. The future may be being worked on in a beer cellar; inhabiting some 'rough beast'; a sapling indistinguishable from surrounding annuals. What may be unfold may be good and bad and will have been developing in ways that are initially parasitic, sucking meaning and agency from familiar events and institutions. I'm more puzzled about what is happening than I ought to be. I am also rather excited and optimistic. I do not feel apathetic - a Greek invention describing stoic withdrawal from the affairs of the world - and I do not think what is happening will lead to the inevitable disaster that is the essence of that misused term tragedy. I wait on the moment, embracing conversation.

* * * * This situation posted to YouTube on 16 December has had nearly 57000 hits - the banner held up so awkwardly - well, a bit 'shuffly' after a while - invites viewers to stop watching television and go on the streets. The rather longer statement by the manager of the TV station deploring the invasion - not, he insists, a 'take-over' - has had less than a 1000 hits so far - not least I suspect because he's less aware that for those for and against a cause, situationism is, outside the psychotic obscenities of Mumbai, the only game in town. Even Dubya had the wit to make a point about the size of the shoe thrown at him by a Iraqi TV journalist last Sunday. I'm reading of Robert Shoemaker on The London Mob and George Rudé on The Crowd in History.[Ref: Adam Shatz in London Review] And this piece posted 17 December by Andrew Lamm plus the conversation/comments that follow illuminates changing perspectives in the hall of mirrors within which news is created
Editor’s Note: While nearly 500 journalists and media developers met in a five-star hotel in Athens to discuss the state of the media, the city smoldered from riots organized by young people using new forms of communication. [Reminder:"Karamanlis or tanks" - the choice that Konstantinos Karamanlis, uncle of the present PM, posed to Greeks in 1974]
* * * On Thursday I took the ferry from Portsmouth Harbour Station across the estuary to Gosport - about 8 minutes - to run a workshop on Questioning, passing through London via Waterloo Bridge, dropping off for an hour with Richard Wiltshire, co-author with Deborah Burn, of Growing in the Community, published by the Local Government Association with a foreward by Baroness Andrews - "Everyone benefits from allotments and we are conscious that there is rising demand..." This is the first time government has gone beyond saying allotments are good and acknowledged that more people want them. Richard gave me an overview of his current reading of the prospects for allotments and food growing in cities which I'll summarise shortly. I wasn't home until just after one on Friday morning but was immersed in reading Obama's memoir Dreams from my Father. I watch this man with such hope and interest as he assembles his cabinet. It was fascinating to follow his mind at work, parsing his growing up and emerging identity, as the offspring of black and white - the relief of encountering a mind that can struggle with and navigate dilemmas and contradictions is almost palpable. I see my face in the window of the train, hurrying through the dark, smiling at his prose. * * * *
A political-management disconnect
Councillor Margaret Eaton (video ~ October 2008), Chair of the Local Government Association and Paul Coen, its Chief Executive who, on 12 December, via the LGA website, wrote:
Since September it has become increasingly difficult to have confidence that the political leadership and the managerial leadership of the LGA are at one on both the direction of travel and the day-to-day leadership of the Association. On Wednesday I was asked to take leave, which I have done. The LGA and I will now seek to agree a way forward. We do not believe that this will be aided by further publicity and speculation. Therefore we shall be making no further comment or answering questions until it becomes necessary.

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