Saturday, 26 November 2011

When is an egg not an egg?

Answer: When it is a political act.

On the 25 of September 2011 Marina Demetriades took aim at the head of her local member of Parliament (Mr. Othona) with an egg. She did not miss.

This occured in Rethimno, on the island of Crete, during a severe economic downturn. Many people were angry about the failure of the government to keep its promises to protect public services, and angry about the drastic cuts in wages, pensions and rights. On the monring in question Mr. Othona was speaking to a crowd. He had chosen to speak about the importance of the bicycle.

On the 10th of October Marina appeared in court and was sentenced to five months in prison - a sentence that was suspended for three years. The charge in Greek was εξύβριση, which translates as insult or abuse. During the 8-hour trial Mr. Othona did not appear, and the court raised no objection to his failure to appear.

After the incident Marina set up a website to post her defence - a defence that she was not allowed to read out in court. It is a long defence with a long and detailed list of Mr Othona's broken promises, quoting the fine things he had said as an opposition politician, and contrasting them with the recent policies that he was supporting and (as a member of the government) was partly responsible for.

Her blog has attracted a very long list of comments. Reading them, we see that another ugly battle is raging - a hermeneutic battle - a battle to decide how Marina's act is to be read.

What did she do? To her sympathizers she was expressing the collective rage of citizens who were being treated badly by the government and who were being denied a voice in any meaningful democratic process:

"I believe your act expresses a huge part of this downtrodden populus"

"Με την πράξη σου εξέφρασες μεγάλο κομμάτι του ταλαιπωρημένου λαού μας πιστεύω..."

To her opponents her act was childish:

"Citizens acting like impetuous 10-year-olds and 'revolutionary' dreamers..."

"Πολίτες με θυμικό δεκάχρονου και "επαναστατικές" ονειρώξεις. Σας απολαύσαμε από το καλοκαίρι στις πλατείες. Μεγάλο κίνημα, σπουδαία παραγωγή ιδεών. Lifestyle και άγιος ο θεός. Και μετά απορούμε γιά τα χάλια μας."

Or the act represented a rejection of democratic principles and was tantamount to Fascism:

"I disagree with your act and find it clearly Fascistic ... every form of totalitarianism has begun with a denigration of the institutions of democracy and of the people representing it."

"Δεν συμφωνώ με την ενέργεια σου, την οποία βρίσκω καθαρά φασιστική. Σαν ιστορικός θα έπρεπε ίσως να σκεφτείς πως όλοι οι ολοκληρωτισμοί ξεκίνησαν με την απαξίωση των δημοκρατικών θεσμών και των προσώπων αυτών που μέσα από δημοκρατικές διαδικασίες τους αντιπροσωπεύουν."

On the whole, both the sympathisers and the critics see the act as political. By contrast, to the court (if I have understood correctly) the act had no political significance whatsoever. It was simply an act which insulted/abused/attacked another individual (and it was presumably supposed to be irrelevant that the individual in question was a member of the government).

Marina, herself, seems to be troubled by these different readings and is not sure how to interpret her act. Near the end of her home page, after the long defence of her act, she says:

"There is no way I would recommend egg-throwing as a form of social/political opposition. And, to be honest, I don't know how to react when people stop me and congratulate me in Rethimno especially since I have done other things that I consider much more praiseworthy than egg-throwing, although those acts have gone unnoticed."

"Σε καμιά περίπτωση δεν προτείνω την αυγοβολή ως πολιτική στάση και μορφή κοινωνικού αγώνα! Και πραγματικά δεν ξέρω πώς πρέπει να αντιδρώ όταν με σταματάει κόσμος στο Ρέθυμνο και μου δίνει συγχαρητήρια, τη στιγμή που θεωρώ πως έχω κάνει πιο αξιόλογα πράγματα από το να πετάξω ένα αυγό και δεν έτυχαν ανάλογης υποδοχής!"

This hesitancy after such a bold act is surprising, especially in the light of the fact that Marina is a historian. History is a bloody story, and the history of modern Western democracies is no exception. How many were established by a polite and peaceful transfer of power?

Is Fukuyama correct, and does the current status quo represent some great historical end point, beyond which nothing better can be hoped for or fought for?

If this is not the end of history, then there may be one or two revolutions to come before the Earth heats up too much and becomes uninhabitable. It would be nice if those revolutions could be polite and respectful and bloodless, and even eggless and yoghurtless. It would be nice if the oligarchs could be politely persuaded to step down and allow a new form of democracy to flourish. Perhaps they will. It would be nice, for instance, if the bankers could be persuaded to let the whole business of printing and distributing money come under democratic political control. Perhaps they will. It would be nice if the mulitnational corporations and the "markets" would listen attentively to the arguments of the new democrats. Perhaps they will. But the lesson from history is that they probably won't.

Democracy (if it is not to be a smokescreen for oligarchy) needs a public arena in which the most articulate voices from the grass roots can be heard, and in which voices can be given to the forces for change in society. As it stands, that public arena has largely been closed off. Walls have been built with heavy doors guarded by armed men. An interesting comment Marina made in passing was that on the day of the demonstrations she was disappointed to see how reluctant the TV channels were to let any of the demonstrators speak. The floor was given to journalists, politicians and other talking heads who speculated about what the demonstrators might be wanting and what the protests might mean.

When voices are excluded from the democratic process by high walls and doors guarded by armed men, true democrats will feel the historical need to have those doors opened. Of course, we must first ask politely for the people inside to open them and politely persuade the guards to let us in. If they refuse though...


Anonymous said...

I would like to congratulate you on the development of an English blog for Marina's 'egg braking' on the head of a deputy Minister. Othonas, the Minister, who does not deserve to be called a mister, is a 'traitor' because he betrayed the future of all the young people like Marina. He together with his colleagues of the so called 'socialists' (PASOK)are destroying each single day the economy of Greece, and should be tried for treason against the people of Greece. Their sentence can be none other exile and the confiscation of all their belongings. Bravo Marina, you have started a movement, let us hope we have the courage to continue it by getting rid of all the politicians that brought Greece to this terrible situation.

Torn Halves said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I agree that the politicians need to be held to account, and if they aren't being held to account, valiant people need (at the very least) to break a few eggs over their heads. However, it is a mistake to put all the blame on 300 corrupt individuals. Let's not lose sight of the entire economic system that is built on debt, dispossession, exploitation and protecting the largest power brokers from those who might want to call them to account. The system doesn't have a head against which eggs could be broken. Other tactics are called for.

Anonymous said...

Marina had the courage to break an egg on the head of the Deputy Minister Othonas, who betrayed his voters. As her father, I do not approve her act, and do not recommend it as an action against politicians. Nevertheless, it was her way of bringing the problems that are affecting all the Hellenic people to the surface, and also had the courage to face the consequences. Othonas, and the PASOK government have been voted by the people for a completely different programme. Instead, they are ruining the economy of the country, and destroying the dreams of the present and future generations. This is the main reason of Marina's protest. Apart from the economy, they are destroying University education, but also primary and secondary education. Hence, the solution is to exostracise them and to confiscate their property, as the Ancient Greeks used to do to traitors. I do agree with a previous commentor that we cannot blame all 300 members of Parliament, but we can certainly blame the two parties that have governed Hellas since 1974. We can certainly blame also the existing President, who was part of the political system, and as I undestand, in this difficult time, he is paid 1000 Euro per day, and with some extras, his annual salary is somewhere in the region of 380,000 Euro. I could not believe it! In addition, the present coalition Government has increased the subsidy to the political parties, again another unforgivable act. So, we should protest in a more effective way, and if necessary break on the 'hard' heads of the politicians not a chicken egg, but an ostrich egg in order to pound some sense into their 'empty hard' heads. Marina's father. Do please correct Marina's surname; it is 'Demetriades'.

Torn Halves said...

Mr Demetriades, Thank you very much for droppping by and sharing your thoughts (and helping us correct our spelling). Ι share your outrage about the way Greek politicians are being allowed to get away with a crime tantamount to the sodomising of an entire economy. However, as I said earlier it is important not to get too fixated with personalities. It is not enough to change the faces of the stooges who get to ride around in the parliamentary limousines. We need to get rid of the limousines and the whole nepotistic and clientalistic politico-economic framework that makes a mockery of democracy. If Greeks think that democracy means more than "choose your dictator", they should start demanding it with a voice that cannot be ignored. We need a million Marinas. Where are they?

Anonymous said...

Dear Tom Halves, I do agree with you that we need one million Marinas. At present you may say they are incubating. Unfortunately it takes a very long time for Hellenic people to realise that every body must think first of his/her country, and then himself. It took four hundred years to rebel against the Turkish occupation of Hellas, because there were no leaders, and many Hellenes found a way to profit. I am hoping that it will not take so long for the people to realise that this corrupt political system must end for the benefit of present and future generations. I do agree with all your points, and Marina is also thinking along the same lines. The problem is that the harsh austerity measures that are affecting the majority of the Hellenes, makes it difficult for them to think ahead. The majority is still thinking only of the next day, the daily bread, which is completely the wrong attitude. Democracy, yes indeed, it is unbelievable, but we in Hellas must fight to bring back democracy, because the system we have now is not at all democratic. I would say it is an oligarchy, and the present government, not elected by the people, is a form of dictatorship. We say that the 300 Spartans sacrificed themselves to save Hellas and the Hellenic people. At present Hellas and the Hellenic people are being sacrificed to save the 300+1 members of Parliament. Let us hope that this difficult time, will make the Hellenic people think of the future, and an honest group of people take the initiative to form a new political party, and wins the next elections. We definitely need honest persons like Monti in Italy, and many Marinas to make these changes and transform Hellas into a true Democracy. A. Demetriades