In a Time of Violence: “Greece’s inconvenient outbreak of democracy” (Marshall Auerbach)

“because death is heavy”  Jack Hirschman

I see a man lying on the grass; part of him is lying on the grass, the other half of his body is on the cobbled pavement. I think maybe he is dead. Why would he be lying that way? Why not lay his entire body on the grass? I think to avoid actually passing him and having to take a closer look. Then I think I am being cowardly. Why would I shy of seeing, or admitting to this fact: a dead man in my path? So I decide to keep walking, and as I pass this body asleep, or dead, I pause. If I am truly brave I would look more closely at this man and see whether or not he is indeed dead. Maybe he is a metaphor for some “levitated elsewhere” lying on the grass, tripped out in despair.

A couple of days ago I lost it in the pharmacy when I went to buy another supply of Vitamin C. The price had gone up a euro. And the brand, “Power Health” with extra Echniacea, is Greek. “Why has this gone up?” I said to the pharmacist as a man sitting on a seat in the small space reading a newspaper looked up. The pharmacist nodded, “These products are going up,” he said, as my voice rose several decimals.  “Increasing instead of lowering prices now is crazy… People can’t afford basics. We need to stop buying anything that goes up in price!” The pharmacist nodded. The man reading the newspaper ran a shop with his wife next to the pharmacy. He put his paper down. They sold fabrics, buttons, zippers and threads. I always love going into their shop when I need something like a particular color of thread or a button, appreciating the time they take with each customer, no matter how small the job, finding a button to match a blouse, a zipper that blends into the fabric.

“So how are you suggesting we resist?” asked the man who owned the fabric shop. “By voting for Papariga?” Aleka Papariga who heads KKE, the Communist party, is forever planning protests and ongoing rallies to resist whomever and whatever happens to be the current mainstream threat. I shook my head. The pharmacist chimed in: “She means we should do without anything what goes up in price.” We had a conversation for another few minutes.

Almost anyone I run into, work with, or speak to, is prone to outbursts in the high tension of these daily uncertainties. The constant updates on suicides, pay cuts, rising unemployment, is grim. One of yesterday’s stories — a 50-something year old taking care of his 90-something- year-old mother with Alzheimer’s wrote in his note that the family owned some land “But we can’t eat or sell it”; he pushed his mother off a balcony, then jumped himself. We are living the count-down to the next elections, the next (uncertain) loan installment, as banks are being emptied of cash and people speak openly of growing tomatoes and peppers on their balconies, of merging kitchens, and ways to survive on a lot less. “This, this sickness of not knowing where this is all going has to stop!” M says, telling me of her 26 year-old-nephew, with a degree in marketing, who makes 600 Euros in a job that he has to spend 130 Euros monthly in gas mileage to keep. Yannis Varoufakis made the point: Greece is the unique example of a country in default whose debt continues to increase. It is going through a death that presented itself with brutal abruptness. It is what has put SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left, in second place in the last elections, and will potentially put it in first in the next. This sense of profound betrayal by those in government for the past 30 years, and the continuing malaise of the state to take measures, has made for a wild card of popular resistance.

In a chat with Paul Brennan, a journalist for ALJAZEERA British, we spoke of Alexis Tsipras, SYRIZA’s charismatic leader whose awkward English had him saying we would all be going to “the hell” if we kept to this course of austerity. Tsipras, who cunningly referred to Chancellor Merkel as Madame Merkel, is Europe’s current nightmare. But why is Europe so surprised — the international press suddenly inflamed with headlines about Alexis Tsipras’ “danger” to the Eurozone efforts to keep itself afloat? I’m not a fan, but I have to say he has displayed the kind of guts that was sorely lacking and desperately needed when the diagnosis of bankruptcy was first made in 2010. Maybe then, with the right kinds of treatments, the nation body may still have been saved. Tsipras’ bravado and some believe insane, rhetoric of resistance is probably coming too late and it is often articulated in alarming and extremist discourse. But he represents the fact that people are precisely that, that they will express their resistance, even at great cost to themselves, when their fundamental humanity is threatened. Who knows if he or anyone can force Madame Merkel et al to reconsider the fact that austerity has not only devastated a country but strengthened the economic contagion?

“SYRIZA doesn’t want to tear up the agreement,” says E, who is a supporter. “It’s that we can’t pay all this money back in a matter of 2-3 years. We need 5 or 10.” Madame Merkel has had the shock of her life, calling the President of the Greek Republic Carolos Papoulias in the middle of the night, almost mandating that he find a way to form a government that will support the measures. In a world where the covert violences of what Marshall Rosenberg calls the game of rewards and punishment in which “domination cultures” decide what and who is right, the “Greek outburst” is throwing a wrench in these surely mistaken “politics of the north.” Last week T arranged for a workshop on Rosenberg’s “Non-Violent Communication” methodologies led by G, an advocate and facilitator of Rosenberg’s philosophy.

It was enlightening in the context of what we’re all living through to listen to some of the strategies Marshall Rosenberg uses. He talks of “natural giving,” of differentiating feelings from needs, how to make requests as opposed to demands. He’s an American from the Midwest and to some in the audience of mainly Greek students, perhaps seemed “too American” for his optimistic, hands-on, approach to problem-solving. But his main premise, that violence is the result of distorted, refused or misunderstood needs, is valuable. Rosenberg’s formula is simple: take responsibility for feelings by naming them correctly. Perhaps this is one way to read the May 6 election results, to see them as the voicing of a people chaffing under the double bind of a collapsing state and the shrill threats of the European Central Bank, the IMF and Madame Merkel. Logic, the consequence of a responsible use of logos, is what Rosenberg advocates, and it presumes a respect for the other, and their needs. Madame Merkel is oblivious or indifferent or both to such, and of course it’s not her direct responsibility when Greece’s leadership has failed so spectacularly to protect its people from this strangulation.

T says there is really no leadership in our times, as everything is controlled, and run, by so many interests. He says we are in a period of entropy that will bring new beginnings. On the streets, in the shops, we speak to one another as if we’re in mid-conversation. T now knows the people working at the supermarket where he gets his groceries on a first-name basis. After the NVC workshop G says, “The Greeks aren’t very good at obeying but if you ask for something you really need there’s still philotimo…” He made the point in the context of Rosenberg’s “request versus demand” paradigm. The Greeks famously resisted the Italian invasion of October 28, 1940, with their “ΟΧΙ” (“NO”). It was the Balkan Campaign of WWII, which resulted in “Operation Marita” (known too as the Battle of Greece) in which the guerilla resistance to the Axis powers some historians believe played a decisive role in delaying the Germans’ invasion of the Soviet Union which determined the course of the war. Someone makes the analogy: “Germany expected the Greeks to accept these terms without resistance. We’ve delayed them again.” There is a Greek saying that seems to speak to the moment: ΜΑΖΙ ΜΕ ΤΑ ΧΕΡΑ ΚΑΙΓΟΝΤΑΙ ΚΑΙ ΤΑ ΧΛΟΡΑ which roughly translates as “the green shoots will burn with the dried brush.” We keep telling each other we are entering into new spaces, the old structures are coming apart, and we are witness to the unraveling. T repeats the need to resist giving into fear. D at work tells me “I never stole a thing in my life.. but I’m paying for thieves.” I’m dismissive, “You’re in good company… think of what people went through in the past.”

“That’s what my wife tells me” he says soberly, “she says to respect the dead.”

“We have to let the rot die. Maybe there’ll be some hope if that happens.”

“Do you have the courage?” D looks me in the eyes.

“I guess I’ll find out,” I say.

About akalfopoulou

Author of three poetry collections, a book of essays, Ruin, Essays in Exilic Living, and most recently, A History of Too Much (Red Hen Press 2018).
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