A Dismantling State

“Is it because disjointed reality cannot be grasped, or because disjointed consciousness is unable to grasp?” Mahmoud Darwish, Memory for Forgetfulness

by Dimitra Vladimirou

Boundaries blur in extremity. Or explode. The whispering person asking for a euro, or the daily occurrence of those on the subway reciting their narratives of despair, with the shared refrain of “anything you have will be a help,” are now the norm in Athens. And while it was refugees and immigrants who would scour the trash for paper and metal to sell, it is now, also Greeks. I say this in light of a series of recent events. In an attempt to “grasp” as Darwish put it the “disjointed consciousness” and facts which threaten to annihilate whatever is left of individual sovereignty. As A said “Greek sovereignty was long gone” with the signing on of the mnimonio which brought in the IMF et al. It will certainly go down as one of the dark chapters of contemporary Greek history, along with the slew of scandals that led up to that moment, and beyond –  the moment which urged George Papandreou onto the international stage speaking for Greece, and (in the same breath) speaking of its insolvency and bankrupt economy. While many speak of his “betrayal” of the Greek state, I felt the jury was out for a long time, believing he too as appalled as the rest of us in his inheritance of the state’s economic shambles. But then, what of his campaign that foregrounded the corruption, rather than focusing on measures to address it –he was after all the country’s prime minister. In more forgiving moments I thought perhaps this was a case of a well-meaning guy in over his head.

So the infamous “list” has finally become public, or a version of it – the one given to Christine Lagarde in 2010 when she was the French finance minister (names that suggested the possibility of high-end tax dodgers, or at the least hefty Swiss bank accounts with sums that needed to match declared tax statements; a similar list sold to other nations by a former HSBC employee which apparently Lagarde noted had been used to check for tax evaders ) – I’m wishing the genius of a writer like Roberto Bolanõ could do justice to the “visceral reality” (Bolanõ )of these attempts & half-attempts at cover ups which have turned “The Story of the List” into a telling metaphor for the country’s tragedy of failed leadership.  Maybe it’s also time to reread John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces in the context of Greece’s disastrous governments. The list had been sent to George Papaconstantinou in 2010 the finance minister in the George Papandreou government. A man who had the inspired idea that people would get a tax cut for providing accumulated receipts with their tax statements to prove that taxes were being paid with the exchange of goods. The measure backfired when the state was faced with amounts of receipts it couldn’t in fact provide any tax cut on, bankrupt that it was. This is to say that the big story, or the main story – the millions and billions siphoned off into foreign accounts amount to a sizable percent of the deficit which austerity in all its dehumanizing, grimly bloodless application has been unable to curb, and continues to exacerbate.  The public debt in April reached 165.3 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (more than three times of the EU limit), which in 2009 before mnimonio was at 119 percent, and is expected to reach 179 percent by 2013. So what do these numbers mean as they produce the “numb depression” and “smell of fear” Maria Margaroni describes in her chilling Guardian article that describes the rise of Greece’s Golden Dawn fascist party; for one, it makes government negligence and mismanagement criminal. Last week the public prosecutor asked George Papaconstantinou what happened to the list of some 2000 plus names made available to him by Christine Lagarde. Names that included politicians, businessmen, people from the entertainment and media worlds, and other supposedly more ordinary folks. I happened to have the television on that evening, amazed as I watched a rather expressionless Papaconstantinou matter-of-factly admit to having no idea as to what had happened to the list; he had copied the names onto a memory stick and given it to Evangelos Venizelos who had taken over as Finance Minister. Meanwhile Venizelos, furious at Papaconstantinou’s allegations that he had access to the list, said he had never received any such thing. Since then, last Saturday, the list turned up in the journalist Kostas Baxevanis’ Hot Doc investigative journal. And when asked how he received this information, he said laconically “by one of the people it was given to.”

Baxevanis was arrested, a fact that had journalists, and the Athens chapter of “Journalists without Borders” noting that this raised questions about freedom of expression and speech. In Baxevanis’ words, “Instead of arresting the tax evaders the state is arresting journalists spreading the word.”  The point is “The Story of the List” highlights how, and why, we are having phenomena like the growing popularity of Golden Dawn fascists now polled at 3rd place, after SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Left. In Maria Margaroni’s words from her Guardian piece, Golden Dawn is “moving into the gaps left open by the Greek state.” What no one seems to be addressing is what D correctly points out as the fascism in the mainstream press, how Golden Dawn and their ilk have become the decoy for NOT cleaning up the mess, for covering up a now obvious fact that no one in government has taken the necessary measures to pursue let alone prosecute tax evaders and those responsible for the (untaxed) millions in foreign accounts. According to Baxevanis’ article there were accounts that contained as much as 500 million euros. When there is no accountability – and there has (outrageously) been none – you get movements like Golden Dawn gaining unholy ground. How, for example, can George Papandreou actually say that he was “unaware of the list” when it was given to his finance minister (!)… you get, too, the cynicism that makes for some black-humored relief (Bolanõ again)… “So Mr. Papaconstantinou doesn’t know what happened to the stick?” said one journalist on Monday morning, “well now he can get the information in hard copy from the nearest kiosk.”

In a chapter of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer titled “Biopolitics and the Rights of Man” he speaks, with Arendt, on the birth of the nation state as representative of human sovereignty. That the French “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen” of 1789 considers the state’s legitimacy as equal to its capacity to be the “bearer” of these rights, so man vanishes into “the figure of the citizen.” This assumes that “every political association is the preservation of the natural and indefeasible rights of man.” In other words, national sovereignty is achieved through the protection and expression of rights inherent to human life. “Rights are attributed to man (or originate in him) solely to the extent that man is the immediately vanishing ground… of the citizen.” These foundations of sovereignty Agamben notes were devastated in the First World War, then came Nazism and fascism. National Socialist ideology upheld as it is by the “syntagm [of] ‘blood and soil’” found fertile ground in the broken state and its humiliations to seed essentialist myths of cultural purity and nationhood, a  “solution” to the dissolution of consciousness, as much as of sovereignty. We are at that moment again.

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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2 Responses to A Dismantling State

  1. “i don’t know where the list is, i don’t remember the list, i don’t know what you are talking about”…reality is fragmented, memory fragmented -the state may be dismantled but worse, our souls are being dismantled.

  2. Artemis says:

    We have an undeniable “stick” in the USA. One that has been discovered, disclosed and despite all lies is running for the presidency under the guise of “truth.” Let’s hope the American people won’t let Mitt stick.

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