A Golden Dawn demonstration in Athens, June 27, 2012. (Flickr/Steve Jurvetson)
There’s a shadow play going on in Athens, a symbolic political war that also involves real actors and real bombs. The one that went off on Sunday in a suburban shopping mall owned by oligarch Spiros Latsis peppered the front pages of this morning’s papers with shrapnel—“Security cameras show four hooded men”; “Police speak of new terrorist generation”—and made The New York Times: “Bomb Attacks in Greece Raise Fear of Radicalism.” Over the last ten days there have been small explosions outside the homes of pro-government journalists, at banks and local party headquarters and in the building where the brother of the government spokesman lives; someone shot a Kalashnikov into the empty office of the prime minister. So far the only casualty has been people’s sense of security and sanity, the feeling that they can grasp what’s happening around them—but that’s been in intensive care now for some time.
Who’s doing this, and why? The attacks outside journalists’ homes were claimed by an obscure group calling itself the Lovers of Lawlessness/Militant Minority, but that doesn’t tell us much. They could be, as the government says, “far-left anarchists”; they could be, as some on the left say, provocateurs linked to a murky parastate intent on more repression; they could be both at once. But whoever they are, their actions are part of a tightening, an escalation of tension, a narrowing of possibilities, that seems to be gathering speed.
Violence has been simmering for some time in Greece, not just among the young who rioted in Athens in December 2008 but among older people, too. Austerity wears the gentleness out of people’s hearts. At first it was mostly rhetoric. “There are plenty of guns in Athens, plenty of guns, you wait,” an elderly man shouted at me back in 2011. Words became weapons: “They should all be hanged”; “Burn the brothel parliament”; “There’s going to be blood”; “I want Golden Dawn in parliament to beat the others up.” But from the beginning, there was physical violence too: in the attacks on migrants by Golden Dawn supporters with the connivance of the state; in the beating of peaceful protesters and the wild spraying of tear gas by the riot police; in the rain of stones and Molotovs at every demonstration; in the surge of suicides. You could say that hunger and homelessness in the midst of plenty are a kind of violence, too.
That’s not to say that these things are equivalent, or that one form of violence justifies another, only that violence in itself is nothing new. What is new, perhaps, is violence as spectacle, part of a coded dialogue: security theater against the propaganda of the deed. I’m not sure which of the two I dislike more.