Who are ‘we’?

Art and Resistance in a Borderline Democracy

During these years of crisis, many German and French officials have visited Greece, including Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande. What was reported time and time again was that, alongside the necessary discussions of the various phases of the Greek ‘rescue’, the meetings these officials held with Greek leaders included the promotion of German and French business interests, particularly with regard to Greece’s fast-track privatisation programme, imposed as part of the ‘reforms’ associated with the ‘rescue’ and demanded by the troika of IMF, EC and ECB. The French were reported to be especially interested in water supply. The Germans prefer transport.

There is of course nothing essentially ‘German’ or ‘French’ about the companies that are poised to buy infrastructure or public services in Greece – they are just companies, most of them multinational. But the fact that a promotion of their interests forms a part of political negotiations, which determine the fate of Greece, a sovereign state, clearly means that the projection of power that safeguards these interests is very much understood along national lines. It means, furthermore, that a certain notion of economic and political ‘unification’ – and even ‘solidarity’ – is being employed to force a sovereign state to abandon essential interests, at the expense of the well-being of its citizens, effectively transferring power not to supranational governing bodies in Brussels, as was the much debated case with EU legislation in previous years, but to other seats of national sovereignty.

Some supporters of current European policies argue that such observations are ‘nationalist’, a trait of Greece’s overall ‘backwardness’, which is after all the reason this country fails to keep up with the pace of ‘European modernisation’. What they fail to acknowledge, however, or they purposefully obfuscate, is that this loss of sovereignty is not conceived of as an attack on abstract national pride, but as an attack on the democratic process: we are not governed by those we have elected, and those we have elected are no longer accountable to us. And we need to point to this reduction of accountability in order to understand how, in these years of crisis, the values that were assumed to be the backbone of ‘union’, and which were in Greece, as in other countries, considered solid for a time, values such as the rights to due process, fair trial, assembly and protest, protection from cruel and unusual punishment, protection from excesses of state power, and even the right of self-determination, have been so aggressively undermined.

To sum up these introductory remarks, although the ‘European Project’ still inexplicably retains for some a progressive, even emancipatory, meaning, it has to be said that there is an unbridgeable gap between a ‘United Europe’ as a guiding concept, and the actual reality on the ground: i.e. national antagonisms, generating policies that produce stunning inequalities, rapid impoverishment, and an erosion of democratic liberties. If a ‘United Europe’ has for a time been a political expression of humanist values, it has now come to represent their debasement.

So, in what sense should we conceive of resistance in the field of cultural practice, as we have come to know it in the last couple of decades? Could we aspire to a practice that contributes to such resistance, or gives meaning to it, or forms part of a public discourse that seeks to, as it were, speak truth to power? In order to outline some elements that I believe an answer to these questions should include, I will bring us a rather long way around: firstly, I will give some examples of the political situation on the ground, as my colleagues and I have observed and reported on it in Greece, so that the dark reality of what we are up against becomes a little more defined.1 Secondly, I will try to establish a relationship between the current political situation and the prevalent political narrative of the period between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s, the so-called ‘period of prosperity’, a narrative that I will term the ideology of modernisation, and which largely still provides the dominant description of current political events. And lastly, I will argue that this ideology is central to the way in which cultural practice was (and is) shaped in its more visible forms, and that any concept of resistance should acknowledge the operation of this ideology, and include an active quest for conflict and destabilisation of the very structures on which cultural production has come to depend.

Em Kei: Monument to the Unknown Hooligan (2006-2009). Bronze, marble, concrete. Installation view, 2nd Athens Biennale 2009 (Heaven).

Concentration Camps, Police Torture, and a ‘Health Bomb’

Seventy, eighty, sometimes a hundred people are bundled into a holding cell. They stay there for up to ten months. They are not allowed out in the open at all. They shit in plastic bags. If they protest, they are beaten. Others are squeezed into containers, seven or eight people at a time. Rows of containers are fenced off with barbed wire, guarded by special police with submachine guns on makeshift towers. They are only let out for one or two hours a day. There is hardly any air conditioning in the containers, and the summer is hot. They cannot wash their clothes. Psoriasis is rampant. If they protest, they are beaten.

All this would be horrific if it were the punishment of convicted criminals. These people have not been convicted of anything at all. Most of them are not even charged with any crime. All they’ve done is ‘be’ immigrants, whose bad luck has landed them in Greece. They were rounded up in Athens and other cities, in so-called ‘sweep operations’, collectively named – in a grotesque euphemism – Operation Zeus Xenios, after the ancient Greek god of hospitality. As has been pointed out by lawyers, such incarceration of immigrants is unlawful, except in very specific cases, to say nothing of mass detentions, or incarceration in inhumane conditions, without charge or legal representation.

Concentration camps for immigrants, drug users and homeless people were first talked about in pre-Olympic Greece, in 2004, with the purpose of ‘improving’ the image of the streets of Athens. The Olympics were planned by the government of Kostas Simitis, who was elected with the PASOK party, and took place during the government of Kostas Karamanlis, who was elected with the New Democracy party. The first concentration camp was to be constructed in the old NATO army base, in Aspropyrgos, near Athens. The plan never materialised due to the reaction by NGOs and leftwing parties and organisations. It was discussed again when Christos Markogiannakis of New Democracy took over the Ministry of Public Order, in 2009, but once more was not put into practice. The individual who finally gave life to the idea that a modern democracy should imprison immigrants without due process or trial in containers fenced off with barbed wire was Minister of Public Order Michalis Chrysochoidis of PASOK, currently Minister of Transport. He did it in the run-up to Greece’s 2012 national elections – the elections that were to decide, according to most European media, whether Greece would remain in the bosom of its European family by electing the moderate pro-European New Democracy party, or embrace the dreaded isolationist radical leftwing SYRIZA (in reality a moderate left-wing party).

During the same days, before the elections, TV stations all over Greece suddenly started blurting out that at first one and then a group of prostitutes were detained by the Greek police and forcibly tested for HIV by a special contingent of the Ministry of Health, while in custody. When found positive, their mug shots and full personal data were published on the Internet within hours, and they were carted off to prison and charged with grievous bodily harm with intent, for purposefully infecting customers with HIV. For days on end, the media spoke of the ‘prostitutes that dealt out death’. Talk show hosts congratulated the authorities on their crackdown on illegal prostitution, even if carried out with much delay. The Minister of Public Order Michalis Chrysochoidis went on TV to say that immigrants and homeless persons should at last be subjected to the rule of law and healthcare regulations. The Minister of Health Andreas Loverdos insisted that his new provision for arrested persons to be subjected to forced tests was necessary, indeed vital, to protect us from a ‘health bomb’ that was about to explode in our midst. And he continued to make the assertion he had been making for almost a year at that point, that the ‘Greek family’ was in danger from ‘African immigrants who brought over HIV’. Hundreds of women were detained and forcibly tested during the police operations of those days.

However, of the 32 women finally arrested, publicly exposed and charged with a felony, only one was found to be a prostitute, possibly a victim of human trafficking. The others were mostly drug addicts, picked off the street. Most of them were Greek, and none were African. In any case, epidemiological data on HIV in Greece show that women are a minority among those infected. There is no ‘health bomb’. The data shows an increase of infections among intravenous drug users – some argue as a result of increased drug use during the crisis. Nothing was presented either by the Ministry of Health, nor that of Public Order, to support their claim that the publication of the women’s photos was necessary for the protection of public health. Of those who supposedly contacted the authorities, after the arrests were made public, in order to get tested for HIV, no one ever maintained that the women arrested infected them, purposefully or otherwise. Instead, the story just gradually faded out, as the media concentrated on the post-election political challenges. The felony charges were quietly dropped, even though the women spent months in pre-trial incarceration. Eight of the women have been acquitted since then; others still face reduced charges. Their photos and personal information were taken off the police website, but, as would be expected, they are still all over the Internet.2

The Greek police have continued to publish photographs and personal information of citizens arrested on various charges, asking the public to provide additional information on other crimes they may have committed. Greek law states that the publication of photos or data of arrested persons awaiting trial is prohibited, except in cases of public danger. One is hard pressed to understand what sort of ‘public danger’ is averted through the publication of photos of arrested demonstrators – let alone HIV positive women – nevertheless the police keep doing it and the judicial authorities keep supporting the practice.

In February 2013 the practice was taken to a new level. The police published photos of four youths arrested on robbery and terrorism charges. When reporters and members of the public pointed out that the photos had evidently been photoshopped, and rather crudely for that matter, the police finally released several unaltered photos of those arrested. The second set of photos made it clear that the arrested men had been brutally beaten. The Minister of Public Order Nikos Dendias was then asked why the first series of photos had been altered. His reply was that it was done so that the accused would be ‘recognisable’.

Internal Affairs were quick to clear the police of any wrongdoing. A hasty inquiry found that the accused had been wounded during the struggle that led to their arrest. This was hard to believe. For one, the accused were armed with assault rifles and the police disarmed them, which makes it implausible that the arrest led to the kind of prolonged fistfight that could have resulted in such beatings. Secondly, before the Internal Affairs inquiry was undertaken, local police authorities where the arrests took place gave a press conference in which they mentioned nothing about a struggle during the arrest. On the contrary, they pointed out that no one was hurt. And the lawyers for the accused subsequently reiterated the sadly not unheard of police practice of beating handcuffed detainees. These incidents appear against a background of a torrent of complaints for abuse and torture by the Greek police, as reported by Amnesty International, which also documents 12 cases where the European Court of Human Rights has convicted Greece for police crimes.3

In June 2013, the Greek government suddenly announced it would be shutting down the national TV and radio broadcaster, ERT. The reasoning was that it was ‘corrupt’. Indeed, a couple of hours after the announcement, the switch was pulled, and TV screens just went black. Riot police were sent to guard the transmitters. This unprecedented shutting down of a national broadcaster by a democratic government did not go through Parliament. It was done by decree. Greek law stipulates that in certain cases of emergency, the government may legislate by decree, but it is still obliged to subsequently bring the new law to Parliament for ratification. This has not been done. It isn’t the first time. The Greek governments of the past four years have been legislating by decree in dozens of cases. It is not an exaggeration to say that Parliament is gradually becoming irrelevant.

The Extremism of the Centre

The instances of authoritarian tactics by the Greek government, including the internationally reported brutal suppression of demonstrations, are so numerous that it needs to be pointed out at this stage that the political parties and politicians who designed and implemented these policies are not what in traditional political terms one would call ‘extreme’. Rather they belong to the so-called moderates; they belong to the political centre. PASOK is an acronym of Panhellenic Socialist Movement, a party that emerged from socialist groups of the 1970s, but was squarely centre-left in government through the 1980s and 1990s. New Democracy is a centre-right party, whose leader, the prime minister from 2004-2010 Costas Karamanlis, championed the term middle space for that area of the political spectrum inclusive of all moderates, from both Left and Right.

The architect of the concentration camps, Michalis Chrysochoidis, is a socialist. Andreas Loverdos, he of the HIV immigrant ‘health bomb’, who also hailed the creation of the camps as a major breakthrough, is another socialist. And Minister of Public Order Nikos Dendias of New Democracy, who brought the practice of herding immigrants into camps to full bloom, is a self-described ‘liberal’. Let’s hold on to the fact that it was the centre and not any political extremists who made these policies – it will come up again further on. In any case, it is, I believe, not an exaggeration to call these policies – concentration camps for immigrants, HIV witch-hunts, torture of arrested persons – fascist. All the more so, since they did not come without an associated rhetoric that sought to legitimise the practices as integral parts of the political outlook and a necessary tool of state administration. It was, after all, our current Prime Minister Antonis Samaras who said, before the 2012 elections, that he sought to be given ‘the power of a nation’, right before he also stated that our cities were under occupation by immigrants and we should ‘reoccupy’ them.

This is why, incidentally, the targeting of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, as directed by the Greek government only after its many attacks and murders of immigrants led to the murder of a Greek, must be transparent. It is not just that having Makis Voridis, the New Democracy spokesman, call Golden Dawn a ‘criminal organization’ is the height of hypocrisy, as Mr Voridis was formerly a leader of the extreme nationalist party Greek Front, and before that had served as secretary for the Youth Organization of EPEN, a fascist party, having succeeded in this position Nikos Michaloliakos, the current leader of Golden Dawn. Neither is it just that Golden Dawn’s crimes and collusion with parts of the Greek authorities, particularly in the police and the judiciary, were so well documented by independent journalists for so long that there could be absolutely no excuse for the murderously delayed reaction by the Government. It is that it should become clear to all that in the erosion of Greek democracy, Golden Dawn never was the principal culprit, it was only the most brutal: this honour belongs to those who have been governing Greece.4

The fact, however, that the governments of Greece have retreated from democracy to such an extent as to implement fascist policies, should not lead us to believe that the historical example of the rise of Fascism in the 1930s also holds true in our time. The policies may be comparable – and thus merit the designation – but the idea that radical right extremist policies have come about as a result of the inaction – economic and political – of the moderate centre does not provide a useful description for contemporary Greece and Europe. The truly radical actor here is the moderate centre.

The Ideology of Modernisation

After the mid-1990s, the concept of modernisation, which has featured powerfully in political discourse in Greece ever since the founding of the modern Greek state and even earlier, underwent a crucial transformation. The political centre, spearheaded by new PASOK leader Kostas Simitis and a new generation of politicians associated with him, branded ‘the modernisers’, proposed that modernisation should be thought of as exempt from any ‘traditional’ political antagonism: they rearticulated it in effect as an ‘apolitical’ concept. The governments that followed, including the opposing centre-right party New Democracy of Kostas Karamanlis, followed by the crisis governments of George Papandreou, Loukas Papademos, and Antonis Samaras, have all subscribed to the same doctrine, according to which modernisation is neither ‘left-wing’ nor ‘right-wing’, it is simply the implementation of tangible, ‘realistic’ measures in order to bring about ‘development’, it is a matter of wanting ‘progress’ as opposed to ‘stagnation’. There is no left-wing or right-wing progress, they argue, there is simply progress.

Peter Dreher: Day by Day It Is A Good Day (1974-2007). Oil on canvas. Installation view, 1st Athens Biennale 2007 (Destroy Athens).
Peter Dreher: Day by Day It Is A Good Day (1974-2007). Oil on canvas. Installation view, 1st Athens Biennale 2007 (Destroy Athens).

The political divide, therefore, is not between Left and Right, but rather between those who support modernisation and those who resist it. This apolitical concept of modernisation is related to developments in European politics in at least four ways. The first is historical: the real or imagined conflict between modernisation/Europe and provincialism/the Orient has deep and obvious roots in modern Greek political discourse. The second is its promise of stability and prosperity through ‘European integration’: the mighty post-war European democracies and prosperous markets, with their undisputed records of functional social contracts and unimpeded economic development, acting as a shield against a repeat of Greece’s turbulent, undemocratic history of the 1950s-1970s. The third is the way it reflects the gradual dominance of a post-political paradigm: the notion of modernisation in Greece was constructed in ahistorical, essentialist terms, much in the way that the notion of Western democracy was constructed as a haven of pluralism, the champion of human rights, the fearless foe of all totalitarianisms, defining itself in opposition to this essential enemy (despite evidence of collusion and support, from the rise of totalitarian regimes to the present). And the fourth – an extension of the third – is the way in which it foreshadows the conclusion of Europe’s increasingly post-democratic outlook: any articulation of an alternative, left or right-wing, that posits the welfare of the people as taking priority over technocratic orthodoxy is deemed populist, thus excluding the notion of the people as a legitimate concept in democratic political discourse.5

The centre was thus refashioned into the true radical political force, effecting real change in society, and all opponents, whatever their political rationale, became by default conservative or reactionary: the religious, nationalist and/or extreme Right, communists, the militant Left, anarchists of all persuasions, peaceful or militant, the moderate Left, and even such things as ecology activists and the anti-globalisation movement. The interesting fact is that this new radicalism of the centre is not a lie. It is indeed the moderate centre that articulated a ‘positive’ – in the formal sense – discourse, one arguing for change, implementing an attack on established social relations. This logically relegated the Left to a socially conservative role, as it now had to fight for such matters as worker’s rights and democratic protections of liberties not to change.

As for the Right, it was faced with the same predicament as the Left for a while, its nationalism and its insistence on traditional values appearing parochial when examined against the new social description articulated by the modernisers. The 1990s and early 2000s saw many apparent battles between the moderate centre and the ‘antiquated’ views of those still adhering to notions of a national identity or official religion. Such views – mostly characterised, at the time, as ‘obsolete’ rather than right-wing or nationalist – were marginalised for some years. But the crisis brought a new reality to light: the key to being a legitimate interlocutor, for any and all parties and individuals, was now nothing more than the acceptance of ‘modernisation’ as the fundamental concept arbitrating conflicting social interests. Apart from this super- or non-ideology all other ideologies and beliefs were unimportant, and thus acceptable. Suddenly it wasn’t a problem for large sections of the Right and extreme Right to re-include themselves in the political process, especially since the basic policies of deregulation of markets and labour – so central to the austerity programme of Europe after the crisis, but also key concepts of the modernisation doctrine – were in no way opposed to their outlook.

This is the explanation for the seemingly perverse coalition of ‘socialist modernizers’ and far-right nationalists, who banded together to form Greece’s crisis coalition governments, ostensibly to safeguard its ‘European perspective’. The ideology of modernization, with its central doctrine of apolitical progress, has in recent years succeeded in redefining a number of ideas that were previously dependent on very different viewpoints within the political spectrum. Most important among those ideas is that of privatisation, which was relaunched – in truly meta-Thatcherite terms – as an issue pertaining to ‘administrative efficiency’ rather than to relations of production or even to plain access to goods and services. Assets were to be privatised because private management was by definition more efficient than state management, so any proposal to improve state administration was simply irrational; what had to be done was to appeal to people who ‘knew how to do the job’, and ‘knowing how to do the job’ was a technical, not a political matter. In real terms, of course, very little was done. The efficiency of the state was not improved, but neither were large state assets initially privatised (there were a few exceptions). But the foundations were laid for an ideological dominance that by the time of the crisis had full descriptive control over the social landscape.

This control is evident in how the total, fast-track privatisation programme imposed by the Troika found a willing ally in the class of oligarchs, who already owned large sectors of the Greek economy, and their political champions. On the one hand, the ideology was ready to provide a rationale for an immense operation of transferring public wealth to private ownership. On the other, there was an organised system of related interests that could implement the operation.

Let’s briefly look at a case in point: The goldmines of Chalkidiki, a province of rare natural beauty in Northern Greece, were owned in the early 2000s by a company called TVX Gold. The company was hit with a ruling by the Council of State due to its lamentable record of environmental pollution, and declared bankruptcy. The Greek government, in a rather shady agreement, wrote off the fines that had been imposed, and bought the mines for 11 million euro. It then proceeded to sell them, within a couple of days, to a company called Hellas Gold, which had been founded only days earlier with a capital of 70,000 euro. The mines were sold at exactly the price they had been bought, 11 million, with the Greek state not making a single cent out of the deal. The two people that headed the new company were high ranking employees of AKTOR and ELAKTOR, two major construction companies controlled by the Bobolas family, who also owns newspapers and shares in Greece’s largest TV channel. Years later, after several transfers of shares, it emerged that the largest shareholder of Hellas Gold was Eldorado Gold, one of the largest mining companies in the world. The Bobolas family kept 5% of the shares, and has also been promised the contract to build the new mines, in large areas of mountain and forest that the Greek government now proceeded to grant to Eldorado for a conveniently low price. Incidentally, the current Deputy Minister of Development, Notis Mitarakis, is a former employee of Fidelity Fund, one of the shareholders of Eldorado.

The proposed expanded mining in Chalkidiki iscertain to irreparably injure an area that should enjoy environmental protection. Apart from that, though, it is also a blatantly bad deal: Greece is to get no royalties for its gold, and the only serious revenue is expected to be taxes, though various legal tricks are being used to keep even those as low as possible. Needless to say that any voice that dares to say that Greece could very well mine its own gold, is laughed at. And when the villagers of Chalkidiki started staging protests against the planned open-pit mining, riot police were sent to the area, teargas thrown in the local schools, children were detained and questioned without their parents present, police broke down villagers’ doors in the middle of the night to haul them off for questioning without legal representation, and DNA samples were taken without consent.

The Bobolas family’s interests do not stop with gold mining or construction. They also bid for water privatization, and other soon to be privatized assets and services, such as local airports, usually as a front for major multinationals. The same goes for most of the ten or so big Greek business families. The operation is always the same: the media blurt out the prescribed line on the need for modernization and progress, which will come about as a result of the greater efficiency of the private sector. Then, a series of assets, such as natural gas, water, transport, ports, airports, etc, is offered up. The Greek businessmen provide the political connections and take a share in the consortium that is set up by multinational companies to buy up what is offered. When the deal meets with public opposition – demonstrations, occupations, or strikes– the government calls in the police.

What is crucial to understand is that in Greece, the ideology of modernisation has provided, by means of the crisis, a way to reshape an entire political and social landscape: the political system, the authoritarian brutality of the state, and the interests of business oligarchs, work together to refashion the entirety of productive relations and wealth distribution in the country, while rearticulating the way that this violent change is perceived.

We Are All On the Same Side

What does all this have to do with art and cultural production? It all turns on whether we believe that they form part of a wider public discourse in the political sense, that they are things that formulate positions within political space. Arguably, the whole process of ‘opening up’ associated with contemporary cultural production, its seemingly limitless interdisciplinarity is based on just such a claim (hence, the profusion of ‘political’ artworks, artists, curators, and exhibitions.) At the same time, though, it was the ideology of modernisation that largely shaped the way high-visibility cultural production has been conceived of in the last fifteen years or so, but particularly after 2000. This phenomenon is by no means unique to Greece, and is certainly related to the onslaught of neoliberal policies in the 1980s. What is crucial here, however, is to understand that it is not simply a set of practical restraints that Greek cultural practice been operating under – as in reduced state subsidies – but an ideology in the full sense of the term: a mystification of actual conditions.

Kostas Bassanos: La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi (2011). Pallet wood, ink, plaster. 600 x 500 cm. Installation view, 3rd Athens Biennale 2011 (Monodrome).
Kostas Bassanos: La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi (2011). Pallet wood, ink, plaster. 600 x 500 cm. Installation view, 3rd Athens Biennale 2011 (Monodrome).

How is it possible that these two affairs – the claim to be a ‘political’ art, and adherence to an ideology of apolitical ‘progress’– coexist? Let me tell you a brief story:
A couple of years ago I was invited as an art-critic to a show of the Dimitris Daskalopoulos Collection in Guggenheim Bilbao. Dimitris Daskalopoulos, apart from being a high profile collector of international contemporary art, is a former dairy industry magnate (he has sold most of his business interests and is now active in the investment market), and President of the Association of Greek Industrialists. On the day after the opening of the exhibition, there was an artists’ panel discussion, where several of the participants were to speak about their practice. Thomas Hirschhorn, a political artist par excellence, chose to speak, among other things, about the protest against working conditions in the construction of Guggenheim Dubai, which was going on at the time, and said that he had signed a petition to boycott the new museum. The first audience member to speak was the owner of the collection himself, Dimitris Daskalopoulos. After reminding everyone that he served as a member of the Guggenheim Foundation Board, he said that he of course had to acknowledge that there was an issue with working conditions in Dubai, but that he disagreed with the boycott, because Guggenheim was not the culprit, rather it was the ‘agent of change’. He ended his brief statement with the phrase ‘we are all on the same side’.

There were a lot of things said after that, none of which in my opinion posed the essential question: Who are we? Who are we, who are on the same side? And this of course begs the further question: Why wasn’t this crucial question asked? I believe it wasn’t asked because, in a way, Dimitris Daskalopoulos was right. There is a ‘we’ in the contemporary art world, forged through the shared ideology of modernisation, a ‘we’ that might be in one sense artificial, but in another is very real, the most important acting agent in the process of artistic production and distribution.

Let us look at it another way: I was a co-founder of the Athens Biennale, and its co-director between 2005 and 2010, taking part in the production of two editions, one in 2007 and one in 2009. Alongside my curatorial responsibilities, I also worked as one of its fundraisers. I am proud of several moments in the two shows – titled ‘Destroy Athens’ and ‘Heaven’, respectively – and I think it is pretty safe to say that in recent decades biennales have been one of the most successful ways of showing contemporary art – at least in terms of variety, proliferation, volume and impact. Their theory is well known: biennales bring localities in touch with each other through international networks, providing at the same time a platform for local talent and an international showcase of established reputations, thus creating spaces of unimpeded discourse between various forms of production, while being highly visible by both local and international publics, and so on…

This theory, though, takes on a different guise when one tries to communicate it to public authorities and other funders. When we talk to them, biennales become a strong vehicle for the promotion of the contemporary identity of cities, an agent of urban development, even a creator of a secondary economy in the service sector (e.g. hotel rooms, meals, coffees and taxi rides). What is more, they become a shining example of the collaboration between ‘public’ and ‘private’ – that is, between state funding and private donors and corporate sponsorship – a model for revitalizing urban life, encouraging investment, in fact, for moving away from ‘stagnation’ and towards ‘progress’. In short, biennales are to function as symbolic occasions of collaborative modernisation. What is assumed to be a space of unimpeded discourse becomes a space of unchallenged consent, a space for cohabitation of divergent social interests, where the fundamental reality of their conflict is mystified by an apparently shared common enterprise.

What is true of biennales is also true, with little variation, of museums and art centres, but also of theatres, orchestras, independent cinemas – and, increasingly and alarmingly, universities. This is the ‘we’: artists, curators, theorists, critics, politicians, advertisers, marketing departments, middle-class audiences and world-class collectors, consumers, corporate officials and industry magnates, all ‘on the same side’. This is how one gets a ‘political’ – even, at times, polemic – art to become a tool of an apolitical ‘progress’. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that an ideology that has succeeded in depoliticising much of public discourse has also permeated what is perhaps the most suitable terrain for articulating a progressive vision. Yet, I have to admit that until the crisis came I could not see it. Perhaps my personal lack of intuition was to blame, though I would arguethat a lot of people, me among them, who considered ourselves of a ‘progressive’ persuasion, found in the pre-crisis years that this large ‘middle-ground’ was the natural space from which we could wage our war against the ‘old’, against established social relations. We relished the luxury of being free to do it in whatever way we wanted – however provocative or disdainful of public norms – within the confined liberty afforded us by our participation in the common vision of ‘development’ and ‘progress’.

As things have turned out, the ‘new’ isn’t what we had imagined it would be. We are now living in a Europe where a notion of unity conceals a reality of national antagonisms, and a notion of solidarity conceals a reality of neo-colonialism. In Greece, democracy has been undermined beyond belief. If anyone had told me five years ago that I would be reporting today on concentration camps and police torture in a European Union member-country, I would have laughed them off. We have to admit that we were unprepared for this. But we have to finally see that it was the gradual but complete establishment of an ideology and a total way of operation that made the erosion of democratic rights and liberties possible, and that it is the space of manufactured consent – the ‘we’ that we in the artworld helped to forge – that is masking the reality of debasement. And so, it is now impossible to articulate any sort of meaningful critique without rejecting the very structures that perpetuate this ideology, the structures that until now have enabled and shaped our public articulations. In a most profound and most debilitating way, anything we say within the current conditions of cultural production simply will not matter.

In this sense, I believe that no possibility of resistance exists unless we choose to not be a ‘we’. Unless we successfully short-circuit not only the narratives of apparently shared visions, but also the machines that generate and feed them – whether they are funding structures, networks of distribution, or political relations; unless we actively seek out conflict, and bring disunity and rupture, rather than consensus and harmony, to light.

NOTES
1. For reports on the situation in Greece in English, more often than not passed over by the European media, see borderlinereports. net.
2. A documentary about this affair, Ruins: Chronicle Of an HIV Witch-Hunt, directed by Zoe Mavroudi and produced by Irate Greek, OmniaTV and Unfollow magazine, premiered in Greece in September 2013. See ruins-documentary.com.
3. See Amnesty International, ‘Police Violence in Greece –
Not Just “Isolated Incidents”’ (http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/EUR25/005/2012/en/edbf2deb-ae15-4409b9eeee6c62b3f32b/eur250052012en.pdf).
Accessed 13.11.2013.
4. For Golden Dawn and its relationship to the Greek government and state apparatus, see ‘Golden Dawn, 1980-2012: The Neonazis’ Road to Parliament’ and ‘The Problem Is The Greek Government, Not Only Golden Dawn’, both at borderlinereports.net.
5. See Populism, Antipopulims and Crisis by Yannis Stavrakakis and Nicolas Sevastakis (Nefeli 2012, Greek only). English speakers can look up ‘Populism, Anti-Populism and European Democracy: a View from the South’ by Giorgos Katsampekis and Yannis Stavrakakis at opendemocracy.net.