City at a Time of Crisis

 

 

Tracing and researching crisis-ridden urban public spaces

in Athens, Greece.

Many years before the first clouds of the crisis would hover over the greek skies, amidst greek society's most glorious of moments and its most mundane of days, the lives and labour of migrants would be faced with their meticulous devaluation.

 

The 11414 phone-line is a widely publicised initiative established by the Greek Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection in response to international and domestic criticism of police handling of racist violence, an example of which is a damning report by the Racist Violence Recording Network[1] (henceforth RVRN). Their criticisms included that the police are often more likely to turn people away, beat or arrest them under the pretext of lack of immigration documents than they are of investigating the attacks. Bearing in mind these conditions and the ongoing stream of horror stories that emerge in the Greek media of migrants being attacked and tortured[2], a few things become apparent: that understanding and communicating the actual extent of the issue of racist violence in Greece is very important; that doing this is also very tricky; and that to do it in a manner that will have any effect on the situation is extremely difficult. This is, therefore, a tentative text, written as an introduction to an attempt that might very well fail: to map, on a rolling basis, the attacks on migrants taking place in Athens. The aim is for this mapping to raise awareness of the situation internationally and to act as a tool for counter-action locally. There have been attempts and failures to do similar things before, yet each failure has nevertheless revealed new important details about the rise of fascist violence in Greece, drawing connections to the extent of far right wing support amongst the police, local employment relations, legacies from the Greek dictatorship, national and European immigration policies, austerity and international conflict, particularly with the wars in Syria as well as most of North Africa and Afghanistan. In other words, this issue is not merely a national one but has ties and relevance far beyond the Greek borders.

The use of such a hygienic discourse by the state officials in question is far from coincidental. Utilising the legacy of at times popular theories of degeneration [1] and relying upon the promotion of a stricter dogma of security –– in face of the risk of social deregulation caused by the economic crisis [2] –– they attempt to rejuvenate the mechanisms of national meaning-assignment on the basis of an abstract public security threat while they utilise, at the same time, the concrete characteristics and dynamics of familiar, stereotypical approaches. The historical importance of the hygienic discourse is, after all, unquestionable: both for the purpose of self-cognition and representation of the “inseparable and healthy” national body and for the legitimisation of policies of control and technologies of security [3]. It is in this cognitive environment that one ought to seek some basic interpretations of the explosion of the racist phenomenon, which has been observed on a national level, primarily during 2012. The hygienic metaphors and the introduction of nosology in the sphere of the production of politics comprise the penultimate field for the legalisation of violence, as Susan Sontag explains in the context of the military metaphors of cancer [4] –– regardless of whether the axis for the articulation of such violence is developed vertically (see: the state) or horizontally (see: the society). They have the unique capacity to act parallel, at two different levels: first at the physical-material level, which is where the illness appears and inhabits, where one can observe its materialities and its transmissibilities, and where the material results of the historically tried and tested techniques of exclusion and control are inscribed. Second, and at the same time, at a symbolic-political level –– at the heart of which one can rightfully introduce its weighty “truth”; utilising the unquestionable evidence that the clinical perception of the illness carries with it and assigning essentialist content to the forms of politics, therefore articulating them through the well-known catastrophic syntax of emergency.

On 2nd February 2013 Cheick Ndiaye's body was found on the rail tracks of Thissio metro station in central Athens. A friend, who was a witness states he saw Cheick being pushed to his death by two municipality police officers who were chasing him. Cheick was a migrant from Senegal.

 

 

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About Us

City at the Time of Crisis is a research project tracing and researching the effects of the ongoing financial crisis on urban public spaces in Athens, Greece. Read more...