Ego Te Provoco: Four members of a counter-information group in Athens
The media as part of the counter-insurgency
We are a group that creates counter-information addressing existing issues, against the ideological war being waged by the State and Capital. We make brochures, posters, a newsletter. We intervene in the discourse around current affairs and also carry out a permanent campaign of ideological sabotage of a more general nature.
In the first four days it was very different, until the funeral, because the media were not unleashing their full counterinsurgency strategy. They were not able to have a consistent approach during December. For example leading journalists were saying this was a rebellion and a just rebellion, and other journalists were complaining that rioters were attacking irrelevant shops, thus implicitly suggesting that there were relevant shops, that it was justified to smash banks or certain other shops. They had no consistent approach. In the West there is a consensus between news agencies about how to report things, like condemning them or not reporting things from the grassroots. But in Greece that consensus does not exist because all the channels compete to report the most exciting stories, and the channels reflect different interests. Some news channels want the government to collapse and they want the next government to adopt a certain policy. So, objectively speaking, some of the media were actually helping us. They did not have this consensus that they would leave all their differences behind and defend the State. Instead they were working on a micropolitical level.
In the main right wing newspaper you could see the conflict. One line of articles was dead against the squats, arguing that they should all be evicted, and then there was another article arguing for the legalisation of the squats, funding them and turning them into art centres. But this government would never do it. The conservative party is very old-fashioned, very uncool. It’s all about repression, not about assimilation. It’s a good thing the Socialists weren’t in power in December, because they're much better at that kind of thing.
Another example is the surveillance cameras on the street. They were installed by the Socialists for the Olympics. Many were not functioning so the right wing party says they want to put them all in operation and now the Socialists are crying their heads off saying this is fascist. Rather than acknowledging, okay this is a tool of the State and it will make us all stronger, instead they are playing at being defenders of human rights. There is no consistent policy.
The killing of Alexis and the uprising made people listen; they were much more interested in counter-information. Usually when you hand out leaflets one out of three people takes it but in December people would queue up to take it, they would demand leaflets from you. Our need for counter-information started about three days after the beginning, when we realised that it was an uprising and we had to produce a counter-discourse. One of the main things we tried to get across is the fact that the State doesn’t kill an Alexis every day because the State kills hundreds of immigrants and Third World workers. So one of our main foci was, you know, Greek society was so upset about the death of this white First World boy but doesn’t give a shit about the immigrants killed a few blocks down the street or the trafficked Russian women getting raped. The other thing we put forward was a discourse against democracy, because many people were saying, what kind of democracy kills children, we need more democracy and we were trying to deconstruct this whole notion of democracy to claim that this murder is not an exception, it is the rule of democracy the rule of the nation-state, the rule of capitalism.
In the beginning the media failed in their counterinsurgency work. Everyone failed in the beginning. They tried to project the fear of the ruling classes onto the general population, but it no longer applied. During the uprising we would be masked and carrying big iron sticks but people would still come and sit with us and take leaflets from us. It had become a completely normal figure, the koukoulofori.
But after about four days they began to make their coverage more effective. Shop owners began to demand more protection from the police, because the media focused a lot on damage to private property. In contrast in the beginning the shop owners said they weren’t going to discuss a few smashed windows, because someone had been killed and that was more serious.
This is how the media worked as part of the counterinsurgency: first through the segmentation of the insurrection. The school children were presented as good and justified, and strictly represented by a single aesthetic, as peaceful. They did not show the students rioting. Then there were the anarchists who were taking advantage of the situation to create chaos, and theirs was an aesthetic of violence, their only activities were destructive. And finally there were immigrants, who only wanted to loot. All of these were extracted from the mass that took part in the insurrection, they were identified as separate, even as identifiable groups, and they were all assigned specific attributes.
Next, the media consistently and repeatedly claimed that the movement lacked demands. They were always talking about this lack of demands, So they placed the movement on a continuum of irrationality. It was simply an issue of rage, which the State would tolerate to a limited extent, because after all a child had been killed, but there had to be an end to it and after that things had to go back to normal. They still say that there was a lack of demands and this reduces December to a sentimental explosion. The state representative specifically instructed the media not to refer to it as a social uprising, The foreign media really portrayed the uprising as related to the economic crisis, which in reality it was not because at the time there was no real economic crisis in Greece.
Only the Left groups responded to the pressure to make demands, to dialogue, and I felt that they couldn’t handle the demands they were putting forward because even within the Left there were people who were very active and taking part in the riots-the base. So the heads of these groups were demanding to disarm the police, to lower the voting age to sixteen, for the government to resign, but they couldn't control their base, they couldn’t mobilise people for their demands.
In one of our leailets we said, you are demanding from us that we enter the logic of demands. It’s a logic of exchange, a capitalist logic, that if you meet our demands then we will give you peace, but we’ve gone beyond the time of peace.
On Thursday we learned that twenty-five police stations in Athens were attacked by students, and immigrants had conflicts with the police by themselves and attacked shops. This was crashing down every demand, the motion was spreading in many places. There were thousands of demands, not just one list.
Finally the media functioned as a force for counterinsurgency by spreading fear, They repeatedly reported rumours that a woman had burned to death in her building as a result of the riots, even that bus loads of anarchists and immigrants were travelling through the countryside to smash up all the provincial villages.
What they’re trying to say now is that it’s not the anarchists but that society as a whole is crazy it’s snapped and everyone is becoming violent and breaking the law. Today there was an interview by the president of the general union of industrialists, he’s president of the big milk-producing company and he said, look, the government is shit, it cannot control anything, and the opposition is useless. What we need is social cohesion. There has been massive propaganda against violence. Some days if you were only listening to the radio and didn’t go out in the street you would think you were in Somalia. There was a cacophony of shootings and armed guerrillas, bank robberies, rapes, an image of decay and chaos. And the ex-minister of public order, from the opposition, went in public and said that Athens has turned into Baghdad. So they’re playing on this Middle Eastern archetype of everyone on the street with bazookas. They try to put it all together, that everyone has lost it.
Crime has not gone up, just reporting of it has gone up. When Kolonaki was attacked, it was front-page news for a week, as if it were a disaster. But it had already been attacked several times before and it just got a small mention. It was obvious as well that during December they had no filter for separating things, distinguishing, as a strategy; between acceptable actions and unacceptable ones. They furiously condemned everything, even some artists going into a theatre and dropping a banner against spectators; this was denounced disproportionately as fascist, as a sacrilege, in the same way they would rant against a ministry being attacked.
I know people who were in the army and they were put on yellow alert. They said they had talked with other soldiers and if they had been sent into the streets they would have given the arms to the people and there would have been a massacre - of the police, They even distributed a text. This led to a new regulation forbidding all political texts in the military. The government could not have called in the military because they would have mutinied. The government could not control the rebellion in a military way It was a political issue, not a military one. If there was even one more death the situation would really have gone out of control and they couldn’t risk this. It already was out of control, but I mean there would have been people shooting down cops during the demonstrations. The government had internal disagreements and it was obvious. In the high ministries they were insulting each other as malakas, so the government did not have cohesion. The ruling party only had a majority of one in parliament. Both the government and the police were seen as completely illegitimate by the general population and of course there was one part that called for repression but the more realistic members of the government dominated in the end. So there was a more communicative and political resolution of the whole thing. Calling in the army would have been a great mistake for them, this would have been the worst thing they could have done. After some rioters looted bows and arrows from this weird speciality shop on Omonia the media were reporting that the demonstrators had looted an arms shop and were marching on parliament, which would have required calling in the army. Segments of the elite were testing it, to see if it would catch.