Another guest post from Marinos Antypas, who’s previously guested at James’s old site.

AthensBlinded by the economic catastrophe threatening the Eurozone lest Greece manages to sort its debt out, Europe has ignored a far more pervasive threat: nestling in its bosom is potentially the first dictatorial EU member state.

The definition of a dictatorship is not the abolition of parliamentary democracy or the electoral system per se (Hitler and Mussolini as well as the Stalinist Czechoslovakian regime were democratically elected). Rather, a dictatorship is a polity under which parliament effectively abolishes its decision-making power when the government turns against the population at large by means of brutal violence and intimidation.

Both these conditions are in place in Greece. In Spring 2010, the Greek parliament effectively abolished itself when it voted to deny itself the right to ratify any future changes in the IMF/EU bailout clauses. All power was given to the Finance Minister, who could thereafter ratify any new bailout-related law with a single signature. It’s important to note that the Finance Minister can be appointed by the Prime Minister from outwith his party’s elected MPs. This then places Greece into what Agamben has called a state of exception: the law abolishes itself as the only resort of maintaining its own order.

This magic trick of exceptionality worked for a whole year until last week, when the Prime Minister decided to put the second bailout to the vote. Doing so would seem a step back from his previous forward strategy. However, the way the vote was conducted points to the exact opposite. First, the vote was open, thus any government MP who voted against it did so publicly and was expelled from the Party (there was only one such brave man). Second, the only other MP who was intending to vote against the bill was allowed to break with all parliamentary regulations and give a speech alongside his final, Yes-vote.

The House Speaker, a government MP himself, continued to break Parliamentary regulations by failing to read a letter of No-vote from a government MP, who was also a traditional corner-stone of the Socialist apparatus. He opted not only to vote against the bill but quit the Party out of his own will. Finally, breaking with all Parliamentary procedures and common sense, the bill was voted en bloc, with no individual articles brought to the vote: it was either take it or leave it.
To add to this breach of democratic process, a few days before the actual vote, the deputy Prime Minister declared that if the bill was not passed, the government would have to bring in tanks to protect banks from the crowds. The choice was either the bill or the army – a real democratic dilemma comprising dictatorship on the streets.

While all this was unfolding in the Temple of Democracy, as Greek politicians like to call the ancient Palace housing their mockery of a Parliament, on the streets of Athens, real democracy was developing. Strikes, protest marches, direct-democratic assemblies with a remarkable lack of the violence that so often blots the democratic landscape in Greece. All of this was first ignored, then petted in the hope of some reconciliation. When that failed, the movement was accused of being apolitical, aphasiac, irresponsible and irrelevant. Even when a quarter of a million protesters gathered outside the Parliament shouting “Thieves”, the politicians could only scoff at the lack of organisation and ideological direction. The intention of the government was obvious: not to let the “multitude” spoil the voting of the new bailout bill.

After the “tanks” reference, the government began spreading rumours that a semi-armed assault against the Parliament was being planned, in an attempt to keep people off the streets. The first 48 hour general strike since the collapse of the colonels proved that these rumours were blatantly unfounded. Not only was there no attempt to storm the Parliament, but throughout the two days of protest the only damage done was on the strict periphery of Syntagma Square. As even the staunchest media defenders of the government had to admit, no more than five molotov cocktails were thrown, whilst the number of rowdy protesters did not exceed 200, a surprisingly low number for Athens where anarchist protest marches number up to 5.000.

The total cost of the damage (mainly to the marble décor of the posh hotels surrounding the square) came to 500,000 euros. At the same time, the reported cost of tear gas used by police forces amounted to 900,000 euros. The difference reflects the disproportionate relationship between protestor violence and police repression, especially as witnessed on Wednesday 29th of June.

The way the government deployed its police forces on that day can lead to only one conclusion: its aim was terror. Riot policemen attacked anything that moved on the streets of Athens. If there were 200 rowdy protestors there were 500 wounded. While the clashes did not exceed the periphery of Syntagma Square, tear gas, stun grenades and batons were used as far as the Acropolis, Plaka and Monastaki. Tourists and Special Olympics staff were brutally attacked. The police attacked the press, fired tear gas inside the underground Metro station where an impromptu Red Cross hospital was treating several hundreds of wounded, even beating the uniformed Metro staff as they tried to bring some calm. Photos show policemen throwing stones and marble pieces at protestors, ignoring people who tried to burn down shops, harbouring and protecting iron bar-wielding neo-nazis, using their batons upside down in order to hit people on the head with the metal end of the baton, gesturing with their middle finger and shouting obscenities at the protestors, kicking and beating fallen protestors, smashing restaurants and grocery shops in Athens’ high streets.

All this was filmed, and is now circulating widely in Greece; meanwhile, Europe looks elsewhere, relieved that the bailout bill has passed. Yet this unprecedented attack against the entire population of Athens, this systematic state terror has united Greek society like never before.

The Judges Association now talks of “state violence”; the Pharmacist and Medical Associations have pressed charges against the police; the Metro employers have called the riot police “the new SS”; Amnesty International has raised concerns; hotel owners talk about police excesses; academics have accused the government of premeditated violence; even members of the ruling party have expressed disdain at the way the police treated protestors.

In the midst of it all, the government pretends everything is fine, and that the police did its work. If its work was to show who is the boss, who can beat and gas the population with impunity, indeed it has. The 17 year old boy who had his tongue cut as a result of police beating him on the head is the ultimate proof of what this “work” means. It is the same “work” performed when the extreme right unleashed a three day pogrom against immigrants in the centre of Athens last spring, killing one and wounding scores with knives: the police stood idle arresting nobody. It is the same “work” performed when the police stop and search people in the street of Athens, tearing to pieces any book they might carry in their bags.

This “work” has a very old name: fascism. Indeed, the central banner on Syntagma square reads: “The junta did not end in 1973, we will bury it in this square”.