Monday, 10 June 2019
Social movements in Greece between past and present
SEESOX co-sponored a conference in Athens on Friday 5 and Saturday 6 April, 2019 at Deree – The American College of Greece. The two-day conference was co-organized by University of Sheffield, University of Exeter, SEESOX, University of Peloponnese, and hosted by The American College of Greece and its Institute of Global Affairs.
Report by Kostis Kornetis
The conference entitled “Greek Social Movements between past and present”, held at DEREE College, Athens, April 5-6, 2019 brought together social scientists, psychologists and anthropologists to discuss grassroots mobilisation in Greece on left and right from 1974 to the present day. It was co-organised by the University of Sheffield, Pierce DEREE Institute, SEESOX, the University of Exeter and the University of the Peloponnese.
The first panel, on “The past and present concept”, adopted a long-term perspective, looking at longer stretches of time to understand current political attitudes, using different approaches and tools: political science, memory studies and social psychology. Marilena Simiti gave a comprehensive story of social activism in Greece between 1974 and 2015, looking at various cycles of protest and changes over time, including a growing transnationalisation of protest, a growing fluidity and heterogeneity of collective identities and non-state centric forms of action. Through an analysis of the student, feminist, ecological, antiglobalisation and square movements, she looked at protest complementing electoral policies. Beginning from the post-junta student movements (bearing the influence of the political parties of the time) the paper ended up with the squares in 2011 that signified a waning of the left-right cleavage and the emergence of a new division between memorandum and anti-memorandum. Eirini Karamouzi and Lamprini Rori combined history with quantitative political science in a longitudinal analysis – in the context of framing theory. The paper brought original questions to the field of anti-Americanism, including how anti-Americanism was linked to pro-Sovietism or pro-Russianism, whether belonging to the Right or Left made a difference, whether party affiliation played a role, and to what extent collective memory over critical events is a driver to adopting an anti-American stance. The paper showed that whereas anti-Americanism was party specific or Left specific until 1993, from then on until 2005 it became widespread. It also argued that collective memory about the past is fading over time. Lastly, the paper by Nikos Takis, Angeliki Skamvetsaki and Vilma Papasavva used tools connected to psychoanalysis and trauma analysis to test the applicability of psychoanalytical theory on the Greek civil war and transgenerational trauma transmission. The paper argued that a resurgence of past trauma occurred during the economic crisis years, boosted and instrumentalised to a large extent by SYRIZA, which insisted on the presence of the memory of the 1940s, using past symbols and frames to polarise.
The following panel included three interlinked papers on the issue of terrorism and violence, by Sotirios Karampampas, Emmanuel Skoulas, and Vassiliki Georgiadou and Lamprini Rori. All their papers dealt with violence in various forms, ranging from individualistic acts of violence to resilient collective violent endeavours of various groupings since the 1970s. The paper by Karampampas looked at the mechanisms and processes of contentious politics, subdividing the entire Metapolitefsi since 1974 until the present day into sub-periods characterised by protest cycles (1974-81, 1981-1990, 1990-present), looking at the shift from Marxism-Leninism to anarchism and the so-called anti-authoritarian tendencies, fluctuating in numbers, mobilisation tactics, levels of violence and ideological focus. Manuel Skoulas as well made a similar genealogy, looking at a ‘new generation of terrorists in Greece’, trying to move beyond the frames that are ‘used by 80% of terrorist studies’, blurring the picture of their actual motivation, outlook and action. In his view the important factor for frames to operate two factors are needed: selection and salience. In his view a careful analysis of selection but also of frames in the press/media/public sphere (“the babies of Greek terrorism”/ “the friends of Alexis”, etc) condition the way in which these groups are understood. Finally, Rori and Georgiadou looked at Greece as an outlier but also characteristic of more international tendencies in terms of political violence. They also went back to 1974 to look at the matrix of sympathy for political violence against the state and “long-run trends of political violence” in Greece. In their view the Far Left tends to be more urban, with the Far Right more rural. Still it remains unclear why there is so much violence in Greece as political repertoire.
There was a roundtable discussion on the challenges of studying social movements in Greece, featuring Othon Anastasakis, Konstantina Botsiou, Vasiliki Georgiadou and Elias Dinas.
The next panel, on social movements in the 1980s featured two papers, one by Anastasios Filntisis and one by Vemund Aarbakke, which were complementary insofar as they dealt with PASOK’s dualism in the 1980s and its wavering stance vis-à-vis liberal causes and movements. Filntisis discussed the anti-nuclear component of the Greek protest movement in the 1980s and its appeal and impact on public opinion, its links with political parties and its results in terms of political and ideological influence. Aarbakke’s paper looked at the Muslim minority’s conditions under PASOK’s government not improving but in fact deteriorating. In both papers PASOK appears as professing social change and liberalisation – while at the same time it is either co-opting other movements, like the peace movement in the first paper, or suppressing social movements, like that of the Muslim minority, in the second.
The final panel, on “Framing the indignation. Democracy, political system and violence in the context of the Greek Indignants’ protest”, featured papers by Vasiliki Georgiadou, and Anastasia Kafe, Emmanouil Takas and Athina Limnioudi, and Aspriadis Neofytos and Marilena Dimitriou. The papers looked at features and the efficacy of the indignados movement in the ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ Syntagma square during the summer of 2011, reviewing visual and textual data as well as interviews and frame analysis. The papers mostly looked at the spatial interaction between the two parts of the square, despite their ideational and other divergences, such as tolerance or not for violence, as well as party-support, especially on behalf of SYRIZA. It was also stressed that, apart from the two sides, roughly corresponding to the radical left (lower square) and the nationalistic populist right, there were a further two parts played by the general assembly and the solidarity movements. In other words, in general the movements of the squares could be interpreted as much more heterogeneous than we tend to represent them, especially if one includes individual participation in the protests, expressing rage and anger against austerity.
Konstantinos Kornetis (Santander Fellow, St Antony's College)
Opinion piece by Konstantina Botsiou
Since the fall of the seven-year military dictatorship, Greece experienced intense politicization and robust social mobilization. Calls for national sovereignty or democratization, growing opposition towards capitalism, NATO and the EEC/EU, or movements of the radical right nature, mobilized Greek citizens and developed a culture of social and political protest. This conference seeks a deeper understanding of the different expressions of social mobilisation in post-1974 Greece as a complex and dynamic phenomenon, by focusing on similarities and differences between old and new forms of protest.
A major challenge at this conference was to identify the unique characteristics of social movements in postwar Greece. The role of history was fundamental in an indispensably inter-disciplinary approach.
Theoretically, Greece provided an ideal place for social movements. For almost 150 years after the formation of the modern Greek state, it continued to be a very poor country suffering from persistent social injustice and inequalities that could have encouraged robust social protest. After all, even if the level of political freedom and the quality of parliamentarian debate were not always ideal, they were still sufficient for the expression of protest.
However, it turns out that, for many critical decades, Greece lacked the conditions in which social causes and social movements could have thrived. As a matter of fact, the prolonged struggle for national integration overshadowed and undermined mobilization for other social causes. The country typically experienced - with considerable delay - weak versions of the social movements that were developing in other European societies. This ironic asymmetry came to the fore in at least three formative “battles”: a) the national integration wars (the “Great Idea”), b) the Civil War and c) the Cold War. In all three periods, the focus on national integration and political harmonization with the West actually proved highly divisive for Greek society, thus contributing to further social polarization along ideological and political party lines.
Since the Civil War, the prioritization of national homogeneity not only defined the agendas of non-leftist political parties and governments, but it also contributed to the gradual political accommodation of social demands as a means of taking the wind out of the sails of the Left. It was only after the post-Civil war regime collapsed and - especially - after the military dictatorship failed, that social protest became somewhat separated from political parties and the Right-Left divide of the Cold War. That was the result of the “unfinished” social protests of the 1960s that were re-fertilized by post-junta radicalization, as well as by the syncretism of East-West detente. Rapid socio-economic transformation fueled long-lasting social grievances that could not be put back to the bottle through filters that had worked in the past, such as family, clientelistic networks and migration. However, social mobilization never became fully emancipated from politics. At the end of the 1970s it once again adopted a partisan outlook on both sides of the political spectrum. After 1974 it also took the form of political violence. Terrorism became a persistent side effect.
At the same time, accession to the EU provided the nation with a new political cause that imported solutions to the most widespread social demands, notably peace, education and equal opportunity. EU-oriented modernization was specifically connected with socialist policies. They were dominant during the early post-accession years with Andreas Papandreou’s PASOK in power. But they were also evident earlier under the Konstantinos Karamanlis’ governments of Nea Demokratia, which invested in protectionist social policies termed “socialmania”. This new strategy demonstrated a crucial link between the democratization of politics and the socialization of protest. It gained in relevance when the political system of the post-1974 “Metapolitefsi” was put to the test under the impact of the recent financial crisis. The regenerated social protest became a magnet for social mobilization, but also for radical groups that rejected reform and joined forces with the international rise of populist anti-establishment movements and politics.
Konstantina E. Botsiou (Associate Professor of Modern History and International Politics; Director of the Centre for Greek and International History (KEDIS), University of the Peloponnese)