During an antifascist demonstration in Athens. Demotix/Kostas Pikoulas. All rights reserved.
Within the din of current Greek events, a cauldron where violence and injustice mix, there is one issue that stands out because it constitutes the most extreme human experience: torture.
The government had the good grace to comment on the issue only when the image of our country abroad was thoroughly tarnished, i.e. when the Guardian published an article on the topic, after 15 antifascist protesters said they were tortured after their arrest by the police.
What did the government do faced by these allegations? First, it placed the blame onto the shoulders of Syriza: replying to the accusations of torture by saying that Syriza’s collusion with the hooded Anarchists is a “monument of insolence.” Next, it threatened the Guardian with a defamation lawsuit, to teach them a lesson. The government's rebuffal tactics are the exactly the same in tone and substance as that of the neo-nazi party, Golden Dawn: you ask “Why are you glorifying Hitler?” and they answer “What about politicians: why are they corrupt?”
We toss the ball to the other side, pretending not to hear. It is interesting to see what our government’s next move will be, now that the fifteen alleged victims of police abuse have filed lawsuits, containing some devastating evidence. To this list we must now add the photos of the four people arrested in the city of Kozani, who say they also underwent torture - the police published their photos, after digitally altering them to remove all marks of physical violence. The Greek minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection admitted that this was done, averring that this was done so that the suspects could be recognized by the public, despite the bruises!
What shocked me most in the Guardian's article was a quote from one of the detainees, who said that, “If you don’t write about this, no one in Greece will.”
It brought to my mind the testimonials of the first Greeks who testified to the Council of Europe when the military Junta was still in power in Greece. Kitti Arseni, followed by others, exposed the marks of torture on their bodies to experts, in order to dispute Pattakos, one of the leaders of the Junta, who declared to the international media that, “all these are lies.”
Democracy has since then been restored, but the infamous alleged torturer of the junta, Mallios, was provocatively acquitted (he sneered at the torture victims in court). Later he was assassinated by the Marxist urban guerrilla group “17 November.” Few would claim Mallios was mourned by the Greek public following his murder - with some exceptions, of course: Nikos Michaloliakos, now General Secretary of Golden Dawn, assaulted journalists during Mallios’ funeral.
Those who experienced on their very bodies the Colonels’ junta are the first to deter us from drawing too many analogies with the present situation. Indeed, their accounts are more terrifying. And, if we go further back, we will find even more gruesome accounts. If comparison is what we want, in El Salvador they used to leave the corpses of those tortured on roadsides, their skulls pierced by electric drills, to intimidate the rest of the population.
But the art of torture is constantly evolving. Whoever is interested in finding out whether sleep deprivation and sexual humiliation constitute torture can study the American school and its accomplishments in this sector. Still, what is most important is not to compare, but to understand what is happening in our country today.
Our government, through its paid intellectuals and publishers, embraces the rhetoric of two belligerent extremes that equally threaten the bliss of our peaceful political centre-ground. In reality, the government pets the far-right extreme night and day: it favours all its idiotic medieval rampages, be it against a young man who satirised the supposed miracles of a contemporary ‘saint’, or against a “Corpus Christi” performance that depicted Jesus Christ and his apostles as gay; it handed over to them lists of names of the babies of immigrants in public nursery schools, etc.
When forced to engage in some sort of crackdown, the police amicably escort the armed storm troops of Golden Dawn criminals, forgetting all about the “preventive detentions” so commonly used against anti-austerity demonstrators, as if the lads with the bats were out for a picnic. The police follow and protect them. It lets them attack and slaughter immigrants, while if an immigrant wants to press charges for a racist attack, he'd better be accompanied by a visible activist lawyer such as I. Kurdovic, or he has had it.
Cherry on the cake: when an antifascist motor march took place, i.e. when people protest against Nazism, the police attacked them and then tortured those arrested along with their comrades who gathered the next day in solidarity. Greece has had twelve trials and only one (!) conviction for police violence in the last fourteen years. Even the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, recently stated that, “Impunity for the rising number of racist crimes in Greece has to end”. (Click here for more detailed information on the police violence situation in Greece).
There are still some who think that letting the political agenda revolve around Golden Dawn creates a distraction from the more serious problems. Well, pardon me, but I fear that a firework can be described as a distraction, not torture. A distraction is something that diverts the discussion from what is important to what is not. This is not our situation.
When the police so blatantly take the side of the fascists (both through words and actions), I have one question for all the peace-loving citizens of the political centre, that I ask with sincere anguish. If the police protects the fascists, the other side will either stay put and get beaten up or they will also get their bats out, right? Thus, my question is, what should prevent the other side from taking up their sticks in self-defence? Loyalty towards democratic legitimacy? Or, in other words, the belief that the police will undertake the protection of immigrants, homosexuals, gypsies, left-wingers, anarchists and all those who are targeted by Golden Dawn?
This borders on comedy: the underhand fallacy of the ‘two extremes’ theory is that it places the state in a neutral centre, an assumption which sounds more and more like a bitter joke every day. It is anarchists who the police – a component of the state - are arresting and torturing, not the “extremes” in general. This is a key reason forcing our society to rapid and violent polarisation. As much as I can read the conjuncture, I fear the situation is as grave as that.