Yesterday, the Greek papers had front page stories on the celebration of Gianni Ritsos and Mikhis Theorodakis at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. This was news, once again, of the vibrancy of Greek democracy (see here).
Last night, the Karamanlis government, emulating Berlusconi in nearby Italy who has rounded up the Roma, sent trucks into the districts where immigrants from Pakistan and Africa often sleep in the streets. The police rounded up the “illegals” and brought them to a concentration camp near Athens as well as 7 other camps. The government seeks to build a nationalist bond with some of the people, to erect the “whiteness”* of Greece against the resurgent democracy.
Yesterday we held class in a shady area near the Panathenian Way and the Acropolis. Some young Pakistanis were out on the walk selling light, colorful parasols that women often purchase to protect against the fierce June sun. They have short tarpaulin-like containers to hold the parasols that they can cinch up in an instant.
Several Pakistanis with their bundles came running down the hill by the class, chased by Greek police. That is a dark game the authorities routinely play, like the ICE raids on factories under Bush. These immigrants, the marginalized, don’t have or can’t pay for permits. To demonstrate their authority, the police sometimes roust them. Alexis Menocal, one of my students, is writing a paper on this phenomenon, sympathizing with the immigrants.
The Pakistanis here stand for the Moroccans and Senegalese in Granada, with similar bundles, for the Turks in Germany, the Algerians in France, the latinos in the United States against whom the Congress is erecting a wall (have to keep all those Saudis out!). Some 150 Moroccans – no one knows how many - drown in the Mediterranean on boats which capsize on the way to Spain each year. One African here in Athens told my students of two others, his friends, who ended their lives in the watery passage. He clung to the capsized boat until he finally reached shore. Between the US and Mexico, the voyage for some is ended by the heat of the Texas or Arizona desert, or the guns of police or vigilantes. For those who seek a new birth of freedom or income in Europe or America, the Government and society are already fascist.
In Athens this winter, the police wantonly shot a 15 year old boy and citizen rage exploded. As Jefferson once said, as with the alien, so the citizen (see the epigraph to my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?). The life of that boy is bound with a chain to the Africans sinking slowly in the waters of the Mediterranean, the fish and the water turning them back into the water itself.
Greek democracy is still here vibrantly for citizens. But Fascism is alive and well in Europe, in power in Italy in coalition with the Berlusconi administration. It is on the rise in Israel in the role of Foreign Minister Lieberman and in detestable measures to require loyalty oaths for Arab Israelis. (This is the decadence of a national socialism for the victims of the Nazis, which the ideology of Israel once was). It is the last gasp, along with homophobia, of the party that stands most for the wall to keep out latinos, as if 9/11 had been plotted in Latin America, the party which funneled of wealth to the top 1/10 of one per cent at the expense of the bottom 90% (Democrats also enabled this, sadly).
Wherever capitalism is, there are 5-10% of the workforce at least who are temporary or “illegal” workers. They do the hardest work. In the United States, social security which they will never collect is removed from their checks. Other immigrants, sometimes legal, help to pay the pensions of aging Europeans and Americans, with fewer children; racism toward immigrants is an especially bad thing. America is the nation of immigrants except in the present (it is more like the rule of anti-immigrants for every new generation of pilgrims). The presence of immigrants enables the elite to divide the workers, to focus anger on the “other,” to continue, as the smoothest of snakes siphoning off resources. As Gandhi said of satyagrahi Hindus, they must stand with the Muslims against a Hindu mob. As Marx once said, a communist must stand with the most oppressed. As Jesus once said, the gospel is preached for the poor. This long history has left and leaves so many individuals in its ruins.
Last night, I was eating with my family in the Plaka. A young Pakistani mother came by with a baby at her side, asking for money. Her daughter disoriented, came to the table. She timidly held out a few packages of tissues, the artificial whiteness shining against her brown hand. She stayed a long time. She could not hide in a burkah here in Athens. She was not to be hidden from sight by beliefs in Islam. The baby at the table beyond was quiet on the mother’s hip. A year or two hence, the girl may be forced to join the sex trade. Unless the mother is strong and determined or the girl lucky...
A beautiful young African man came by, selling some carvings, in textiles more handsome than those of the Greeks (let alone the mass produced fabrics of the Americans). The leader of a people in Africa, my wife said.
When I was 16, I was with my father, a Keynsian economist who advised the Pakistan planning commission, in Dacca. We were walking in the crowd. A six year old girl in a sari wearing glittering bangles walked towards us. She reached out her hand to ask for money. Her wrists had each been snapped, her hands turned the wrong way, by the masters of poverty. Not inured to capitalism, I searched the crowd to see if I could harm the pimp….
He slipped away or was somewhere else or was everywhere and nowhere as the market is. Even in leading democracies, authoritarianism drapes itself in the trucks that sweep up the immigrants, in the walls along the border, in the arrests of the Roma, in the faces of the homeless, in the hands that reach out.
That girl’s face in Bengal, the face of this Pakistani child in Athens. As my wife said, the face of god.
*See my next post.