WHAT IS IT THAT YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND, MR PRIME MINISTER?

A magazine cover showing a photoshopped image of the Greek Prime Minister with torture scars on his face, in direct reference to the Greek Police’s use of torture, sparked controversy, with MPs maintaining that it is “an invitation to terrorism”. Yet questions over the recent incident where the Greek Police presented to the public a series of photoshopped images of youths arrested on robbery charges in an attempt to hide evidence of brutality, as well as the statement by the Minister of Public Order that this was done so that they are “recognizable”, remain painfully under-addressed,  while claims of torture and police brutality keep mounting.

Publishing the photographs and personal information of citizens arrested on various charges, and asking the public to provide additional information on other crimes they may have committed, is one of the most controversial practices favored by the Greek Police today. Greek law states that the publication of photos or data of arrested persons awaiting trial is prohibited, except in cases of public danger. One is hard pressed to understand what sort of “public danger” is averted through the publication of photos of arrested demonstrators or even HIV positive women charged with prostitution, nevertheless the Police keep doing it and the judicial authorities keep supporting the practice.

Recently, however, this controversial practice was taken to a new level. The Police published photos of four youths arrested on robbery and terrorism charges.

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Three of those arrested, as presented in the first set of images released by the Police

When reporters and members of the public pointed out that the photos had evidently been photoshopped, and rather crudely for that matter, the Police finally released several unaltered photos of those arrested. In the second set of photos, it was revealed they had been brutally beaten.

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The same three, in the second set of images

The Minister of Public Order Mr Nikos Dendias was then asked why the first series of photos had been altered. His reply was that it was done so that the accused would be “recognizable”.

The Minister of Public Order when asked why the first series of photos had been altered, replied that it was done so that the accused would be “recognizable”

Internal Affairs were quick to clear the Police of any wrongdoing. A hasty inquiry found that the accused had been wounded during the struggle that led to their arrest. This is hard to believe. For one, the accused were armed with assault rifles and the Police disarmed them, which makes it implausible that the arrest led to the kind of prolonged fistfight that could have resulted in such beatings. Secondly, before the Internal Affairs inquiry was undertaken, local Police Authorities where the arrests took place gave a Press conference in which they mentioned nothing about a struggle during the arrest. On the contrary, they pointed out that no one was hurt. And the lawyers for the accused subsequently reiterated the sadly not unheard of police practice of beating handcuffed detainees.

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A DANGEROUS LIE: THE “TWO EXTREMES” OF THE GREEK CRISIS

Among the many narratives that seek to regulate public discourse on the Greek crisis, a particularly persistent one is that which posits that there are two “extremes”, one on either side of the political spectrum, a “Far-Right” and a “Far-Left” one, both equally detrimental to democracy, which can only therefore be safeguarded by those currently in power. This narrative is not only false, but it  conceals a sinister operation…

Among the many narratives that seek to regulate public discourse on the Greek crisis, one is particularly persistent, tirelessly propagated by the Greek mainstream Media: this narrative posits that there are two “extremes”, one on either side of the political spectrum, a “Far-Right” and a “Far-Left” one. What is implied, but also quite often spelt out, is that these two “extremes” are alike, meaning that their tactics –which are after all what “really matters”– are identical, even though they profess to employ them with differing aims. Furthermore, the narrative goes, these tactics involve the use of violence for the achievement of political ends, a fact that not only makes them both equally detrimental to democracy, but also betrays a fundamental kinship: since both these “extremes” use violence for political ends, they cannot be as different as they proclaim.

ACCIDENTAL TOTALITARIANISMS

The “two extremes” narrative conveniently leaves the totalitarian expressions of capitalism such as Pinochet’s Chile, Pahlavi’s Iran or Suharto’s Indonesia outside the scheme, simple accidents of history. The obvious beneficiary is Western liberal democracy, which remains, to paraphrase Hardt and Negri’s charming formulation, always dedicated to peace, although continually bathed in blood.

Of course, this narrative was by no means discovered in Greece in the last three crisis-ridden years. On the contrary, it has a history within liberal-democratic discourse. Not to stretch too far back, the two “extremes” were equally condemned in the European Parliament resolution of 2 April 2009 on “European conscience and totalitarianism”. Reading the resolution, it is not too hard to discern that communism is a little more of a target than nazism –the European Parliament obviously considering nazism to have been sufficiently condemned in the past. Here, however, one should take account of the specificities: these are particular geopolitical circumstances, in which the current political and historical expression of Europe identifies itself –as a “united” political entity– with the winning side of World War 2 and draws on the outcome of the Cold War, thus incorporating in its European Union identity-building the countries of the former Soviet sphere of influence. Further support for this reading is provided by the fact that the precursor of the resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism is the Prague Declaration for European Conscience and Communism of June 2008.

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