The Economist has an fascinating article “Rioters of the world unite“. It is partially about the demonstrations, protests, and outright riots in Athens and other parts of Greece at the end of last year. It is also partially concerned with a rising trend in new ways to not organize, and still be politically effective. The underlying issue is that the fund of goodwill between the police and certain politically active parts of society is drying up. In New Zealand there is a growing lack of respect for peaceful political activism amongst some elements of the police. To me that looks like heading towards France 2005, Budapest 2006, and now Greece 2008 with net assisted uncontrolled outbreaks of anger. We’ve had them before, but these days they can spread fast, especially when assisted by annoyed activists tired of being persecuted and spied on.
For those who didn’t bother with the news at the time, here is a description from an earlier Economist article about what triggered the unrest and how far it went.
This week’s violence was on an unprecedented scale. It erupted after Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15-year-old schoolboy, was shot dead by a policeman in Exarchia, a scruffy central district of Athens known as the anarchists’ home base, on the night of December 6th. Shouting insults at police in their patrol cars is a weekend sport for some Athenian youths. The police are meant to stay cool: the last time a policeman killed a teenager was in 1985.
This time protests over the shooting quickly spilled into the main streets of Athens, and thence across the country. Roving groups of anarchists torched cars, broke shop windows decorated for Christmas and tossed in petrol bombs. Beyond the capital, demonstrators attacked police stations and public offices in a dozen cities.
What triggered the events is not that interesting – anything could have. What was startling is the speed that people could get out on the streets to show their displeasure and being in the same places – that is new. It wasn’t just the people who were affected, knew the kid, or even were involved in similar groups. It was a lot of people and down to the individual level who decided to get involved.
In the world of the net, it is incredibly hard to confine information through the techniques of the past with the MSM. There are simply too many channels and outlets. You can’t censor or put injunctions on information that isn’t even in the same country. When activists who know how to put information on the net get involved, it spreads even faster, as these days they have widespread networks of loose contacts.
In Greece some of the political shenanigans are corrupt to say the least, and the police are viewed by sections of society as a sort of occupation force. There simply wasn’t enough goodwill towards the police or the authorities or the ‘system’. So people decided largely individually and without much organization to find out what was happening and where. Then they went to participate. The effect as the Economist commented is:-
By definition, anarchy is harder to propagate than rigid Leninism. Whatever is spreading from Athens, it is not a clear programme for a better world. The malcontents of Greece include ideological class warriors, nostalgists for the protests against the junta of 1967-74 and people (including drug dealers and bank robbers) with a grudge against the police. Relations between police and the counter-culture have worsened recently; the police are accused (rightly) of bullying migrants, the bohemians of dallying with terrorism. A messy scene, with no obvious message.
But the psychological impulse behind the Greek protestsâ€”a sense of rage against all authority, which came to a head after a 15-year-old boy was killed by a police bulletâ€”can now be transmitted almost instantaneously, in ways that would make the Bolsheviks very jealous. These days, images (moving as well as still) spread faster than words; and images, of course, transcend language barriers.
The “bohemians” in this case are likely to be activists. Activists don’t join groups as much now, because it is safer to work on the net. You’re far less likely to have the paranoid police deciding that you are potentially a terrorist and then acting if you were one now. Activists now know where to go on the net and have even wider networks than if they were involved in groups. They don’t have (or want) leaders that can be targeted for special attention and they don’t want to have nebulous bogus conspiracy charges against them.
But that is overseas, what are the implications for here? That gets quite interesting.
“Rioters of the world unite” points out that this isn’t a brand new trend – the techniques and trends are spreading via the net. Similar but less concentrated non-organization behavior happened in France in 2005, and in Budapest in 2006. The problem for the police and the authorities is that it can happen anywhere. All it requires is enough disaffected people in society that do not respect the “authoritah of Cartmans”. Most people under the of 30 have the skills to communicate on the net. All activists have access to it these days.
In NZ, imagine if the police were still as much of a pain as they were after the ’81 tour and Muldoon. Then they managed to trigger the 1984 Queen Street Riot with a serious testosterone burst of stupidity. That is the NZ analogy to Athens but other things could cause similar disruption.
If I’d heard about the rumpus in 1984 soon enough, I’d have gone down for a look, and probably got involved. In 1984, I was 24 and had little very respect for the police. They’d assaulted me in 1981 without sufficient reason. They made a habit of harassing my friends, especially if they were brown.
I’m not that happy with them now and that is a lot more of an issue than it was 25 years ago – then I was politically niave, now I’m definitely an activist. Their actions against activists over the last few years have been appalling. Rather than having a fund of respect amongst activists that the police could draw on, groups within the police like the SIG, TAU, and TPU have been frittering it away. It isn’t just the left, there is almost as much disquiet across the whole political spectrum for many reasons. Just read the blogs.
A decision to participate would be done individually by activists. There isn’t any point in talking it over with others and figuring out longer term factors. If we did that then we would become easy targets for police action. Periodically they’d descend with search warrants based on bogus nebulous conspiracy charges as part of their general intimidation policies. It is far safer to act alone and use the net to support each other anonymously. They spy on established groups like political parties and unions as well, so how long before they start using search warrants and conspiracy charges against them?
To be visibly involved is to become part of the wet dream of some lazy police with conspiracy delusions. In NZ, it is becoming simpler to be an anonymous activist cross-linked via the net. That is not a good model for nurturing democratic change in NZ – it is a suppression technique. In the end suppression just leads to explosions.
Yep, I can see why the riots in Greece happened. It only takes a few fuckwits in the police to squander the respect for their authoritah! Hell it may even be policy to increase police budgets – who can tell? The police are a opaque organization who often appear as if they are unsure themselves about what they are doing. But that is another post.
And now for your viewing pleasure… Cartman… The police don’t like us using their crest so Cartman will have to do.