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The nihilistic game of the taggers

By Tasoula Karaiskaki

Aris fans celebrated the centennial of the soccer club’s establishment in Thessaloniki last week by vandalizing almost every important monument in the center of the northern port city. They spray-painted slogans on the White Tower, the Vassiliko Theater, the headquarters of the Young Men’s Christian Association (HANTH), the statue of Alexander the Great, the Society for Macedonian Studies, and, as one scrawl boasted, “all along Tsimiski [Street].”

Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris accused the vandals of “anti-social, shameless and uncivilized behavior.”

“What if we’re relegated? Will they tear down the White Tower?” he commented.

The mayor has spoken out against such vandalism in the past, a frequent and ongoing occurrence along the seafront, on signs informing visitors of the city’s history, at the Holocaust Memorial and elsewhere. He said that the city was in a constant state of war with the vandals: “They scrawl, we clean and whoever gets tired first wins.”

The same battle is raging in Athens, where municipal crews scrubbed Syntagma Square clean ahead of the Independence Day parade on March 25 only to find the marble marred by spray paint and markers again before it had a chance to shine.

The most worrying aspect of this issue is widespread acceptance of this game, which does not scandalize but is, rather, viewed in the same way as the trash thrown at the side of the road and the layers of grime that coat bus stops. The vandals probably see their actions as a resounding statement of their presence or maybe as an expression of ideology, or even an expression of aesthetics, a kind of dadaist intervention. Authorities view it as a costly annoyance, yet nevertheless part and parcel of the job.

In fact, vandalism is an act of oppression, in which the collective ego of the group of vandals puts its destructive mark on things that as individuals they should be helping preserve: clean, functional public space, works of art, monuments celebrating history and collective memory, the relics of tradition and so on. Whether an expression of hooliganism or reaction against society, whether done lightly or unconsciously under peer pressure or completely consciously, the result is the same: ruining something that belongs to everyone.

This vandalism of public property is a cultural problem that been largely underestimated in Greece. Behind the disdain shown for the things created by bygone eras and present-day society, behind the abuse of the symbols of culture and history, seen as elements that need to be shed, there may lie the rejection of historical identity. Maybe they are denying their collective and individual existence within society by ruining the depictions of institutions and values, but not in a battle toward a new collective conscience; rather in an act of nihilism. Maybe they are expressing an anxiety that defies definitions, codes or morals. An absolute. And like any absolute, it is a way to ignore the real problem and, of course, the root of the problem itself.

ekathimerini.com , Saturday March 29, 2014 (17:50)  
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