NEWS

Bloggers are becoming a force to be reckoned with

One of the most impressive things about a demonstration that took place in central Athens earlier this month to call for the immediate reforestation of the areas of Mt Parnitha destroyed in last month’s fires was the diversity of the participants. They included families with children, cyclists, environmentalists, leftists and bloggers, wearing T-shirts advertising their websites and speaking their own slang, wandering around the crowd with digital cameras at the ready, smiling eagerly. The next day, Greek cyberspace was full of videoclips, photos, references and discussions about the demonstration. Two days after the Parnitha fires, the community of Greek «netizens» had already initiated two reforestation drives, issued a non-partisan call for a protest, attempted to measure and record the damage and whip up support for the demonstration. Long before the fires, back in March in fact, there had been the «Enough is enough» campaign when Greek bloggers accused the Greek Police online of a lack of credibility and of respect for people’s dignity, following police violence against the student movement last winter. Then, bloggers had played a role in organizing student sit-ins, highlighting students’ fears for their future (the «700-euro» generation, as they called it, in referring to the basic wage which they see few being able to rise above). They charged that torture was being perpetrated at police stations, but also criticized gangs of soccer hooligans. Their activity reached a peak, however, over the death from cancer of 30-year-old Amalia Kalyvinou, who during her illness had described on her own blog how she had been forced to pay doctors under the table for treatment. Today on Google «This one is for Amalia» has become a slogan for an online protest that has had 575,000 hits, most of which are references to her case. On June 1, the day bloggers have set aside in memory of Amalia, her blog had 56,116 visitors from 30 countries, and 120 organizations received and sent over 120,000 e-mails. A video went on YouTube and over 400,000 people searched Google for information on her that day. Since then, bloggers have set up a movement to collect signatures to petition the Health Ministry and the government. According to the Information Society Watch, of the roughly 1 million Greeks with Internet access there are about 100,000 with blogs of their own or who read those of others. There has been a considerable increase in their numbers since broadband became available to subscribers. Recently, New Democracy Eurodeputy Costas Hatzidakis called blogs the «sociopolitical cafes of the 21st century.» At the same time, Synaspismos Left Coalition’s Alexis Tsipras, who is a municipal councilor in Athens, said they were agents for sociopolitical awareness-raising for a new order of citizens. «The Web is contradictory and within its contradictions there is the potential for even short-lived oases of political empowerment, breeding grounds for sociopolitical activity,» said Corina Pateli, who teaches online journalism at the Athens University of Economics and Business. «They are more powerful and have a longer life in countries where the Internet is not used by the media industry,» she said. Short-lived or otherwise, it appears that some members of the sofa society have stood up, walked over to a computer and begun forming communities that have launched a guerrilla war of communication, reminding everyone that society is still alive and has a mind of its own.