Twin peaks

In two weeks’ time the leaders of the 15 EU countries, 10 acceding members and a handful of candidates will be attending the summit with which Greece will wrap up its presidency of the Union. Among the main issues to be discussed will be the adoption of a constitution that will determine the future of Europe. As this is expected to lead to the end of the rotating presidency, this is Greece’s last chance at the top and Prime Minister Costas Simitis would like to make the most of it. The summit will also be discussing issues crucial to Greece, such as the western Balkans and the management of migration. For most of us, these summit meetings appear to be a grossly overblown circus of last-minute preparations and full-time procrastinations that cause only huge disturbances wherever they go. But aside from Simitis and others who would like to show off the strengths of Greece, there is another group of people who are just as happy that the eyes of the world will be turned on Greece the way they were on Evian and the more unfortunate Geneva a week ago. They are the anti-globalization, anti-imperialist, anti-what-have-yous all rolled up into the «People’s Anti-Summit.» They say that «tens of thousands» of people from all over Greece and Europe will gather in Thessaloniki and will also protest at the Porto Carras hotel resort on Halkidiki, about 150 kilometers away. How they will get to Porto Carras at Neos Marmaras is another matter, as the security cordon around the area will include naval vessels, anti-aircraft batteries and thousands of police. In any case, at some point, both in Thessaloniki and the point at which the «red zone» begins in Halkidiki we can expect vigorous clashes between riot squads and small groups of impassioned demonstrators who will break away from the main body in order to show their Euro-wimp counterparts in other countries how real anti-imperialists battle the police. At both summits, much of what goes on in Greece today will be visible to the world. It’s kind of like the Olympics without the construction projects and without the stage management a year before the Big Extravaganza. The most entertaining thing regarding the anti-summit is the government’s effort to handle it by sticking to its merry old tactic of trying to play both sides. This pattern is exemplified by the way it handled the US-led invasion of Iraq: On the one hand the government gave America and its allies all the support they needed, while on the other, Athens asked that this be kept secret and, while it was going on, the ruling PASOK party gave its blessing to anti-war demonstrations and schools were closed so that pre-pubescent cubs could get their teeth into useful slogans such as «Americans, killers of people.» Of course, almost all those who marched, or who made propaganda regarding the protests, cast full blame on the government for assisting the Americans. So what Simitis managed to achieve, in the end, was the notable double of angering both sides by trying to please them. This is most likely to happen again later this month. On the one hand, we’ll have the EU summit, where our visitors will be coming into an environment in which they know that their hosts will actually be making life easy for those demonstrating against their presence, who call them lackeys of the capitalists and the Americans, who accuse them of complicity in the woes of Palestinians and all troubled masses in general. It’s a little like visiting someone who won’t do anything about his dog growling at you incessantly – even if the dog doesn’t bite you, and though you love animals yourself, you can’t help thinking that it would be nice if your host kept the damned beast out of your face. Then again, since Seattle and Genoa it has become de rigueur for any meeting worth attending to be accompanied by streetfighting, so maybe if there were no protests old EU hands would miss the fuss and new members would feel they hadn’t yet made the A team. But laying on the red carpet for protesters – including free residence and transportation – might seem just a little extravagant to some. On the other hand, we have the anti-summit, which the umbrella organization, Action Thessaloniki 2003, describes as «not just another rendezvous for ‘revolutionary tourism,’ but a coordinated and organized, class-popular mass action against the summit of the Euro-imperialists, so that their decisions cannot be taken. Decisions that will bring even greater profits to the multinationals and the monopolies and even greater poverty and wretchedness to the workers, the unemployed, the pensioners, the farmers and youth.» So, opening camping grounds and offering bus rides to the protesters will probably not be enough to quell their ire at the fact that parts of Thessaloniki and Porto Carras will be out of bounds. So the government will duly harvest their anger as well, with whatever consequences this may have for Thessaloniki’s shopkeepers. They, anticipating desperate times, are calling on desperate measures. Their union has urged them to board up their shops and stock up on fire extinguishers while also attaching stickers to their (presumably boarded) shopfronts brightly declaring «Thessaloniki – City of dialogue.» With such strong causes to fight for, there is sure to be a very dynamic and appropriate dialogue – a little like the way in which the G-8 leaders and half the rest of the world (including EU president Simitis) were discussing the shortage of water in the world a few days ago (in Evian, of all places) while Geneva police were using tons of the precious liquid to try to wash the demonstrators off their streets. But this, believe it or not, is not a rant against the demonstrators. Our world is at a turning point and there is much to worry about. We are in uncharted waters and no one, least of all our governments and supranational organizations, knows which direction to take. People who are bright enough and concerned enough to get off their couch and break away from the narcotic of television are a credit to us all. Their protests should help concentrate the minds of those who are entrusted with mapping our future. But it is the government, with its spineless efforts to please everyone while emphasizing its roots as a «Socialist Movement,» which causes the greatest damage by giving what should be a spontaneous and sincere movement of Doubting Thomases the legitimacy of an institution. Instead of stoking rebellion, the protest movement can warp into something fixed, something disturbingly narcissistic. If this eclectic coalition stays where it is, it will adopt the mentality of a rigid bureaucracy, the fate of so many movements whose revolution was frozen without evolution. Something like PASOK, in other words, which, despite governing for two decades, still believes that what is important is not what the activists are actually saying but the fact that they are in the street. It seems to matter to no one that (at least in their local subspecies) what the «movements» are saying is the most anachronistic, utopian and useless rubbish. In this, they appear to exist only to say no where others say yes. The very concept of an «Anti-Summit» confirms this. Consider also the statement that «Action Thessaloniki 2003 is mobilizing to cancel the first mission of the Euro-army outside of Europe, to the Congo, a fact which opens dangerous roads for new interventions and adventurism in the future.» An admirable and risky mission to help stop the slaughter of innocents in a blighted corner of the world, where no one else will go, is presented as some great imperial scheme. If this is not blind conservatism, what is? What do the protesters have to say about how jobs can be created at a time when populations are growing and moving, how international law can be upheld when the old order is breaking down, how the environment can be protected when both developed and developing nations are developing at its expense? In their flat-out rejection of all that the EU is debating, these movements suggest not that the EU is out of touch with the people but rather that they themselves are stuck in the cobwebs of dreams that never came to pass. And in railing indiscriminately against the EU they belittle the fact that it is our home – our only home – and the only viable, progressive counterbalance to the excesses of any other power. The great thing is that the protests actually strengthen democracy in the EU, and Greece’s lively street theater is part of this. The sad thing is that the movements themselves have so little to say. Mollycoddling them now will just make them as complacent as they are self-absorbed. And in the end, they will have nothing to offer but their monotonous shouting as the caravan lumbers on.

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