Zero-sum game: Freedom and demos

The call by Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras for a public discussion about how authorities can limit the problems caused by the hundreds of demonstrations in downtown Athens every year has been rejected by default. The proposal fueled the good old democratic reflex, as many rushed to defend the – constitutionally safeguarded – right to public protest. And many imagined some underhanded scheme driven by the will to ban people’s collective expression. That, for example, was the reaction of Greece’s Communist party (KKE) which jumped to rebuff in what it said was an «unacceptable proposal.» The Communists warned the government against «taking any measures that will infringe upon the right to collective expression and public protest.» With all due respect to history and the consistency of the Communist party, its arguments are naive on a political level and no less than totalitarian on a social one. A protest usually serves a dual cause: The first is to express the opposition of a section of the population to a decision of the central authorities and, secondly, to inform other citizens about the issue at hand. The aims should be to gain support or, at best, active contribution. Therefore, it’s naive to claim that 200, 300, 500 or even 1,000 people can best achieve broader consensus by obstructing traffic in an already congested city, trapping people in their cars for many hours. As for the central government, we all know well that the best way to influence decision making is by mobilizing large majorities. That’s why the revolutionary exercise of small groups appears to me politically futile and naive. The only goal that such demonstrations achieve is to promote petty political objectives. They are aimed at internal consumption, meaning they allow parties to rally their fighting forces. I do not see why demonstrators marching on the House of Parliament cannot stay on one side of the road and then gather in Syntagma Square where they can send their message to their political representatives.

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