Our street theater
Groups of young people have been barging into theaters lately, interrupting the performances and preaching the message of these recent days: «Arise! Revolt! Get out into the streets!» Since the night that 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos was killed, the city center has been frequently illuminated by the flames of Molotov cocktails and burning barricades; it has been wrapped in the mist of tear gas; it has reverberated with the passion and cries of student marches. Our streets have become a theatrical stage watched by the whole of Europe. And now the street has invaded the theaters. Not since the time that Dadaism sprang up in Zurich nearly 100 years ago have we seen such confusion between the street, politics and art. At the time, in neutral Switzerland, a handful of activist artists adopted an inventive, humorous way to declare war on convention and on war itself at a time when the youth of Europe was being slaughtered in the trenches of World War I. Today, in Greece, the protests and happenings have their own message. The spark was the death of young Alexis, but the fuel feeding the reaction can be found in the general malaise and the closed horizons of a country that has developed very quickly, haphazardly, without taking care to see how it would fill the gaps in the society that was emerging. Very few tried to do anything to create an education system and a labor market that could make use of the bright minds and ambitions that arose from the higher standard of living. At many levels, our new society was built with borrowed funds and without foundations. Children grow up with heightened expectations but with fewer possibilities than their parents had. The consumer society and personal self-interest, the lack of accountability for a chosen few and the degradation of the underprivileged have led to a toxic mix in which we demand the maximum and are bitterly disappointed by the dearth of even the most basic things: a decent education and the opportunity for dignified work. Now the youth have rebelled and are demanding a better society. The question is: Of who are they demanding it? This is not the classic clash of generations in which children confront their parents in the age-old war between progress and conservatism. The children, initially demanding the obvious (that they not be shot by policemen), are now confronting a society that no one is prepared to defend. It is as if we are all on the same side in a conflict with an invisible enemy. We may differ in methods and tactics (we don’t all want to destroy the shops) but we are all up against the «state» or «capitalism» or «consumerism.» We act as if it is not we who are the consumers who borrow more than we can afford in order to buy things that we do not need; as if it is not we who created this incompetent and brutally arbitrary state a state that we constitute and tolerate. With very few exceptions, neither our politicians nor our police, nor the officials of other institutions, are prepared to defend this state. Observing the «rebellious youth» in our squares, streets and theaters at the same time that our Parliament was debating the 2009 state budget (with speakers from all parties sticking to their barren, tired roles) one felt like an extra in a very cynical play. In Peter Weiss’s «Marat/Sade» (written in 1963) the inmates of a lunatic asylum, under the direction of their fellow inmate, the Marquis de Sade, put on a play dealing with the murder of the revolutionary Marat by a young woman, Charlotte Corday. The «play within a play» highlights the confusion between reality and the creation of myth as well as between the personal and the collective. One of its many themes is that revolution is more an issue of personal change than of social change. The overriding feeling, though, is one of panic as the lunatics appear to be in control of the asylum, personal stories overturn the «normal» flow of things and the smug governor of the institution is swept away by events that he cannot influence. No one is responsible for anything, because everyone is in the asylum against his or her will. Greece is not an institution and we are not held here against our will. The future depends on the effort that we will make, personally and collectively. And it would be tragic if the energy that the children have unleashed should go to waste.