Address to the Conference “Debt and Austerity: From Southern Countries to Europe,” Athens, Greece, 6-8 May 2011
The Greek initiative for the establishment of a Committee for the Accounting Audit of Its Public Debt welcomes you to this very important three-day event for the exchange of views, proposals, concerns and experiences. It is with great emotion and high expectations that we welcome those who have travelled here from other parts of the world, viewing the planet as one great homeland of visions, ideals, struggles, and peoples’ conquests.
Greece is the birthplace of a major auteur renowned throughout the world: Theodoros Angelopoulos. In his film Ulysses’ Gaze, as analyzed by Per Albert, his main focus is on vision or, rather, on regaining vision. This is how the hero of the film explains the origin of the crisis, when he attempts to photograph a holy, revelatory site, such as the temple of Apollo on the island of Delos, and only succeeds in producing black photographs: “Nothing . . . Negative images of the world as if I had no vision. I started shooting one photo after another: the same black holes. . . .” The leading character realizes he has lost his vision and that his journey will concern his effort to regain it. In the final scene, at the end of the journey, he will be able to produce and watch a film lost since the early 20th century, representing the very first gaze: “[A gaze that was] lost, [. . .] a gaze trying to escape the darkness . . . a kind of birth. . . .”
Dear friends, this is exactly our story. We are at the peak of the crisis. Our homeland, which doesn’t recognize its children, and our children, who don’t recognize their homeland. Lands of dreams, of memories and ideals, are juxtaposed with a present without vision. Figures of exiles, if we define exile as a feeling of loss, where what is missing can assume symbolic names, such as justice, accountability, democracy, independence, hope, vision. Just like the man who is definitely among us, Thanassis Vengos, says in the same film: “Thousands and thousands of years among broken stones and statues. We are dying.”
Beyond infamous numbers and statistics, there are more valuable concepts, beyond the games of market speculation and their leading players, there is more valuable content: there are people, there is history, there is culture, there is decency.
There are people who, at least here in their country, have lost their vision, their gaze. Kindness and decency, as a social acquis rather than as a courteous offer, has been surrendered to neo-liberal barbarism. Our history, a history of resistance and popular conquests, has been distorted by anti-dialectical teleological theories ignoring history, as if there is no alternative. Our culture, the quintessence of which is Prometheus’ plan to save humanity from ruin, because human beings are the only fuel of history, has been replaced by prehistory, i.e. the salvation of financiers and bankers.
The people have been transformed from a political subject, as every government should heed, into an object of accusation, of vulgar epithets such as lazy, corrupt, and freeloading. This whole distorted construct was organized and materialized by powerful mechanisms of government propaganda, its initial goal being that of cultivating a feeling of complicity and fear. This first goal, appealing to our people’s instincts, acts as a wonderful quarantine house used to wash away the sins of an entire system.
However, the plan doesn’t stop there. The instinct of fear and complicity can never ensure complete, absolute dominance, unconditional enforcement. There is more that is needed. What is needed is a people without vision. And what is a people without vision? It is a people that forfeits its political essence, its vision. It’s a people that trades its history for a kind of empty hope, of white despair. Because the architects of the plan are fully aware that “the political present is not alien to the historical past.”
This is the plan. And it is both a pilot plan and a rational one. At times of intense crisis, the system has always drawn on mechanisms of propaganda and suppression. Only this time, it has surpassed itself. Since the era of McCarthyism, the system has always permitted the existence of small cracks in the structure, like safety valves, as a mechanism for rounding off and polishing the system itself — even if these cracks were blind hopes that, if not actually sufficing to accomplish anything, they were at least something.
Today, the system aims at controlling every independent dream. It aims at sealing every crack. So that we can no longer see.
What we are now living through is the historical neurosis of the system, a neurosis that is useful for the system, since it provides it with some balance and lays an open path for it to continue to survive without needing to change.
What we must see is that, every time the system cultivates terrorism and closes any cracks with reinforced vigor, the system is terrified and, consequently, trying to appear intimidating. This is why its only recourse from its internal contradiction is violence. There is no form of violence more intense than taking away vision.
And that is why there is no higher form of resistance than an effort to regain our vision — in other words, to be born. As Amengual posited, “Time is the landscape of History; memory is the human form of time.” This birth cannot take place without history and memory.
And it is precisely here that the enormous contribution of this conference lies. The experience you will bring to us must create and find life anew; it must bring forward the retrospective necessity of the past to the present time. We must traverse the living landscape of history and memory, recognizing that what happened in Ecuador and Argentina and what is happening in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal today are all connected by the invisible thread of history. Both you and we, all of us together, are carriers of this thread: living and present memory.
History, not that of politicians and financial directors but that of peoples and their resistance, is resplendent. The proof is here and comes from South America; it comes from our comrades of regional Europe. This is what we are searching for as an initial catalyst. Some proof, some evidence.
Dear friends, I would like to focus on the necessity of proof. It is true, and it is sadly the only valid truth of our times, that the failures of the vision for a different world sank people into a dogma. Once the vision crumbles, we compromise with reality. It is also true that pioneering forces of society and politics found themselves beaten and atavistically locked in soundproofed halls. As a result, all we could hear were our own voices. In fact, upon hearing any voice that was not familiar and did not accommodate our theory, instead of recognizing any truth the voice might hold, we considered it as a lie en bloc.
This was a dual defeat: a defeat of society and a defeat of pioneers. Peoples stood witness to this defeat of pioneers. This is why we need proof. Tangible, comprehensible, and transparent proof. Between theory and movement, what we need today is proof. In other words, we need the confirmation of power, the documentation of the correctness of a proposal on the basis of an event that has already occurred, that already comprises historical and political practice. Proven action is the measure of theory, the criterion demonstrating its interpretative ability and limits. Proven action is the driving force for regaining our vision. Because what comes before the process to which the Committee for the Accounting Audit (ELE) aspires and which it considers an integral ingredient is the need to convince people that at some point, somewhere on this planet, things happened differently. This is the only condition that can do away with the subservience of people faced with the beast of the market. This is the only condition that can liberate forces from the claim that there is no alternative. This is the only condition that can reveal the reality of the rules of a system that causes bleeding and embezzlement.
All these conditions are necessary for the movement. A people who is no longer subservient, a people who is free from systemic dogmas, a people who understands that the predatory rules of the system are the cause for its existence, a people who knows that somewhere, at some point in time, today, things can take a different turn, a people who is ready to resist, to overthrow, to create. This is the kind of birth I am talking about. This is the kind of birth l am looking forward to.
I am well aware of differences, and, sadly, we all are more aware of our differences than of our common ground. Faced with such differences — and here l am addressing the vibrant, pioneering forces of the Left and progress — political courage is necessary. Political courage means being mature and patient, waiting for the people to produce the ultimate solution and, at the same time, being impatient for the people to find this solution.
This is what ELE is. This is its identity. We say: let us all, together as one, control, assert, overthrow. We are not restricting ourselves to diagnosing what’s wrong; we are chancing interpretations, we are shaking the foundations of systemic establishments, we are liberating new energy.
What will be chosen as a solution after this process, after the overthrow? Let us build it together, within a process of ideological struggle. Let us become the frontline, and each part of this line, let us autonomously and dynamically develop our intervention in society, so that we may create the necessary social awareness for an overthrow, which, in turn, will give birth to and support the strategic conclusion of the day after.
We cannot look into the eyes of pensioners, the unemployed, social outcasts, young people trying to escape the reality we bequeath to them, while actually stating: “no such land exists.” At a time when our land, our public assets, the ports of Greece and Portugal are being sold off, we cannot be dividing instead of multiplying.
We cannot expect, every time the system is in crisis, that this will be its final hour, nor can we have false expectations of a death rattle when the system proves it still has many years of life ahead.
Denying everything that can divide you and accepting everything that can empower you — that is what ELE is. That is its identity. Let us control, assert, overthrow, creating a single frontline, free from the cracks of suspicion, imperialism, and dominance. We cannot face the enormous arsenal of our enemy that outclasses ours while losing our weapon of unity.
Let us open the accounts of this debt. This is a deep political process, as the very nature of the debt is related to class. A top theorist once wrote that “the working class consciousness cannot be genuinely political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence and abuse.” Tyranny is a debt the people was never asked to shoulder. Oppression is a debt that, when serviced, removes your independence, democracy, and social acquis. Violence is a debt that, when serviced, creates social and economic apartheids. Abuse is a debt exacerbated by illegal contracts, by Goldman-Sachs kickbacks, by the enormous contracting agreements of the Olympic Games.
And the answer to tyranny, oppression, violence, and abuse is knowledge. Knowledge is, in my opinion, at the root of every movement and the driving force for the emergence of political solutions and political overthrow. This is ELE. Its journey follows a fully political course, as its final destination is the demonstration of the class nature of this debt, its ultimate goal is the self-evident identification of violence classism with the system itself.
You bear a great responsibility. We expect a theoretical guide to action from the conclusions you will draw.
Dear guests from other continents,
Your contribution is enormous, because the action you developed is a reliable, realistic tool.
Fellow fighters from across Europe,
Your presence is important, because it removes our people from isolationism and fragmentation and paves the road for internationalism and full-scale offensive. These are our precious ingredients. Our theory, our action, our international solidarity.
I think that the best way to wish every success on the work of this conference is to quote Pablo Neruda: “Let’s try and avoid death in small doses, reminding ourselves that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing. Only a burning patience will lead to the attainment of a splendid happiness.” Let us make this great effort! With zealous patience and passionate alertness. Somewhere in the future, days will be truly brilliant!
Sofia Sakorafa is an independent Member of Parliament in Greece.
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