brutal nihilism


Yannis Stavrakakis


The recent decision to shut down ERT, the Greek public radio and television, has shocked the international community due to its brutal symbolism. However, although it constitutes a serious escalation of the ‘shock and awe’ strategy unfolding in Greece during the last three years, it should not cause surprise. The thoroughly unexpected and violent blackening of the screens has only highlighted the nihilism characteristic of the dominant policies already implemented under the auspices of European and international institutions. 

While in the first stages of the crisis the imposition of the austerity avalanche involved and relied on its meaningful packaging, its embellishment with an ideological meaning able to secure a minimum of hegemonic consent –even one based on fear, blame, moralism and demonization–, during the last period a variety of indications signal the passage into a new phase. Decision-making has gradually stopped claiming any concretely meaningful foundation, it lost any interest in winning consent – even through fear and extortion. What remains is, thus, its brutal imposition. It is not an illness, anymore, that justifies the (bitter) medication; it is not guilt that justifies the (harsh) punishment. Medication and punishment are autonomised and affect severely and equally the ill and the healthy, those who are guilty and those who are not-guilty, very often without the articulation of any persuasive justification. As a result, politics and policy is detached from any reasonable content and domination is reduced to repression. Distanced from any real argumentative support, the measures implemented openly reveal their functioning in favor of establishing a nihilistic system of domination through cruelty, which reduces citizens to ‘serfs’. This seems to be their only meaning and purpose.

The last few months have provided many indications of this shift. Let us recall two recent examples – and I will limit myself only to those that have become common place in the Greek public sphere, those on which almost everybody seems –paradoxically– to agree. First of all, the widely reported ‘mistake’ made by the International Monetary Fund in calculating the effect of the measures implemented on GDP contraction. In the face of such an astonishing admission of under-calculation with disastrous consequences for the Greek economy and following calls from all political sides to relax the current policies, the troika insisted on Christine Lagarde’s motto: 'implementation, implementation, implementation'! The same brutal nihilism marks another recent incident. The huge increase in heating oil prices imposed by the troika; as a result, consumption of heating oil collapsed, most Greeks have endured a winter without central heating, forests around urban areas have suffered enormously from people desperate to heat their families and, last but not least, atmospheric conditions in cities have deteriorated rapidly due to people burning whatever they could find in order to heat themselves. Whenever it was pointed out within the public sphere that the increase in tax revenues was actually negligible or even non-existent, while the situation resembled a humanitarian catastrophe, the answer was that nothing could be changed. This legislation is still in place, but nothing supports it apart from its own nihilistic brutality.

It becomes obvious that the type of domination these measures signal is not based on any type of ordinary hegemony (that is on the organization of consent); it does not aim at persuasion. On a first level, it does not even make sense! It is a power structure investing on pain and cruelty in order to produce the symbolic surplus of ‘meaningless’ despair that will allow it to be accepted fatalistically – or so the logic goes. If this type of power symbolizes something it is a decisionism, which is not simply post-democratic, but increasingly more and more authoritarian. This is why the peak of its implementation –incarnated by the decision to liquidate ERT and to firmly install the ‘no signal’ sign on our TV screens– has mobilized the reflexes of every democratic citizen in Greece and beyond. 

But this is not the end of the story. Greek citizens did not confine themselves to a momentary reflex reaction; and they neither reciprocated the nihilistic brutality of the power bloc. On the contrary, they reacted with inventive spirit, inspired by the creative drive of solidarity. All those who follow the ERT transmission, which is now accessible through the internet, know what I am talking about. I am talking about the liberation of the creative energy of thousands of people, journalists and artists, academics and ordinary citizens, who are currently –in the here and now– realizing and safeguarding the vision of a public radio and television, which is both independent and participatory, assuming responsibility for its crucial cultural role and its democratic value. 

Last but not least, the silencing of ERT has revealed to a numb European public sphere the direct consequences of the brutal nihilism that European institutions themselves have de facto sanctioned and/or orchestrated throughout the last few years. Thus, for the first time so clearly, the Greek predicament has emerged as what it predominantly is, a question of democracy. Both for Greece and for Europe this seems to be a turning point that will partly determine our (democratic or authoritarian) future...




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