Hyper War art
By Nelli Kambouri and Paulos Xatzopoulos
This video was produced by a supporter of the neo-fascist Greek group Golden Dawn in January 2, 2013 to commemorate the past year of its actions. After showing a montage of marches, speeches and public events, including the distribution of free food to Greeks in need, the video ends with the strange but also apocalyptic phrase “OUR WAY OF LIFE IS NOT ELECTORAL”, meaning that the Golden Dawn is not simply a political party that strives for more votes, but it is a movement that dictates new forms of living.
In this presentation, we address how the microfascist way of life proliferates through You Tube user generated video production and dissemination. Our focus is on the Greek Golden Dawn. The digital strategies of this group feeding upon popular discontent over economic and social degradation had a direct impact on the transformation of racism into an every-day life issue. In public discourse, racist comments and arguments are nowadays commonplace and are used even by members of the political parties of the centre. Since 2009, Golden Dawn began to establish itself in the local movements of the so called “concerned citizens” mostly in Athens, where migrants were regularly attacked and prevented from using certain public spaces. Gradually, as the economic crisis and the government austerity measures deepened, Golden Dawn began to claim a patriotic identity, substituting the state in the preservation of order and security and building on rising anti-migrant and racist sentiments. It managed to gain 7% of the vote in the double parliamentary elections during the spring-summer of 2012 and it currently scores more than 10% in the latest opinion polls.
In this paper we are mainly interested in Golden Dawn video production and dispersion of videos rather than in the more general political issues that have to do with the rise of an ultra-right wing party in Greek elections. The Golden Dawn has been widely criticized in mainstream media for using diverse “politically incorrect” references to the Nazis and the Greek dictatorship of the 1970s in order to mobilize its members to “a new way of life”. Golden Dawn appears thus to be a return of a ghost from the past, a short of anachronism strangely re-appearing in the midst or because of economic recession, social discontent and political corruption. From our perspective, however, the digital patriotic neo-racism of the GD is mostly a form of microfascism that has internalized the failures of the fascist regimes of the past, which we usually take as historical examples (ie Nazi Germany, Franco’s Spain, Fascist Italy) only to twist and transform them.
We take Deleuze and Guatarri’s term “microfascism” to understand strategies and practices that develop in digital video production and dissemination. To be sure, the concept of microfascism is a rather ambiguous one. For D and G. microfascism emerges in different every day environments (in the school, the neighborhood, the army) and has to do with the adoption of a way of life that suppresses desires. It is a “line of flight” from striated and territorializing practices. Microfascist practices are productive of power relations in the sense that they evolve like rhizomes that escape dominant institutions and forms of organization. For D and G, microfascism emerges in both right and left wing movements. This is to say, that microfascism is neither about totalitarian regimes nor about oligarchic movements of brainwashed and fanatic masses, but it is a process of becoming “a black hole”. In fact, the crucial point for us and perhaps the most difficult question to address in contemporary Greece is the question of the micro-fascists around us: the ultra-right wing parents and teachers, the self proclaimed policemen, the amateurs who keep the order in their neighborhoods, the concerned citizens, the amateur journalists and bloggers.
In this video, the leader of the Golden Dawn party makes the following statement: “They accuse us of being Nazis. Even if sometimes our hands salute in this way [and he performs a Nazi salute], these hands are clean”. This statement is paradoxical, while the leader acknowledges the adoption of practices symbolic of a past that has been delegitimized (i.e. a Nazi salute) and he himself does not deny this delegitimization, he stresses the fact that his strength and legitimacy derives from the purity of his deeds. Obviously this is intended as a criticism against the corrupt and degenerate elites in Greece, but also in a strange twist, (he says “even if we salute in the Nazi way”) it also implies that a Nazi salute is no longer what it used to be. It has acquired new meaning, content and symbolism. Nowadays, a Nazi salute is a patriotic gesture against (ironically) the German plans to overtake the Greek economy.
Moreover the Nazi salute is no longer what it used to be because it is intended mostly to be digitaly performed. The digital performativities of neo-fascist leadership do not mimic past charismatic fascist or nazi leadership practices but reflect a new media environment where everyone and anyone can produce and disseminate a YouTube video. Michaloliakos may be playing the leader in an old-fashion manner (aggressive, authoritarian speech) and he may be made to look like he is obeyed, but his persona cannot and does not play a central role in you tube video production. He is neither mystified nor idealized. For example, during the first press conference of Golden Dawn after its election in Parliament, journalists were asked to stand up in respect to the leader, and those who didn’t were kicked out. The incident was videoed and posted on You Tube and later reproduced in all major TV channels. But, as the press officer of the party noted, this was intended to be “a practical joke on journalists” for keeping Golden Dawn outside mainstream media for so long.
In the production of YouTube neo-racist performativities, there is no cult of the leader, but rather a cult of the amateur, the one who enjoys practical jokes and outbursts of rage. There is no grandiose fascist propaganda either -at least in the sense of an organized centrally controlled repetitive dissemination of messages and images addressing a mass of docile and obedient recipients brainwashed to follow the message.
As Ilias Kasidiaris, the Golden Dawn spokesperson argued when he was asked about the blackout of party representatives from mainstream media “ours, is a grass-roots movement and the internet is our medium”.
While several of these influential videos are produced by GD members, microfascist production is principally distributed and takes the form of seemingly apolitical every-day life videos. The content of these videos is user-generated: the video reporting of simple, 'true Greeks' is supposed to counteract the official, anti-patriotic narratives propagated by mainstream media. Migrants are revealed as inhuman, savage and animal-like creatures. One of the most popular themes that circulates in Facebook is the revelation of the dog-eating habits of Asian migrants. African and Asian foreigners are reported by eye witnesses to slaughter and sell pets systematically. These claims are substantiated by the eponymous testimonies of Greek citizens who have allegedly experienced the savage spectacle of slaughtered dogs being sold for food in the centre of Athens. Another repetitive theme that appears in several online postings is that of the monstrous and violent sexual habits of migrants. Most of the posts in this category refer to violence against migrant women, children rape, forced prostitution and trafficking. The revelation of the inhuman treatment of women, children and men unmasks their animality, positioning them in the field of the “uncivilized savage”. In most cases, the usage of sexual violence is described as a common practice revealing the inherent cultural incompatibility between Greek and migrant norms. The “multiculturalist” mingling of Greek and foreign population is presented as dangerous and destructive.
In this context, the connected microfascist is elevated into a symbol of resistance: operating in a sterilized media environment, where one can easily ban encounters with other races and beliefs, he is able to perform his apocalyptic routines. Take for example, one of the most popular forms of microfascist activism in Athens today: online publishing of maps and photographs of migrant street-vendors. In the following video Golden dawn takes the role of self-proclaimed amateur police.
The video depicts Golden Dawn’s “visit” to the Athenian suburb of Rafina, on the occasion of a Christian Orthodox day of festivity. Golden Dawn party members (recognizable by their black shirts stamped with the party logo) proceed to “check the papers” of the migrant vendors selling goods in the open air fare set outside the Christian church. When they seemingly discover migrant vendors with no, or with false, papers, they attack them, beating them up, destroying their kiosks and smashing their goods. The video ends with a participant to the excursion--and current Golden Dawn MP--explaining the rationale for the party’s initiative. He says: “We are here to honor the Virgin Mary…In parallel, we saw some illegal immigrants selling illegally in the fair and Golden Dawn did what it had to do about this problem”.
The video follows some of the techniques and aesthetic formulas of amateur videos filmed by citizen journalists. It adopts the aesthetics of a first hand eye-witness account of a news event. It is filmed by “someone who seems to just have happened to be there” when the news event occurs. The video is entirely filmed through a hand-held camera that follows the main characters of the event -the Golden Dawn members and their migrant targets- as the event unfolds. There is minimal continuity editing of the video footage and there are no separate sound recordings or effects, so many off camera conversations that might have provided a diversified context to the news event are inaudible or missing for the viewer.
This similar aesthetic is rehearsed again and again in numerous videos that ‘document’ the activities of the Golden Dawn. Most of these videos are initially uploaded and then favorited, commented on, and re-uploaded incessantly in numerous YouTube user accounts of . Even the fewer videos that are featured in the official YouTube account of the Golden Dawn follow the same aesthetic.
In a very characteristic incident, Golden Dawn’s ambivalent entrance to parliament in 2012 chiefly posed the integration vs. denunciation of the political system dilemma, but it also posed a related, minor dilemma regarding its online video strategy. More precisely, the dilemma concerned how the Golden Dawn would deal with the coverage of its parliamentary activities and the regularized mise-en-scene of the TV coverage of all parliamentary discussions. Initially, Golden Dawn pursued a tactic of purity: it tried to keep its official YouTube account uncontaminated by the traditional media imagery by creating a second, and much less publicized, YouTube account where all the “professional” TV footage was gathered. It seems, however, that this tactic was deemed as problematic. The final solution that the Golden Dawn devised to solve this dilemma was much more radical – this tactic can be described as the ‘amateurization’ of the traditional media coverage of the parliament.
Here is the example (show video) http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=aYULodmET8w
The video depicts a day in the Greek House of Parliament for the Golden Dawn fascist MPs. On this occasion, and in many to follow one guesses, the events of the day are captured by an “unofficial” hidden, hand held video camera placed by the Golden Dawn itself in one of the galleries of the House.
In comparison to the official television images broadcast from the same parliament session, the Golden Dawn video strips the event out of its concrete political context. We are not informed of what the discussion is about, of what the speaker is saying, nor even shown who the speaker is.
The video focuses exclusively on the burst of “rage” by the Golden Dawn MPs directed against an amorphous politician persona. This “rage” seems to be relatively contrived. Out of a largely inaudible cloud of noisy insults (the video purposely uses the sound recorded by the microphone of the video camera, while it could have used the 'professional' sound recorded by the audiovisual equipment of the Parliament), the word “thieves” (κλέφτες) sticks out at regular intervals. Insults are combined with a repertoire of intense, aggressive gesticulation towards the place where the speaker is standing.
Rage is indeed the primary affect that weaves this, and numerous other fascist, videos together. Neo-racist online videos, however, are not primarily intended as a glorification of prominent Golden Dawn cadres, so they should not be taken as admiring representations of their rage against whoever their enemy might be in different occasions, be it the system or, the corrupt elites, or the migrant invaders of the country.
Instead, of reproducing a cult of the leader or the leaders of Golden Dawn, these videos are embedded in a cult of the amateur.
Let’s go back to the Rafina video and the Golden Dawn excursion to the open air market and try to view it once more from this angle. Initial anti-racist reactions treated this video as the proof of Golden Dawn violence that had finally been exposed to public light. From the angle of the cult of the fascist amateur thesis, however, this anti-racist critique misses entirely the point and it is no wonder that rather than being denounced or concealed, the same video was openly embraced by Golden Dawn.
The protagonists of this video are not the Golden Dawn members and the focal point of the narrative is not their acts of violence against the migrant street vendors and their goods. The true protagonists of the video are, instead, the random users and passerbys in the open air market, who are experiencing the 'problem' and the Golden Dawn's final solution to it. And the focal point of the narrative is the affective involvement of these random users in Golden Dawn's 'solution' of the illegal trade problem. Along these lines, the true protagonists of video is that passerby who just happened to be there and who yells 'Bravo', when the Golden Dawn are about to smash a migrant's kiosk, or that passerby who instinctively joins the Golden Dawn members, in the smashing of the kiosks and the goods, in the spur of the moment, or even that passerby who might have not openly reacted to the violence, but who might be affectively shaken by the event, with rage starting to boil inside him/her about the decadence of her/his country. The fascist amateur is enacted through this video simultaneously as an active participant, as a voyeur and as the video's director.
In this sense, this video intends to simultaneously document and cause an “awakening” - this is a key term in the Golden Dawn discourse- but an awakening that can be attained only through rage. To awake means that rage has already started to capture one's affective response to existing realities. The video is also intended to be viewed in rage by YouTube users. By focusing on the affective involvement of the random eye witness, the video invites its viewers to perform their own rage imagining themselves in the place of the real eye witnesses of the event.
The amateur video techniques used in the video are embedded in the representation of this awakening. In effect, the video aesthetics strip the event out of its spatial and political context. The space where the event takes place could just as well be anywhere in Greece (the only spatial references shown in the video are the Orthodox church and the Greek flags) – and this is effected through the lack of any narrative technique and the fact that the source for the visual material comes entirely from a hand-held camera that usually focuses on close-up shots. More so, the lack of use of diverse sources of sound in the video allows for an obliteration of its concrete political context. There is no substantial dialogue that is audible to the viewers - no heated exchanges amongst Golden Dawn members and migrant vendors, no articulation of the Golden Dawn's rationale for this action, merely the rising sounds of rage.
The fascist amateur that the video enacts can be anyone and the process of her/his awakening can emanate in relation to any event.
We would like to end with 3 general points that can be useful to the ongoing discussions for devising an effective anti-fascist strategy in Greece.
First: Let's forget historical analogies. The predominant tendency, from a variety of political positions, to make analogies with historical fascism or nazism leads to reductionist analyses of the Golden Dawn and to the depreciation of the novelty of its startegy and tactics.
Second: Greek fascism cannot be effectively countered if it is treated as a top-down hierarchical political organisation, focusing on its leadership –either for exposing its Nazist lenience’s, or its corrupt practices.
Third: Anti-fascist strategies should acknowledge and try to counteract the microfascist, distributed characteristics of Golden Dawn politics. To simply denounce the violence of the Golden Dawn as the principal threat to normal democratic politics misses the point. As we have tried to show, the Golden Dawn strategy operates precisely through the suspension of the violence versus normal democratic politics dichotomy, by invoking the primacy of practices of rage. The amateur, or the random passerby, is the privileged subject-carrier of this rage, the subject embodying the fascist reconfiguration of the political.