Dangerous Citizens: The Greek Left and the Terror of the State

Dangerous Citizens: The Greek Left and the Terror of the State

Dangerous Citizens: The Greek Left and the Terror of the State

Dangerous Citizens: The Greek Left and the Terror of the State

Synopsis

This book simultaneously tells a story - or rather, stories - and a history. The stories are those of Greek Leftists as paradigmatic figures of abjection, given that between 1929 and 1974 tens of thousands of Greek dissidents were detained and tortured in prisons, places of exile, andconcentration camps. They were sometimes held for decades, in subhuman conditions of toil and deprivation. The history is that of how the Greek Left was constituted by the Greek state as a zone of danger. Legislation put in place in the early twentieth century postulated this zone. Once the zone was created, there was always the possibility - which came to be a horrific reality after the Greek Civil Warof 1946 to 1949 - that the state would populate it with its own citizens. Indeed, the Greek state started to do so in 1929, by identifying ever-increasing numbers of citizens as Leftistsand persecuting them with means extending from indefinite detention to execution. In a striking departure from conventional treatments, Neni Panourgia places the Civil War in a larger historical context, within ruptures that have marked Greek society for centuries. She begins the story in 1929, when the Greek state set up numerous exile camps on isolated islands in the Greekarchipelago. The legal justification for these camps drew upon laws reaching back to 1871 - originally directed at controlling "brigands" - that allowed the death penalty for those accused and the banishment of their family members and anyone helping to conceal them. She ends with the 2004 trial ofthe Revolutionary Organization 17 November. Drawing on years of fieldwork, Panourgia uses ethnographic interviews, archival material, unpublished personal narratives, and memoirs of political prisoners and dissidents to piece together the various microhistories of a generation, stories that reveal how the modern Greek citizen was created as afraught political subject. Her book does more than give voice to feelings and experiences suppressed for decades. It establishes a history for the notion of indefinite detention that appeared as a legal innovation with the Bush administration. Part of its roots, Panourgia shows, lie in the laboratory that Greece provided forneo-colonialism after the Truman Doctrine and under the Marshall Plan.

Excerpt

This book had its origins in less turbulent times, before 9/11, when the ascending neo-liberalism of the Clinton years gave the false impression of a placid and prosperous future, carefully obscuring politics and neutralizing dissensus. the question that I was asking then concerned the collusion of the political and the existential subject as it appears in the character of Oedipus. How can we configure the location where a person becomes a political subject, I wondered, as I was looking at the problematics raised by Oedipus in his multiple subject positions—within kinship, the state, the location of authority and sovereignty, but above all in that tattered body of his, multiply mutilated, always intentionally, once aiming at the erasure of his lineage, then attempting to inscribe onto his body accountability for acts that he had performed unknowingly. and how can we see this ethnographically?

Oedipus seemed the perfect critical metaphor for the landscape of sovereignty after 9/11, where responsibility and accountability became notions so controlled and malleable by the sovereign power that they became distorted idealities. in an environment where power refused to account for its excesses and where structures (of governance, secrecy, security) were given priority over the humanity that lay beneath them, the paradigm of Oedipus seemed more apt every day. When I read how in their memoirs prisoners and exiles tortured in the concentration camps of Greece threaded together their experiences as political subjects with the character of Oedipus, I realized that there is a kernel of mutual recognition between the myth of the political in antiquity and the realities responsible for today.

Upon further reading of the histories of the Left (or what counted as the “Left”) in Greece, rifts upon rifts, splits, heroisms and paranoia, the chasms between the Left and the Right that had seemed so clearly delineated and charged with emotions and affects that have shaped generations—all started becoming muddled and treacherous. Distinctions did not disappear, but the . . .

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