“You can only imagine the bitterness this must have left in families [with] Republican, anarchist or socialist traditions,” I wrapped up my previous post about the lost children of Franco’s Spain. This might be something to keep in mind when eyeing the still vibrant leftist countercultures in the Mediterranean.
In Germany and Holland, countercultural hotbeds in the eighties, even the parties furthest to the left have long embraced classic social-democratic programmes that are more redolent of Willy Brandt than Karl Liebknecht. But in Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal there are still significant constituencies waving the red or black flags of revolutionary communism or anarchism. Maybe stories like those of Spain’s lost children are part of the explanation: the political emotions go deeper, are rooted in more personal stories.
This is what an IPS report on the Greek riots last month posited. Explaining the sheer intensity of anti-police violence,
Many [of the young people who joined the demonstrations] were joined by their parents, who experienced military dictatorship between 1967 and 1973. “I came because I felt responsible for the stalemate we left to these children to deal with [..],” said Tania Liberopoulos, a middle-aged accountant.
The protests were fed by the political memory of a history of social and political struggle. Almost by instinctive conscience, many people in Greece distrust the state. The latent Greek dislike of the police, which erupted so volcanically, has its roots in the old dictatorship when the police functioned as the colonels’ enforcers against the citizens.
Constant misuse of the police for anti-social purposes has led to its dehumanisation; officers are met with hate and contempt, and they hate back.
I’m not sure I buy into this – or at least, I’m not sure whether it works as much of a defense.
No doubt that political values and traditions are passed on from generation to generation, within families and even towns. There’s a small town in Germany called Mörfelden that was known in the state of Hesse as “Little Moscow” back in the 1920s – and to my surprise, there is even now still a chunk of about 15% of the electorate that turns out to vote for the DKP in local elections (that’s the tiny, old school communist party, which has no national support of note). A comparison of local election results and the town’s results in state and national elections, when the DKP is not on the ballot, suggests that a hefty part of this chunk actually only comes out to vote if they can vote for the DKP – even Oskar Lafontaine’s Linke is too revisionist for these people to come out, apparently.
It’s not a large step to go from there to assuming that even if political views aren’t passed on comprehensively (or necessarily coherently) from one generation to the next, basic instinctive reactions like bitterness towards the police, rebellion against the existing order, are.
But then what? I know economic times are hard, but rebellion against the conservative government of the day ≠ rebellion against the Colonel’s regime. I don’t like conservatives either, but it’s just not. In a way, although they would never admit it, these Greek students might have more in common than they think with the anti-government protestors here in Hungary, even if their ideological sympathies are diametrically opposite. In 2006, I wrote about the riots here (the article was only published in much-abridged, Spanish translation, but here’s a Google Doc):
[U]napologetic crowds [..] sang along with a rock song with lots of “Hungary” in it, and a heartfelt “Resign!” as refrain. A man appearing with a sheaf of rashly copied B/W leaflets had them snatched from his hands. A speaker talking of Transylvania harvested chants of “Down with Trianon!”, the 1918 treaty that severed two-thirds of the Hungarian lands from Budapest rule.
But most historical references are to 1956. A car sped past with the revolutionary flag, hole in the middle, held through the open roof. The Magyar Hirlap special edition (“Sad Morning on Freedom Square”), headlined one account, “They wanted to make a bloody ’56”. It refers to a slogan students were chanting, but also conjures up the image of a generation yearning to emulate the heroic fights of their grandparents – and doomed to imitate them as farce.
I found that generation later that night. With the MTV building off-limits, word was that youths would head to the Hungarian Radio instead. Second best, but also a historically charged choice: [it] was one of the key scenes of the 1956 revolution. [..] Eventually, a gaggle of real protestors arrived. And they looked fetching. Flags wrapped around their back, and tied over nose and mouth, to cover their faces. Just like in the pictures. One was even wearing a beret. [..]
Magyar Hirlap quotes rioting teens saying mere demonstrations are no good: “we’ve got to set cars on fire to achieve something”. They promise that the real chaos can be expected on Thursday and Saturday. A ” revolution” timed for when they “dont have to go to school, don’t have to work, nothing”.