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December 17, 2014
December 17, 2014

Crackdown, Lies and Videogame*

Author: Yannis Christodoulou Translator: Anna Papoutsi
Category: Protest
This article is also available in: eles
Crackdown, Lies and Videogame*

Choose your side…

In 2013 the promo video for a videogame called “RIOT” was released on the Internet. “RIOT” is a simulation videogame containing clashes between protesters and the riot police in various locations around the world. The Hollywood-style trailer which was posted on the game’s website begins with the ostentatious phrase “In a world where all rights have been lost…” and concludes by urging, even provoking, the potential player to “choose a side”.

Choosing “one’s army” is common in strategy games, but it certainly seems utterly insane in this particular case. According to the trailer, the player is prompted, at the touch of a button, to align themselves either with the oppressed or with those enforcing this oppression. The rationale of the game leaves the player with the vulgar dilemma of either adopting the role of the oppressed or the oppressor, in a way that marks the two options as equally legitimate, stripping them from any political significance. At the same time, the revolutionary conditions dramatised in the trailer function as a neutral background to the narrative, as a descriptive framework that simply sets the tone and creates the scenery of the game – the equivalent in a medieval fantasy game could be a breathing fire dragon. Thus, the repression, the root cause of the conflict between the two sides, destitute of any political and moral connotation, is reduced to a decorative element as well as to a procedural detail – something like what one asks before starting a chess game: “do you want the white or the black pawns?”

At the end of the trailer, the developers of the game boast that their simulation algorithm is based on statistics taken from real events. However, whether the suppression of rights and freedoms used as an allure, has references from real life seems to be irrelevant for the developers.

trailer screenshotStill from the trailer of the simulation videogame “RIOT”

Justice in the middle?

Talking about crackdown and real events, lately, two court hearings have been underway simultaneously in Athens, both related to incidents of police violence during demonstrations: for one case, there is the trial of 27 of the total 79 demonstrators that were arrested on February 12, 2012, and on the other, the trial for the attack against Angeliki Koutsoubou on December 6, 2009 by a motorcycle policeman, during the first commemorative protest for the murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos.

In the case of the February 12 protest, the police made the so called arrests “in bulk”, and therefore the umbrella charge was “resisting arrest” – a.k.a. “I am arresting you because you are protesting that I am beating you”. The greater the injuries of the detainees upon arrival at Police HQ (eyewitnesses speak of bruised faces, broken arms, cracked heads, etc.), the more severe was the offense of “resisting arrest”, based on some Orwellian logic. The 171 arrests during that night, which could be considered a “high-score”, were clearly necessary for the police after the major clashes that broke out between protesters and the police in central Athens during the demonstration. But because a simple “resistance” or “disruption” charge would probably not satiate the “public indignation”, the indictment was properly interspersed, even including the charge of “attempted murder”. The utter absurdity is the bundling of those arrested into one common file, despite the fact that the arrests took place at unrelated sites and times.

12-2-12Athens, night of February 12, 2012

Now in the case of Koutsoubou –which almost turned out fatal– there is a significant operational difference in the police strategic plan. The first commemorative demonstration for the murder of Grigoropoulos essentially functioned as the first large-scale training exercise for the newly formed motorcycle police unit DELTA, which excelled later on February 12, with more than two years of experience on their backs and blood on their wheels to prove it. In addition to their standard bullying and terrorisation tactics, the specific objective of the DELTA unit that particular day was the violent dissolution of the demonstration. As if in an educational simulation videogame, and with the police radio buzzing “CRASH THEM!”, they charged with their bikes and literally passed through the demonstrators’ blocks and used their batons to beat anything that moved around them, apparently trying to collect as many points of brutality as possible. One of them, apparently mistaking a woman for the “great villain” of the game, ran over the –already tortured during the times of the dictatorship– body of Angeliki Koutsoubou.

koutsoumpouDecember 6, 2009: Angeliki Koutsoubou, moments after the murderous attack by the DELTA motorcycle police

Two parallel trials, each with its own grotesque features, but essentially with a common issue at stake: the role of the judicial power in the legitimisation of police violence, with the final aim to terrorise and ultimately control society.

From the outset of the trial of February 12, the prosecutor made his intentions clear, addressing, with irony and anachronistic comments of “complete lack of manners”, both at the defence lawyers and the relatives of the defendants as well as those attending the trial in solidarity – making special reference to the clothes and hairstyles of the latter. Of course, he was not equally strict with the prosecution witnesses, who were mostly riot police; he did not ask them the slightest question, probably fearing that they would fall into contradictions during their ramshackle depositions in which they recognised with great certainty the defendants, an obvious attempt to cover each other’s backs. In a arrogant attack, the leading judge reproached one of the defence lawyers, as he was struggling with the improvisations and contradictions of the prosecution witnesses’ depositions, saying that “he is trying to create impressions”. In another instance, when the “indecency and lack of manners” of the audience became unbearable for the prosecutor, he interrupted the hearing requesting the court to “remove the ill-mannered”.

The scene was similar in the other courtroom. Here, however, the intentions of the justice system became evident even before the hearing commenced: the case was to be processed as a simple car accident with the defendant facing a misdemeanour charge of “negligent bodily harm” instead of “intended gravely bodily harm”, as demanded by the prosecution lawyers – and as dictated by common sense. It is worth remembering at this point the famous 1975 trial of the heads of the Intelligence Services for the torture during the last period of the dictatorship (’73 – ’74). The court converted the charges of “intended gravely bodily harm” to “simple bodily harm” [1]. In a similar fashion, their “colleagues” in Thessaloniki and Patras, also charged with torture, were from the outset tried as a misdemeanour. As for the unspeakable torture that took place during the dictatorship of ’67 – ’73, which cost so many lives and crippled thousands of bodies and souls, the “democratised” Greece never held anyone responsible [2].

However, the main agenda of the court and the defence lawyers in the case of Koutsoubou was the complete stripping of the proceedings of any political content. And even though this had already been largely achieved in advance by the relegation of the case to a misdemeanour, the bench took extra care during the hearing: on the one hand, a provocatively procedural judge systematically stifled any hint of politicisation on the part of the prosecution on the grounds that it fell “outside the scope of the case”; on the other hand, a virtually silent prosecutor reduced to a bored spectator – at some point, when he lifted his papers to whisper to the judge, the smudges he was scribbling to pass his time were revealed. The greatest debacle of the hearing occurred when the main defence lawyer asked a witness whether a general strike was declared for the day of the demo… only to get the answer that the demo was held on a Sunday – excessively stupid or excessively confident for the outcome of the trial?

This is not the first time that the judiciary shows its teeth to the “troublemakers”, while stroking the police. How many protesters have appeared before a judicial officer with obvious signs of abuse by the police? Is it not the same judiciary that acquitted on appeal six of the eight cops who abused Demetrius Augustine in Thessaloniki during a protest in 2006, even though there is a video showing frame by frame his beating? Is it not the same judiciary that acquitted the four special police guards who beat Nikos Sakellionas to death in central Athens, in 2008, ignoring the depositions of eyewitnesses and again a video of the event shot by neighbours? The biased attitude of the Greek justice system is not limited to just pandering police abuse… Last month, the deputy procurator of the Supreme Court decided to uphold the acquittal of the Joint Statutory Court of Patras, finally acquitting the employer-thug of Manolada and condemning with probationary sentences the remaining two defendants. Just a few days ago, the neo-Nazi Barbarousis, member of GD, was acquitted, in an unprecedented decision, for bullying in the public market of Messologi, despite the existence of yet another video recording of the incident. And the list grows long and dark…

It appears that in Greece, with the extreme right government, supported by the mainstream media, an EU country with maximum security prisons and concentration camps for migrants, with forced labour in vegetable fields, with prisoners tortured, and police operations like “Xenios Zeus” [3], where the suppression of rights and liberties and the rampant police abuse have become the rule, the Greek judiciary has long chosen the blue pawns.

burning patrol car


*paraphrasing the title of the Soderbergh’s film “Sex, Lies and Videotape”

[1] Nadia Valavani, «Η δίκη της Χούντας 30 χρόνια μετά» (“The dictators trial 30 years after”), newspaper article “ΤΑ ΝΕΑ”, November 2005

[2] «Η ταράτσα της οδού Μπουμπουλίνας – Δίκη βασανιστών» (“Bouboulina’s rooftop – The trial of the torturers”) from the TV show «Η Μηχανή του Χρόνου» (“Time Machine”), June 2011

[3] In Greece, since 2012, the police operation Xenios Zeus has been targeting migrant-looking individuals in public spaces across the country’s main city centres, leading to the detention of over 80,000 people so far.

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Crackdown, Lies and Videogame* by Yannis Christodoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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