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July 1, 2013
July 1, 2013

Greece: On drugs

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Greece: On drugs

On the 6th and 7th of March 2013, the Greek police, in cooperation with the Centre of Control and Disease Prevention (ΚΕΕΛΠΝΟ), detained 132 drug addicts and forcibly transferred them from the centre of Athens to the Immigration detention centre of Amygdaleza. There, following the orders of the National Centre for Health Operations (ΕΚΕΠΥ), the doctors forced the addicts to undergo medical examination, in order to publish statistics on the spread of the HIV virus in these populations. According to the government, the drug addicts were taken care of and the doctors offered them sandwiches and juices (!) before letting them go. It still remains unknown how these people went from Amygdaleza back to the city centre, from where they had been violently removed. The operation was named “Thetis” and, according to the police statement, “these operations will continue in order to tackle the drug problem and improve the city centre”. Consequently, it looks like the police, besides its original oppressive role, have now assumed a new ‘sanitary’ task: the regulation of public health.

The reaction of rehabilitation centres and other anti-drug organisations was immediate, denoting the obvious illegality of such an operation as the groundless arrest and mandatory registration of personal and medical data of addicts; an absolute violation of basic human rights, going against international agreements, the Constitution and the laws. While the state is working on statistics, there are hundreds of HIV positive drug addicts left alone on the streets without treatment; rehabilitation centres, having their funds dramatically cut, are unable to take any action.

Leaving statistics and the specific incident of state brutality aside, it is worth looking into the conditions that have enforced social segregation, leading to the establishment of addictive behaviour in the main body of the Greek society.

The addicted other

Drug addiction could obviously be approached through a variety of prisms, always related to the occasional cultural and socio-political reality. Our focus here is on the relation of the drug addict to freedom, the initial desperate chase for freedom and its final loss, within the world of drugs.

The use of drugs has its roots at an urge to escape reality; to create a rupture with society, to break free from it and the routine that the future addict rejects and cannot deal with. The use of the substance, though, does not offer but a temporary solution to the will of the addict to be free of any social bonds. The paradox is that while the addict uses drugs to feel independent and to escape routine, they eventually find themselves trapped in a ‘hyper-routine, the shrinking of life to the minimum, the basics, injection, prescription, the desperate hunt of the next dose’ . The original fear of a person to stand against the world with a clear mind leads to a tyrannical subordination to the substance and the loss of any desire to live, shrinking life to just a biological survival.

Within this complete loss of freedom, the decision of a person to escape this vicious circle is an act that requires the development of a mental strength that few people, addicted or not will ever manage to achieve. The addict seeks treatment to escape a fatal and self-destructive routine, with the ultimate claim being life instead of survival.

The ‘clean’ society

And yet, nowadays, less and less people go to rehab. While the number of drug addicts increases, those who seek treatment at rehab centres decrease. As mentioned already, the request for treatment is not just survival; it is the desire for life. What happens though to this claim, when the choice of the ‘clean’ part of the society is not life but survival?

As a social and mainly urban phenomenon, drug addiction has always been a mirror of the socio-political situation. As an act of self-exclusion, in order to read the reasons behind addiction, we have to examine what addicts exclude themselves from. For the past years the Greek society has been under attack, suffering major losses; loss of jobs, pensions, salaries, loss of rights, of public health and education. The massive demonstrations and riots of the first years of the ‘crisis’ were violently suppressed, leading to loss of strength, loss of hope, loss of the ability to react. What followed was further oppression; an attack to free spaces, more patrolling, ban of strikes before they even start.

The past and current governments have strategically attacked all types of resistance, exhausting society and establishing indifference, passiveness, fear, even guilt. Within this context, the majority of the population further develops a paradoxical addiction to a system that keeps failing; an addiction imposed by the dominant political discourse, based on threats of more losses, as if everything hadn’t already been lost. New substitutes make their appearance to guarantee some kind of survival; imaginary ‘success stories’, statistics and promises about a better future waiting just around the corner, anything to keep people functional but inactive.

Choosing life instead of survival is neither easy nor obvious. It is a choice that requires a transgression, a risk, an opening to the unknown; it is a fight against routine, a destruction of our safety nets. However there are still people that take this step, break their routine and face the fear of failure, denying survival and claiming life, proving the possibility of impossible actions. In this fight, there is no room for segregation between a healthy and an unhealthy part of society, as the claim is the same for everyone; a life free of addictions and fears.

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P.S. While writing these lines, ERT –the Greek public TV and radio broadcaster– is under occupation by its employees and other citizens who joined them in solidarity, after the sudden decision of the government to shut it down. A varied crowd forms the group of people that stands in solidarity with ERT, others demanding its survival, others the turn of the public TV to an actual conveyor of free speech, for the oppressed, the antagonistic movements, the ones excluded by the mainstream media. No matter what the outcome is, ERT is currently a reminder that the struggle is not over.

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Greece: On drugs by Lena Theodoropoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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