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February 16, 2013
February 16, 2013

Greece: Police torture and the destitution of right wing intellectuals

Source: Enet  Categories: Antifascism, On the crisis
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Greece: Police torture and the destitution of right wing intellectuals

On March the 2nd 1757, Robert Francois Damiens the “king murderer” (he tried to murder Louis XV) was taken to the gallows at Place de Grève in Paris. There, the executioners –using blazing pliers– removed the skin from his chest, hands and feet, burned his right hand with sulphur –that is the hand that held the knife of the assassination attempt– and poured burning oil, wax, resin and liquid lead on his wounds. Then his hands and feet were tied to ropes and pulled by horses until his body was torn to pieces.

This is the introduction that Michel Foucault makes in his book “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison”. After the horror of the punishment of an aspiring king murderer, Foucault takes us a few decades later, when the concept of prison was born and the punishment of “criminals” changed. The illustrative punishment in front of raving crowds was replaced by the scientific attempt at correcting the prisoners behind bars. The body gave its place to the soul, the gallows to a dark cell and the mass spectacle to scientific surveillance.

Torture ceased being the primary choice of the state for setting an example for its enemies, not only because of the domination of a more “humanitarian” perception about correction but also because –pay attention– the procedures of the ritual were so unstable that could easily turn against those in power. Let’s think of an imaginary scenario: the people of Paris are gathered at Place de Grève but the dismemberment of the aspiring king murderer causes sympathy and his cries for justice incite the crowds who then attack and decapitate the executioners. It’s not that imaginary, though; few decades later, an executioner would decapitate Louis XVI in front of a cheering crowd of revolted people.

A lot has been written already about what the Greek Police wanted to achieve by publicising the torture [1] (that until now was practiced secretly, inside the cells mostly against migrants and dissidents). Indeed, Greek Police is turning back time, 2.5 centuries ago (or is it only 70 years? [2]), when the carcasses and heads of the enemies of state were paraded around the country. However, hardly anything has been written about what that choice means for power itself.

It seems that in Greece today, the spectacular violence of the “official” state (Greek Police) and the “shady” state (Golden Dawn [3]) against the weak (prisoners, “illegals”, HIV patients, migrants etc.) is the last resort of a state that has long lost the ability to politically/ideologically reign over the population. It seems difficult to find another capitalist country of the West where the “right wing intellectuals” (forgive my unfortunate expression) have such lack of arguments. These few ones come either from “kill-the-poor” neoliberals like Mandravelis [4], or “save-the-rich” far right corrupts like Kranidiotis [5] or from anti-communist fans of Hobbes such as Kalivas [6]. Their “analyses” are nothing but lighter or tougher versions of Dendias [7] doctrine of “law and order”.

Given this political destitution, the publicising of the brute state violence is the only… argument left. That is the reason for the festivities of official and shady state violence: the discipline of the public.

Reporters stage the TV gallows, left-wing democrats [8] applaud the enforcement of the law and the late supporters of the whole scenery blame the “two extremes” [9] of having catalysed the state. Until now, the “recipe” has worked just fine… said Louis XV to his successor.


[1] On February the 1st 2013, following a police chase but without any sort of resistance or struggle, the police arrested four attempted bank robbers; by the time they were transported to the District Attorney’s office, they had obviously been heavily beaten and tortured by the Police. However, when their mug shots were released to the press, it was apparent that the Police had attempted to photoshop away the signs of abuse. You can read more here.

[2] The ‘winners’ of the civil war exercised inconceivable violence on the defeated not only during but also after the war. An indicative method was the display of the decapitated heads of the left wing guerrillas in villages and towns.

[3]  Golden dawn is the Greek neo-Nazi party. Even though it has existed since the 80s, it is the first time that they get parliamentary representation; after the June Election they hold 18 seats. Electoral candidates and members of Golden Dawn are also accused of crimes as serious as deadly assault and murder. They lead pogroms against immigrants, stabbing them and breaking their stores. Their fascist and racist activity continues and is escalating under the tolerance of the Greek government and the EU.

[4] Greek journalist that writes for the conservative newspaper Kathimerini.

[5] MP from the conservative party of New Democracy which is leading the coalition government.

[6] Stathis Kalivas is a Professor of Political Science at Yale University.

[7]  Nikos Dendias is the Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection. He is the political supervisor of a Police Force that openly beats and tortures, the inspirer of pogrom-like operations such as Zeus (against migrants) and Thetis (against drug addicts) and responsible for the eviction of the longest-standing squats of the city (which have been cultural centres and strongholds against the neo-nazi Golden Dawn).

[8] The author refers to the party of the Democratic Left or DIMAR. The party is formed by ex-members of Syriza; despite its left-wing past, it is now a member of the coalition government and is actively supporting neo-liberal and authoritarian policies.

[9] The theory of the “two extremes” is claiming that the extreme left and the extreme right are identical since they both are expressions of totalitarianism. It is being used now in Greece to undermine the reinforcement of left-wing parties and the radicalisation of people.


Nikola Kosmatopoulos is social anthropologist at Columbia Global Centre in Paris.

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