The current economic crisis that Europe is going through has produced a lot of social strife around the political handling of the crisis. In one of the most affected countries of the Eurozone, Greece, popular resistance to the austerity measures taken culminated in the actions of the social movement that has been referred to as the “Indignant Citizens Movement”.
In a recently conducted piece of research, I examined the role of Greek and British newspapers in the framing of the Indignant Citizens movement and the interaction of these frames with political engagement and agency. The newspapers used for the research were chosen in an effort to include as many different political standpoints from Greece and the United Kingdom as possible. Eleftherotypia, To Vima and Kathimerini were selected from Greece, alongside The Guardian and The Telegraph from the UK. Using Peter Dahlgren’s civic cultures theoretical framework I tried to interpret the frames identified in the study in order to understand how the framing of the Indignant Citizens Movement impacted on civic engagement and agency in Greece, as well as in Europe. Civic culture entails cultural patterns, consists of six dimensions and it is a prerequisite for a viable democracy and a strong critical pubic sphere.
The first dimension of civic culture is knowledge. It consists of the ability of the citizens to access reports about their society. The analysis of the Greek and British newspapers revealed that the press framed the Indignant Citizens Movement mostly in terms of the problems causing people to gather in the streets, rather in the solutions that the movement could offer. That approach ended up disempowering citizens and deterring them from further participation, since the media in this case strengthened the role of political elites in the country, by portraying citizen action as unable to produce solutions. On a European level, the framing of the Indignant Citizens Movement did not include a European dimension, and thus did not contribute to the creation of a European public sphere, since readers did not empathise with the movement and treated the case as something important only on a national level. On a more positive note both Greek and British newspapers included more social and human aspects of the Indignant Citizens Movement, instead of simply analysing the economic or political dimensions of it. This more thematic way of framing the movement encourages readers to put the issues in broader contexts and provides deeper information, which is important in order to produce more public agency.
Moving on to values, which are principles of democracy based on everyday life, the frame analysis points to a grim image of Greece. More specifically the main frames that are relevant in the Greek case are those of corruption and injustice, as well as a lack of democratic deliberation. The government is portrayed as ignoring the protests or even in some cases as condoning police violence against citizens. However, at the same time the citizens themselves are viewed as corrupt or anti-democratic. On a European level, the EU is not seen as an institution that citizens can rely upon, since it is framed as having an enormous democratic deficit and ignoring the wishes of the public over the needs of the markets. Those frames point to a clear lack of recognition between citizens and institutions, as well as between the citizens themselves. This lack of recognition discourages citizens from engaging with politics and limits their civic agency.
Furthermore, on the dimension of trust between groups of people that do not know each other on a personal level, the framing of the Indignant Citizens Movement points to one of the least cultivated dimensions of the Greek and European civic culture. The frames employed by the newspapers analysed uncover an image of betrayals of trust. More specifically, the political system as well as institutions such as the media and the police are framed as being corrupt and deceptive towards citizens. However, the government itself lacks trust towards the citizenry as the main frames depict them as corrupt or tax-evading.
Moving on to spaces, the framing of the movement pointed to it as a vibrant community that deliberated and took care of the public space, however the reactions of the official government paint a picture of the public space as something that needs to be reclaimed by the citizens. On a European level, it is noteworthy that there is an absolute lack of common European deliberating spaces and there is a need for that vacuum to be filled by the media.
Practices are a very important aspect of civic culture, as they provide an opportunity to combine the ideals of democracy with personal and social meaning. However, in the case of the Indignant Citizens Movement elections are not seen as empowering to citizens because politicians are framed as liars and the crisis is viewed as a stumbling block to democratic decision-making. However, participation in the movement is viewed as a positive civic experience, with public assemblies and speeches held during the demonstrations viewed as an empowering moment for citizens.
Finally, moving on to identities the framing of the Indignant Citizens Movement has given out both positive and negative images of the citizens participating. While in some articles the participants are viewed as awakened and passionate, at the same time they are framed as threats to democracy and prone to violence. Also it is evident that there is an absence of a European identity and this is something that needs to be addressed if the integration project is to move forward.
The case of the Indignant Citizens Movement points to the need for Greek citizens to link their affective drive with positive democratic values, such as the ones the movement stood for. The media have an important role to play in citizen empowerment and in the continuation of the European integration project and this crisis presents an opportunity for them to play their social part.
Christos Kostopoulos holds a Master’s degree in Global Studies from Lund University, Sweden.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Euro Crisis in the Press blog, nor of the London School of Economics.
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I haven’t read the full paper – but I will – and I am just commenting on this article.
It seems obvious that the author has first-hand experience from the “movement” and the support for the aspirations and wills of the movement is also obvious. What is not obvious for the international audience of this log, is the internal structure of that “movement”. They used to gather in the central square of Athens, leftists in the low part of the square, nationalists and rightists in the upper part. Indeed in the lower part of the square an observer would see collective action and voting. But there was a huge problem: You couldn’t disagree with them! If you were about to express a different view you would be wooed if you were lucky or you would be chased if unlucky. It was just a typical Greek student amphitheater of a technology institute (TEI) with “democratic” procedures well known to anyone who has stepped his/her foot in a Greek University.
In the upper part of the square, all you could get was nationalist slogans, conspiracy theory discourse and gestures not so democratic.
A genuine collective action movement would: a) State clear demands based on rationality, something that indeed requires knowledge of the country’s situation, which we never saw. The only demand we obtained was for the government to “go” like in Argentina. Without elections, without the peoples vote, the government should just “go” b) would last more in terms of time period. The “movement” collapsed with the holiday season of August 2011, c) Would re-emerge since the condition of the country did not really change since then. Probably it got worse in terms of everyday life of the citizens.
To put things straight. The indignant “movement” began from a TV Show of a marginal tv channel where the anchorman was organising mini excursions with a 50-seat bus in the houses of politicians, where mainly elderly people were protesting. Rumor has it that one particular political party was paying for those excursions but there is no proof. After that, too many Greek were “awaken” by a slogan from the Spanish indignados which was never true, but it was rather a hoax. It is true that during the first days too many people were spontaneously participating. And they were really right to participate since their lives significanlty changed rapidly. But soon enough political parties threw their political nets on the people. It was that time that every sense of a movement disappeared.
However, the current Greek Parliament is a depiction of those two parts of the central Square. And it is really a genuine depiction of the Greek society. A part of it is Nazi st, another part of it sees Greece as the subject of a world conspiracy, another part – the leftist – is just promising a return to the pre-2009 condition, God knows how, and the last part is the governing coalition, comprised mainly from people who denied any consensus and any help to the previous Greek government and during 2012, suddenly, they realized that there was no other way.
“You couldn’t disagree with them! If you were about to express a different view you would be wooed if you were lucky or you would be chased if unlucky.”
I both agree and disagree on that statement. I was there since the first days and my friends were there. But what you describe is not exactly a clear reflection of what happened in the squares during the first 10 days (let’s say) where some political group who become involved among others in the initiative were influenced by Castoriadis’ democratic theories of direct democracy and participation. Unfortunately, quickly after the first few days individual groups from SYRIZA and ANTARSYA begun to push forward their own agenda, alienating the assemblies inasmuch as they added their own people in “working groups” and other strategical positions, and thus the whole thing begun to fell apart: slogans like “direct democracy” and “self-organization” (to move beyond liberalism, beyond the State and its institutions) became replaced with “kick the government”, “kick the Troika and the memorandum”. This indeed denotes a change in the quality and quantity of participants, which made many of us feel very much uncomfortable.
Excluding the upper square mob, I do say that the Square Movement was an important moment despite its flaws. It teach us something very important: we must avoid party bureaucracies by any means possible. That was the main precondition for participation in the beginning and I agree with that. See what happened when parties got involved. It was an initiative by the citizens and for the citizens but finally betrayed itself.
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