LETTER FROM GIANNIS NAXAKIS
To begin talking about hunger strikes, first of all I must find the reasons that gave birth to such a method as a means of protest/pressure in order to understand it better and, by extension, interpret it in the present. Only following this, can my views on it be understood.
Going, therefore, back in time, I can offhand imagine a situation in which a person (or persons) wouldn’t have any other option for expressing his/hers rage against the oppression he/she experienced because all other means would have been ruled out, one way or another, and, thus, he/she would proceed to such a move. I can imagine a person that had used up all the active means at his/her disposal, until it was practically impossible for him/her to make any other move besides refusing food. Obviously, this person would be in a condition of confinement or restriction since he/she didn’t simply leave the oppression zone. In fact, I imagine that this first person didn’t even have the capacity of free physical movement, maybe due to having been beaten or restrained, and then he/she came up with this ultimate way of reaction in a passive self-destructive way, betting on the blackmail of the oppressors. I cannot estimate if this blackmail was emotional or outright practical, since I don’t know which era I’m referring to but I lean towards the latter. I’m almost certain that the first one to try this ended up dead. I presume that such a death at some point didn’t fit the oppressors any more, I assume for practical reasons (maybe they wanted to use that person for labour/slavery), which fits with the logic of a much older period in time.
This discontent of the then ruling power probably got widely known and spread as the incident that marked the beginning of the sporadic reproduction of the hunger strike phenomenon. On top of this, with the gradual democratization of certain societies, such a death was no longer convenient, not any more for practical reasons (for which they would have probably taken measures by then), but for humanitarian reasons, putting at stake even the core of the regime’s rhetoric, namely democracy, and therefore the position of its officials.
Along with the premature democracy and its “rights”, the issue of the enemy’s rights slowly emerged. This is a logical contradiction emerging when a system of power and therefore of inequalities, establishes its position on theories of equality.
So, getting to today, in the condition of the Greek territory in recent years, I can discern at least a degeneration in relation to the ““ultimacy” ” that gave birth to this passive means. Of course, the very meaning of “ultimate” can vary substantially, as is normal, within the context of subjectivity. Therefore, the “ultimate” solution can be deemed as such by people who are not experiencing the exact same situation. But in order to proceed, we have to move beyond subjectivity and identify the condition which we can talk about. Let’s stay on the condition of imprisonment because the condition outside the prison allows for many other means of reaction, leading at least the anarchist milieu not to choose this means outside the prison.
It’s clear that the frequency with which prisoners choose to go on hunger strike has increased, especially prisoners related to the revolutionary milieu in the Greek territory and not only. Simultaneously, the phenomenon of the symbolic hunger strike is also on the rise, as well as the more pressing means of the thirst strike. I am not going to talk about the symbolic hunger strike (with a predetermined end date) nor about abstaining from prison food, (which has nothing to do with its initial form since for many years now prisoners can be supplied with food from other sources be- sides the meals that are distributed by the prison). I believe that their symbolism degrades the actual content and substance of a hunger strike in which one pawns his/her own life until his/her aim is met. But even in symbolic cases, as we have seen, some pressure can be put if these gain publicity. What impresses me though is the ease with which such a serious decision is made in recent years, as I am sure that this is related to the fact that, talking about Greece, there is no recorded death from hunger strike, at least none that we know of. Thus, on the other side, it is easy to understand that the state acquires a tolerance towards such situations. Certainly, the state’s tolerance is directly related to the dynamics of the social resistance stirred by a hunger strike and which is taken into account and is “priced” politically by the government-in-office. The dynamics of social resistance depend on how “democratic”, “rational” and “realistic” is the demand or demands set by the striker. It is also a fact that the development of a hunger strike is influenced by the preexisting publicity of the striker or of the case in which he/she is involved, and by the wider social automation’s created, which are uncontrollable most of the time, as we saw in the case of Romanos. Another factor of influence are the public interventions by parents and lawyers (pleas towards the ruling power most of the time), an ugly one I would say, because the reason of their intervention is clearly ethical, emotional or professional. What makes this situation ugly is the fact that these interventions can be prevented from the beginning.
My own personal mark now. I don’t know whether the conceptual gap that separates me from the issue surrounding the hunger strike is clear. First of all, a hunger strike demands something from the enemy; this is a rationale that I am continuously trying to deconstruct, viewing it as something that reinforces the enemy con- firming and reproducing its power. Furthermore, concerning the instances when this means has been used, cases that I have seen in person so far in prison, I cannot say that I view them as “last resort” solutions since there are many other actions that can be taken inside here. Of course, the ones I’m thinking of come with potential legal and disciplinary consequences, something however that you overlook when you have
–in theory- reached your limits. However, because we are complex mechanisms and because subjectivity holds a special place in our life -especially when we find ourselves in difficult situations-, I don’t know how I would react if I were to reach a truly ulti- mate point according to my own subjectivity. Besides everything, political blackmail in general, and through a hunger strike
in particular, weighs heavily on my con- science since it is mediated by society’s humanitarian instincts which are included in the hateful, for my perception, context of democracy. Society (as a structure) and democracy are the derivatives of the permanent crime against the animal and natural world called civilization.
But if we are something, we are above all our contradictions. To some it may seem non-strategic to talk about our weaknesses, but there is something liberating in such a move. I don’t hesitate to say that the path of negations turned out to be a lot more lonesome than I expected. There are no co travelers and I did not even find individuals that share the same aggressive intentions against the situations that are choking us. ‘Common worlds’ though certainly remain a constant quest. Inside here, in the world of the most evident reversed concepts, from time to time smaller or bigger mobilizations take place which, as a prison- rule, must always include symbol- ic acts like the ones I have described above; in some of these I have even participated although they don’t “suit” me. I’ve been on hunger strike once (summer of ‘14 against the C’ type prisons) for 8 days during the mass hunger strike of prisoners, and my impression on all that was quite awful while I didn’t feel I was fighting at all. Certainly, such an act like is not of my liking and I obviously prefer other, more dynamic, means. From there on, whoever claims that he/she hasn’t lost even a little bit of their dignity inside the prison is simply a liar. What matters is that at least this lost dignity doesn’t find a place in negativity to- wards the confrontational attitude against the prison authority or in the authoritarian rationales and attitudes of many groups of prisoners that suppress the unmediated and spontaneous combative anti authoritarian attitude of others.
Closing, I would say that hunger strike for me holds a position in this world, the position of necessity in which it was born.
Freedom to all of us