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The Twitter Trojan War

Saturday 11 July 2015

On the fourth of July 2004, long after midnight, all over Greece, millions of ecstatic people were spilling into the streets. All were draped in Greek flags, faces painted with the national blue and white stripes. 
Greece had just won the Euro soccer championship, leaving the rest of Europe gasping. The Guardian wrote that the Greeks are “the only underdogs in history that everyone wants to see get beaten.” So the victory snowballed into much more than a soccer win. In spontaneous serendipity, drunk on happiness and national pride, we all came together as one, dancing, singing and hugging each other on the streets. The night’s revelries lasted long into mid-morning the following day. It felt like winning the 1821 War of Independence and World War Two, all over again.
Eleven years later, nothing has remained from that time. Eris, the ancient Greek goddess of discord, is the only victor in the Greek crisis. She caused the Trojan war and sack of Troy. Discord reigned supreme too in the ancient Greek Agora during the disastrous 4th century BC Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. The “Epitaphios” Pericles delivered during that internecine strife, resonates as a funereal speech for all of Greece, as much as the dead of the war. After that national disaster, Greece did not fully gain its democracy and independence until 41 years ago, in 1974.
In recent months, Eris rules supreme in the internet highways of the world, and the streets of Greece. Last night, her powers peaked. It was a night when the Greeks, as well as all the reporters covering Greece globally, did not sleep one wink. At one am (Greek time) the new Greek proposals (considered to be Greece’s ultimate chance to remain within the eurozone) were delivered to Brussels. By the time the EU’s cautious “not disapproval” was made known, and the proposals publicly revealed, it was almost evening in the US. 
Yet Greece did not go to bed. The stakes are too high and time is running out (Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor has set Sunday as the deadline for a deal to be signed by all.) The next two days will seal Greece’s destiny for many decades to come. Today’s vote in the Greek Parliament to approve of the deal, Saturday’s Eurogroup, and everything that still lies between an agreement signed by all, are still moments that can turn hope into tragedy. 
Maybe that is why they are so divisive in Greece. After the new Greek proposals became known last night, battles of great pathos and intensity ensued between those who heralded Tsipras’s movement as “a final coming to his senses”, and those who bitterly accused him of capitulation (ironically all of these are contained within the ranks of Syriza, and are the organizers of the demonstration to be held today outside the Greek Parliament, to protest Tsipras’s “surrender.) A few tried to construe the new Greek proposals as a “win” for Greece that Tsipras acheived through the risks he took. No one pays them any attention. In crucial times there are always only two sides: “us” and “them”.
It’s not just Greeks against Greeks though, on Twitter. Greek madness has gone globally viral. The pro-Greek anti-EU supporters come from the UK, France, Ireland, the US. The anti-Greeks are to a large extent Germans, Slovakians, Finns. The pro-Greece anti-EU are multiethnic, and to a large extent, money-men and academics; their heroes are Paul Krugman, Thomas Piketty, Jeffrey Sachs and the provocative Yianis Varoufakis, Syriza Finance Minister who resigned on Monday. 
Nearly all American and British journalists are sympathetic to the Greek cause, and critical of the way the EU has behaved until now. They are however, also discreetly critical of the brinksmanship the Greek Syriza government has exhibited in the negotiations. They hope for a better deal, but also know there is no future for Greece now, outside the eurozone.
If words are regular warfare, photos and documents are the nuclear artillery of the Twitter wars. A 1953 photo of the former great Greek statesman Konstantinos Karamanlis (uncle of a recent prime minister known more for his appetite for souvlaki than his governance) signing the decision that cancelled 50% of Germany’s debt, poiganantly made the case for for debt relief for Greece.
The thing is though, anyone can say or post anything on Twitter. Last night, as Greece oscillated between life and death, a hub of famous classicists and historians were—not entirely in fun—advocating Greece’s exit from the euro. Their rationale: times and geopolitics are ripe for new alliances, and the rise of a new Byzantium Empire. It was funny, if you were not Greek.
The Twitter-wars can be intense. It’s a moment when everyone is parsing everyone else’s tweets, ready to be incited. “Things we’ll see tomorrow: people abroad who wouldn’t suffer the dislocation of Euro exit/bank collapse bemoaning Syriza for blinking” one British journalist wrote. Response was swift: a Greek woman accused the British journalist of being pro-euro for Greece because he is foreign, part of the “media establishment”, and lives abroad. It was a moment rich in irony: on her Twitter profile, the Greek accuser was shown to live abroad, too.
The Twitter-sphere has become rife with blocks, reports and insults between those who believe Greece should stay in the euro at all cost, and… the others. In Athens, a British journalist was harassed on the street because of his tweets. Half my friends have unfriended the rest—and not just on Facebook. Decade-long friendships disappeared because of one tweet about the referendum. People have been fired because of tweets; couples separated because of who they “followed” and retweeted.
The heads of state of the EU and Eurocrats are also providing Twitter with much needed comic relief on the Greek “issue”. Juncker’s teary (Eurorat, former PM of Luxemborg) announcement that he felt “betrayed” by Tsipras when the Greek PM abruptly left negotiations and announced the referendum, went viral. The liberal democrat Guy Verhofstadt and his lengthy rant against the Greek PM became a instant You-Tube favorite. The “Sun’s” agony aunt spoof of Merkel and Hollande as parents of a recalcitrant, hoodie-wearing, teenager son—Alexis Tsipras was a big hit on Twitter.
The much-reviled German Finance Minister, Schauble, and his passion to expunge the EU from Greece has attained mythical “evil” status in social media. His retort to the US Finance Minister Jack Lew, “if you’re so vocal about your support for Greece remaining in the euro, you take Greece, and we’ll bail out Puerto Rico” ignited many tweets about German hostility to the US. The unflappable Angela Merkel,the one who has kept Greece in the euro so far, despite Syriza’s antics, refrains from tweeting. Yet her satirical alter ego @Queen_Europe has let rip, hilariously. 
Twitter and Facebook are the new fields of war. Hatred spills over sparring Twitteratis. Yet emotions are not just intense, they are transient too. Once the Greek crisis is over, the twitterers will move to the next crisis, the next “hot” big thing. The Delphic pronouncements and insinuating aphorisms Yianis Varoufakis tweeted while still Finance Minister, roiled markets globally, and incited the Europeans; his…unconvential demeanor and sartorial choices and generated Internet memes. After his resignation (alleged to have been demanded of him by the Greek PM, Tsipras) his name became Twitter dust.
The Greece-EU crisis has promoted social media, especially Twitter, to becoming the new Agora for public political debate—and discord. It is ironic, I suppose, that a union, whose very raison d’etre was to prevent any more (German-instigated) wars in Europe, should be at the heart of the new wars—even if only on Twitter, yet.

My beloved terrorist
Published by: LIVANIS
First printing: 2001
Pages: 403
Hellenists: Greece does not wound them
Published by: LIVANIS
First printing: 1999
Pages: 314


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