“FREEDOM OR DEATH”
(or a FEW WORDS ON THE STRUGGLE OF NIKOS ROMANOS)
This is not a comment on the various problems facing Greek Democracy politically, economically and socially under the current reactionary government, the EU and the IMF. This is a call in Solidarity with a young man, Nikos Romanos, 21, risking his life in a hunger strike to defend Freedom and Dignity against the bourgeois tailor-made legal system, itself violated beyond reason by the governing bodies involved.
Nikos Romanos is a prisoner going on hunger strike for 23 days in a row, defending his right to attend his university classes. He was jailed for taking part in a robbery with an anarchist group charged with -but not convicted of- terrorism. Under Greek Law all prisoners have the right to sit university entry exams, and Nikos Romanos did exactly that and succeeded. Moreover, he (as the rest of the young prisoners who secured a place at university) has been offered a reward (500 Euros) and the opportunity to meet the President of the Republic for his achievement, both of which he turned down. However, while other prisoners are allowed occasional daily outings to attend their university classes, Nikos Romanos has been denied this right that the criminal justice system affords him. His various questions as to why that is happening have not been answered and his correspondence has been somehow “lost” in the labyrinth of bureaucracy, leaving him unable to attend his university lectures.
After exhausting all other options, he decided to go on hunger strike, hence to risk his life, not asking to be let free, nor asking for a favour. On the contrary, this 21 year old man is risking his life for 23 days now, simply asking for his legal rights to be respected, asking to be allowed to attend his university whilst serving his time in jail. He was brave enough to reject the State’s honours and monetary reward, and he found himself punished for being true to his beliefs and for being defiant towards the State apparatus. Nikos Romanos is made to pay because he is Free even when imprisoned; he is Dignified before political power. Denying him his established right to attend university is a violation of his human rights and of the Law itself. It is a punishment meted out by a trembling political system that is straying from the last vestiges of Democracy day-by-day.
Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with Nikos Romanos’ actions, tactics, and beliefs, one must identify with his unjust treatment and the violation of his human rights. The 23 days of Nikos’ hunger strike are 23 very painful and risky reminders of the debasement of democratic practices and institutions in Greece, the political manipulation of the judiciary, the authoritarian transformation of the State, the dissemination and reproduction of racist ideology, and of a new style of ‘governance’ based on fear and repression. This is what it takes to crush the aspirations of the people, to dehumanise the weak, to create the so-called society of ‘low expectations’ upon which ‘economic prosperity’ may ‘flourish’ in the long-term.
While fighting for his life in the Gennimatas hospital in central Athens, Romanos is neither asking for his release nor for an official pardon. The reason that he puts his life in danger is because he wants the law to be implemented. Paradoxical? Not in Greece. Whereas the ex-policeman that killed before Romanos’s eyes his friend, 15 year old Alexis Grigoropoulos, back in 2008, is allowed to enjoy the benefits of our criminal justice system, Romanos is not. Whereas the imprisoned members of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn are entitled to their leave, Romanos is denied leave given to prisoners registered to attend university classes. While Romanos constitutes a danger to society the assorted fascists do not.
The political opinions of Romanos, his actions even, are here irrelevant. What is of importance is that a reactionary government and an authoritarian state apparatus are ready to violate every aspect of the legal system, to sacrifice the life of a young man just to implement the symbolism of ‘law and order’ and the ‘rule of law’. A law that has nothing to do with justice, even with their own, and an order that has nothing to do with society’s prosperity and peace. And here exactly lies the symbolism of Romanos’s struggle and its importance. Facing death at the age of 21 because he demands his right to knowledge, Romanos exposes the true nature of a political establishment in advanced decay. A system of governance that cares for nothing and stands for nothing apart from ruthlessly exercising power. Facing such arbitrary authority, confronted with the legitimisation of injustice, Romanos’s struggle is one that at a symbolic level is in line with the history and the sense of morality of those free men and women that selflessly wrote the history of this country with their very lives. Their motto was:
‘FREEDOM OR DEATH’.