One of the main problems with a democratic system is that the ongoing public political discussion is based not on the importance of facts, but on their veracity. The media undermines a culture of context, history and conscious development. Today, Greece’s plight no longer appears in international news coverages despite the country’s precarious situation. An economic collapse is a realistic prospect if money is not injected into the country. Furthermore, political demands to reduce Greece’s debts are few and far between. In this nebulous context, Sylvain L’Espérance’s long-term observational documentary, Combat au bout de la nuit (Fighting through the Night) offers a clear portrayal of a complicated reality.
L’Espérance’s film observes the lives of men and women, all of them archetypes of Greece’s reality today. Importance is given to their statements as well as the need to capture, in long takes, their individual feelings, expressions and gestures. The director takes his time, 285 minutes to be precise, to chip away at the surface. He follows political refugees, illegal immigrants, dockworkers, protesters and highly committed citizens. In addition to the harsh, social context, he captures sources of resistance and survival. His camera follows the flight of a seagull at dawn accompanied by the songs (not slogans) of labourers. He gives space to poetic recitals from the off, as for a YouTube capture of a grotesque parliamentary law making process in the presence of only three people, two of them silent and one protesting.
Alexandra Pavlou works in a social clinic in Athens. Following the collapse of the country’s health system, her and a few colleagues provide basic medical and psychological care made possible through donations of expired medication. She resumes some key facts: A 900 percent tax increase over a three-year period, minimum income cut in half, confiscation and sale of flats and houses whose owners have debts, even if only of 500 Euros. People are being pushed out onto the streets. They are disoriented, humiliated, frustrated and fearful of what the future has in store. Above all, they are full of hate for ‘the system’.
This is a ripe time for fascist preaching, promising the ‘Golden Dawn’, a complete break with the failing systems in place. Explanations on how and what will follow do not seem necessary. Some of the 600 dismissed cleaners demonstrate for weeks on the streets, resisting insults and police attacks. None of them believe in the current government any more, and even less in the new one. The harsh reality of their situation only reaffirms their cynicism. On July 5th 2015, going against all media pressure, some 61,3% of Greek voters rejected the bailout terms in a referendum proposed jointly by the European Commission, IMF and the European Central Bank. The majority of Greeks took this position to question not only the Euro, but also the debilitating and manipulative economic measures that favoured bank interests and global capital gain. However, only a few days after Greece’s overwhelming ‘No’ vote, ‘negotiations’ with creditors resulted in a text, adopted and applied under Aléxis Tsipas’ new leadership. This outlined harsher austerity measures than those proposed in the original bailout. The People’s voice was quashed.
Greek law was subordinate to Troika’s interests, even to the point that no law could enter or be discussed at the Greek Parliament without Troika’s prior approval. Now the selling of public property and the privatisation of the country’s infrastructure including massive changes to employment law were possible and all these acts, once implemented, could not be rescinded. It would be wrong, however, to ascribe Greece’s fatal situation to an external and, especially, European power. Speaking of his area of expertise, a medic explains the problems Greeks are faced with regarding their health care. The costs of medicines do not seem to be the problem, instead their doubtful application and distribution, plus the organisation of the medical industrial complex. On the one side, private clinics and the pharmaceutical industry push mostly useless, expensive medication onto the market. On the other side, an MRI costs three times the monthly income of a general practitioner and the lack of specialists is shocking: For one million inhabitants, there are only two practicing neurologists.
Everyone in this film is given a voice.
Finally, a dockworker argues that blaming an outside enemy is, in fact, just a ploy by Greek oligarchs to divert attention from the true source of the problems and avoid direct confrontation with workers. He believes that only a profound reorganisation of the political and social system is the answer and not an exit from Europe. Even prior to the referendum, it was clear that Tsipras could not leave Europe without securing new financial sources. Reforms inside the established political order are just costume changes. He resumes Greek politics after a lifelong working life: When election could change something, they would have been forbidden. Only if workers had gone to the limit of an open and radical confrontation, like the historical armed 40-day strike, things can change.
L’Espérance observes the drastic effects of the political disaster. Legal, but homeless refugees fight on the streets for daily survival, with no hope of finding work. Illegal immigrants find themselves in more precarious situations than those they risked their lives to flee. They hide in places where even animals would not been found, often without food for days, living in fear of being attacked simply by being on the streets. Everyone in this film is given a voice. Their stories unfold, a desperate life lacking prospects. L’Espérance makes reference to Pavlos Fyssas (Kylla P), a singer murdered on the street by fascists, and documents the expulsion of Romas from their simple huts. The final images focus on the new wave of refugees onto Greek shores, which only adds to the burden of a country on the brink of survival. The problems with integration and unemployment are ticking timebombs for social order.
The demand for dignity is the red line in L’Espérance’s Combat. But, even if all lucid minds in his documentary agree that globalisation leads straight to catastrophe, he is unable to document a true discussion and reflexion about alternatives, about a way out, because evidently the most urgent and decisive question is not being asked.