PROJECT: Youth – Voice On

PROJECT: Youth – Voice On

Project: Youth – Voice On
grief of young generation

The embodied grief of the young generation: A small crack in the banality of inertia

On March 7, our film “Grief – Those who Remain” premiered at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival without any exclamations, whispers or murmurs. There was nothing. An unbearable silence. The only thing interrupting it was the collective sniffle of a muffled tension that one didn’t know how to handle, you feel it inside you, encased and trapped, resonating in your skin, anxiously searching for the tiniest air passageway. A solid mass of sorrow and anger. The very substance of trauma. It shatters, redefines and composes us.

As we were leaving the theatre someone pointed out a girl who was wearing a collar around her neck. “She was on the train”, they said. The train which we all have taken dozens of times, to go to college, to visit student friends, to visit family, to find jobs, to leave work, to fall in love or say goodbye, to watch films and visit exhibitions. It was the cheapest, most convenient and least lonely way to travel. A glimmer of serenity in a context of generalised stress. You could hop in and not think about anything, just stare across clusters of greenery, sleep or immerse yourself in your thoughts without distractions or dizziness. The train didn’t have the pricey impersonal swiftness of an aeroplane, the tedious focus of driving, or the stiff and irritating bustle of a coach. There was something sweet and familiar about it. That’s why it was so loved.

All in the past tense. Between the “before” and the “after” there is an incision in the form of an overwhelming shock. And then, back at that moment, just five metres from me stood this girl who wore a collar around her neck instead of a necklace; a girl who probably was in pain, who probably remembered and will never forget. A total stranger to me, a girl amongst more people that I didn’t know but who all had teary eyes, who might have been friends, college classmates, brothers and sisters of the dead or the survivors of the Tempi train accident, or maybe they were none of those things but were mourning something that felt like their own and was lost in the same train cars.

A hope of healing for what we have suffered in our adult lives that was dashed. One more frustration among countless others. I want to tell you that the thread that connected us, even though we hadn’t exchanged a single word until recently, was invisibly woven for years until it became a noose. It is what Judith Butler describes in “Precarious Life” about the insightful and reflective experience of trauma for “all [those things that] tear us from ourselves, bind us to others, transport us, undo us, implicate us in lives that are not are own, irreversibly, if not fatally.”

The Tempi train accident – a product of the criminal strategy of degradation of the railway network and generally a deadly reflection of the state’s indifference towards the safety and well-being of its citizens – was experienced by the younger generation, as aptly described in Eteron’s research, as a “moral shock”. It was an event that raised in our psyches a violent awareness of our constitutional expendability, of how devalued, vulnerable and ultimately expendable our lives have become, meaning that they can be crushed for nothing in a single moment, in a routine that was considered pleasant and harmless, in a train journey that did not make it to its destination.

It was like the culmination of a long process of vulnerabilisation, not from an ontological point of view, but in terms of harsh biopolitics, where class, ethnic, racial, gender, and sexual prioritisations, leave individuals and groups constantly exposed to conditions of deprivation, inequality and injustice, while making them jump between the parallel tracks of a crises continuum: from the economic to a political, health, energy, housing and climate crisis. “The care deficit is at the epicentre of the successive and interconnected crises and states of emergency that late capitalism produces as it normalises all the daily, persistent and widespread phenomena of social suffering and institutionalised neglect”, comments Athena Athanasiou in her preface to the “Care Manifesto”.

The generation that was most affected by the Tempi tragedy is the generation that came of age in a labour landscape brought to its knees by the economic crisis, that experienced the rise of the far right and its bloody consequences, that was subjected to all kinds of disciplinary and repressive policies, that was punished with confinement during the pandemic and saw its relatives suffer in public hospitals ravaged by budget cuts, that cannot secure its financial and housing independence, that cannot pay the exorbitant rents and is displaced, watching in a state of stupefaction and bewilderment as both the Athens city centre and the islands are transformed into alien geographies of an unregulated and unrestrained touristic development, that has its future compromised by the growing environmental destruction, that is becoming overwhelmingly aware of gender-based, homophobic and transphobic violence.

Frustration was already there and, as we now know from social psychology of trauma, each new wound reopens old ones that were left unhealed or covered up hastily in order for the individuals to survive. In this sense, the train accident added to an already aggravated state of accumulated pain and acted as a fuse, releasing righteous indignation.

The feelings that overwhelm young people are negative. Rage, despair, shame and insecurity. It is understandable and to a certain extent inevitable, as the social context is bleak and does not provide any visible or tangible alternatives that would inspire optimism. However, it is crucially important to remember that those feelings have not been locked up inside people to consume them with paralytic force. They were expressed.

The dead of the Tempi tragedy were mourned in a public and communal context, in contrast to the incomplete mourning for the victims of the pandemic, about which Katerina Matsa has written with great clarity and insight: “Modern societies have effectively banished grief. We do not mourn the dead, people often go to funerals having taken sedatives, which means they are not conscious of where they are. Alienated from others, and therefore also from themselves, from their own human social nature, withdrawn into themselves, they are unable to experience the loss, process it, overcome it and move on. We experienced the exile of grief to an extreme extent during the pandemic, before vaccines were introduced into our lives. The dead had to be buried immediately, in sealed coffins, relatives did not get to see their loved ones, and there was a danger that the impossibility of grief would become embedded in their psyche, creating a crypt of loss, which is also a crypt of shame and guilt.”

After the Tempi accident, the young generation participated en masse in physical performances of mourning in the form of gatherings, protests, demonstrations, events and artistic performances. It is a process of externalising, sharing and transforming grief. We have seen this happen with other events that have caused a strong shock to society, such as the numerous recent femicide cases, where the local feminist movement, drawing from traditions of international feminist practices, mourned the murdered women in the streets, through rituals of honouring the dead and preserving their memory, each time evoking the names of the murdered women, creating and keeping an archive of the victims of patriarchal violence, with red cloths, discarded shoes, stencils and performances.

At the same time, on several occasions of public grieving, forms of communal memorialisation emerged to counter the official memorialisation of the status quo, which is most commonly a marble or bronze mirror of a white, male, heteronormative, national-Christian and privileged elite. The monument of Alexandros Grigoropoulos and its restoration last year on Messologiou Street, the graffiti of Pavlos Fyssas in Keratsini, the “Zackie Oh Street” sign that is stubbornly and insolently re-engraved on Gladstonos Street every time someone destroys it, are some examples of communal memorialisation. In a similar vein, a memorial for the students who perished in the accident was now created at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki through the initiative of the students’ associations.

Through our sensory receptivity, vulnerability, and bodily interaction, we form communities that challenge the dominant interpretations of legitimate grief and desire. Against the propriety of normative grief, public mourning and collective practices of commemoration preserve an openness towards histories of loss that redefine the boundaries of the political”, as Elena Tzelepi remarked on the mobilisations that followed the brutal murder of Zak Kostopoulos.

Given the fact that the grief for those who died in the Tempi accident did not remain unseen and didn’t follow the dictate of withdrawal and solitary sadness, but instead broke the authority’s established protocol for private mourning, it is no surprise that it caused the status quo’s alarm and outrage. Hence the all sorts of admonitions about how we are allowed to grieve, that were culminated in Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ pre-election attack on mourning people. Because in reality, defending the memory of the dead as a way to demand justice, rejecting the narrative of “a stroke of bad luck” or of the individual responsibility of just one person, constantly commemorating the criminal accident, insisting on the collectivisation and, in this sense, the politicisation of rage, all form a small crack in the banality of inertia.

Such practices somewhat shatter the process of familiarisation with horror and the consequent insensitivity towards suffering, a process that is, however, necessary for maintaining power. And they do so embodiedly; corporeality is transformed from a field on which hegemonic strategies are exercised into a vector of resistance, a conduit that metabolises grief into a struggle against the politics of death.

What is striking in Eteron’s research, is that despite their participation in mass collective events, the deconstruction of fundamental neoliberal convictions, and their left-wing ideological-political orientation, the most popular answer to the relevant question is still “[None – I don’t identify with any] no ideology – I believe in the individual”, and when asked how they could improve their lives, most young people replied, “by personally making individual efforts”.

In my opinion, this partly reflects the resilience of individualism as a theory that may lie within the ideological core of neoliberalism, but today is being promoted with great vigour in more sophisticated versions, for example by using the cloak of “self-improvement” and “self-care”, concepts which permeate broader cultural settings, finding footholds as elements of hope for individual peace, bliss and brightness in the parched soil of the absence of positive collective visions. For a generation that has no strong representations of euphoria and is being consumed by dystopia, the prospect of reaching a personal rebirth of sorts through individual effort and focusing on oneself seems enticing.

On the other hand, the processes that took place at the level of collective action need time, familiarisation, stability, and multimodality in order to move beyond the realm of discharging, produce anti-hegemonic discourses and establish new relationalities. This concept of autonomy, of the self-made personality that perseveres, struggles and finally makes it, was forged and promoted very heavily through different communication channels, from social media and mass culture to the self-care industry and mainstream psychotherapeutic trends, and as a result, it became an archetype.

As the authors of The Care Manifesto aptly put it, “Over the past decades, many of us have experienced life in an accelerating social system of organised loneliness”. It is a neatly kept edifice that hides desolation and heartbreak.

The inconsistency in the form of the registered influence of conflicting ideological traits, the fragmentation of social struggles, the inherent contradictions of what we label as a “generation”, the inability to articulate positive and inspiring narratives, all combined with the underlying conservatisation of a part of society -as reflected in the election result, causing additional and unbearable despair among the young people who participated in the mobilisations in the past few months- certainly intercept or overpower the dynamics that had previously developed.

It will require serious processing, dialogue, revisions of intellectual paradigms, resourcefulness and caring interventions to understand the new situation. But what we have experienced and our feelings about it have not been cancelled, even if right now they seem to have shrunk.

We walked together, we put our bodies in motion next to one another, we wept together, we wiped each other’s tears, we chanted together for the sake of truth, we spelled the names of the dead and recited their stories together so that they would cease to be mere figures of a faceless annihilation. Together we faced tear gas and violent blows, we got upset with the hubris of power and together we rejected arrogance and callousness as compasses that map the course of one’s path. And that was great. A shared feeling but also an awareness of social vulnerability and interdependence. The challenge now, perhaps more crucial than ever, is to figure out how this whole experience will not go to waste; how, where and when will we come up with the necessary materials to create a movement of life affirmation.



  1. “Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence”, Judith Butler, Verso Books, 2004
  2. “The Care Manifesto”, The Care Collective, Ropi Publications
  3. “Queer Politics/ Public Memory”, collective, ed: Athina Athanasiou, Grigoris Gougousis, Dimitris Papanikolaou, Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung
  4. “Niovi/ The impossibility of mourning during the pandemic”, Katerina Matsa, Agra Publications


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