*Note that this post is from 2008, and my Guardian commentary “Athenian democracy in ruins” appeared the next day.
The last days have seen another scandal surface and a spike in crime that includes kidnapping, hostage taking, protests, riots and a shooting in the Greek capital. Add to that a general strike come Wednesday, and there’s good reason to dread the upcoming week without it even being Monday. It’s just another day in Greece.
Unrelated events started Wednesday night with arsonists damaging the Bosnian Embassy and an ATM in Halandri (northern suburb of Athens); an explosive detonating at a luxury car showroom in Alimos; and a bomb exploding at the Agence France-Presse (AFP) office in central Athens, an act claimed by the Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire.
On Thursday, arsonists used explosive devices to damage Ministry of Environment and Public Works offices at different locations in Athens (Panoromou and Exarcheia) within 25 minutes of each other. In Thessaloniki, Diavata Prison Governor Constantinos Tsourelis was beaten by assailants who stormed the lecture hall at Aristotle University, one of many incidents involving professors and lecturers being assaulted at several universities around Greece.
The pace picked up on Friday, with a group of Athens Medical School students holding Deputy Health Minister Giorgos Constantopoulos hostage for a half hour. Why? He refused to discuss reforms that would result in graduates working the first six months of their careers without pay. (Boo hoo! Meanwhile, students worldwide serve as unpaid interns in exchange for valuable real-life experience, usually after paying for their own education and going into serious debt). It also came to light in yet another scandal that a nun from the Emmaous Monastery defrauded customers, and a doctor in Varkiza was robbed and kidnapped.
Saturday started innocently, with a peaceful climate change rally around noon by a large contingency showing support for a serious issue. Forecasters predict life in Greece will eventually resemble north Africa based on uncontrolled construction, large highways and tourism, combined with wasting natural resources and lackluster measures to reuse, recycle and create renewable energy.
At dusk, a riot by asylum seekers broke out when a man fell into a canal after authorities announced that further applications would not be accepted — similar to the incident that occurred in October when a man was killed. Although the British National Party blame migrants for the unrest, this riot lasted only a half-hour, it fizzled, and there were no injuries.
We all know what happened after that. Instead of a busy night of gift-giving and celebrating the many people named after St. Nicholas the pious Wonder Worker, Saturday was marked by a group of teenagers who may have attacked a police car, an innocent boy being shot and killed, (this is the video) and the youth of Athens using a lull in rioting to recruit more rioters through the Internet, which escalated and spread violence throughout Greece, even as the government pleaded for calm.
Now it’s Sunday, and the violence continues. Buildings are on fire, livelihoods are in ruin, tear gas makes it difficult to be on the street, and there have been electricity and telecommunication cuts. But that still isn’t enough — we’re about to enter our third day.
Have any of these self-proclaimed “anarchists” hooligans/hoodlums/youth stopped to think about the ‘why’ behind their actions? Were any of these youths, both policemen and protesters, taught logic and reason by their parents? What has violence accomplished? And more importantly, what’s the point? I understand too well the feeling of hopelessness and disconnection — because unlike many expats, I live a typically Greek life and earn a Greek salary — but mass destruction is not the answer and two wrongs don’t make a right. It is a senseless tragedy and my condolences go out to the dead boy’s family, but more violence solves nothing and will not bring him back.
People sell Greece as a safe country, yet stats show that incidents of kidnapping, bombing and violent crime are on the rise. People claim that residents in Greece “work to live” and have more entertainment options than those in the United States, Australia and Canada. But if that’s true, why do the majority appear bored and use that time to sloth around, shop and consume, nurse a drink/coffee for 4 hours, not exercise and use any excuse to riot? If only people put as much time into critical thinking, productive work and implementation as they do into hypocritical complaining, grandstanding and destruction.
Violence of any kind has a domino effect on Greece’s economy. It starts with the innocent mom and pop businesses that can’t stay open during an organized march or strike; or worse, have property vandalized, damaged or burned to the ground during a riot. Profits go down, expenses and insurance rates go up, rent doesn’t get paid, costs are passed to the consumer, consumption goes down, the business cuts back or closes, conglomerates owned by the rich get richer, unemployment goes up, more people fall below the poverty line. the symbols of capitalism so loathed by these youth only grow more powerful at their hands.
And when Greece makes international headlines with mass strikes, wildfires and violent protests, this affects tourism’s bottom line and puts a lot of people off for different reasons, which in turn harms the Greek economy and creates more challenges for everyone who lives and works in the so-called cradle of Western civilization. That’s where it ends — in bigger ruins than this country already suffers.
* P.S. Greece can kiss entry to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program goodbye for a couple more years, but of course the United States will be blamed yet again for being anti-Greek.
If you are in the center of Athens or any Greek city besieged by violence, be aware that tear gas and pepper spray can linger for several hours and cause irritation to your nasal passages, eyes and throat. Please do not be a ‘riot tourist.’
From the blogs
“Senseless” — EllasDevil (no longer archived)
“Anarchy is a dead Greek f@g”
“Greek riots: It isn’t all about the economy, stupid”
“Rioting in Greece”
“Thugs riot all across Greece”
“Protesting war by making war”
“Behind the riots: A hidden Greek tragedy”