Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

Profile of a Greek riot police officer

Greek police car during riots
Photo from Eurokinissi

The Greek riots in December 2008 captured the world’s attention, not only with unforgettable images of damage done over weeks, but also because it spotlighted a teenager’s murder at the hands of a mentally unfit police officer.

It was Day 4 when I wrote this, rioters were fewer and less aggressive, which some attributed to fatigue and the closure provided by Alexi Grigoropoulos’ funeral; the Panathinaikos game temporarily diverted our attention, and shop keepers fought back to protect their livelihood. Their efforts would be in vain as recession soon took hold.

Whatever respite we enjoyed was gone when a 24-hour general strike stopped flights, transport, media and public sector offices. Some hoped protests would be peaceful. Others used it as an opportunity for violence that continued for days as youth set fire to everything from banks, car dealerships and local shops to riot police officers and the Syntagma Christmas tree. It only stopped when near freezing temperatures forced many to take refuge inside.

Photo by Evi Zoupanou, AP


International media did a better job than Greek media in reporting events, but there has also been incorrect interpretation of the ‘why’ behind the riots and little done on the human aspect of participants. Presumably because many foreign correspondents cannot speak or read Greek, do not have an interpreter at their disposal and/or lack the proper contacts, therefore depending on questionable English-speaking sources that may have only a superficial or incomplete knowledge of Greece and the Greek language. Local media have no excuse.

Most photos distributed by the media are those of Greek riot police beating protesters, not of protesters beating, throwing rocks at and setting fire to riot police, which biases the audience.

If I could recommend only one article, it would be “Riots Prove Europe Can’t Overlook Greece” by Michael J. Economides. He deftly sums up everything with historical and factual evidence, not theories and conjecture; and his article supports what I wrote and my readers have been discussing.

As we entered Day 5 with a palatable tension and frustration from rioters, strikers and the general public, I took the opportunity to see the December riots through the eyes of a MAT officer (Greek riot policeman).

MAT Officer — Vasilis, 33

MAT officers
Photo from Petros Karadjias/AP

Perhaps the most loathed civil servants of Greece — and the most visible during riots and protests turned violent — Greek riot police officers make up part of a special forces division (MAT-EKAM) that guard embassies on politically charged anniversaries, watch over peaceful demonstrations, and handle riots according to orders passed to them by the government.

* Note: EKAM is a separate, special forces division of highly trained anti-terrorist police.

Kat (K): What made you decide to become a police officer?

Vasilis (V): Well, I did not have many choices. I’m from a village near Preveza, my family has three boys, and my parents could only afford to send my oldest brother to university. His tuition was paid because he did well on exams to win his place, but the university was in Thessaloniki so they had to pay some things.

I did not do well on exams for the subject for which I had interest; it’s not like other countries where you can choose any course of study. So I graduated with a technical degree, but there were no jobs in my area. Instead of being unemployed and taking money from my parents, I came to Athens and went to the police because they had openings, and I would be paid on time.

K: And you signed up for special forces?

V: Yes. It is voluntary to sign up. I’m lucky because my best friend was in the academy with me, we graduated and signed up at the same time, so we had each other (parea). Otherwise, I think it would be very lonely.

K: Why special forces?

V: I did not want to be sitting in a station, and I thought this was a good option. But there are times we sit on a bus or stand outside in the cold/heat, so it’s not that much better.

Greek police outnumbered and cornered by protesters./AFP

K: How was the training?

V: To be honest, I don’t think very good. It’s difficult to say because I have nothing to compare, but I hear from you that police officers in the United States have very rigorous checks, exams, training, shooting practice, scenarios and with the best equipment. Honestly, that would be a dream for us, but I know it will never happen here.

Also, I don’t know if the training I had 10 years ago is better, worse or different than training given today.

K: So you don’t feel prepared?

V: No, but I think the government likes it that way. In other countries, the police have some power. That will not happen here because the government does not want us to have power; they want to keep us down, so they can control us.

K: Why do you say that?

V: For two reasons. Because they are weak, and because they have no respect for us. They do not give us training, they do not give us good equipment, the buses they give us are very old, without AC and heat, and we are not paid very good. If I tell you my salary, you will laugh. Most of all, they do not allow us to have lives.

K: What do you mean by that?

V: Mainly I do not have a schedule. None of us do. We are required to call every day to find what time we are working, so that means we cannot make any plans, except during our vacation. Even if I am told at the end of my shift that I am working at 8 a.m. the next day, it could change to working at midnight instead. Sometimes I work the night, I have a sleep, and then I wake up and find I’m working afternoon, then morning the next day. There’s no way I can even have a good night’s rest. It’s like being in the army, but worse. All of my life is the last minute, and this is not sane.

Btw, I’m not complaining. I’m sure many in the world suffer more than me. I’m just telling you how it is.

K: During a conflict like this, do you work more hours?

V: This is a rare situation, but yes we work many more hours because we are needed and spread out now in many cities, not just one place. This is bad because then we are really tired and irritated and without patience — just as any human being would be — plus we are under pressure and must restrain ourselves under any circumstances. Can you imagine what that’s like? To have 4 hours sleep, stand on your feet all day, have people spitting, yelling, hitting and throwing things at you for 8-10 hours and you can do nothing?

I’m not justifying anything. I’m just saying that as humans we all do the best we can.

Image seen around the world. — Associated Press/To Vima

K: What about the images and footage they show on TV of the police beating and dragging people?

That happens, yes. But often they don’t show what happened before that. I mean, do they ever show on TV the injuries, beatings and times we are jumped by a mob? Of course they don’t, but it happens a lot.

K: Did you know the police officer who shot Alexi?

V: The guy who shot the boy isn’t someone I know, but his nickname “Rambo” explains it all (Note: The accused officer was part of the special guard division integrated with police in 2008). I don’t want to know a person like this, but policeman around the world probably all know a co-worker who is (what do you call it?) irresponsible and trigger happy. All professions everywhere have bad people.

It is a tragedy, and I understand why people are mad. All the MAT are paying for him, whether he is guilty or not.

K: And how do you feel about your job right now?

V: I didn’t feel good before, but these days I feel worse. On one hand, I can understand that people are mad and want justice, but I don’t think violence is the answer. It just makes things worse. They say they are mad about education, unemployment and job prospects and the government. Fine. I was worried and angry for the same reasons at their age, and I didn’t riot or burn my country in front of the world. I looked at the options that did exist, moved to Athens without even knowing how to cook or take care of myself, but I learned and here I am. That’s life. Plus, my parents raised me better than that, I hope.

But if you want to know what I really think, I think these rioters are better dressed and have better lives than I did when I was a kid and even better than my life now being a hard working person, so it’s just recreational violence.

Regardless of what I think, I am hated for the uniform I wear and used for target practice all day long. People want to kill me. That’s my job, to be a target. Isn’t that great?

In other countries, they have curfews and arrest anyone who violates it. I think the government must stop being afraid to take action and give us the power and call in the army to help bring order back to the country. Greeks look like fools right now, and there’s too much damage to everything — image, reputation, buildings, businesses, jobs, economy. Who’s going to pay for all this? Us. It makes me sick and ashamed. The government needs to stop talking and start doing something, not just with riots but with everything and fix this country. That’s the real reason for the rioting. The country is broken.

Anything else you would like to say?

Yes. I’m sorry for the boy who was killed, but I want people to understand that many police officers are good. People call us pigs and hicks, and yes there are a few. But we’re human and have the same problems as everyone else, and we care about this country.

Thank you for the chance to speak.

* A few things he did not mention. Candidates must pass written and physical exams before enrolling in the police academy, plus undergo psychological testing that is mandatory after the shooting that set off December riots and an incident that killed an embassy guard.

The majority of Greek police officers pay for their own bulletproof vest, which costs them one month’s salary or more; and those claiming financial hardship are given a vest up to 25 years old. Most earn a salary of only 700-1000 euros/month, so any out-of-pocket expense has impact. All police complain that their equipment is horribly outdated and not at all modern, as the media claim.

If you are interested in learning more about Greek police or what it takes to become an officer, go to the Ministry of Citizen Protection, Hellenic Police or Astynomia. Websites are in Greek, with limited English versions.

In the news

Police to undergo racial sensitivity training” — To Vima
Some police officers deemed unfit to carry gun after psychological evaluation” — Kathimerini (July 2010)
70 Questions asked by police & intelligence officers” — Eleftherotypia (June 2010)
Hoodlums slash & rob Greek police” — Kathimerini (April 2010)
Five Molotov cocktails thrown at MAT” — Eleftherotypia (March 2010)
Gunmen seriously wound Greek riot police officer” — Reuters (January 5, 2009)
Gunmen kill Greek anti-terrorist policeman” — Reuters (June 2009)
Two Greek policeman shot in Athens” — AFP (April 2009)
Officers victims of hysteria” — Kathimerini (December 24, 2008)
Greek police car toppled” — AFP (December 23, 2008)
Shots fired at anti-riot police bus” — Reuters (December 23, 2008)
Greek riot policeman: Simply a man doing his job” — Kathimerini (December 19, 2008)
To police or not to police” — Kathimerini (December 11, 2008)
Protesters attack Greek police stations” — CBC
Witnesses tell stories of Greek police brutality” — BBC
Father to son: If you get good grades, I’ll take you to the riot” — Kathimerini
Greek riot police ask to be withdrawn after 14-hour shifts, continued injuries” — Kathimerini
Professional soldiers allowed to join special forces” — Ta Nea
Off-duty policeman jumped, dragged and beaten by hooded mob” — AP
Half of policemen voted for neo-Nazi party” — To Vima
Police chief extorted foreigners” — Kathimerini
DIAS cops twice as likely to die off duty in moto accident than civilians” — To Vima

Related Posts

“I feel a deep sense of despair, as I watch my country roll down an endless hill” — Kathimerini
If you have money, you’re innocent” — BBC (Your Stories)
Who are the protesters?” — Al Jazeera
Riots erupt outside Athens courthouse during police testimony” — CBC

Source note

Vasilis is one of many MAT officers I know, and the interview I originally published above with a Greek rioter chosen at random was removed. I’d hoped to present that interview, along with an interview with an anarchist referred to me by a reader but he never agreed to an appointment or answered my questions via email after I sent a questionnaire.

I would like to thank my readers for their constructive criticism.

Personal note

I have riot fatigue, so this will be my (next to) last post on the subject. People who know and/or live in Greece understand that strikes, demonstrations and riots are quite common so this is, as one of my readers put it, “Same sh!t, different day.” Yes, the sh!t is worse than normal, but this isn’t something new. It’s part of life in Greece, especially if one resides in Athens.


Because of expletives and name calling, I will once again state that all comments are welcome, but my policy in “Comments, Questions and Contacting Me” will be enforced. People proved me wrong about it being unnecessary to address manners.


  FMS wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 15:04

Your interview with Vasilis is very revealing, and I think represents well the difficult position of the MAT forces. One general point, in response to Vasilis: Greek politicians have no respect for anyone; their own self-adulation and greed is what drives them, occasionally covered by a veneer of “respectability”. We have seen beneath that veneer recently, with the extensive corruption involving the two main parties.

THe interview with the anonymous rioter is less satisfying, and I think reflects the random choice of interviewee. There are legitimate grievances, and some of the rioters are more articulate than your interviewee about why rioting is the only option. On the other hand, the lack of a focused objective, and the lack of any actual demands made of the government, show the inexperience and naivete of most of the young rioters. It also shows how the corrupt traditional politics of patronage have failed the country: I doubt that Karamanlis or Papandreou will care though. In that sense, many of us are in some sympathy with the motivations of the rioters — although not with the consequences.

  Zoe wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 16:45

Speaking to people from both sides of the fence gives your readers a glimpse into the reality of things. As for your rioting interviewee, I got the heebie-jeebies reading his responses to your questions, and am dumbfounded by how his parents (and so many of these rioters’ parents) are aware of what their kids are doing, and not saying one damn thing. So many of these kids live privileged lives… they’re “fighting” a system that has only helped secure the food they eat, the clothes they wear and the (private) schools they attend. It’s horrific and appalling.

  Perry wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 16:52

I read your blog and I think you do a great job mostly, but I think you failed here. By your choice of subjects to interview, you have set up an extremely black and white view of the struggle. I don’t live in Greece and so I don’t know what the right perspective is but 50 years of living has shown me that it’s never, ever this black and white.

You have done yourself a disservice because unlike me (who reads you regularly), a person who comes to your blog through this post will likely find you to be one-sided and agenda-driven. I hope you take the criticism in the constructive manner with which it was intended.

  Vasilis wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 16:59

Some of us suspect that criminals and bored children of the middle class make up a large percentage of the rioters. And when it comes to those bored well-off kids, they take out on society their frustration at their parents and their parents’ choices. And their parents let them inflict havoc on innocent people. And this makes some of us very angry. With the kids and their idiot parents.

  Luis wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 17:01

No me creo que ese chico pueda ser un arnarquista. Realmente es indignante que un periodista coja a un crio y le haga preguntas para colarnos una entrevista que no es otra cosa que un insulto a una ideología.

Ese crio no sabe ni lo que es un gobierno como para saber lo que está haciendo. Puede que haya muchos chicos así en los disturbios, pero también habrá poetas y escritores, catedráticos y sobre todo ciudadanos libres con las ideas claras.

Por otro lado aunque el policia que han escogido parece muy majo debemos recordar que son policias, y por lo tanto que su finción es quitar libertad y defender a los poderosos. Basicamente oprimir.

  Leondias wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 17:08

i don not think that putting in comparison a voice of a MAT officer that is clearly a thinker and a voice of a rioter with no reason provides the gists of the hole citation. It looks like the hole article is kind of biased.
No offense.

  Leondias wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 17:45

my bad if what i said sounded like i was accusing you. I was only trying to say that from this post someone could not get subjective opinion of the situation. He / She could easily understand that people with no kind of any ideological background take advantage of the situation and unfold their violent emotions.

  Alysia wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 17:58

I’m glad you did this story. It’s unfortunate that the rioter didn’t have something meaningful to say besides his omissions of reason.

I really enjoy Greek modern history, and have (in my limited circle, which has broadened a little) sensed the dissatisfaction with this government, as eventually happens every few years.

I also understand that everyone wants something better for themselves, but no one takes any responsibility.

Youth in my own family have certainly had some VERY unfortunate experiences with the police here – I am told that the police are usually quite young and volatile. And I have also heard that they are more interested in provoking than policing. Who knows, really.

Re the rioting, and taking into consideration said experiences with police, my dad who was at the University the year before the University violence 35 years ago, said “Let them burn the city before we quietly accept the death of one child.”

But thank you for taking the time. I always enjoy the information you provide.

  Kostas wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 18:00

Excellent interviews. I don’t know any MAT, so it was interesting to understand more about their job and struggles. I also don’t know any rioters, but there are a lot of young people in this generation who believe the whole world is owing them something. This comes frm the sense of entitlement they feel given to them by their parents. That it’s ok to mouth off, take money, whine and complain until they get what they want without having to do hard work and earn their way in life. It’s not a far stretch to understand that some of these same kids might be responsible for destroying things in riots without feeling there are doing something wrong or takes any responsibility for his actions.

Maybe when they grow up, they will see the error of their ways. But I suspect that most never grow out of a habit and instead pass it to their children, and it goes on and on…

  Christopher wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 18:06

I’m going to have to agree with the critique given by the others. The main problem is you ask a lot of leading questions. I know obviously you’re not a lawyer or professional interviewer, but the leading questions definitely make the piece seem agenda-driven, as another commenter stated. Also, if you had found a glib rioter and an idiot cop, the whole piece could have come off completely opposite of how it actually did.

I know you say you’re done with the issue, but if you do wish to interview a true anarchist, one who is actively involved with the anarchist organization (an oxymoron, I know), I can put you in touch with a friend of mine. He will provide a better picture than some random kid off the street.

Besides that, thanks for making these posts, and all your posts in general! It’s much more interesting reading something written by a non-Greek resident of Greece than by some CNN reporter dispatched to cover the news.


  Perry wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 18:13

Kat, I just had one more thought. The interview with the MAT officer published alone may have made this a better post. Once again, just my opinion. Your blog, your choice. Cheers!

  George wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 18:43


Thanks for fascinating and very useful reportage. I’m a Greek -American who travels to Greece fairly often and has strong ties to the culture and I’ve been following the events closely. While I agree that the interview with the demonstrator found “at random” was probably not very representative , I think it did serve a purpose as an actual example of the worst extreme version of a typical sort of clueless overprivileged young “neo-ellinaki” sort of kid. You might want to restore it in some other context.

On the other hand, there is a justifiable rage at the Greek class system, with its culture of corruption and kleptocracy , which I suspect is motivating the less mindless teen and college-age “rioters” and deserves to be seen as a balance to the MAT officer’s sympathetic portrait.
Keep up the good work, it is being appreciated.

  Vasilis wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 19:04

It is “balanced’ to show an interview with well-read anarchist with strong philosophical foundation ONLY if you think this is the majority of the rioters. And it is NOT the majority of the rioters, no one claims it is the majority of the rioters, not even bloggers participating in the riots themselves.

The policeman may have been an acquintenance but he is still typical in terms of his upbringing, level of education and other characteristics, as it seems. Christopher’s friend does NOT sound typical for the crowds that looted Athens the past three days, he sounds like a presumptive intellectual or leader. Please DO NOT advance ex post rationalizations, greek TV is full of them.

  George wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 19:09

As Americans, we have to admit (or at least this one does-) how amazing and sort of humbling it is to watch a nation’s entire generation of kids be motivated to rebel in the streets over the notion that authorities have murdered one– just one, mind you– of their own. And how astonishing it is (for an American) to see the extent to which that anger at a murderous abuse of authority (real or exaggerated) is exhibited also by much of the official media establishment.

I don’t necessarily disagree with your perspective on contemporary Greece, as I understand it.
But- Say what you will about modern Greeks– and there’s plenty to complain about- at least they are not yet a nation of sheep. Unlike some other societies we may know…

  photene wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 19:21

I think that trying to say that this post should be a “gallup” type is unfair, this is one person’s experience trying to get another person’s experience “on the record” for people outside of this conflict.

I find it enlightening, that the person who chose to speak to you can’t clearly express himself. Why? Because he has no fundamental understanding of why he’s doing what he’s doing.

He enjoys all the priveleges of an “upper class lifestyle” but when push comes to shove, he doesn’t do the “right thing” and stand up for what his family has built – he decides to “go to a party” and that in my opinion is exactly what’s going on – mob mentality.

Greece, if not for the British troops after WWII would be a communist state, it’s clear that while Greece wants to have the freedoms that democratic nations both suffer and enjoy, she is most definitely not ready.

In my opinion, the influx of immigrants, rising unemployment, the ongoing corruption of the government (on all sides), the natural disasters she has faced as a result of greed, etc., and the ongoing belief of her people that the government owes them a job, paycheck, pension, and a quality of life that rivals the countries she most despises, the UK and the US primarily, is a clear indication of her primary issue – an “identity crisis”.

Greece was not ready to join the EU and is still not ready to join the world as modern nation that is willing to make the fundamental changes she needs to in order to gain any respect or influence on the world stage.

Until such time as Greece decides to “GROW UP” she will continually face the issues she does today.

These riots have broken me down to tears.

Bottom line for me – these riots are the result of criminals – home grown terrorists in my view – and until the government decides that they’re not going to allow criminals to disrupt the country – let Greece burn. Maybe then the government can give all these folks jobs – digging graves and shoveling ashes – definitely resume building careers that they can take back with them to wherever…..

  Tauros wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 19:23

Hi Kat!

I look forward to reading your interview with the “true anarchist”. Be especially interesting to hear what he might say regarding the various conspiracy theories that abound concerning the organizing of actions; eg, a political party, extremist right wing groups that desire a return to a dictatorship, etc.

Regarding the hoodlum you interviewed, he is one of the great many herd-following idiots who have caused such damage over the last few days. My circle of very close friends includes a large number of Greek public high school teachers that I have known for years. FWIW, I can assure you that your random interview with him very well captures the thought-process (or lack thereof) of a great many Greek high school students. It appears that they only start to mature into some kind of responsible adulthood when they are forced to face the prospect of actually having to work for a living. It’s clear your interviewee hasn’t yet reached that point. (And when he does, he may well demonstrate from time to time, but will more than likely eschew the idiotic violence.)

I know quite a few police officers ranging from “street cops” to very high-ranking officers, though I don’t actually know anyone in MAT. Regardless, Vassilis’ comments are also very typical of the thinking in the police force. The great many want to do the right thing, but feel under-trained, underpaid, over-controlled, and un-respected. And the sad fact is, they’re right on all counts.

Overall, despite the various critiques you received on methodology, you captured very well the thinking of two of the main groups in this matter. Adding an interview with the “true anarchist” will round out the article, but I recommend you not delete the interview with the rioter above, because in the last few days, people like him greatly outnumber the “professional” rioters that usually cause the violence, and the aspect of their significant involvement should be considered when addressing this issue. Look forward to part 2!

  Barbayiannis wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 20:13

The interview with the policeman shows a decent man trying to do his best in a difficult situation. I’m willing to believe he’s typical.

As for the rioters, their political psychology has been described with admirable cogency by Lenin in his classic essay, Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder:

“A petty bourgeois driven to frenzy by the horrors of capitalism is a social phenomenon which, like anarchism, is characteristic of all capitalist countries. The instability of such revolutionism, its barrenness, and its tendency to turn rapidly into submission, apathy, phantasms, and even a frenzied infatuation with one bourgeois fad or another — all this is common knowledge.”

  k asimakopoulos wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 20:32

I had the gumption to approach a “rioter” this Monday night, close enough to smell the gas on his hands and clothes. My probings were similar to Kat’s…The answers, chillingly similar as well. The similar thing between my interaction with a participate and Kat’s is that they both seemed unsure of why they were doing what they were doing. Let us all stop critiquing the blog and discuss the subject of the matter. Maybe this could help us all… The ones that love Greece.

Oh yeah…its grand not hearing helicopters buzzing around my street like the past few nights.
Goodnight Athina

lets hope you wake up tomorrow

  Tauros wrote @ December 10th, 2008 at 22:32


This is way off-topic, but felt I needed to say it. Delete, edit, amend, copy, whatever you see fit.

Photene wrote “Greece, if not for the British troops after WWII would be a communist state…”

That is a gross over-simplification of a complex subject that has many books devoted to it. Thus a response in this forum is necessarily also over-simplified; howver if one had to state the three main factors in the defeat of KKE (formed in 1941 with EAM as the political arm and ELAS as the military arm) in the Greek civil war (1944-1949) they would probably be: (1) British support until 1947 (including an agreement they later reneged on with KKE to allow them a part in the Gov’t — ELAS had been the primary organizers of the Greek resistance during the war and could easily have taken control of the country in 1944), when they were unable to continue supporting the Greek Gov’t as a full-scale civil war broke out; (2) The massive US aid that was provided from that point on under the Truman Doctrine; and, (3) The split between the Tito and Stalin (and a subsequent split in the Greek communists’ loyalties that led to neither the Soviets nor Yugoslavia providing much more than moral support to the Greek communists).

Bottom line is that the British played a significant role in the fight against communism in Greece, but it’s a very hard argument to make that Greece did not end up a communist state after WWII if not for British troops.

  graffic wrote @ December 11th, 2008 at 00:37

Just amazing. Everybody repeating the same things we could see in the streets without giving any more light to the problem with “the police”. And then you came up with the interview idea. Great!

Not much to say, just thank you very much for the reading. My RSS reader is waiting anxiously for the other interview 🙂

  Margaret wrote @ December 11th, 2008 at 01:45

Kat, thanks for publishing this fascinating interview with the MAT officer. Your writing seems much more immediate and closer to what is happening than anything I read in newspapers here, and your interview humanises an otherwise alienating set of events. I shall be very interested to read the two interviews you intend to post.


  Kat wrote @ December 11th, 2008 at 01:57

FMS — I believe my interview went better with Vasilis because we know each other and he trusts me, so there is a comfort level and candidness that’s lacking when you interview a stranger. Plus, the rioter and I were on the street and he was technically “working.” Not the best circumstances, but I do the best with what I’m given. Through my informal survey, it does appear that most rioters are similar to the profile I presented. There’s just no way to know, and what is “average” anyway?

Zoe — There are only a few hundred rioters, so I’m hoping the other millions have very good parents that keep them in check. Difficult to say though because I’ve met both strict and lax parents. Many of my Greek friends say they were allowed to do as they pleased growing up, no real rules and no real questions; but their parents made it clear that participating in any sort of violence was unacceptable.

Perry — Mostly do a good job? Hmmm. OK.

Vasilis — True. Many people echo the sentiments you expressed. I wanted to see if it was true or not by interviewing someone at random, which I did, but…

Perry, Luis & Leonidas — My source notes at the end of the post clearly disclose that I knew the MAT officer and unfortunately had to choose a rioter randomly from the street. Why? Because I do not personally know a rioter or anyone else who does, even though I made a point of asking around. Therefore, my selection was limited to whoever was on the street AND someone who was willing to speak to me (a non-Greek). At least a dozen people said ‘no’ before I found this person; and because he did not know me, nor I him, it is possible he held back his answers and did not feel comfortable to elaborate as Vasilis did. There is also a 10-year age difference, their parents clearly raised them differently, and they’re from different social classes — all of that is made obvious in the interviews from their answers.

While Greeks in Greece have told me through comments and in personal emails that they find the rioter interview true to life, I do realize that it looks unbalanced, but there’s not much I can do about that if others refuse to speak. If I had not made the disclosure, then you could accuse me of bias and trying to present a black-and-white situation. But that’s not what I did — I told you up front. They are also conversations that I let go where they may; neither was a bait-and-see or prepared question type interview.

I also do not claim the profiles represent the whole situation, as only interviewing every person in Greece would accomplish that. There are never only two sides; there are dozens of sides. This post is about two people who agreed to speak. That’s all. Please take it for what it is.

Alysia — It’s true that many police officers start young, usually right after the army since many of them do not go to university. MAT officers are recruited young because they are in their prime, and in a sense the job demands that. I’m sure many people have issues with police; after all, no one likes them.

Like your father, I’ve met some people who are totally OK with burning down a city without knowing if someone is guilty or not. All they see is an innocent dead and want someone to pay, which is ironic because I doubt they would be this vigilant if it was someone they knew personally…or if they themselves were guilty. Then it becomes about what they can get away with. Just to be clear, I’m not directing my comment at your father, just society in general.

Kostas — Nice to see you again, and thank you. Indeed, many beliefs and behaviors (good and bad) are passed through generations without questioning why or stopping a known pattern. Why change (painful) when you can blame (easy)? Btw, I’m not saying this is unique to Greece; this is common worldwide.

Christopher — Actually, I let the conversation go where it may. I did not have prepared questions, which in my opinion would be leading. I also did not intentionally seek out a particular person, just someone willing to speak freely. Randomness is a part of life. But I do respect your and others’ opinions and constructive criticism. I will take you up on your offer, however I almost think this would be more intentional, leading and biased than my original interview because I am being led to a certain person. Lastly, thank you for your compliment.

Perry — I had the same thought just as your comment came through — we must be on the same wavelength. The original and different interview will be published together.

George — Hello and nice to meet you. There’s no way we can we judge if he was representative or extreme because some people say ‘yes’ and others say ‘no.’ The only way to do that is to interview every rioter, and I don’t see how that’s possible. I still believe the profile served a purpose, as you said. Perhaps it was too much of a stark contrast when presented with the MAT profile. And for the record, I did not portray the MAT officer in a sympathetic light — he is what he is, and his words are unedited. Thank you for the compliment and encouragement.

Vasilis — I agree with you wholeheartedly, however let’s just see what happens. Two more contacts to rioters were offered, and I’ll check them and choose one (again at random) without prescreening.

George — It has not been proven to be murder, so I believe such destruction against innocent shop keepers and businesses is unwarranted. Law and order is a basic civil right, and respecting that does not make one a sheep. Lawlessness is how the government got so f***cked up to begin with, and there is plenty of apathy to go around. Many won’t bother to ask questions or raise a complaint about something legitimate because they figure, “Why bother? In the end, I will have wasted my breath, money and energy for nothing.” And it’s easy to understand that attitude if you’ve ever been to a public sector office for five days in a row trying to take care of one thing. I’ve developed the opposite trait of vigilant stubbornness, and this comes from being nearly invisible as a non-Greek female immigrant. I don’t mind if you do disagree with my point of view, just remember that the context in which you see and experience Greece as a male of Greek origin is completely different than mine as low woman on totem pole. There are many perspectives on Greece, and all of them are correct.

Photene — You sum up exactly what I was trying to do. Just get one person’s thoughts on the record without presumption, prediction or preparation. I cannot address the midsection of your comment because I do not know enough to speak intelligently, but I’ve entertained thoughts of hoodlums being rounded up, detained and having their parents pay 5000 euros apiece to break them out to help defray the cost of damage. (I know it won’t happen, but anyway 🙂 ). I don’t think the government’s offer of assistance should come from taxpayer money or be loans that need to be repaid.

Tauros — Because of your experience and knowledge, I appreciate the validation of my original interview, just as I appreciate others (such as Vasilis, Kostas, et al) who also said it was an accurate portrayal. I also believe Vasilis is typical. The other MAT I know are similar to him, then I know one superior officer and one newbie who is a bit primitive. I temporarily removed the original interview and will present it with the next. They may still be two extremes. Tha doume.

Barbayiannis — You always present succinct, thought-provoking references, as does Tauros. It’s very much appreciated.

KA – Nice to see you here again. I appreciate the validation from your random, real-life experience, and thank you for sharing that. I believe we can all agree on one thing: We all love Ellada, and we do not want further destruction to come to her. Be careful out there!

Meg — I didn’t publish your comment as requested, but I wanted to let you know that you have my permission to do what you said regarding this post and the other (if you like), as long as you cite this as your source. It’s never a bad thing to clearly communicate independent information to create understanding.

Graf — As you know, I started this website to present something different, and I try very hard to keep doing that. I think all of us are tired of the same things over and over, night and day on different channels in many languages; it just contributes to the fatigue, in my opinion. Filakia and good night my friend.

Margaret — Thank you stopping by and for the kind words! It makes it worth it, when I hear things like that. 🙂

Unfortunately, the riots continue this evening. That means I need to turn in and look forward to another long day tomorrow! I’m hoping to wake up and find peace. Goodnight, everyone!

  Simon Baddeley wrote @ December 11th, 2008 at 02:30

Thanks so much, Kat. This shows how quality narrowcasting now competes – successfully – with broadcasting when it comes to a covering a complicated fast moving crisis. I’ve been listening and watching mainstream news in English, but the extra insight provided by you and a blogger in Corfu (I’m in UK at the moment) is invaluable. I’m not surprised you have riot fatigue. It’s tiring to watch things unfolding even 2000k away. I find it very difficult to know what to think, but I feel grief. Greece is not a foreign country.

  Perry wrote @ December 11th, 2008 at 03:42

Kat, you wrote, Perry — Mostly do a good job? Hmmm. OK.

One of my comments must have got caught in your spam filter. Taken in context with my other comments, I think you would find that my opinion of you and your blog is much higher than it appears here without the comment. 🙂

Be that as it may, let me be perfectly clear:

You’ve done a great job here of reading/responding to comments and keeping an open mind. Your blog reflects a labor of love and is of the highest quality. Thank you!

  Steve wrote @ December 11th, 2008 at 05:19

A very insightful interview – well done. While I can sympathize with the Police officer I don’t believe that a tougher response would lead to a long-term solution. The real failure belongs to the Greek government who have ignored the fact that this is a political issue, not a law and order issue. To defuse this crisis they need to put forward a plan to address Greece’s universally acknowledged political problems. The MAT officer is likely correct, there is more than an element of childishness about these riots (one particular Youtube video shows these demonstrators mounting a concerted attack on a recycling bin!) but despite this, there are real problems that need to be solved. Containing the frustrated Ipod generation is one thing – but if Greek workers took to the streets, with similar levels of anger, then defending the state would probably require lethal force – something that must be avoided at all costs.

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