The Excuse: On December 6th a 15 year old school boy was shot dead by a policeman in Athens. Apparently, the policeman had not legitimate reason for doing so.
The Aftermath: For five days now groups of young men, self-described anarchists, have been spreading mayhem in the streets of Athens and other cities throughout the country. The damages are estimated to be more than €100 million so far. More than 400 stores and other businesses have sustained damages in Athens alone.
The Cause: Extremely high tolerance for illegal and anti-social behavior. The coverage in the international media has often cited Greece’s economic and social challenges due to the high involvement of government into the economy as the cause of the present crisis.
It’s a serious issue and it will be the cause of the most important problems that Greece will face in the future but it has little to do with the present crisis. Greece is one of the countries in the European south that had its democracy restored relatively recently, in 1974. In the period between 1967-74, the country was governed by a right leaning military dictatorship.
In the period before that most often the country was governed by rightist governments which often acted in an authoritarian way, usually harassing, arresting and imprisoning their leftist political opponents. With the restoration and full establishment of a democracy in 1974 the forces of the left (represented by the Socialists, Communists and the Democratic Left) started to gain the upper hand in politics. The gains of the left were not limited only to the political arena. As in the rest of Europe, the left started to dominate the universities, the media and other cultural institutions. The history of the country went for a rewrite and the cultural norms took a shape and form according to the interests and ideology of the new leftist establishment.
Now institutions that were associated with the exercise of authority of the old rightist state, especially the police, became tainted and tame. Notions like that of law and order have lost legitimacy. These days if anyone utters the thought that the police must impose law and order is immediately accused of being a crypto-fascist.
On an almost daily basis Athens’s traffic is clogged by demonstrations of special interest groups. The universities are closed for long periods of time during the year because are often occupied by small groups of students who protest some government policy. High schools face the same problems as they loose many days during the year because students choose to protest any changes in educational policy no mater how trivial they are.
The culture of protest has been inculcated in the minds of young people as one of the highest expressions of civic virtue. As Alekos Alavanos said, the parliamentary leader of the Coalition of the Left, there are the couch potatoes and there are citizens who hit the pavement and revitalize the democracy. The tragedy of Greece is that there is no opposition to this kind of rhetoric. The nominally conservative party, New Democracy, is perpetually on the political and intellectual defensive by having accepted most of the ideological promises of the leftist establishment.
There is not an epidemic of police violence in Greece. The last incident that was similar in circumstances to the death of the 15 year old on December 6th, was back in 1985. That hardly qualifies as a wave of state violence. These riots are not like the French ones of the recent past, since in the Greek riots the participants are most often native young people from middle and upper middle class families. Groups of illegal immigrants though tend to the stores after the rioters have burst the doors open or have broken the windows.
Thanks to the glorification of the culture of protest/disorder and the general incompetence of police to control riots and crime in general, we are witnessing an Athens that in many places looks like a war zone.