11 December 2008, by David
Widespread corruption. Political scandals. Unpopular reforms. High unemployment. Low wages. For many Greeks already harboring serious grievances and anger against their government, the police shooting of a 15-year old boy may have simply been the last straw.
The situation here was, in many ways, a tinderbox. News reports about the riots of the last week have focused on the spark that ignited the flame. But a country doesn’t just rip itself apart overnight. The underlying causes run deep, and perhaps it was only a matter of time before deteriorating public sentiment exploded into protests and violence.
In the ensuing melee, dozens of people have been injured, businesses have been looted, banks smashed, and hundreds of properties torched in cities throughout the country. Even here in Chania on the “holiday island” of Crete, there were street protests including some that turned destructive.
Another fact that perhaps the MSM hasn’t reported on is that there have been a few disparate forces at work in all this chaos, and not everybody is employing violence to get their message across.
There have been in fact thousands of peaceful protesters. Communists, students, teachers, union workers – run-of-the-mill “mainstream” people, perhaps pushed to the point of desperation, but who have been holding explicitly non-violent street rallies, symbolic sit-ins, and vigils. This doesn’t make for great news though, so it hasn’t gotten much air time.
Most of the violence seen on the news seems to have been committed by masked youths who fancy themselves as revolutionaries of some sort. Unfortunately many are just taking advantage of the situation, looting and wreaking havoc for the sake of it. I dislike the phone monopoly OTE as much as anybody, but ransacking their office and stealing modems and mobile phones, as happened here in Chania, doesn’t address anything other than one’s personal greed.
There are self-claimed anarchists, who are using violence in what they see as legitimate protests against the government. They destroyed banks and state property. I won’t legitimize their actions, but I suppose there is a subtle distinction to be drawn between them and the hoodlums who are simply looting.
Regardless of the motives, the destruction is difficult to understand. The injustice in all of this is that there is no connection between the innocents whose property has been stolen or destroyed and the police brutality and governmental corruption that so many are protesting against.
The opposition party has maneuvered to take advantage of the political fallout, and it is as of yet unclear whether the current government will survive. But clearly what is needed here is strong leadership during crisis that can deliver a swift and just response, with transparency in all proceedings. Greece deserves nothing less.
I can’t help but draw a parallel to the situation back home. Americans are also reeling from an economy in disaster, have expressed clearly their dissatisfaction with the government and a flawed political system, not to mention a gravely expensive and unpopular war. What has stopped the pitch forks and torches from being marched down Main Street?
That rhetorical question aside, I’ll simply say that we and our friends are thankfully safe and largely unaffected by the riots here. But there is very much a sense of unease in the air, amid the anticipation for order to be restored and justice served.