What happened in Greece was not a “first” nor a “last” Apparently what happened is that everything began with the killing of a 15-year-old child by the police. Protestors began to demonstrate, burning and destroying. The protests about the slain youth shifted to the government’s economic and education policies, and incidents of corruption. The government was called upon to resign.
There is more to what has happened in Greece than the killing of 15-year-old Aleksis Grigoropoulos. Greece has been shaken by protests and strikes. In fact, Greek airspace was shut for 24 hours because of the strikes. Schools, banks and ministries joined in the strikes. The anger that began with the killing of one youth grew with protests against the government’s wage policy.
In spite of their hard behaviour, the Greek police was unable to stop the violent actions of tens of thousands of demonstrators. Water cannon, tear gas and coshes could not even slow them, let alone stop them. The growing wave of violence caused more than one billion Euros of damage in Athens. Cars and shops were destroyed.
Missing pieces of the jigsaw
The victim of police violence, Grigoropoulos, went to an expensive private school. His family was rich and owned an important jewellery store. His father was an architect. He did not fit the traditional description of a street demonstrator, but when he hit a police car with the stick in his hand he was shot. But there is something missing in this picture. Events that have come to the point where a request for a state of emergency was voiced in Athens, where demonstrations occurred in Paris, Berlin, London, the Hague and South Cyprus, and where an embassy was even invaded in Berlin, cannot be explained with the killing of a youth.
His death was the spark that started the flame. But the scene was set for that fire. A large social fire is what lies behind turning Athens into a warzone. The young are unemployed and without any perspective. Expensive education makes it difficult for any of them to build a future. The Greek education system is experiencing a great bottleneck. An important portion of the youth describes itself as a the “700 Euro generation”. Greece has Europe’s highest rate of unemployment in the 15-29 age bracket.
The youth are required to work in bad workplaces for low pay, and the Karamanlis government wants to abandon higher education to the private sector. This means that many Greek youths will not be able to go to university. The 700 Euro generation describes itself as the “silent majority”. Greeks aged between 25 and 35 need to work hard and pay their mountain of debt with small earnings. The Greek youth wants rights for itself and for the generations that will follow it. Of course, the usefulness of burning the cars of innocent people and destroying hundreds of storefronts is another matter.
The global financial crisis is effective in Greece too. The trade unions are wary of the state forcing the bill for the crisis on the middle and lower classes. Privatisation, price increases and social security reform are identified as important reasons for the demonstrations, and Greek society is going through a difficult time because the “consumerism” imposed upon them. In Petros Markaris’s words, “Greek society is in crisis”. The countless scandals in Greek politics has widened the gap between the state and the man on the street.
Greek society does not trust in politics. Even though parties in elections might change, those dominant forces in politics retain their place. And there is little serious difference between the parties. State Minister Theodoros Roussopoulos, Social Affairs minister Vassilips Magginas and Seafaring minister Georgios Voulgarakis’s scandals have hit the state and Greek politics hard. Greek society is rapidly distancing itself from politics. The Greek economy operates on familial and friendship relations.
The Greek society believes the government is not keeping its promises regarding the struggle against corruption. And they have not forgotten the inability to fight last year’s forest fires either. These too are thought to have been caused by corruption. Even though the Greek press does not much report on these incidents of corruption, Greek citizens experience it every day in councils, state offices, hospitals and banks.
Rather than looking at the big picture, Greece is working to prevent the street demonstrations. But the events are not too different from what happened in France in November 2005. The root of the Athens demonstrations is little more than those protesting globalisation and meetings of the G8 and World Trade Organisation.