I love Greece, its people and its culture and I’ve watched in sorrow as it seemed to go downhill since the magical days I lived in Crete, back in 1972 (magical for me, not necessarily its citizens – the country was under military dictatorship at the time). I don’t as a rule, read communists papers, but this article on the causes of the December riots provides a plausible explanation, neither overwrought nor hysterical. Hey, as I like to say about my own opinions, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
In Greece, the fires of December have burned out, the students returned home for the holidays and, for now, the streets are quiet. But the underlying grievances that propelled thousands of youth and striking workers into clashes with the state remain, so 2009 looks set to be another turbulent year.
The unrest was sparked by the police shooting of a 15 year old boy, Alexis Grigoropoulos, but rapidly mushroomed into a mass movement behind the slogan “Down with this government of thieves and murderers!”
I asked a relative living in Piraeus for his impressions of the major causes of the uprising. This is his reply:
“Greece is a corrupt country for a very long time now. Greeks themselves believe that this is a hangover of the 400 year Ottoman rule over Greece. This is very well possible, seeing the similarities in behaviour of Greeks and Turks in all aspects of society. Every government, which is nearly always formed after a victory of only one party, imposes a kind of protectionism for its party members and voters in regard to matters such as appointments in state controlled services, deals (road building, restorations, maintenance, etc.) This is embedded very deeply in Greek society, often criticised, but never changed.
The recent improvement of living standards in Greece, due to its membership of the European Union and the subsequent loans, subsidies and investments (international road networks, bridges etc), together with the lavish availability of loans for everything one can imagine, for houses, cars, holidays, etc. has created a feeling that everything is getting better and better and nobody needs to worry about a thing. In other words, a false feeling of security.
In the meantime the state has been facing a series of accusations of corruption, the Siemens scandal [bribes for contracts], land swapping between the state and a monastery where the monastery is gaining enormous amounts of money, corruption within the police (this is going on for ages and nobody has ever tried to improve the situation), a fast and steady increase in criminal offences in combination with a police force which is incapable of solving most of the cases and so on.
Police in the past have been abusing their authority also in other cases by beating up people, detaining people, drug trade, trafficking etc. If anyone got caught, they were always let off the hook with a very small punishment, or even without any punishment at all. Also in cases where there is video material, shown on TV, and clear to everybody that the police officer or officers used unnecessary force. This has lead to a complete mistrust in the police force.
The €700 generation… this is the generation of the young people who have studied to improve their possibilities of getting a decent job with a decent salary, but instead find it extremely difficult to find any kind of job. And when they do, the salary is around €700 per month, usually with (illegal) long working hours and moderate or bad conditions. New journalists often start without even a salary; they only receive some money for their travel expenses. People with a university degree in law, when they start working for a law firm, get to do all the dirty jobs and receive maybe €300-400 per month. All because they have “no experience” and they should be glad that they get the opportunity to obtain this experience.
The young generation, 13-18 years old… They go to school, but are in general not taught to have a vision of their future. They hear and see at home, in school, on television, how bad and difficult things are becoming, especially with the latest economic world crisis. And as we all know, people who have no dreams, no hopes, will revolt, especially the young.
The unnecessary shooting of the 15-year old boy was basically the last straw. The young generation has revolted, and they continue to revolt. They are the only ones who can wake up the everyday people and demand a better life, starting of course with better education.
Other groups are trying to get their share of the revolution… People who just like to cause a riot and fight with the police; people who take their chance when they see a broken shop window to steal; anarchists, (the real ones) who will fight the police at the side of the youngsters, and not damage other people’s properties.
Finally, it seems that corruption is rooted very deep inside Greek society, getting rid of it, or at least of the greater part of it, will be extremely difficult. In the end one cannot foresee where this whole situation will lead.”