Saturday, December 13, 2008

Riots in Athen still smolder

Riots still fascinate me. How civil order can break down to the point where people destroy their homes and face off against the police is something I have trouble understanding. It sounds as if Greek youth are largely responding to an already dire economic situation and out of total despair for the future.

Helena Smith provides an interesting first hand account of the trouble in Greece.

Athens is in a mess and it's not just the rubble or burned-out buildings or charred cars... I have looked into eyes full of anger and despair. At night, as marauding mobs of Molotov-cocktail wielding youths have run through the city's ancient streets, I have closed the shutters of the windows to my home. My friends have done the same.

[T]his beautiful land masks a deeper malaise. It is a sickness that starts not so much at the top but at the bottom of Greek society, in the ranks of its troubled youth.

For many these are a lost generation, raised in an education system that is undeniably shambolic and hit by whopping levels of unemployment (70 per cent among the 18-25s) ...

If they can find work remuneration rarely rises above €700... never mind the number of qualifications it took to get the job. Often polyglot PhD holders will be serving tourists at tables in resorts. One in five Greeks lives beneath the poverty line.

Exposed to the ills of Greek society as never before, they have also become increasingly frustrated witnesses of allegations of corruption implicating senior conservative government officials and a series of scandals that have so far cost four ministers their jobs...

The ferocity of the riots has numbed Greeks. Yet I write this knowing that the protests are not going to end soon. Greece's children have been startled by their own success - and by reports of copycat attacks across Europe - and almost unanimously they believe they are on a winner.

'It's like a smouldering fire,' says Yiannis Yiatrakis who preferred to leave his study of abstract mathematics to take to the streets of Athens last week. 'The flames may die down but the coals will simmer. One little thing, and you'll see it will ignite again. Ours is a future without work, without hope. Our grievances are so big, so many. Only a very strong government can stop the rot.'

So how did it come to this? ...

It began with one death, one bullet, fired in anger by a hot-headed policemen in the heart of Athens' edgy Exarchia district...

Exarchia, however, is Athens' answer to Harlem [where] anarchists, artists, addicts, radical leftists, students and their teachers rub shoulders in streets crammed with bars and cafes that are covered with the graffiti of dissent. It is Athens's hub of political ferment; a backdrop of tensions between anti-establishment groups and the police.

Within an hour of the boy's death thousands of protesters had gathered in Exarchia's lawless central square screaming, 'cops, pigs, murderers,' and wanting revenge. At first, it is true, the assortment of self-styled anarchists who have long colonised Exarchia piggy-backed on the tragedy, seeing it as the perfect opportunity to live out their nihilistic goals of wreaking havoc.

But then middle-class kids - children had got good degrees at universities in Britain but back in Greece were unable to find work in a system that thrives on graft, cronyism and nepotism - joined the protests and very quickly it became glaringly clear that this was their moment, too. Theirs was a frustration not only born of pent-up anger but outrage at the way ministers in the scandal-tainted conservative government have also enriched themselves in their five short years in power.

Now the million-dollar question is whether protests that started so spontaneously can morph into a more organised movement of civil unrest. |In Athens, middle-class rioters are buying rocks. This chaos isn't over - Guardian|(emphasis added)

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