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Archive for December, 2008

Modern Day Greek “Hoplites” Take on Shop Windows-and Lose

From its southernmost shores of Crete to its northernmost mountains in Macedonia, it would appear that Greece has surrendered unconditionally to violent chaos and disorder, since last week’s shooting of a 15-year old boy that resulted in his death. The adolescent was shot allegedly in cold blood by a member of the riot police, apparently after a verbal dispute that lasted briefly. During the last four days, thousands of people, primarily in their twenties and wearing hoods to cover their faces, have destroyed and vandalised banks, car showrooms, shops and government buildings in the midst of fire and tear gas, thrown by police forces, numbed and disabled by the public outrage against them.

The shooting took place in Exarcheia, a bohemian quarter of Athens that is frequented by anarchists and left-wing extremists and is the place of origin for most civil unrest and violence in the city. This tradition stems back to the area hosting the headquarters of resistance against the 1967-1974 military dictatorship. Residents in the area claim that the situation has escalated beyond anything they have ever witnessed before and the constant live media coverage, gives no one reason to believe otherwise. As a matter of fact, the media have literally extracted every ounce of drama they possibly could from this story, and it was not long before the unfortunate 15-year old was christened a “hero”, a development contrary to any common sense or understanding, and the state of Greece transformed to a fitting sacrificial battle field.

The question that inevitably arises is what kind of a state so desperately seeks reason to rebel and seek enraged vengeance? The answer is simple: The same state that has not seen anything remotely resembling progress, evolution or change for the past 30 years. Greece, with its rich historical past, filled with innovation, revolution and enlightenment has been held hostage by a handful of bureaucrats, businessmen and foreign interests and has been ruled by the same 2-3 families for the past 10 elections or so.

One does not need to look further than the last 100 years of history to discover that the Greek nation has always been accustomed to hosting and engaging in historical events of great significance, both exuberating and painful.

In 1912, Venizelos, led Greece to the Balkan wars, which marked the greatest ever geographical expansion for the country. In 1922, the destruction of Smyrna in the context of the conflict with the Turks saw almost half a million Greeks dead and a 3,000 year presence of Greeks in Asia Minor came to an end. In 1941, Greece entered WWII, at first defeating and humiliating the forces of invading Italy but finally yielding to the overwhelming German military supremacy. Nevertheless, some claim that Greece delayed Hitler’s plans to invade Russia, thus playing a decisive role in the outcome of the war in Europe. In 1944 the war ended and Greece was liberated for less than two months, before civil war broke out between left wing partisans and the right wing army, courtesy of the cold war between East and West. The West was victorious and the scars are felt unto today. After more than two decades of dependence on U.S. support, in 1967, a military junta gained control. In 1974, the island of Cyprus was invaded by Turkey and the junta fell. Whether it was the fall of the island or the rebellious music and students’ uprising and alleged deaths that overthrew the junta, remains a subject of dispute.

In 1981, US raised socialist leader Andreas Papandreou won the elections, promising “change” and ruled Greece for almost 15 years, with a short break from term inbetween. A series of scandals rendered his reputation controversial, however this was arguably the last time that Greeks were visibly united by one spirit and believed in a big cause. And this is exactly where the problem lies for the youngsters who came to life in the 80s and 90s. They have absolutely no memory of any major event that has inspired greatness, stimulated social change or united the nation, with the exception of…the Eurobasket gold medal in 1987 and European Football Championship in 2004. Even the dispute with neighbouring FYROM marks an embarrassment.

Therefore, with no one and nothing to fight against or for, political leaders immersed in financial scandals, utter lack of leadership and progress, shame attached to any feeling of national pride (or even the expression of it) a dangerous global financial climate both psychologically and practically, unemployment rising and a deteriorating, introverted educational system, it is no surprise that any opportunity to rebel, clash and struggle will be seized…. even against a shop’s window or a citizen’s car.

Vassilis Antonas

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