Friday, December 19, 2008
Events in Greece -Time for reflection
On the left the Greek minister for culture, Mixalis Liapis and on the right Prokopis Pavopoulos, the law and order minister.
Many people across the world will have been shocked by the scale of violence witnessed over the last 13 days in Greece. Scenes of intense confrontations with the police and a level of destruction that you normally wouldn't associate with a country famed for its natural beauty and long history.
However, away from the beaches and the museums there are has been a growing sense of despair amongst people, especially those under 25 that the country they live in has no place for them. A feeling that those in charge politically and economically lead lives cocooned by wealth and family connections which leave them indifferent to the problems faced by the rest of the population.
Cronyism, corruption and lack of accountability have eaten away at people's respect for institutions at the heart of Greek life. A fact that was vividly illustrated this week by two decisions which added to the impression that those in authority are above the law.
The first concerned the parliamentary report on the Vatopedi corruption scandal. The case which involved the dubious acquisition of state owned property by the Vatopedi Orthodox monastery involved several senior government officials and cost hundreds of millions of tax payer's money. However, despite a deluge of evidence indicating the misuse of office by high ranking government members the report concluded that there were no grounds for criminal charges.
This is simply the latest in a series of 45 scandals that have come to light since the New Democracy party came to power in 2004 on a platform of clean government.
The other case which has helped undermine faith in the Greek justice system and especially ELAS (the national police force) was the verdict in the Augustinos Dimtrios case which came out last week. Dimitrios, a university student from Cyprus was savagely beaten by eight police officers in an incident which was captured on live TV. Although the officers involved were found guilty none was sentenced to a jail term, instead they received a suspended sentence.
This has added to the sense, amply supported by numerous cases of police violence that law enforcement officials in Greece operate above the law, accountable to no one. One of the reasons why the clashes between protesters and riot police over the last week have been so fierce is the anger provoked by the possibility that the officer charged with killing 15 year old Alexis Grigoropoulos will walk free.
A toxic mix, of unemployment, disillusionment and frustration has driven young people onto the streets time and time again, it has led them to occupy 600 schools nationwide and hundreds of university departments. As of yet there has been no concerted demands for a program of political change, however, this simply reflects the fact that there are so many disparate participants involved in the protests. The speed and scale of the reaction has been such that there is no one group of people or organisation that can truthfully say that represent the demonstrator's will at the present time.