Monday, December 15, 2008

Riots or revolt? - An insight into why Greece is now in flames

By Peacedream

"The people in power will not disappear voluntarily; giving flowers to the cops just isn't going to work. This thinking is fostered by the establishment; they like nothing better than love and nonviolence. The only way I like to see cops given flowers is in a flower pot from a high window."

-- William Burroughs

All borders are imaginary lines that exist as signposts in the minds of men, setting apart that which we lay claim to as 'ours' from that which others feel equally strongly is 'theirs.' Many invaders have lusted after the prize of Greece's strategic location and all manner of borders have shifted innumerable times across its mountainous terrain. The recent revolt the country is experiencing - and may indeed be exporting - began on a line that is painfully drawn across the heart, mind and soul of this tortured land.

There may have been much exultation across the land long ago on that day in October when the troops of the Third Reich folded their flag and embarked on the long retreat back to defend what was left of their homeland. This joy was lost on those who would deign to be this land's overlords in the decades to follow. Aside from the little enclave of the royal court and the adjoining elitist Kolonaki section of Athens the country was under the control of the resistance armies who were considered to be, in the majority, leftists. This presented a problem to the architects of Greece's restoration of democracy so British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent in troops who succeeded in, first, defending this tiny enclave, and, second, in eventually exerting control over the country's remaining territory.

The country was torn by a bloody civil war whose legacy was to leave deep scars in Greece's modern experiment with democracy. Some of the noetic lines marked during that period feature prominently in the incident that sparked the current revolt. The policeman currently being charged with the murder of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos stood precisely on one such demarcation, separating the upscale Kolonaki district and the leftist/anarchist stronghold of Exarchia. The former is a bastion of conservatism while the latter is a hotbed of student activism. One was defended while the other was suppressed when that devastating civil war began.

It is a line that signifies the divide between Greece's 'haves' and its 'have nots' - a divide that has subsequently grown into a chasm.

Residing east of this line are the few families and clans who either directly benefited from the Truman Doctrine or magnanimously ruled over the decidedly unequal division of its spoils. To the west are those who were disenfranchised: those who were expected to make do with - and be grateful for - whatever crumbs trickled down their way.

The policeman stood to the east of this line when he delivered the fatal shot, and that was the direction in which he and his partner walked calmly away without offering any assistance to the fallen youth. The spot on which Grigoropoulos left his last breath is west of that line. Grigoropoulos may have come from a well-to-do family but his last stand was made on the side of the 'have-nots.'

Extending westward from Exarchia lie the working-class suburbs of the greater Piraeus shipbuilding and ship-repair zone. The suburbs where work is scarce and the privileges enjoyed by the elite more often than not remain nothing more than an unfulfilled dream - a distant and unattainable goal - something lost in the foggy haze of indoctrination and media PR campaigns. It is this divide that prompted so many to protest at the side of students. It is this divide that has armed the hands of the ordinary citizens who have pelted the police with flowerpots and chairs from their balconies. What no one has dared to utter is that this may be the ultimate form of democracy: casting one's vote through one's actions. The ramifications would be too painful to ponder. The destruction of property is deplorable but the sense of loss experienced by the perpetrators of this carnage is forbidden territory.

Many Greek journalists and foreign correspondents have 'grokked' the situation. Some, like Brady Kiesling, the former diplomat who resigned his post at the embassy of the United States in Athens in protest against the policies of the Bush regime, deserve kudos for their astute and accurate assessments of the situation.

Others may be in denial. How else to explain the reports by the likes of John Carr. In his early articles on the Athens riots to British newspapers Mr. Carr reported the official police version of events and gave no say to the eyewitnesses whose version of the event was available from the first moments of this tragedy. Mr. Carr's depiction of Exarchia as a 'heavily policed district' is indicative of how out of touch he is with Athenian reality. One television commentator recently described the Exarchia police station as a precinct with the "globally exclusive" distinction of existing primarily to defend itself - the police station to which the man who pulled the trigger of his gun on that fateful evening reported to. What the commentator meant was that it is not actively defending the precinct's constituents. If Mr. Carr had bothered to ask how 'heavily policed' the residents of Exarchia feel he might be surprised to find how many have called the police to request help while break-ins to their homes were in progress only to be told it was too dangerous an area for police to intervene. It is an area where police only enter in squads and where undercover law enforcement officers have been assaulted and have even had their weapons stolen. It is an area where a few months ago local groups initiated identification spot-checks to weed out undercover policemen in their midst.

Mr. Carr and his ilk report from a position of haughty condescension. One remark of his - something to the effect that hooliganism is a 3,000-year-old Greek tradition - drew caustic comments from television news anchor Olga Tremi and her guest, MP Fotini Pipili.

Other British and American journalists have commented on the 'fragility' of democracy in the land that spawned this system. Maybe they should take stock of the civil liberties that have evaporated in their own lands. Where people may be legally disappeared in the dead of night to military camps in the Caribbean, where people may be shot, beaten or tased to death by overzealous enforcers of the 'law', where foreign nationals may be shot in cold blood while taking a ride in the subway, and where business is expected to continue as usual after such atrocities occur.

What Mr. Carr refuses to grasp is that the youth of Greece (and of several other countries if recent events are taken into account) is fed up with the current paradigm of 'democratic' regimes. The 'free world' is taking stock of its situation. It is taking a long hard look in the mirror and realizing that the enemy may indeed be its own self. It is understanding that freedom is a privilege accorded to a few of its elite and denied to its vast majority. This reality check may have pushed many to the realization that they have more to lose than to gain by perpetuating the current order of things.

If that is the case, then the events unfolding are no mere series of riots but may prove the spark for a broader revolt against the ills of globalization and unchecked and unaccountable economic, administrative and judicial corruption.

Greece's innocence may have been shattered many times during the course of past decades but this generation of youths will be able to accurately mark the loss of their innocence as having occurred on the evening of Saturday, 6 December, 2008 when Alexandros Grigoropoulos and his executioner faced each other at the Kolonaki-Exarchia border.

[ Hat tip to 'V' and Reverend 'T' for their input. ]

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