How did Greece get into this mess? - News - Greek Gateway
By Cory Sterling
Too often over the past years have we been subjected to watching horrific scenes on the
internet or television of Greek civilians protesting around the Greek Parliament Buildings,
Syntagma square or other famous Athenian landmarks. Sadly, the images always portray an all
too familiar scene; petrol bombs, massive panic, violence and bloodshed on both sides of the
High above the city rests the ancient Acropolis, the home and history of democracy. One can
only help but ask, how did it come to this?
In the 20th and 21st Century, rioting has come across as an endemic challenge to Greece.
There are a couple of examples in recent history that help shed light on the social behaviour of
the Greek masses when their frustration boils over and they hit the streets by the thousands.
In 1973, the Athens Polytechnic uprising proved to a be a critical step for the students of Greece
against the ruling ‘Houda’, military-backed political powers who controlled the country from
1967-1974. In the late evening of November 16, 1973, Diomedes Komnenos, a 16-year-old high
school student innocently protesting his rights as a citizen was killed. It is believed that
Komnenos was the first casualty of the Athens Polytechnic uprising which threw the city of
Athens into chaos and riots for three days.
The next significant riots would strike Greece in December 2008, after a 15-year-old student,
Alexandros Grigoropoulos was killed by two policemen in the Exarcheia district of central
Athens. Peaceful protests that took place for months before the killing turned transformed into
chaos, throwing the country into turmoil for the better part of three weeks, as civilians clashed
against riot police well into 2009.
Although both of these riots have the death of an innocent teenager at their nucleus, one must
understand that months of frustrations and protests preceded the defining moments that pushed
rallies into riots and voices into violence.
More recently, we can look to the events that started in May 2010 and escalated in late June
2011 as the Greek people vented their frustration at the prospect of new austerity measures. On
June 29, 2011, Greece’s Prime Minister George Papandreou successfully passed new austerity
measures that appease the European Union and the International Monetary Fund’s needs to
provide more funding for a Greek bailout.
As the bill was passed in parliament, thousands of protesters took to the streets to express their
frustration at the direction their government had just taken. If you were there, would you have
joined them? Think about some of these factors before you make your decision…
- At the time of the passing of the austerity measures, the country was experiencing an
unemployment rate higher than 16% which is 40% more than one year ago
- Unemployment in the private sector has more than doubled since the eruption of the debt
- Public service employees salaries have declined by more than 25% while contract
workers are continuously losing their jobs
A recent poll showed 80 percent of the nation was against the latest austerity measure,
believing it will cripple Greece financially. The June 2011 protests were significant because they
included more middle class groups who have not been as active in previous protests like state
hospital doctors, ambulance drivers, pharmacists, lawyers and tax collectors.
The austerity bill includes major spending cuts and a hike in taxes. But one has to wonder, how
can taxes be increased when more and more people are having their salaries sliced or losing
their jobs all together?
Hopefully, an understanding of the factors contributing to the ventilation of Greek frustration has
come into a more lucid light. Now the question is, can you sympathize with this behaviour or
From our comfortable positions living in Canada, it is easy to judge others put it is much more
difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of those who are taking a stand for what they believe is
necessary to survive. The riots have been the voice and the actions of the people who fear for
the well being of themselves, each other and their nation.
Bob Dylan once wrote “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.” Does this insight
help justify the behaviour of the frustrated Greek people? If you were living in Greece now and
needed to support your family, how would you react?