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Analysis by Apostolis Fotiadis

Greek Neo-Nazis Step up Attacks on Migrants, Media, Left

(IPS) ATHENS -- It is late at night. The city is quiet and strangely empty. Only some spooky figures appear here and there, police in civilian clothes, photojournalists looking for telling pictures.

It is like walking through a war zone. Burnt cars left on central streets, broken ATMs and glamorous windows, heavily damaged buildings.

Occasionally friends call to ask whether all is well. Two photographers have been injured, one when a tear-gas canister landed in his bag, burning his left hand badly, the other was beaten up by some hooded guys while he was picturing them.

"We are burning everything so the cops see what it means to kill a kid," said one of the mob. "So everyone understands what it means to destroy a life."

He means the killing of 15-years-old Alexis Grigoropoulos by a policeman, which drove Greek youths on a rampage last week. But now that the rioting has died down, questions arise over the underlying causes behind this explosion.

Social conditions inevitably are behind the extent of the violence and the rage expressed against the state and anything that represents it. But it is not enough simply to blame some Anarchists, or youngsters with an appetite for destruction.

Most of the young people who joined the demonstrations had no intention to burn and loot. Many were joined by their parents, who experienced military dictatorship between 1967 and 1973. "I came because I felt responsible for the stalemate we left to these children to deal with, and because I am a mother and I can't believe a 15-year-old boy can be killed in this country that way," said Tania Liberopoulos, a middle-aged accountant.

The protests were fed by the political memory of a history of social and political struggle. Almost by instinctive conscience, many people in Greece distrust the state. The latent Greek dislike of the police, which erupted so volcanically, has its roots in the old dictatorship when the police functioned as the colonels' enforcers against the citizens.

Constant misuse of the police for anti-social purposes has led to its dehumanization; officers are met with hate and contempt, and they hate back. Students of today know of people killed in dubious conditions, of misuse of power going unpunished, of personal insults from the police because of what you wear and even what you think.

But beyond this is a crisis of trust within Greek society. When asked why he resigned, Cristos Kittis, the rector of the University of Athens, replied: "Because I have nothing to say to my students, they do not trust me any more."

No doubt social conditions are difficult. Poverty rates are increasing rapidly; unemployment is 15 percent, destroying much of the vast middle class that has guaranteed social cohesion in the past. The young are hit the hardest, facing rejection in a country with no space for creativity and innovation.

The current generation is known as the "generation of 700 euros," after the minimum wage offered to most of them, no matter what qualifications they have. But a 50 square metres flat costs about 400 euros a month to rent in Athens, bills are another 60 to 80 euros, and foodstuffs and other basic things at least 100 euros. It is hard to live on this money in Greece. This is why most people decide to stick with the family way beyond their twenties. And this is also why everyone is so pessimistic; they see no prospects.

"It is not just the scale of destruction that characterized (the revolt) but the spread of the unrest throughout the country, with mass participation of students, pupils and working or unemployed youths," says Stavros Ligeros, a journalist who was member of the student movement that resisted the military dictatorship. "Their participation is motivated by long-term social contradictions, by the unreliability and essentially the collapse of our political system and its institutions."

This unreliability Ligeros talks about can be observed in every spectrum of society -- in an educational system that cannot inspire the youth, a chain of corruption which reaches up to the higher levels of government, in a frustrating system of connections between big business and politicians.

The neo-liberal polices of the last two governments have contributed greatly to the confusion today. Greece may be considered a modern country, but the ideological impact of the west comes at least a decade delayed. Greece entered the transition to a market economy only in the first half of the 1990s, along with Eastern European countries.

But instead of the promised self-regulated paradise, the changes have brought social deterioration. Aggressive monopolies control politics, corruption is widespread, and wealth inequality is on the rise. For the have-nots, social security and what was assumed would be a relatively good pension are in doubt.

A cocktail of historical forces and everyday frustration becomes explosive when people in power fail to receive messages sent to them by society. "In a society where every authority is routinely corrupted, none can expect from younger generations to have respect for everything," says Paschos Mandravelis, a prominent liberal intellectual.

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Albion Monitor   December 21, 2008   (

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