On the eve of the Christmas season, few weeks before the end of 2008, a year to be remembered as one of the worst for humankind in the 21st century, Athens and subsequently major cities of Greece have witnessed phenomenal anarchy, extended riots, scorching and looting by desperate young people.
All this social unrest was triggered by the shooting by police of a young 15 year old student, Alexandros Grigoropoulos on Saturday 6th Dec. ’08. The circumstances of this unneeded death are still under investigation. Be it Intentional or accidental, the sweeping majority of Greeks disapprove this and all similar unfortunate incidents. In view of the magnitude of the violence that has erupted since Dec 6th, and continues unabated until today, a big question as to “WHY all this”? is posed by millions of people inside and outside of Greece.
Trying to provide some explanations to friends and relatives spanning from the USA to Africa, Australia and India, I have compiled the following post.
Many thanks to many who have responded with concern about the phenomenal situation we are facing in Greece. Unfortunately violence and spreading social unrest is not over as yet. Below I will try to answer to some of the questions raised by my good American friend and classmate, Avrum. I hope that my thoughts will help to understand the big creeping question as to WHY?
Read the analysis below, right after the photographs. (source: http://www.naftemporiki.gr).
Something like a dialog with a classmate of mine follows. What I postulate below has been influenced by the teachings of one of our brightest minds in Greece, writer-teacher-philosopher Stelios Ramfos. (My thoughts in blue):
The pessimistic part of me sees events such as what is happening there as a precursor to many and worse to come.
Agree, once situations get out of hand, they follow their own dynamics and vicious circles, negative or positive. In some cases they influence or trigger similar events in other countries (as was the case in Paris of May1968).
Is the rioting in Greece, triggered by the shooting, a result of ongoing tension between youths and police, as has been portrayed in the press here, or has it grown to encompass wider discontent and reaction to economic distress?
Triggered is the right word. Yes!
But the causes are so many and so serious that would require many pages of explanations, especially for non-Greeks.
I will try to be brief.
Greece or Hellas, as society and later as nation (formed soon after the revolution of 1821, having endured 400 years of a dark Ottoman Empire occupation) has transcended from the ancient era (the magnificent Ancient Greek civilization, ancient religion of the 12 Olympian gods, mythology, philosophy, early forms of science and technology, medicine, Alexander the Great and all that glorious past heritage…), to the adoption of the evolving Christianity from Judaism, followed by the schism of the churches which ended with our ancestors adopting the Orthodox dogma while what we now call “The Western Culture” adopted the Roman track with all its later sub tracks (Catholicism, Protestants, Lutherans and so on). The worlds of our Eastern Mediterranean geographic area were at these times dominated by the Byzantium and Roman Empires to the west and primarily by the Muslim world to the mid-east areas and beyond.
After the dark ages, the Western World adopted humanism which culminated to the renaissance and later to the industrial revolution and onward to the modern world as we know it. In a nutshell the Western track is characterized by: belief in the value of the human mind and psyche, science, logic and so on, i.e. the basic values of western societies. Greeks instead were heavily influenced by a movement known as Hesychasm a tradition of which has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God (see theoria).
What happened to us back then? Around the 14th century?
A short quote from Wikipedia sums it up concisely:
As the only stable long-term state in Europe during the Middle Ages, Byzantium isolated Western Europe from newly emerging forces to the East. Constantly under attack, it distanced Western Europe from Persians, Arabs, Seljuk Turks, and for a time, the Ottomans. The Byzantine-Arab Wars, for example, are recognized by some historians as being a key factor behind the rise of Charlemagne, and a huge stimulus to feudalism and economic self-sufficiency.
For centuries, Western historians have used the terms Byzantine and Byzantinism as bywords for decadence, duplicitous politics and complex bureaucracy, and there was a strongly negative assessment of Byzantine civilization and its legacy in Southeastern Europe. Byzantinism in general was defined as a body of religious, political, and philosophical ideas which ran contrary to those of the West. Similarly until the 20th century the term East, in the context of Eastern and Western culture, was commonly used to refer to cultures that had strong influences from the Byzantine Empire, often pejoratively (including by extension the Arabs and the Ottomans). The 20th and 21st centuries, however, have seen attempts by historians in the West to understand the Empire in a more balanced and accurate fashion including its influences on the West, and as a result the complex character of Byzantine culture has received more attention and a more objective treatment than previously.
In other words, Modern Greek society is still deeply rooted to Byzantinism; the Greek psyche and character, influenced by Hesychasm and the Orthodox Church, has morphed through the ages into a more closed society, introspective, glued to traditions, de facto beliefs for which many modern societies pose questions. As a result, the majority of Greeks are much more emotional, eruptive and rely less on logic, analytics and so on. Of course, our culture and society retains many unique positive characteristics which the western psyche may lack.
Enter now our relatively recent (1981) ascension to the European Union and the €uro currency since 2001. EU is an amalgamation of societies and countries evolving mostly under the Western paradigm. Our modern day politicians have grossly disregarded the above critical and factual evolutionary social, economic and political gaps. Hence, as we try to develop and HARMONISE into the rest of Europe, (with billions of EU funds pumped into the economy to help and accelerate this complex process), the majority of the people, consciously or not*, are still anchored into the “old ways”, having real difficulties to accept the by then (ca. 1980’s) rapid changes required.
Needless to remember, that modern Greece, having fought bravely against the Nazi Germany and Italy in World War Two in a great epic known as The Battle of Greece, and after the torments of its post WW II Civil War which greatly divided and scarred its people, also went through another dark and tragic period of the Greek Military Junta of George Papadopoulos between 1967 up to the summer of 1974. At that time, another milestone student revolt, known at the Athens Polytechnic uprising of November 14th 1973, was instrumental in bringing down the Military dictatorship next July 1974. Nevertheless, this national drama resulted with the sacrifice of Cyprus by the ensuing Turkish military invasion (a problem still tormenting Hellenism after so many decades). With the restoration of Democracy (Metapolitefsi), the great ethnarch Konstantinos Karamanlis was primarily preoccupied with stabilizing Greece politically and economically via the ascension into the European Economic Community-EEC. But, a great omission prevailed, given these undoubted national priorities of the mid-seventies and eighties. The omission of SYMFILIOSIS, i.e uniting the Greek people from their past and more recent divisions. A country wide policy ought to have been adopted for instilling a new vision and direction for a modern Greece, as its elected political leadership paced definitely toward embedding Greece into the Western world. On the other hand, the PASOK emerging Socialist Party of Andreas Papandreou at the time, did not help at all toward this potentially harmonizing and bonding evolutionary process, by adopting “backward” and shortsighted slogans as “Out of EEC”, “Out of NATO” etc. Hence Greece, “lost yet another critical train” so to speak.
Therefore, what is NOW required other than a much belated HISTORIC SHIFT of the society into the new, quite harsh and competitive, often brutal (as our current days attest) realities. Still Not done. Not in the schools, not by the media, not by politicians and so on. The fact that Greece is faced with a serious, compounded socioeconomic void, under these circumstances should not come as a surprise, not to me at least.
The old traits of decadence, duplicitous politics and complex bureaucracy are very much with us, (in fact they have never left us). Add to this peculiar “ala Greca” brew the recent, unprecedented World Economic crisis of 2008 plus all the equally unprecedented Global Climate Change issues, exerting incredible pressures on a world wide scale and… put them into the modern Greek pressure cooker. You will get an explosive situation. 😦
Many youths of Greece are growing-up with ZERO HOPE. The official term being Nihilism, while another word is even better for our youths: Anomie (a Greek word meaning without law). Stelios Ramfos says: “Modern world revolutions are started by the affluent, not by the poor who only need bread. The well fed youths instead, will fight for Freedom, Justice, a better world!”.
The Greek youths feel crossed and torn with themselves, the system, the country, politicians, education, religion and the Greek Orthodox church (full of scandals these days, as the Vatopedi case in Mount Athos monastery attests), eventually becoming (understandably so) negatively reactive with their entire cosmos… They have nothing to lose, they have become desperados.
I expect we may see many disturbing things along these lines in the coming year. Even here, things could get tense, quickly. In Chicago, now, there is a factory that has been occupied by the workers after it was abruptly closed last week. No trouble yet but such things can easily get out of hand. Emotions can quickly take over when people feel desperate.
Our case is just another alarming proof of that 😦
As you pointed out the expectations raised after Obama’s election are beyond the capability of any man to meet. Charisma is good but results must come or disappointment and disillusion will follow.
I have made similar thoughts. In fact whoever cares, can read my recent post to Obama here: http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/post/byronriginos/gGxXRj
The optimist in me hopes that the resiliency of US culture will find a way to express itself and we will to pull together. Listening to many of the Republicans recently I have some concerns!
Resiliency! What a wonderful word. “What goes down must come up!”; a comforting notion in the context of our discussion. Wishful for both sides of the Atlantic & more… 🙂
Nevertheless, the critical question for us (given the complexity of our national situation) now remains: have we reached the bottom of the pit? And if so, is the shock wave of seismic proportions, is it enough in other words, so as to initiate a real change? In fact, will it prove adequate for a total RESET that is required of the political system (and at the same time, for drastic changes in the economic system that is pressing us all from many other external and internal angles)?
Or is it that due to the Gordian Knot situation we are faced with, another “under the carpet sweep” approach will be adopted by the mediocre leaders we have voted for so many years? The greed for power and widespread corruption precludes any consensus among the current political parties in an effort to first identify the myriad of the country’s problems and then to agree on basic corrective strategies.
It is a bit encouraging that Gallup type of polls done during these days of the crisis, indicate that the Greek Eco Greens Party would be gaining seats in the new Parliament. Other initiatives may come forth. A recent discussion at the popular social networking Facebook suggests that a new party be formed by younger people. Those who have access can check on the new Group called “REACTING TO THE BURNING OF ATHENS”, with more than 3.200 members subscribed within 2-3 days! Click here:
This, I suppose is the Bottom Line of this discussion. We need new leaders, with new eyes, able to launch and execute a new Vision for Greece.
Anyway, on that cheery note, I hope things calm down in Athens and that your lives will not be too disrupted.
Ditto on that!
A last humorous note: if a Greek changes just one letter in the name OBAMA and replaces the B with an R, will get “ORAMA” (meaning VISION, political in this case), a substance that we desperately need. Our priority would be to seek, invent or create our own version of a Barack Obama political leader ASAP!
Thanks, Avrum for inspiring me with your questions to undertake this little analysis of Greek things, so that they do not remain as “All Greek to You” anymore 🙂
Additional links with useful info on the subject:
- 2008 Greek riots portrays a powerful set of photographs from the incidents. From http://www.Boston.com
- Wikipedia: 2008 Greek riots This article documents a current event. Information may change rapidly as the event progresses.
- How police shooting of a teenage boy rallied the ‘€700 generation’ From http://www.Guardian.co.uk