January 22, 2010
Flanked by the presidential guards known as the Evzones, one would imagine that the soldier entombed in front of the Greek parliament witnessed the last of violence when he fell fighting in the battlefield.
Alas, not so.
On January 9, at 7:59 pm, a bomb exploded in a trash bin next to The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In a proclamation titled “Democracy Will Not Win” and posted on a website hosted by state university servers, The Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire and the Terrorist Guerrilla Group claimed responsibility and promised to continue with its violent campaign. In response to this act of terror, Citizens” Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis made the following declaration:
“Some people want panic and fear but we are not afraid nor will we panic…This is an unguarded area and it will remain this way. We will not transform Athens into a militarized city. Athens is a safe and free city.”
Six days later, on January 15, a little after noon, a gang of masked attackers broke into the central office of the Deputy Justice Minister Apostolos Katsifaras. Finding Katsifaras missing, the thugs used their batons and hammers to brutally vent their anger on two of the minister’s employees, sending them both to the hospital. True to style, they trashed his office and scattered leaflets of anarchist propaganda before they left.
The minister was right about one thing though: Greeks are not scared and they are certainly not panicking. On the contrary, Greeks are tired, peeved, and angry at the increasingly emboldened terrorist groups and the swamp of anarchist subculture in which they swim.
If anything, these recent acts of desecration and violence reminded the nation of the time when mobs held Athens under siege in December 2008. Over a period of two weeks, anarcho-student mobs burned, looted, and gutted the Greek capital and cities across Greece. Schools and university departments became launching pads for roaming gangs of street thugs who eventually caused an estimated 1.5 billion euros in damages.
A far cry from being “militarized,” Greeks stood aghast as a paralyzed government, instead of containing the rioters, ordered anti-riot squads to refrain from arresting the students or using any appreciable force. This short-sighted move not only prolonged the rioting and plundering, but almost succeeded in toppling the paralyzed government itself. Moreover, it brought to the forefront the consequences of government policies on higher education that over decades, enabled the radicalization and anomie of its youths. (Incidentally, no criminal investigation into the 2008 riots has been launched.)
The restoration of democracy in 1974 heralded a new and different era of violence in Greece that emanated from within rather than from without: regular terror and violence from leftist groups and mobs of anarchists who have entrenched themselves in the social and educational fabric of Greek society. According to the recent whining of one 44-year old anarchist, rioting is the only rational response to an administration that just “doesn”t understand their frustration at class division, the poor economy, a broken education system, and a corrupt government.”
Petulant self-pity aside, the anarchists and members of terror groups, who like to imagine themselves “re-enacting some sort of 19th century social revolution against the bourgeois,” are neither poverty-stricken nor alienated. A good number of them enjoy access to higher education for which they pay no tuition and no fees. Many so-called students are fanatically committed to pathological demonstrations and compulsive vandalism as “a fun social activity” and an emotional catharsis that combines wanton destruction with the extension of “legitimate demands” for all to hear.
Gallingly enough, students majoring in anarchy have made great use of a neoclassical enclave where they can congregate, commiserate, conspire, stash weapons, and hang out: the Athens National Technical University, better known as the Polytechnic. Like all universities across Greece, the Polytechnic is out of bounds for the police. An “academic asylum law,” passed shortly after the fall of the junta prohibits law enforcement from entering university grounds to pursue trouble makers and bring them to justice. In fact, when the government tried to pass educational reforms in the summer of 2006 that included limiting the infamous “asylum” law, no less than ten thousand students rioted, occupied universities across the country, firebombed the police, and generally did what they do best in the sabotage of higher education: Molotov cocktails and organized tantrums.
At the end of the day, The Greek dream has always been to graduate from a university you can”t get expelled from to getting a job in the civil service that you can”t get fired from. Nonetheless, most would agree that state malfunction is no excuse for state destruction. And under no circumstances is anarchy and terror the solution or catalyst for the change Greece so urgently demands. With the country at the brink of financial ruin and mired in other serious socio-economic problems, this generation of anarchy are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
However, amidst the violence and vicious cycles, there is an enduring and rare inspiration in those charged with protecting The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Dressed in the traditional kilt worn by the men who fought the rugged and relentless resistance against Ottoman rule, the Evzones stand completely still at their posts, impervious to all threats and provocations”including cowardly terrorist attacks. Remarkably, even when they were warned of an imminent explosion, three Evzones guards refused to abandon their posts, an action for which they were given presidential recognition.
It would be fitting if both members of parliament and the media begin showing the same sincerity in protecting public interest as the Evzones show in protecting the unknown soldier who died not to destroy his country, but to honor it. As for the terrorists and anarchists, its high time they got a haircut, went back to school, and gave up the Marilyn Manson lyrics for Pericles’s “Funeral Oration.”