It's been a week since the fatal shooting of a 15 year old teenager called Alexandros Grigoropoulos, God rest his soul, in Athens, last Saturday December the 6th 2008, and the riots in Athens are still going on. It actually came as a big issue on TV, and an avid CNN watcher such as myself, just could not miss it. I saw news of protests, that ended up as clashes with the police forces. Days later, the city had shops that were broken into, as a sign of protest, and their windows or panels, or whatever they were, were broken.
On CNN, they say that Alexandros and a group of friends attacked a couple of policemen with stones, and one of the policemen fired in response, and the bullet hit the young Alexandros. There's an alternative version as to what happened, the policemen saying that they were about to be attacked with a fuel-filled explosive device. There are even different versions as to how the boy was shot. The main version says that Alexandros was fired at, another version maintains that the policemen fired a few warning shots, and one bullet ricocheted and hit him. I've read an i Reporter's story on CNN.com in which he wrote that the lawyer assigned to defend the two policemen, initially refused to take the case upon seeing video evidence and hearing eyewitness accounts.
The news of a 15 year old, being shot and killed is sad, tragic, painful and disturbing, and can hardly be described by words alone. The news that a policeman did it, makes it even more outrageous, and no body likes to remember the ending month of year 2008, as that one month when a 15 year old was shot dead.
It was understandable for the Greek youth to take to the streets, and protest in front of police precincts and other places in Athens. The protests, soon turned into clashes with the police forces, that lasted day and night for a whole week, up to this point.
Greek citizens residing in London and in Berlin, headed towards the Greek embassies armed with banners in order to protest, and police intervention was sometimes needed.
The enraged youth that clashed with the police forces, broke into shops, burned vehicles, and the whole commotion, caused road blocks, and left residents of Athens in the impossibility to go to work. Days after the clashes started, the news reports I saw made the city look like a war zone. The streets were littered with shattered glass and burnt cars, there were obvious burn marks on the streets and on some buildings. Youths threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the police forces, who in turn, responded with tear gas, and some of them managed to chase and even arrest some of the protesters.
Student unions met and discussed what the course of action would be for the following days, and there were further threats of clashes on the streets of Athens by the city youth and anarchists. I saw a CNN news report in which merchants or salespersons said that their businesses suffered because of the clashes, and how that can leave a serious mark on the economy, especially since the world economy is expected to go over some rough terrain in 2009.
I've read more articles on the problem, and found out that the youth has many reasons to be angry, and those reasons extend furthermore, into the country's economy, the living standards, and the prospects for the Greek youth. This is how I found out that one in five Greeks lives below the poverty line, that there's a lot of low and high level corruption, that Greece battled forest fires that left at least 70 people dead, because the country's slow bureaucracy kept the Government from reacting swiftly to the situation, as well as the fact that the Greek youth has plenty of access to higher education, yet little prospects for actual jobs, not to mention the taxes that the population is subjected to, as well as the high inflation, both of them making life quite difficult for Greek citizens in general, an much worse, for young Greeks that are trying to start families in particular.
In short, I'm seeing a Greece that is not much different from what I'm seeing in Romania. Every single one of those defects that I outlined above, point to a reality that I'm used to in my country. This came as a surprise to me, since I thought of Greece, as the most well developed country in the Balkans, and I still think of Greece that way. I just haven't thought that the corruption in Greece was that bad, that the Government reacted to the forest fires, in a manner that reminds me of the incompetence of the Romanian Government, when reacting to the floods that took the homes of many Romanians. The Greeks' spectrum of politicians serving their own personal interests, and not those of the population, is a common reality in my country, as is the reality that the youth graduates higher education, yet has slim employment prospects. It's sad to know that that happens in Greece as well.
I have an enormous respect for the Greeks, and the concepts that their ancestors brought to European civilization, and North American civilization as well.
Now, I respect the Greeks for their youth's attitude towards what's happening. I respect their youth's attitude because they don't sit there and do nothing, but unite instead, and sacrifice personal safety in order to make a point, and to express their feelings about how the Government handles the situation. It's amazing, how fast they could unite and take to the streets, how the death of a 15 year old boy had the same effect on all of them, and how they've showed a similar reaction to that, for a whole week, not taking into account what might happen tomorrow and even next week. Friday night, they gathered together, and lit candles, in solidarity with the young Alexandros, who is in their eyes, the tragic and unfortunate hero, hopefully the last one to become a hero that way. If that ever happened in my country, the reaction( if any) would be slow to appear, and if it actually does appear, it'll be a weak one, and in most cases it would materialize as TV, and Radio debates, or Internet petitions sent to the Government, who would ignore it.
The youth of Greece has shown the strong belief in their ideals, and that democracy hasn't been applied by the book. I don't know the members of Greece's Government, and I personally have nothing against them, because they haven't harmed me in any way. It is a fact that should be taken into consideration though, that an unwanted Government that is plagued with incompetence, should resign out of common sense. I know that better than many.
Some might say that those protests are only going to further burden the country, and make a recovery even harder. I say that the fact that the Greek youth took to the streets and protested and fought for what they believed, shows that they know what they want, and they want the same thing. I say it's impossible for a country that knows what it wants, not to recover, rise up to greater challenges, and even achieve higher goals.
I respect Greeks for the religion and Byzantine heritage that we share, for their identity as people, and for sharing the common ideals that they fight for.
Democracy still lives, and it's heart beats in Greece!