Greek politics and society are, more or less, all Greek to me. Although, when I spent a year in Edinburgh in the late 70s as a student I did share digs with this rather intense Greek PhD student, a member of the Communist Party who, on listening to my whining about my first big love, would only nod his head and reply, “there are much more important things than women; things worth dying for.” In the late 70s, for me, there were, perhaps, things worth crying for, for instance, the first big love, Rangers being beaten by Celtic or, indeed, Rangers being beaten by anyone, but worth dying for? “These Greeks are very serious people”, I thought. The riots in Athens would at least confirm that the Greeks are, indeed, serious about their politics. Might they also be an indication that the heartland of the “American Empire” is becoming frayed at the edges?
It would appear that anger over the police killing of a fifteen year old boy has turned into widespread resentment over the unpopular New Democracy Party’s, privatisations and pension reforms and the growing gap between rich and poor, which have further polarised a society where the lines were already drawn. Add to that the “no-future” generation that is coming out of the country’s universities, rising unemployment, low wages and limited prospects, a police force that is viewed by many as being arrogant and a corrupt government that was was already struggling to stay in power in the wake of a recent land-exchange scandal, and we have a very explosive cocktail. What we also have, of course, is a very politicised opposition, one that was nurtured during its opposition to the military dictatorship, that military dictorship, which, when mentioned, used to see my Greek friend depart from his otherwise calm intellgent and intelligible self and metomorphise into an irrational imbecile, issuing an incoherrent, incomprehensible, inarticulate array of swear words, while rolling his eyes, swaying his head and waving his arms all over the place with no regard whatsover for the other people, the pots and pans, pottery and porcelain, in what was a very small kitchen. Is it that emotive recklessness that we are witnessing all over Greece today? To some extent, perhaps, however, just as my friend had a lot of good reasons for his losing control and getting upset, so too it would seem have his countrymen today.
It is too early to know if there is a real social revolution taking place in Greece. Nevertheless, one is reminded of a little adage; “when hopes and expectations are disappointed people get on the barricades.” It would appear that the ‘Starbucks’ model cannot offer hope to the people who lose their jobs through privatisation, the pensioners who do not have enough pension to live on and the students who have no job to go to. What the demonstrations against the WTO in Seattle in 1999, the unrest throughout France in 2005 and the riots in Greece today shows us, is that there is no end to history. Nevertheless, for us to move on it is very important that the discontented and the left very quickly start to articulate themselves a bit better than my Greek friend managed to do back in Edinburgh in 1977 and it is important for them to do so, because it is time for us all to begin to distance ourselves from the “American Empire” and an economic model that is not only unjust but also, just doesn’t work. Kat Christopher writes in today’s ‘Guardian’, that “The riots in Greece are symptomatic of a society deeply disillusioned with the failures and dishonesty of its political class.”(1) It is not only in Greece that people are disillusioned with what are, after all, consequences of a system that is based on illusions; the American dream is dead and it is time to stop dreaming.
The picture shows demonstrators outside the Greek embassy in London, they wanted to “talk” to the ambassador, the ambassador didn’t want to talk to them; surprise, surprise!