Athenian democracy in ruins

The riots in Greece are symptomatic of a society deeply disillusioned with the failures and dishonesty of its political class

Youngsters clash with Greek riot police in the centre of Athens

Youngsters clash with Greek riot police in the centre of Athens. Photograph: Simela Pantzartzi/EPA

Teenagers throwing stones, cars and buildings alight, and Greek police firing tear gas are the only images being broadcast to the world, as rioting in Greece enters its third day with more demonstrations planned. But the unrest started long before the senseless shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros-Andreas Grigoropoulos.

New Democracy made lofty promises of reform to win re-election after the Greek wildfires in 2007, but voters have only seen scandal after scandal with hundreds of millions of taxpayer euros being wasted, an increase in violent crime, and a system of law and order that makes it impossible to get justice. It is a maladministration that allows convicted parliamentarians, terrorists, rapists and murderers to go unpunished for years and decades, yet sanctions police to raid and close down Stanleybet UK in a mere seven days for daring to compete with a €7bn monopoly in which the Greek state holds a 34.4% share. It is a government that does not protect, serve or even respect its people. This is a government out for itself, and the people respond accordingly by dodging taxes, refusing to pay social insurance, polluting the environment, flouting the law, paying bribes, coveting public sector jobs, and doing what they please without punishment.

Government and media are quick to label anyone daring to take to the streets in angry protest as "far-left, self-styled anarchists", although these youths are more likely thugs, hoodlums and bored rich kids who subscribe to the same mob mentality found at football games and wouldn't know the definition of anarchy. And when things get out of hand or an innocent dies, the government is quick to pass on blame to subordinates – in this case, two police officers who serve it. A minister tenders resignation, but no one implements real measures or takes ultimate responsibility for the discontent and hopelessness that sparked these and other violent riots in the first place. In short, the Greek state is incapable of controlling rioters with the same corrupt policies and lax enforcement that created them.

Interior minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos appealed for calm and said police will go on the defensive – a near admission that restoring law and order, a basic civil right, could not be guaranteed to protect innocent people who fear for their safety, property and livelihood. He also said: "The loss of life is something that is not excusable in a democracy." Yet any country that tolerates acts of continued violence is one that does not protect or value freedom. It is one thing to demonstrate; it is quite another to recruit through the internet with intent, detonate bombs, kidnap and take hostages.

The Kathimerini called the rioting, "the worst Greece has seen since the restoration of democracy in 1974", which begs the question of whether democracy truly exists in a country claiming to be its birthplace. In a democracy, sometimes people get the government they deserve.


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Kat Christofer: The Greek riots are symptomatic of a society sick of its corrupt political class

This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 19.00 GMT on Monday December 08 2008. It was last updated at 20.51 GMT on Monday December 08 2008.

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