- Posted December 9, 2008 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
New Riots Follow Funeral of Athens Teen
A shockingly small white coffin emerges in a sea of young people dressed in black, and applause goes up to say a last goodbye to Alexandros-Andreas Grigoropoulos, the 15 year old who was shot dead at point blank range on Saturday night by police in Exarcheia, downtown Athens.
Staggering behind the coffin were the parents, crippled by grief, and a mother who could barely stay on her feet. Her son had called her to tell her he had reached the centre safely, where he was celebrating the birthday of a friend. A mere ten minutes later, she was told to rush to the hospital as his life ebbed away.
If anyone hoped that the three days of riots in the Greek capital would let up soon, the televised images from the funeral of the teenager on Tuesday afternoon are likely to set things off all over again.
The catalyst for the violence in Athens was the death of Alexandros-Andreas Grigoropoulos who was fatally shot on Saturday night in the city's downtown Exarcheia district.
Witnesses reported that an altercation took place between a group of teenagers and two Special Forces policemen, climaxing in the police firing two warning shots into the air and one into the ground. It is at this point that the witness accounts and the official accounts diverge, and somewhat tellingly the police lawyer has already refused the case in the face of video evidence and several eye witness accounts that go against the official line.
Whether accidental or deliberate, the outcome was the death of an unarmed teenager. Within hours of the murder, Greece's anarchist and socialist networks had spread the word and riots erupted across the entire country from Thessaloniki to Crete.
In reflection of the public mood, the already melodramatic Greek media threw impartiality out of the window in their coverage of the death of Alexandros and the riots that followed in what are being called the worst civil disturbances since the end of the military dictatorship in 1974.
The police, who have never been popular in Greece, quickly became the focus of the media's and the public's anger as an extension of a government which has repeatedly failed to act in the interests of its people. For three days now TV screens have flashed with images of furious youths demanding to know why one of their peers was killed.
Unfortunately for Costas Karamalis's government, the Greek public has a reputation of historically being ungovernable with the somewhat impressive result that the Greek government fears its people, and not vice versa. The prime minister has made an unprecedented publicly apology to the parents of the murdered teenager and the interior minister, Pavlos Pavlopoulos immediately offered his resignation.
None of this is likely to appease the situation which has quickly boiled over into an expression of the long-standing disaffection and frustration of the youth of Greece. If anything, it's a miracle it took so long.
Greece has been a member of the EU since 1981, but is plagued by corrupt and self-interested politicians, crippling bureaucracy, cronyism and an increasingly disillusioned public.
The left wing government of the PASOK party was voted out in favour of the centre right New Democracy party in 2004 in a move to affect change in the country. But the change that the Greek public had hoped for was not to come and the government's failure to listen to their voice came to fruition on Saturday night.
The crowds that have taken to the streets in anger at the unprovoked murder of a teenager represent all spectrums of Greek society, but mainly members of what is referred to in Greece as Generation 700 Euro, in reference to an entire generation of young people who despite enjoying an unprecedented level of further education are not able to find jobs that pay them more than EUR 700 a month, a sum that is barely able to cover a modest lifestyle.
The cost of daily living in Greece has rocketed while pay rates have remained the same after the Euro replaced the inflation-ridden Drachma in 2002, resulting in one in five Greeks living below the poverty line and young people being unable to afford to move out of the parental household or start families.
Greek youngsters face some of the toughest school systems and university entrance standards in Europe through a poorly funded educational system and are then subject to government entry quotas for universities that fall well below the actual demand. The result is families putting themselves under huge financial pressure to educate their children overseas.
Despite all this, Greece has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the EU for under 25s and of the original 15 EU states, it is the only one where higher education does nothing to improve a candidate's job prospects.
Simple day to day tasks like the installation of a phone line or the paying of taxes are in Greece an exercise in negotiation skills and bribe paying.
Add to this a government that seems embarrassingly incapable of dealing with 21st century problems like the processing of illegal immigrants, a bullying police force that acts with impunity and now a global financial crisis impacting the country's faltering economy, and it is easy to get an idea of the pressure-cooker atmosphere in Greece today.
News commentators covering the riots have not minced their words as images of destroyed shops and rioters on streets devoid of any police control have occupied the airwaves for a third night. "While the rest of the EU is taking measures to minimize the damage of the credit crisis on their economies, our politicians have done nothing," said one journalist.
Much time is being spent on sober reflection and discussion not only on the problems with Greece's police but with everything else that has brought the country to the state it is in today.
Meanwhile, Athens prepares for another night of fire as tear gas, Molotov bombs and stones fill the air. The sequence of events that started with a single, fatal shot looks unlikely to come to a conclusion any time soon, and the biggest casualty of all may be the current government.