Since the Dec. 6 death of a 15-year-old boy at the hands of police, the Greek government led by Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis has failed to restore law and order. The young boy was fatally shot during an altercation with police officers in downtown Athens. Two officers have been charged in the incident — one is charged with intentional homicide, and the latter as his accomplice. The arrests, the prime minister’s condemnation of the shooting and an apology by the police have done nothing to quell the outbreak of riots that followed.
Rioters ran rampant in Athens and dozens of other Greek cities. Scores of people have been injured, cars and public buildings have been firebombed and schools have been occupied. Property damage reportedly exceeds $265 million. Mr. Karamanlis failed to take decisive action against the rioters at the outset, thus inadvertently fanning the flames of violence. The government must clamp down.
Why such timidity? In 1973, at Athens Polytechnic University in the Exarcheia district, a student revolt was crushed when the ruling military junta sent tanks onto the campus. At least 20 students died. The year following the campus raid, the junta was ousted and democracy returned. Since then, police have not been allowed to enter Athens Polytechnic University and have been cautious in dealing with youth protests. In the recent unrest, Mr. Karamanlis insisted that the authorities take only defensive measures. Rioters and other ne’er do wells took full advantage of police hesitation.
The shooting incident has now become a lightning rod for the disaffected members of Greek society; students and workers have seized the opportunity to arrange protests in order to highlight their discontent with the economy, a stagnant society with few opportunities and a political culture rife with corruption. Mr. Karamanlis, the conservative leader of the New Democracy party, has been in power since 2004; he heads an embattled government, with a majority of one in parliament. His troubles abound: In a poll published by Greece’s Ethnos newspaper, 83.3 percent of respondents said they were unhappy with how the government handled the crisis.
Foremost among the problems in Greece is that the anarchist subculture has been allowed to grow with impunity - even when youths resort to violence. While it is undeniable that many Greek citizens have legitimate grievances, there must nonetheless be no tolerance for violence: dissenters must be encouraged to seek redress of their grievances through peaceful means. In the meantime, it is the government’s primary duty to ensure that there is law and order. Mr. Karamanlis must act with determination to bring an end to the violence.
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