The flowers of evil

By Nikos Konstandaras

The revelation last week that not even the prime minister can speak on his mobile phone without being listened to by unnamed agents as well as the brutal attack on the president of the General Confederation of Labor, Christos Polyzogopoulos, are two sides of the same coin. The perpetrators may belong to two different worlds but the result of their actions leads to one inescapable conclusion: No citizen can feel secure - not when talking on the phone nor while driving through the center of the Greek capital. But how did the seed of insecurity take root in a country with a low crime rate and where the security forces pride themselves on the high level of training and technology that helped achieve a perfectly secure Olympic Games in 2004? At the heart of the problem is a complicated and often paradoxical relationship between the public and the police. The dictatorship and the brutal crushing of the student revolt in 1973 put a decisive end to public tolerance for the traditionally autocratic behavior of the security forces. But sometimes the police still act as if they yearn for the time when they could act with impunity. On the other hand, there still seems to be a highly exaggerated sensitivity toward anything that might resemble police brutality, leading to a peculiar tolerance for antisocial and often violent outbursts by various «anti-authoritarian» groups. We have reached the farcical point where some security officials operate under the lack of accountability that existed in the past and others cannot do their jobs lest police work look like an assault on citizens' rights. To complicate things further, suspicions abound that the security forces tolerate (if not cultivate) violent groups so that they can justify the existence of expensive units. This is the classic protection racket. Who would pay if there was no fear of damage? Citizens would not accept the existence of specialist riot squads and their equipment if they did not fear regular «anarchist» rampages. And yet, while we have these squads, they appear to negate themselves by not enforcing measures that would curb the activities of Athens's troublemakers - either because they would then find themselves out of work or because they fear public reaction to decisive action that would resemble police brutality. And so, on an early evening last week, at a point in central Athens with a large police presence, a group of youths were able to pull Polyzogopoulos out of his car and beat him, without anyone intervening, to within an inch of his life. (Doctors said the victim was hit about 40 times on the head alone). These youths might think that they are expressing their holy rage against the establishment, but what they are really displaying is the extent to which they have been mollycoddled by a system which has done nothing to fight them, thereby making them all the more violent and unaccountable. If we believe the Attica Union of Police Employees, the police feel that they are fully capable of dealing with the problem. But, the union added, when police intervene, unnamed forces or individuals manage to make the police look like fools and force them to apologize for their actions. (Strangely enough, no one ever investigates such claims). The citizen is defenseless in the face of such a crossfire of interests. The police force's budget is about 1.5 billion euros a year. This is a lot of money for us to still put up with gangs beating up people in the city center, for us to tolerate special security escorts for «celebrity» citizens. The eavesdropping scandal showed another paradoxical dimension of our security forces. Without knowing who was behind the espionage, we see that in addition to the prime minister and other top members of the government, those who were tapped include members of the so-called «anti-establishment» groups, Arabs and other Muslims. It would appear that the security network that was set up before the Olympics, and which would be expected to keep an eye on such individuals, was not taken down after the Games. Instead, it remained active and spread right up to the top of the State. A measure ostensibly aimed at protecting citizens metastasized like cancer and came to threaten even the prime minister. We reached a point where too much security meant no security.