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Survival Guide
Greek Edition
Step one: enforce the law

By Alexis Papachelas

One of the biggest, and perhaps the most intractable problems facing the country is the lawlessness that prevails in virtually all aspects of civic life. There is no other country in Europe where everything is permitted from motorcycles riding on sidewalks to hurling verbal abuse at police officers. Such phenomena are, of course, only the tip of the iceberg; they are the obvious symptoms of a phenomenon that started following the fall of the military dictatorship in the early 1970s. Disregard for the law grew during the 1980s and now it has become extremely difficult to contain.

It’s impossible to take the Greek state seriously when the central authorities, the courts and key departments make decisions that cannot be implemented because a small but violent minority takes a different view. And, yet, this is more or less what happens with foreign investments, with the creation of reception centers for illegal immigrants, with the so-called integrated waste management facilities (XYTA) and much more. The approach that is commonly put forward is for a “dialogue from scratch” or, even worse, for a “comprehensive and not piecemeal solution to the problem.”

It’s needless to point out that unless we change our mentality, no investor will ever want to put his money here and we shall never solve the problem of illegal immigration. Rather, we shall sink in a state of violent decay and anarchy. The prevalence of what Alekos Papadopoulos has termed “historical populism” in this country is now fomenting bouts of fascist violence, vulgarity and lawlessness. There is no serious ideological rival. How can politicians cope with the beast of populism that they themselves nourished? It will take a lot of discussion and, in fact, guts to take on the lawlessness which will turn into mob rule tomorrow.

We must be clear and fair however. The rule of law stipulates that the law applies to all equally. I detest that old claim, popular among old PASOK voters, that “if the elites are squandering the country’s wealth, we should not have any qualms about doing the same.” Deep down, they have a point. We are discussing the institutional corruption of the various trade unions, but we must finally hold accountable all the government agencies that have for years failed to meet their duties in relation to the major scandals that are now coming to light.

Lawlessness reigned in the streets, but at the same time it reigned across a big chunk of state-dependent and corrupt private sector. Prosecutors sometimes do their jobs, especially when they succeed in working quietly and systematically, instead of trying to impress. But they can be hopelessly slow, or sometimes turn a blind eye leaving people’s demand for rule of law unsatisfied.

Foreign observers, who have the ability to see more clearly what is happening here, are quite blunt about what needs to change: If you don’t clean the pillars of corruption in the state as well as the private sector, you will never manage to come out of the crisis.

So we must demand that the law is enforced on the sidewalk. But we must also demand that the law applies for all watchdogs and supervisory authorities who still have some explaining to do about how things went so awry in the past decade and more.

And one last thing: the laws must first of all be respected by those who swear to serve and apply them. Most people are in favor of strengthening the police’s presence in the streets of the country and share the concerns and difficulties facing young police officers who are exposed to all sorts of risks for measly salaries. But no society can tolerate riot policemen who hit people with their batons held the wrong side or throw stones against demonstrators.

The law has clout only when it is the same for all, the strong and the weak. Otherwise, we can no longer talk about an organized society, but a jungle that has no place in Europe.

ekathimerini.com , Sunday April 8, 2012 (21:08)  
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