COMMENT

Face-to-face with ourselves

By Nikos Konstandaras

Last Saturday our children entered a new world. It is not their fault if the relationship between the citizen and the state is not ideal. Responsibility lies with those who for so many years have been in government or opposition and allowed our republic's problems to fester. Citizens and the media are to blame for accepting the degradation of our institutions and for tolerating a political system of which no one expects anything more than the dispensation of favors to further their own interests rather than society's as a whole. Our society is in crisis, not because its problems are worse than those that plague other countries, but because we cannot agree with one another on anything. With spineless, mediocre leaders, who won't even dare to solve even the simplest of problems, allowing them to worsen, and our institutions to lose their authority, we have finally lost the last bit of faith in our state, our political system and in our society's cohesion. We are angry, insecure, isolated. We accept everything and nothing. And so we come to the paradox: an event on which we all agree - that it is unacceptable that a 15-year-old child should die by a police officer's gun - has brought the country to the brink of collapse. While everyone grieved over the death of Alexis Grigoropoulos, it immediately became clear that all would exploit his death to strengthen their own positions, to express their own fears and rage, and in order to stand apart from the others. This death became a catalyst that justified what everyone already believed. The only young and innocent on the public stage now are the teenagers, who had already begun their politicization in the sit-ins at high schools earlier this year but now, through the death of one of their own, have quickly learned the lesson of collective action, of the relationship between citizen and state, the power of civil disobedience. Whether these lessons will be for good or ill has yet to be seen, as we now face another generation that has learned to defy authority. Today, the rage has boiled over as the political class is unable to convince anyone that it can prepare the country for the difficult days we will face due to the global economic crisis and the accumulation of problems in Greece's economy and society (not least among which are the pitifully low starting salaries and youth unemployment). Rage has boiled over because citizens have seen scandals hit our politicians (wiretaps, the Siemens bribery case, the Vatopedi Monastery land swap), our clergy (collusion with judges, Vatopedi), our judges (collusion with clergy, a «civil war» among various factions). Everyone knows that there will be no catharsis, that everything gets swept under the rug. When no one is held accountable, everyone is accountable and our institutions lose their authority. Citizens see politicians and journalists getting rich through their exploitation of power and their contacts with businessmen. They know that those with contacts will exploit the system for their own benefit. And the system endures, corrupting everything and everyone because too many of us believe that it is not really in our interest to demand meritocracy and justice, perhaps also in the hope that we can share in the spoils of the current state of affairs. This is the great issue we will face in the coming days. The killing and the explosion of violence that followed dispelled the last of our illusions: The state is incapable of protecting people (whether children or migrants or shopkeepers); the government froze in the face of the killing and failed to impose the power of the state and its institutions, thus increasing citizens' sense of insecurity; opposition parties, with the exception of some of their cadres, appeared to enjoy the government's fiasco more than they cared about easing the tension and finding a way forward; the «anti-establishment» groups, drunk on the justification that little Alexis's death provided them and exploiting to the full the immunity that they have enjoyed for years, created chaos - a chaos that, in the end, terrified the citizens to such an extent that they may rethink their tolerance of anti-authority violence. How will all this be fixed? How will we become part of a unified society again, one not ruptured by corruption, anger and intolerance? In the last few days, we have seen the sincere pain at the loss of a child and a mass movement expressing both grief and rage. But we have also felt shock at how easily our society exploded. What we have not seen is anyone with the guts to propose the changes that will help the country face the coming challenges and secure social harmony. On the contrary, we saw that fear and the exploitation of Alexis Grigoropoulos's death will increase our differences and prepare the ground for the next catastrophe.

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