Are the crowds of young people who have been congregating recently in public squares in Athens and other parts of the country politically guided acts of the usual kind or spontaneous gatherings? Even if they did start as a reaction by young people to being cooped up at home for seven weeks, these party-like gatherings soon became political. The police were demonized for intervening and branded agents of a suppressive state and others went on about riot police being sent into our neighborhoods to beat up residents and visitors.
Commenting on these gatherings, the deputy minister for civil protection, Nikos Hardalias, said that “containing the spread of the virus is the not the job of the police, but the social and personal responsibility of each individual.” The Citizens’ Protection Ministry, which is responsible for public order, appears to be on the same wavelength, indicating that the government is trying to restore calm.
What these incidents tell us is that the challenges in easing lockdown measures have so far been reactions of a spontaneous kind. Widespread fear of the virus and the feeling of being trapped and socially isolated triggered a variety of different reactions – some justified, others not so much. Feelings of suffocation and suspicion seem to have accumulated behind the closed doors of the country’s houses and apartments and are rushing to the surface as the pressure valve is gradually being opened.
Sure, gatherings cannot be automatically labeled an act of civil disobedience, but what happens when concerns for public health dictate social distancing? And what are the organizers of political protests in front of Parliament (most recently by artists, some of whom were seen dancing the Kalamatiano just as the culture minister was announcing relief measures for their sector) trying to accomplish when the health experts keep warning that the coronavirus is still among us?
The people, groups and parties trying to sow division by stirring the embers of long-burning disputes or stoking public anger and biases fail to realize that they are up against a formidable foe: society. The majority is choosing to ignore such behavior that feeds off provocation and conflict, regardless of its political provenance.
Fatigue, insecurity and uncertainty are enough of a breakwall against those trying to give themselves a purpose in life by staging “indignant” movements, nostalgic for public protests in public squares after seven weeks of “political quarantine.”