Bored youngsters turn rallies into riots

What have become known as «deplorable episodes» are now a common sight at just about every mass rally in downtown Athens and Thessaloniki. They include all kinds of material damage as well as clashes – serious and not so serious – between demonstrators and the police. The sight of youths, usually masked, throwing Molotov cocktails, smashing store windows and setting fire to trash containers are common to almost every rally, as is the sight of police officers trying to hold them off with tear gas and smoke flares. In the past, such episodes were connected with the Polytechneio celebrations, but now just about every demonstration is accompanied by rioting of various degrees. Guerilla warfare During a demonstration that took place in Athens during the signing of the European Union enlargement treaty a couple of weeks ago, more than 100 people were taken to the police station, and 84 were arrested, four of them minors. This followed the usual guerrilla warfare scenes in downtown Athens. But there was one difference. Determined not to allow the episodes to develop further, the police chief dealt forcefully with the protesters, and the first Molotov cocktail triggered heavy use of tear gas and pursuit of the perpetrators. It was the highest number of individuals arrested for quite some time. Who are these youths that go to Syntagma Square with a bag full of Molotov cocktails and start to smash the place up, and who even take along gas masks for the tear gas? How closely do they match the common label of «well-known unknowns» used to describe them? Police officials who have to deal with these youths divide them into three categories. One senior officer said the overwhelming majority are young people who go out onto the streets just to cause trouble. They are probably fed up with their everyday routine, and think the police officers confronting them represent the hard face of power. These youngsters enjoy the chase and find the experience exciting. The second group are those whose activities have an ideological underpinning, who seriously believe that by breaking the windows of a bank or burning the display in a store window they are participating in the struggle against «the system» and damaging the power structure. As the officer said, when those youngsters are arrested and realize the consequences of what they have done, the risk they run of going to prison and having to face their parents’ wrath, once they have to deal with long-drawn-out legal proceedings, by far the most of them change their views and do not engage in such activities again. The third and smallest category are those who participate systematically in such activities and have been arrested once or more times, but have not been deterred. This group fits the label of «well-known unknowns,» since the police know who they are. They tend to be older than the others and their behavior is not governed by youthful impulsiveness but by conscious choice. The police do not believe there is a new trend toward violent reaction, but view these incidents as occasional outbursts that occur in every generation.

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