OPINION

Tolerating violence will devalue our city

The Japanese tourist was visibly bewildered as he stood on the corner of Vassilissis Sofias and Sekeri streets last Friday. The roads had emptied of traffic, storekeepers had pulled down their blinds and dozens of policemen in riot gear had congregated on every corner. I do not know what the Japanese visitor was thinking at that moment but he appeared to be scared and and confused about the reason for the mass exodus from the city center. Of course, this was a routine spectacle for Athenians, one of the many throughout the year that culminate in a particularly eventful annual march on November 17. Indeed, we have become so accustomed to the vandalism of storefronts, arson attacks on banks and clashes between self-styled anarchists and policemen that these scenes do not really make any great impression on us anymore. It occurred to me that this characteristic of our city life could be marketed as an alternative type of tourism. Venice has its carnival, Spain its bullfights; we could promote our capital as a city that children with hyperactive personalities can visit for purging sessions. The idea is simple – the state would choose some run-down district which would be transformed into a kind of alternative Disneyland. The space would be filled with old cars, garbage cans and other trash fit for destruction. The state could recruit Hollywood experts to construct facades of banks and luxury car showrooms and pay club doormen to play the part of policemen. Then it could advertize the different packages – -50 to throw a homemade firebomb at a policeman, -35 for torching a car, -100 for a fight with a riot officer. You may protest that I am making a mockery of ideological concerns and of the deeper social reasons that lead these youths to acts of violence. But I do not see any ideology here, any militant left-wing outlook. And I doubt that the regular outbursts in Athens and the riots in Paris earlier this year are fueled by the same thing. The self-styled anarchists who vandalize banks and pelt police with Molotov cocktails in Athens are very rarely – if ever – youths from poor immigrant families facing social exclusion. On the contrary, most of them are from well-to-do families and have simply taken their anti-social behavior to extremes. As long as our society tolerates these youths and is prepared to pay the material and political cost of their continued activities, our city will become an alternative Disneyland, whether the state tourism board decides to intervene or not.