OPINION

Public safety

For a large part of the 20th century, political conflicts in Europe revolved around the ideas of social justice and national emancipation. These concerns sidelined other fundamental needs such as democracy and sustainable economic growth. In the last couple of decades, the idea of freedom prevailed over that of social justice – a victory that was reflected in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the tide of liberal reforms across the world. Now, at the dawn of the 21st century, security seems to be emerging as the new «big idea» of the civilized world. This has been demonstrated by recent electoral battles in Europe, which marked a shift toward populist ultra-conservative movements whose main goal is to fight crime that is blamed on the growing inflow of migrants. Greece, as Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis noted recently, is witnessing a paradoxical phenomenon: Although crime has gradually dropped over the past few years, a public sense of insecurity has grown. Furthermore, in the rest of Europe the increase in crime is a far cry from a picture of social epidemic, as it usually concerns petty offenses, while there seems to be no organic connection to migration. Many factors have inflated the issue, such as sensationalism by part of the media when covering violent incidents and the tense international climate in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The most important, however, is the overall atmosphere of public insecurity caused by the tectonic economic and social changes in the era of globalization. Whether real or not, the threat of crime, especially when seen in the face of foreigners, is exploited by politicians to deflect attention from the problems plaguing the weaker social strata, which find trouble adapting to the new working and social environment. But all this does not mean we should fail to worry about crime. Citizens and politicians ought to shake off any reservations left over from past political experiences and seek cooperation with the police. International experience has demonstrated that crime cannot be tackled without the active participation of local communities. Pre-emptive action has proved more effective than any repressive measures. In neighborhoods and small towns, citizens have better knowledge of the sources of crime and act in a preventive fashion. In this light, the proposal for preventing crime through the establishment of local councils, which will monitor dangerous areas and record the sources of minor crime, could help restore the sense of public safety.