Letter from Thessaloniki

Addressing protesting students: Yesterday (…) when you clashed with the policemen, I was sympathizing with the policemen! Because the policemen are the sons of the poor, they come from the outskirts of cities and from the country. Therefore, yesterday, we had another phase of the struggle of class: And you, my friends (even if you are on the right side) were the rich ones, While the policemen (even if they were on the wrong side) were the poor ones. These are excerpts from a poem that Pier Paolo Pasolini (March 5, 1922 – November 2, 1975) an Italian communist, gay poet, film director and writer wrote during the troubles of 1969, when university students acted in a guerrilla-like style against the police on the streets of Rome. It was a time when all leftist forces declared their unreserved support for the students and viewed the strife as a civil struggle between proletarians and the system. In many ways, the atmosphere today in Greece is very reminiscent of those days. Alone among the communists, Pasolini declared that he was with the police or, to be precise, with the policemen, the real proletarians who were sent to fight against boys of the same age for a poor salary and for reasons which they could not understand, because they had not had the good fortune of being able to study. In politics, or more precisely, in the social debate, Pasolini was able to create scandal. Not unjustifiably, our police claim that they are amongst Greece’s most poorly paid public servants – the so-called «700-euro generation» – and are regularly forced to take second jobs to make ends meet. Sparked by the December 6 police shooting and death of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos, Greece has in the last few weeks experienced its worst rioting in a quarter of a century. As old prejudices are replaced by new, understandable anger at this crime became a cloak for the violent criminality of large mobs, drawn from the unemployed, hopeless teenage rabble of Greek youth. «The financial crisis and its impacts…have triggered insecurities and fears about the future,» Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said in a recent interview with the German weekly Spiegel. «This heightens their feelings of unease with regard to the state – and young people have reacted.» Needless to say, social or economic explanations alone offer no excuse for what has happened. As usual, the various state laws are in complete disarray. In the days of policemen-with-guns, the threat is not solely to the victims of misdirected shooting, but more than anything, to the peace of the whole community. Here in Thessaloniki, we still remember that over-zealous police officer – Kyriakos Vantoulis was his name – who, for no apparent reason, shot dead a young Serbian student in the center of the city. After the dire incidents in Athens, Deputy Interior Minister Panayiotis Hinofitis told Parliament that the policy on police firearms would be reviewed. As almost everywhere, in this country too the laws that regulate correct police behavior are the work of the state legislature. Over the years, these assemblies have managed to make a complete hash of things, pleasing no one. Responding to a question by opposition PASOK, Hinofotis said he had «no objection» to a review. Declining to elaborate, he also suggested «improvements» to police training. In other European countries policemen employ different tactics. They usually surround armed criminals or demonstrators and wait for their surrender. Sure enough, in such cases there are a few casualties – and all of them policemen, not bystanders. Yet the question as to whether police officers should be armed remains unanswered. Obviously, the answer is not more armed police, but less. Protecting embassies, dignitaries and large amount of cash on the roads surely calls for the arming of policemen in controlled circumstances. For such tasks, trained officers should be specially assigned. For all other purposes, Greek police forces should formally and publicly renounce the carrying of guns by their rank and file. So, withdraw all firearms from local police stations. Recent events in Athens and Thessaloniki have in any case shown that because of the way they are guarded, they only risk falling into criminal hands. Confine their use to the specialists. Return to the tradition of the unarmed officer who defeats the aggressor by patience and courage rather than by counter-aggression. Halfway solutions are no good. Further restricting the issue of guns could make less experienced policemen – the bulk of the Greek force – even more nervous than now. Here is a case of disarmament that really should work.

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