Cultivating terror

The most frightening thing about the shooting of a young police officer by suspected members of an extreme-leftist terrorist group is how predictable the whole thing was. As 21-year-old Diamantis Mantzounis lies in critical condition in the Red Cross Hospital, wounded by bullets in Monday’s attack, Greeks are once again witness to the equivocations that have kept public debate tangled up in myths and nonsense for the past 30 years or so. One of the assault weapons used in the attack near Athens’s National Archaeological Museum had been used in the past by the Revolutionary Struggle group. The targeting of three officers on a foot patrol, a month after a police officer fatally shot a teenager in the same district, was obviously aimed at exploiting the huge wave of public anger at the youth’s killing. The November 17 terrorist gang, whose ringleaders are now in jail, used that tactic for over two decades: It always tried to plug into current public emotions in order to present its murderous attacks as part of something far bigger than they were. Police and political analysts had been afraid that the emotions raised by the death of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos would lead to a renewal of the low-key urban guerrilla presence in Athens – because the outburst of public anger had appeared to support the traditional anti-establishment claim that violence against the state is justified. This is ostensibly a hangover from the right-wing military dictatorship that ruled Greece from 1967-74, and whose downfall began after it crushed a student uprising at the Polytechnic, near the site of Monday’s shooting, in 1973. Since then, in the public discourse, left-wing violence has been seen as something more acceptable than right-wing or state violence. One front-page headline in a major Athenian daily this week was typical of this woolly thinking: «Blind vengeance and a pogrom in Exarchia.» On the one hand, the attack on the officers is criticized for being «blind,» but it is still «vengeance» – in other words, a reaction to the fatal shooting of the teenager in Exarchia. The «pogrom» in the Athens district that is an anarchist stronghold refers not to the wholesale slaughter of members of some ethnic or religious minority but to an intensive search by police who arrested eight people on (probably unrelated) misdemeanor charges of illegal weapons possession. The fact that police have a duty to enforce the law – even in traditionally lawless Exarchia – is not mentioned. Instead, a police search after a terrorist attack is presented as an act of state brutality. The situation would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous – and if a young policeman was not in danger of losing his life. Since 1974, and thanks largely to its membership in the European Union since 1981, Greece has been experiencing its longest uninterrupted period of peace and progress. Our democracy is still very sloppy and our public administration needs a lot of work, but the state is not run by foreign powers or some junta that needs overthrowing. Tolerance of anti-state violence is a farcical echo from a time when the state stood against the people. The longer this violence bubbles under the surface of public life, the longer our society will suffer. As long as major political parties do not have the moral strength or good sense to make clear that the state and its employees – including police officers – are flesh of our flesh and not our enemies, then no one will take responsibility for fixing the state or for standing up for it. Monday’s attack was indeed an attack on democracy, as President Karolos Papoulias and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis put it. But the stupidity of politicians and journalists who are not quite clear as to which part of the divide they stand on is a greater, longer-lasting danger to our democracy.

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