December’s bitter fruit

Greek society is hardening. The government and judicial authorities have announced harsh measures for enforcing public order and controlling immigration. The rivalry between political parties – robust at the best of times – has become even more intense: In a time when it’s clear that only consensus and radical proposals can end the deadlock that the country faces in its economy and public administration, the parties remain stuck on failed policies and meaningless conflict. As if this were not enough, a handful of self-styled «urban guerrillas,» thinking themselves more important than they are, now threaten to «bloody» the whole of society. Normally, we should not pay any attention to such delusions of grandeur but these «revolutionaries» contribute to the hardening of positions and the general feeling of insecurity. Now we are tasting the bitter fruit of December. The chronic uselessness of government and state authorities on a number of important issues has now provoked a reaction that will threaten precious gains and undermine the quality of our society. The many years of turning a blind eye to the behavior of hooded, violent protesters, the lack of an overall immigration policy, the collapse of the police force, all created an abnormal situation which led to the demand for strict measures. From indifference we veered hard right, with unpredictable consequences. Conditions for such a change are ideal. The government is weak, with a one-seat majority in Parliament, a plethora of rebels and many gloomy supporters who showed their anger quite openly in the recent European Parliament elections. The government lost votes to the extreme right LAOS, the only party which – with predictable populism and extremism – touched on the issues of public order and immigration. Because the government can’t do much to improve the economic conditions that citizens must face, it has hastened to adopt the most extreme measures on the immigration front. According to one of these measures, any immigrant – legal or not – who is charged with a crime will be deported. This means that people who may be innocent of the charges will find themselves outside the country even before their case comes to trial. Despite all the protests from lawyer groups and other organizations, the measure became law last week. Because we cannot believe that the government does not understand what it is doing, we can only assume that it has chosen to treat people unfairly just so that it can look tough. However, whenever this law is scrapped – and it won’t be soon, if we can judge from past errors – it will already have destroyed many lives. Is this the immigration policy we want? Will we sleep better when state functionaries impose unjust laws on defenseless people? In its effort to tackle the violence of anti-establishment groups, the government has decided to use electronic surveillance systems, to create a DNA bank and to stiffen the sentences of those guilty of committing crimes while wearing hoods. At the same time, Supreme Court prosecutor Giorgos Sanidas last week answered a police force query by saying that weapons and stun grenades can be used by police and special guards when they are dealing with an armed attack. If such weapons are prohibited, «what reason would there be to have a police force?» Sanidas asked. This was a direct reference to the events of last December, when police officers were ordered to stand by as hooded youths burned down the center of Athens, night after night. Electronic surveillance, DNA banks, the use of dangerous weapons by the authorities have always been the subject of intense debate, as they should be. The justified sensitivity with regard to personal freedom has safeguarded many of our society’s gains. But often excessive sensitivity, in combination with state indifference on many issues, created a dangerous public «outrage» and the demand for harsh measures. Now who can protect us from the authorities’ vengeful excesses? No one claims that we do not need to defend public order. But this need must not be the product of panic, rage or political cynicism. When the state is unjust, it destroys the basis of a just society and it encourages people to take the law into their own hands. When one is treated unjustly we all become unjust. And then, we are all at risk.