Staring into the abyss

Afair number of observers and commentators have expressed surprise at the fact that Greece has not seen the social mayhem that some had expected over the past few months. Given the nation’s history and Greeks’ soft spot for public demonstrations, one is naturally surprised at the cool-headed reaction shown by the majority of the population. This apparent composure can be attributed to a number of factors. First, a large sector of society today is terrified, even panicking. Increasing numbers of people are losing their jobs and living standards are plunging dramatically. Under these grim circumstances, the survival instinct comes first. But there’s another thing. Greece has glimpsed into the abyss, and it certainly looked like a dark, bottomless pit. The first time was during the 2008 riots sparked when a police officer shot teenager Alexis Grigoropoulos dead in downtown Exarchia. The authorities stood paralyzed amid an orgy of lawlessness and violence. Some complacent pundits have since tried to put a romantic spin on the mess. In fact, however, the extensive disasters showed that populism and violence make a very dangerous mix. Like, for example, when teachers were seen inciting students to hurl stones at shops and the police, or when journalists were heard giving lectures promoting disobedience and intolerance. However, Greece’s middle class has a survival instinct. People know that a repeat of the 2008 riots could plunge the country into a crisis without end. The second time we looked into the abyss was when three bank employees died following a firebomb attack by self-styled anarchists during a protest rally. Even the most exasperated of people took a step back that day and wondered where it would end. Uncertainty and the instinct of survival have so far staved off a violent state of chaos. But this does not mean that things will not go awry in the future. The 15 percent jobless rate is simply too high and one cannot underestimate the anger of middle-class Greeks who are now approaching the poverty line. You can sense the tension on the faces of strangers. One spark is enough to start a whole fire. We must not let our guard down, frivolously thinking that the worst is behind us.

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