Athens Descends Into Anarchy - By Takis Michas
The real Greek disease is contempt for the law, and the political failure to combat it.
The Wall Street Journal
By Takis Michas
Greece’s public debt may reach 150% of GDP this year, an alarming possibility that has captivated outside observers. But in the final analysis, the major issue confronting Greece may not be its solvency, but its governance: Greek rule of law has been gradually disintegrating for more than a year now, and we see more and more reasons to question the government’s ability to maintain order and implement its own legislation.
Greece is slowly becoming a society where “low-intensity conflict” dominates, where the legal order is breaking down and where appeals to universal values have become meaningless.
The country is at the mercy of militant activists, who are mostly inspired by various factions of Greece’s hard left. The heaviest hitters are Greece’s Communist Party and the anarcho-Stalinist Coalition of the Radical Left, which is comprised of the Ecosocialists of Greece, the “Roza” Radical Left Group and the Internationalist Workers’ Left, to name a few. Their followers, with total impunity, have taken to harassing citizens and destroying public property, even taking over whole villages.
They direct physical attacks primarily at politicians and journalists who support open societies and market economies. In one case last year a former center-right New Democracy minister was badly beaten by a group of militants in front of television cameras. No arrests were made. In another case a leading Greek journalist was accosted by a group of thugs while eating in a restaurant. A similar incident happened last month, the victim that time being a minister of the governing Panhellenic Socialist Movement. No arrests were made in those cases, either.
These “activists” also go for people who refuse to participate in strikes and demonstrations. In May 2010 three employees of the private bank Marfin suffocated to death when a hard-left mob fire-bombed their offices during a riot. Again, no arrests.
Then there are the various movements of “civil disobedience” organized by Greece’s hard-left groups. These include the “Den plirono” (“I won’t pay”) phenomenon, which amounts to supposedly brave refuseniks lifting barriers at motorway toll-booths and driving through without paying. This, even as their co-ideologues destroy bus and metro-ticket machines. Needless to say, these acts of theft and vandalism have gone unpunished. Now, to combat fare-dodging on public transport, the government has dispatched a new team of inspectors. Last night one of them was shot twice in the stomach by a bus passenger, and remains in critical condition.
Greek courts have tried to do their part by asserting that all of this is in fact illegal. Last summer the Communist Party organized hundreds of union members to block tourists from boarding ferries to Greek islands. Yet even after the courts ruled that the move was illegal, no arrests were made.
Is it any surprise, therefore, that there exist today areas of Greece where the government no longer exercises sovereignty? One such area is the village of Keratea, near Athens International Airport. Keratea’s inhabitants, supported by anarchist “freedom fighters” from the greater metropolitan area, have been engaged for two months in nearly daily pitched battles with the police, using firebombs, stones and rubble. Their proximate complaint is the government’s decision to construct a landfill near the village. But “if the Keratea model becomes accepted as a method of protesting,” writes Alexis Papahelas in the daily Kathimerini newspaper, “then the country will enter a very disquieting phase—a phase where the risk of civil strife should not be ridiculed as a fatalist forecast. After all, some people out there would really like to see Athens turn into a big Keratea.”
What stands out in all these incidents is the authorities’ inability or unwillingness to enforce the law. “Even if we arrest them, they will be out in no time,” a police officer in Athens told me on condition of anonymity. “Their political patrons will see to it.”
Many argue that Greece’s disintegration is the unavoidable consequence of the government’s attempt to enforce economic austerity. This seems doubtful. This meltdown can, however, be seen as the product of the totalitarian left’s open attempt to exploit the economic crisis and destroy Greece’s existing democratic and economic institutions. What we are witnessing is not a descent into chaos, but a descent into organized lawlessness. Sowing pandemonium and forcing Greece to default will, according Greek Stalinists’ analysis, bring nearer the moment when the country can follow the shining path of North Korea, or at least Chavista Venezuela.
What makes the situation worrisome is not so much the political strength of this movement. After all, the Communist Party and the Coalition of the Radical Left together claim no more than 13% popular support.
The problem, rather, lies with the political and ideological passivity of the parties that do represent Greece’s broader middle classes. The tolerance these democrats have shown toward their totalitarian counterparts has allowed the latter to play a leading role in shaping Greek public discourse. Do they imagine the favor would be returned if the Coalition of the Radical Left were in charge? Unlikely.
Unless Greece’s political elite realizes the seriousness of what’s happening and acts now to re-establish the rule of democratic law, their efforts to deal with Greece’s economic problems will have been in vain.
Mr. Michas is the international secretary for Greece’s new centrist-liberal party, the Democratic Alliance, founded last year by former Minister for Foreign Affairs Dora Bakoyannis.