The deep fault lines within Greek society have exploded this week, with huge riots erupting across the country. The causes for the violence are myriad, but considering that part of the cause is the global economic stress, anyone in Europe watching the images on TV right now must be feeling at least a pang of dread. With so much uncertainly looming, there are plenty of people who fear scenes like this could be coming with more frequency across the continent.
The riots were immediately sparked by the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old protestor by police over the weekend, but the severity and length of the violence indicates that this is about much more than the shooting. Even though the country is prone to rioting from a strong left-wing student movement, this is the worst civil disorder to hit the country for decades according to reports. Schools across the country have been shut down, and transport has also come to a standstill. Most of the damage has been against property: luxury hotels, banks, any strong symbol of capitalism. The targets indicate that it is the economic reforms of prime minister Kostas Karamanlis that are driving people to the streets.
Students have a long and respected history of protest in Greece: it was they who brought the right-wing military junta down in the 1970's, and after that students were given special privileges to protest by the new government (similar to what happened in Spain in the 1970's). Police are not allowed to enter university campuses to arrest students, and during these riots students have used the campuses to regroup in between flare-ups of violence.
The government is saying that the police officer who shot the boy is going to be charged with manslaughter. Police say the boy was shot as he and some other young protesters were pelting a police car with stones. They say he was shot as he tried to throw a fuel-filled bomb at the police.
Greece is reeling right now from the effects of the global economic downturn; it has been hit harder than other European countries. The economic hardship has resulted in new flare-ups between the right and left in this country, both very powerful and both seething with hatred for the other side. As Europe watches the violence unfold, there must be fears in other countries with strong leftist movements that if the economic troubles get worse, these tensions between the right and left could flare up in their own countries as well.