Anarchists tossing firebombs celebrated the Greek government's latest round of economic austerity measures. In their violent revelry's afterglow, four dozen or so Athenian buildings became party candles and 150 Athenian shops provided presents to any rioter willing to loot them.
As for the majority of the 80,000 Greek demonstrators protesting austerity measures? Violent provocateurs hijacked their peaceful assembly. According to media reports, the morning-after carnage left them shaken and dismayed. Fires burned two iconic movie theaters, one with particular architectural significance. Government security officials claimed the shop looting was preplanned. A New York Times reporter found a doorman who had witnessed arson. "It felt like war," the doorman told the reporter. "I could not believe I was in Athens."
Genuine anguish. The question is, did this dose of organized anarchy -- an oxymoron and menacing reality -- leave a lasting lesson, one that will strengthen the Greek public's political will to address their nation's desperate economic condition?
Greece's coalition government is touting its leadership. Despite the riots, the government said it will stand by the latest austerity agreement and Greece will remain a euro-zone member. That latest deal reportedly cut 15,000 government jobs and lowered the minimum wage by some 20 percent. Defense was another 300 billion euros. A senior Greek economic official said the Greek people must choose between bad and worse. He's right.
Tough rhetoric from a fragile government. Over the last 10 days, several politicians have quit the coalition. Far left and far right political groups smell the weakness. The extremists totally reject austerity. Their solution? Put us in charge. Meanwhile, we'll toss firebombs.
The Greek economic and political crisis, which is also an identity crisis, follows a repetitive cycle -- a vicious that violent political extremists see as an opportunity. We have witnessed the un-merry-go-round for over four years. The Greek economic crisis deepens. Creditors and economic modernizers demand reform. The Greek government debates reform, occasionally showing the political will to implement it. Functionally, that means budget-cutting (austerity) in order to reduce debt and begin economic restructuring. Opponents, however, blame foreign interests, conspiratorial capitalists and other sinister forces.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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