My generation has been fortunate enough to grow up in a society where the horrors of racial hatred were not the norm but the exception, where the rule of law — despite the rampant, by Scandinavian standards, corruption — prevailed over extremism, mass murder, hate crimes, street mobs and racial violence.
The events that took place this week in Athens are exceptional; not only in their barbarism, not only because they — collectively — in an almost cynical way, showcase all those fragments of fundamentally explosive issues present in hellenic society today (the lack of proper policing, extremism within the police force, the ghettoisation of the historic centre of Athens, rampant crime in some areas of the Hellenic capital, deep and criminally violent racial and nationalist sentiment among people of lesser intelligence, education and integrity), but because they are an embarrassment to all sane, decent Hellenes.
I cannot remember, in living memory, any instance where I felt a distinct similarity between the events happening in Greece to the Nazi Germany pogroms against Jews and communists of the 1930s; not only a sign of a society where the rule of law is totally absent, not only where the state fails to protect its citizens, but one in which the state, be it due to inability/incompetence, tolerance or will, encourages extremism; the near fatal beating of a protester by riot police corroborates the view that the state is, perhaps unwillingly, party to such actions.
With the Hellenic government having lost the support of a large number of people due to the financial crisis and the widespread criticism it faces from all sides of the political spectrum, any tolerance (let alone apparent encouragement by state employees) of extremism can and will most certainly bring about grave consequences for the people of this country, unless the it takes action and bring about justice. Justice that is blind, that doesn’t take sides, that is not a charade.
The police are bound to know by now — even if they didn’t before — of the identities of most of the criminal extremists that chased, attacked and injured immigrants, that destroyed and looted shops belonging to non-Greeks, in yesterday’s pogrom in Athens. Extremists that exploited the brutal murder of a Greek man, on his way to take his wife to the hospital to give birth, by three immigrants a few days earlier. Those people should face justice, in the same way the murderers of the Greek man and the riot policemen who almost killed a person for no reason should (suspending the policemen, as the government did, is no punishment for an act of this gravity).
Justice is a prerequisite to social peace and I’m afraid that — right now — you’d be hard pressed to find it in this country, no matter where you looked. Crime is rampant in parts of Athens, immigrant groups are afraid and persecuted by extremists, racial hatred is brewing and poverty is threatening a vast number of people. When the economy falters, the conditions are ripe for extremism, crime and unrest. It is the government’s job to bring all those responsible for illegal, let alone reprehensible actions to justice, no matter what their nationality, colour, haircut, or creed is, as soon as possible. Anything else risks inciting a cycle of violence and unravel this country’s social cohesion to a level unseen for many decades.