September 2, 2014

Greece: No Faith in Ourselves

Writing for the Foreign Policy Research Institute on Dec. 19, Cornelia A. Tsakiridou rightly points to the breakdown of the rule of law as one of the most deplorable outcomes of these riots. Tsakiridou is Associate Professor and Director of the Diplomat-in-Residence Program at La Salle University.

The spectacle of young people (and assorted criminals, leftwing extremists, and self-proclaimed anarchists) on a smash-and-burn spree wrapping themselves in the mantle of justice, martyrdom, and victimhood is only rivaled by that of a government incapable of making a clear and effective distinction between political grievance and thuggery, lawlessness and the rule of law.

Despite attempts in the national and international press (among them Le Monde and The Guardian) to give a deeper dimension to the Greek riots and to offer a mix of elaborate psychological and sociological explanations, the truth may actually be rather plain. The riots happened because the legal mechanisms designed to protect the public interest remained idle. The reasons are not difficult to surmise.

First, in Greece the public domain is the designated arena of political and personal advancement. Thus, except in rhetoric, there is effectively no concept of public interest to uphold and defend. There have been no counter-demonstrations demanding that the violence, looting, and destruction stop because they are against the public good. Second, many in the public apparently sympathize with the rioters’ stance that state corruption justifies state disruption. Third, an increasing number of Greeks across the political spectrum believe that the riots are the result of sinister foreign designs too powerful for any Greek government to deter.

In a commentary, Kathimerini’s AthensPlus points to Greece’s inability to “escape the burdens of the past” and the break down of major institutions, including the Orthodox Church.

When we talk about institutions we mean the government and political parties, the Church, the judiciary, the police (and military), the education system and other parts of the bureaucracy and state organizations that are supposed to serve the citizen. The news media and businesses follow, to a lesser extent. In all these sectors, we have been conditioned to expect the worst in all our dealings with those who wield any power. We know that the system of political favors and clientelism is just as prevalent now as it was since the establishment of modern Greece. Those with connections can exploit the power of the state to their own benefit; those without connections get their only revenge by voting for populist parties, following populist media and serving as a lynch mob when this suits others who are in power. The few benefit, the many muddle along and are kept in line mostly by their inordinate fascination with the lives of the richer and more famous.

We do not expect our institutions to work for us, irrespective of who we are. We have to fend for ourselves, against the modern equivalent of antiquity’s brutal and arbitrary gods. In our moral universe we combine ingrained fear and superstition with the need to benefit our friends and harm our enemies. In this, we never graduated to seeing the whole nation as our friend and the national interest as our own. Even Greece’s greatest moments – such as its heroic national effort in World War II – were an interlude, a break from endless internecine strife.

A view consistent with the observation here.

The partisan policies of the state have been incompatible to its image as a neutral arbiter, above political cleavages and social interests. Inevitably, the ideological hegemony of the Greek state has been always extremely weak and the traditional attitude of the citizens towards it one of contempt and mistrust. Professor Langrod, an expert who had been invited by the Greek Government in the 1960’s in order to suggest a reform of the civil service, located as one of the most serious problems of the public sector the “inherent hostility of the Greeks towards the authorities.”

Meanwhile …

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