December 23, 2008 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexei Chichkin, Alexander Rublev


Last year, Hellas was struck with fires, today – with youth insurgency

Massive youth riots in Greece, ostensibly provoked by a policeman who killed a 15 year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, coincide with the 60th anniversary of the end of the civil war that had lasted for four years, resulting in thousands of casualties and a 30,000 wave of emigration.

Western experts and mass media associate the anarchist outrage in Greece with social instability resulting from poor economic governance, expressed in increasing unemployment and decline of living standards. The combination of global financial crisis and upsurge of leftist political forces has supposedly culminated in massive riots. However, this explanation does not wholly explain the geography of the riots, as well as the aggression of the youth not only against state institutions and private property but also against the Orthodox Church.

Anarchist groupings have got a strong base in Greece for decades. The oldest of them, Sinta and Strike Units, date back to the underground youth movement of the times of dictatorship. The Sinta network, lately reviving and spreading to London and Paris, recruits new members from unemployed youth and radical students. Athens has remained a fomenting ground of anarchism due to the fact that in this country, police units are not allowed to enter universities. Greek anarchists are represented in the national parliament by the Leftist Radical Union (SIRIZA) and supported by a part of the Communist Party of Greece.

Similarly to the 2005 pogroms in Paris, the Greek riots massively involve ethnic minorities. In Athens and Thessaloniki, youth demonstrations involved a lot of immigrants from Albania. The group of students detained for desecration of the national flag involved an Albanian student.

One of the most serious riots erupted in Janina, center of the Epirus province that is included in the "Greater Albania" projects by ethnic extremists. Albanian involvement in this city, where the youth occupied the city hall, the radio station and a number of other key authorities for several days, was most spectacular.

Beside territorial claims, the Albanian minority is opposed to the government of Greece for its reluctance to officially recognize Kosovo, despite pressure from the United States. The government of Kostas Karamanlis, committed for partnership with the Orthodox Church of Hellas, is pursuing an independent foreign policy.

However, the popularity of Karamanlis's New Democracy Party is declining on the background of the economic crisis. According to recent polls, in case parliamentary elections were held today, 143 seats would be won by the oppositionist All-Greek Socialist Movement (PASOK), 87 by New Democracy, 26 by SIRIZA, 22 by the Communist Party, and 12 by the Popular Orthodox Assembly. In addition, some seats could be gained by Green Ecologists, a potential partner of PASOK.

Still, the Greek majority does not favor the idea of snap elections, while Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis is still a more popular political figure than PASOK chairman Georgios Papandreu.

Will the government of Karamanlis endure the current massive riots? Greek analysts and experts admit that the anarchist movement may receive more support from outside. The geopolitical background of the conflict also involves the aspect of European energy policy, as the incumbent government is committed for cooperation with Russian in the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline project.

During last year's massive forest fires, widely interpreted as a result of arson, Greek journalist Christophoros Christopoulos asked: "In other countries, such pipeline projects are punished by Americans by means of orange revolutions, wars and riots; what is Greece going to encounter?" The damage from youth riots is comparable to the effects of last year's fires, though the political implications may be more serious.

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