Greeks on the street

February 13, 2012

Greeks smashing windows and setting fire to shops and banks in a fury of opposition to yet more austerity is gripping.  But it is hardly unique. A few years ago there were similar scenes for weeks after police shot a 15-year old schoolboy.  And back when I lived there, U.S. President Bill Clinton was treated to a similar welcome — mainly because of his military assault on Serbia (a fellow Christian Orthodox nation) during the Kosovo conflict.

There are doubtless degrees. The latest level of destruction was the worst since widespread riots in 2008 — and austerity being imposed on Greeks is very painful. But it is worth noting that there are two underlying elements than make such uprisings more common in Greece than elsewhere.

The first is a division in Greek society that goes back to at least the end of the second world war. The civil war that followed the end of the German occupation was brutal and split the country between those wanting western free market democracy and those favouring Soviet-style communism. This carried though into the 1967-74 junta.

The second element is the role of outsiders on Greek history. The Civil War brought in western intervention and the junta got U.S. support — to the deep-seated bitterness of those on the other side. Going back further — and Greeks have long historic memories — there are Persians, crusaders, Nazi Germans and the particularly hated Ottomans trying to make Greeks be something other than Greek. Here is a feature on it.

Add to that mix the Washington-based International Monetary Fund, the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank, the Brussels-based European Commission, derisive artilces in British and German tabloids and a drumbeat of tough talk from Berlin.

This is what happens when Greeks get their backs up about foreigners telling them what to do.

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  • About Jeremy

    "Chief Desk Editor, Economics & Politics, based in London. Previously European Investment Correspondent, Bureau Chief for Greece and Cyprus in Athens and Senior Correspondent for the European Union in Brussels. Began career covering U.S. politics in Washington D.C."
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