Thursday, December 11, 2008

Civil unrest, state of emergency: who’s next?

You don’t take to the streets and go on a rampage because the latest video game you bought does not quite quench your thirst for violence - if there is such a thing – or because you suffer from heavy attention seeking behaviour. You do it because you’re left with no other choice… By Vinz.

The Greek riots are a cold reminder of what shook up France at the end of 2005. To outsiders, it's easy to relate these two sad events: similar violent pictures and TV broadcasts, protestors clashing with police, vehicles and shops in flames, burning barricades across the streets, stores being looted, schools being damaged, etc…

Both of these riots were identically triggered. On the one hand, the death of two French youths of African and Arabic origins in the Parisian suburbs, as they were chased by the police for alleged burglary. On the other, a Greek teenager shot dead by the police for having thrown stones at an armed patrol, as stated by most reports. That is, two disproportionate responses that made it the last straw, as well as the same sort of controversy over what sparked the incidents.

Both the French and Greek troubles started in the capital cities. Both did spread through the whole country. Both of these riots are the worse seen since the latest major unrests in these two countries: 1968 in France - massive student protests - and 1974 in Greece - student uprising against the military dictatorship. Not to mention that both countries are member of the EU, meant to be a steady region.

Similar anger and discontent have been building up among the disillusioned French and Greek youths. France and Greece also have in common a high unemployment rate, especially among young people. That said, the riots' underlying issues and the pre-existing tensions are fare more complex, and their causes are slightly different. It is acknowledged that the social context in the banlieues (French suburban areas), where the 2005 turmoil started, was one of the main reason for the events in France.

The population of these devastated and appalling housing projects areas, mostly poor working-class immigrants’ communities, has suffered social and racial exclusion for decades. Indeed France has always been hiding its shameless practice and tradition of racism, xenophobia and ethnic discrimination. In that respect, these people blatantly don’t feel integrated within the French society, and cannot identify with it.

None of the latest governments have been able to address this issue. And it might take a while until they do. Funny enough, France likes to call itself le pays des droits de l`Homme (the country of Human Rights).

In Greece, the riots seem to find their roots in the incapacity of the government to deliver its promises and gain the trust of its own people. Over the last days, various reports and testimonies mentioned corruption and tax scandals, as well as failures in the legal and justice systems. The government is blamed for being out for itself, for only serving the rich and ignoring the poor. A wide range of the population seems to be now involved in the protest, from thugs to bored rich kids through leftist groups. All of this in Greece, the country where democracy was born centuries ago. As opposed to France’s president Jacques Chirac in 2005, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is now clearly under pressure from both protesters and opposition parties to resign (see Athenian democracy in ruins and New riots erupt around Greek funeral).

The French riots went on for about three months, until the “tolerance zero” policy declared by the Inner Minister at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy (Who???), got the last word. In Greece, the troubles only started a week ago, and the country is now going on general strikes. It is obviously difficult and too early to tell how the government will respond in the mid-long term or when the situation will be back to “normal”…

At the other end of the world, as reported by The Guardian (International edition, Saturday 09/12), the Chinese government, within the context of the economic crisis, has issued warnings of possible increases in menaces to social stability as consequences of mass unemployment. All in all, the anger of youths and populations might not only be a French or Greek concern, but a global one. To be continued?


Anonymous said...

Those Greeks and French have just too much tesosterone. They need to calm down a bit.

claude said...
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