Cities across Greece have been burning in widespread rioting for the past four days with no end in sight. It all began in Athens where a fifteen year old boy is shot dead by the police in what is seen as murder, and the city is set ablaze, the fires of discontent moving swiftly across the country, into the outer islands in the Aegean. Stores have been looted and torched along with motor vehicles in major cities of Salonika, Patras and Piraeus.
A rash of financial and political scandals had steadily eroded the popularity of the Karamanlis government, creating a tinderbox that only needed the spark of the teenager’s shooting to achieve ignition. What has exacerbated the situation even more is the proposal of amendments to Greece’s pension, which has drawn a wider cross-section of the population into the protest.
As the country braces itself for major strikes, port workers, hospital doctors, hotel employees, air traffic controllers, teachers and gas station employees are among those who have already walked off the job. Olympic Airlines, the state air carrier cancelled dozens of domestic and international flights, and rail transport ground to a halt as stranded tourists tried to navigate their way out of the country home. Power blackouts and over 75,000 of uncollected garbage in Athens alone are part of the chaos.
The strikes precede Thursday’s parliamentary vote on a controversial bill that would eliminate most early retirement schemes and amalgamate 133 pension funds into around a dozen. The bill would also raise the age of retirement for working mothers with children under age 18 from 50 to 55 and would increase it for other women from 62 to age 65, n par with the retirement age for men. Incentives would also be introduced to encourage employees to work past age 65.
The Greeks decided they had had enough, and the authorities needed to know.
Those who believe Jamaica’s Prime Minister Golding is having sleepless nights over the mayhem in Greece really don’t understand the Jamaican people very well. There is this undercurrent of popular belief that suggests the tribulation being faced by the government in the cradle of democracy could possibly come to pass on our island; that the disaffected masses, tempers seething for decades, will suddenly come to their senses and take to the streets in fury to show the authorities that they have had enough.
Not a chance. For one, we’re too seasoned for that. We only take to the streets en masse for righteous causes, and police shooting 15-year-old youths is not one of them. Borrowing from our pension funds or redirecting National Housing Trust funds? Hardly likely. Our attention spans are short, so the demonstrations we stage are short-lived and are thankfully limited to setting tires on fire and barricading thoroughfares.
Some of us look down on the few who mount demonstrations for poor roads, lack of utilities, and on those setting up the occasional roadblock to protest the wanton killing of a community member. The mourning is usually confined within the borders of the community. We take to the streets en masse to exterminate any suspected wrongdoers we can lay our hands on, or to deliiver a sound beating to those who offend us by being of the wrong sexual orientation.
We are so seasoned, that the police killed five in Tivoli early this year, and only the bereaved remember. Too much has happened since then, and the situation is fluid as we keep moving on to the next outrage. We are so seasoned that with hundreds of our children missing and nearly 70 brutally murdered since the start of the year, we still have not had enough.
When the convener of Hear the Children’s Cry took to the streets to protest the murder of the innocents with the memory of Ananda Dean still fresh in her mind, many of us opted to be at the National Stadium watching the Reggae Boyz face-off with Canada in a World Cup qualifier. You must be crazy to think we could miss that event. Fewer than 300 answered the call to protest the murder toll.
It takes more than political scandals, governmental fraud and police shootings to unseat us. It takes more than government officials even photographed with their hands in the cookie jar to truly raise our ire. And those who would advocate on behalf of individuals and families experiencing state-approved violence who have lost parents and children to heavy-handed policing; those who would question one of the hundreds of police shootings reported, we label them “criminal-sympathizers.”
Well, while we vilified her, the world has honored one of our own criminal-sympathizers, one who has never been sufficiently recognized in her own country to receive any of those fancy orders reserved for great Jamaicans on National Heroes Day.
When Dr. Carolyn Gomes of Jamaicans for Justice returns to the island from receiving her international Human Rights Award in the halls of the United Nations in New York, we will still not have understood the significance of the recognition conferred upon her. She will take her place among the pantheon of Jamaica’s Great Ones, whose accomplishments we ignore or fail to acknowledge until the world honors them.
Our twisted mentality allows us to reward the architects of the partisan politics of division, annointing them with the highest orders of our land. Now that their plans have achieved frightful fruition we gaze in horror, finding that the country has been hijacked by armed thugs in and out of uniform. The recent Gravel Heights eviction in Jamaica has spoken volumes.
Those Greeks should have followed Jamaica’s example to avoid the burst of violence and terror they now experience at the hand of some misguided youths. They could have staved off this lock-down, had they only examined Jamaica’s secret to keeping the peace and the tourists coming, even with our runaway murder rate and culture of corruption. But it is not too late.
The Greeks need to organize a few prayer breakfasts, all-night prayer vigils, and call a fast. Their newspapers would be well advised to take a page out of The Gleaner with its column “What’s good about Jamaica”, and have famous Greek nationals write about “What’s good about Greece”. All this keeps people feeling good about their country, lifts the gloom, and all thoughts of rebellion and anarchy simply fade away.
Violence is not the answer. The real message in this, the pension debacle notwithstanding, is that all it took was one, just one incident of brutality as the excuse to bring a nation to the streets in unity, and a government to its knees, just one teen shot by the police, but for the Greeks, one too many.
For us in the land we dare to call blessed, how many more will have to suffer, how many more will have to die?