...the riots' relative absence from European and North American front pages proves that—the rhetoric of European unity aside—not all European countries are taken equally seriously. Although they are members of the European Union, the Greeks' major contribution to European foreign policy is their stubborn insistence (for reasons truly too complex to repeat here) on blocking international recognition of the Republic of Macedonia unless it changes its name to FYROM—the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia—an acronym that everybody else finds laughable. On the domestic front, the Greeks are best known for having faked the economic data they needed in order to join the euro currency.
I once spent an evening at dinner with the son of Greek PM Papandreou, head of PASOK, while he was Prime Minister and young Nikos explained to me and my Greek-heritage wife the way a system of corruption worked throughout Greece from the smallest town to the large regional capitals. He said the country was completely balkanized [Robert Kagan alludes to this in his book The Balkans and not in a federal sense or even local loyalty sense. Just atomized.
There may also be other, more local, explanations for why these riots feel as if they are taking place so far away from mainstream events. Greek political scientist Stathis Kalyvas argues brilliantly that they are facilitated by Greece's unique political culture: In the years since it overthrew military rule, the Greek political class has come to treat civil disobedience, even violent and destructive civil disobedience, as "almost always justified, if not glorified." Rioting is a "fun and low-risk activity, almost a rite of passage"; the anarchist subculture that thrives in central Athens is "abetted, and in some instances endorsed" by Greece's left-wing parties and mainstream newspapers.
And yet—even if Greece is unserious, even if anarchist subculture has uniquely deep roots in Athens, even if Greek corruption and youth unemployment are unusually high—it's a mistake to dismiss these riots as altogether peripheral. If nothing else, they show what can happen to a highly developed, post-ideological society where organized politics no longer interests large groups of people. One sympathizer says the rioters can be divided into three groups: communists, anarchists, and "younger people who like to think that they are anarchists but … don't know what they stand for. They are the ones who have been looting … they feel the only way to make themselves heard is to do these things."
Another describes the anarchist world of Exharia, approvingly, as "a parallel society with parallel values and parallel ideas." Yet another told a reporter that the tiny shops near the university deserved to be looted because they represent "the corporate machine." The thinking here isn't exactly sophisticated: This is a revolution, among other things, being conducted to the strains of Pink Floyd ("We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control"). Some are also blaming the weakness of Greece's mainstream social democrats, who, like social democrats elsewhere in Europe, have lately lost ground to the further left and are having trouble attracting young people. But I'm guessing the problem runs even deeper: The fact is that political parties in general are weak everywhere, and democracy is therefore weak, too.
The center cannot hold and a motley moron group like Pink Floyd floats like a pig over rioting looters exhibiting "Rage Against the Machine."
Happily, even the EU comical cavalcade of clowns is above the silliness of Greece devolving into its mindless constituencies. Wonder if Victor Davis Hanson can update his War Like No Other to update Thucydides on the civil strife going on now in the EU's leper colony.