Nothing is more precious, nothing more precarious than peace. At this time, Greece is going through its most difficult phase since the restoration of democracy in 1974. The evidence of a breakdown of law and order is present everywhere, from the resurgence of domestic terrorism to a multitude of armed robberies taking place each week. The immediate cause of this is the collapse of police operations over the past few years. The underlying cause is the astonishing public apathy in the face of the mounting danger.
Northern Ireland knows very well the dangers and tragedy of a society consumed by violence. That’s why, straight after the murder of two soldiers and a policeman by rebel splinter groups of the Irish Republican Army, thousands of people gathered in silent protest in the streets of Belfast, Londonderry, Newry, Lisburn and Downpatrick. Many such protests had taken place during the three decades of intercommunal strife that preceded the 1998 agreement that lead to peace. But whereas those protests expressed hope in their demand for peace, reports from Northern Ireland this week betrayed a sense of desperation among most people lest their hard-won peace be destroyed.
In Greece there is neither hope nor despair, only a deafening silence. True, our country is not in danger of sliding into intercommunal violence. But every day we are witness to how violence is becoming a part of our lives. Much of the blame lies on government and state authorities for allowing people to get away with breaking the law all the time: allowing cars to park wherever drivers choose; turning a blind eye to violence at sports events over many decades; being too timid to deal decisively with urban guerrillas or extremist political groups; allowing no-go areas such as Exarchia in Athens or the village of Zoniana in Crete; being incompetent or indifferent in dealing with common, everyday criminality. The effect has been that people feel they can commit crimes with impunity, whereas those who are outraged by the crimes know that they cannot seek recourse anywhere. This leads to increased brazenness of criminals and resignation among members of the law-abiding public.
Right now we are in a state of apathy, perhaps not understanding the threat that violence poses to our society. But if civil society does not press the government into action, things will get worse, creating a chain reaction of violence. Either the state will be forced to take strong, anti-democratic measures, vigilante groups will spring up or criminals will triumph.
If the people do not cherish peace, they will have a harder battle to restore it once it is gone. And not only our politicians, but our very society will shoulder the blame for the catastrophe.
Milestones&Footnotes comment in AthensPlus, 13 March 2009