Yet in the French riots it was easy to translate and see who the rioters were. I didn't get the impression that it was an immigrant underclass rioting in Greece. Everyone seems cheesed off over there. Yet, as I blogged in October, there is a perceived problem with immigration and crime in Greece. What's going on now ?
Time to do some Googling.
A quick look at Greek demographics. Pretty much par for the European course - ageing population, not enough children. Not tremendously high numbers of immigrants compared to say the UK - but they've probably arrived over a shorter period of time. I must say, if you were running one of the most corrupt countries in the EU, do you think another half-million Albanians would improve things ?
Majority Rights (apologies in advance for the commenters) reckon it started with trouble involving asylum seekers, and a leftist demo in support thereof, during which the youth got shot.
Seems eminently possible as a trigger, and a blackout on the asylum angle likewise - but why are the riots going on and on, with seeming widespread anti-Government feeling ? Greece has had an anti-Western far left for 30 years or more - where's all the support coming from now ?
"What marks this out is the comment from Stathis Anestis, spokesman for a federation of private sector unions. He says: "Participation in the strike is total, the country has come to a standstill." Banks, schools and public transport are shut and hundreds of flights in and out of the country have been cancelled as air traffic controllers also went on strike.An English Teacher in Thessalonika describes what appear to be Left-Right battles :
The level of unrest here, and the huge support for direct action, is clearly more than a rump of disaffected youths running amok. The whole country is crying out, and there is clearly something seriously and fundamentally wrong."
In Greece's second city anarchists occupying caused extensive damage to the Law and Theology department in the university campus.
In Patra and Larissa angry citizens attacked protesters in the cities universities. In addition riot police allowed groups of youths to throw rocks back at anarchist protesters in the university of Thessaloniki (see video here).Greek prime minister, Kosas Karamanlis last night went on TV to make a call for national unity after pleas by the government for claim over the death of 15 year old Alexandros Gigoropoulos went unheeded.
But it's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at the Telegraph who reckons he's nailed it. The Greeks apparently fiddled the stats to gain Euro entry :
Greece's euro membership has now led to a warped economy. The current account deficit is 15pc of GDP, the eurozone's highest by far. Indeed, the deficit ($53bn) is the sixth biggest in the world in absolute terms -- quite a feat for a country of 11m people.Plenty of underlying rot in the UK, too. I guess it takes a lot to get the stolid English going, unlike the excitable sons of the Med.
Year after year of high inflation has eroded the competitive base of the economy. This is an insidious and slow effect, and very hard to reverse. Tourists are slipping away to Turkey, or Croatia. It will take a long time to lure them back.
The underlying rot was disguised by the global credit bubble, and by the Greek property boom. It is now being laid bare.
I've been wondering about Spain, too. Catastrophic demographics much worse than the UKs, an idiot left government that makes Tony Blair look like Franco (did you know that some human rights legislation was extended to "our evolutionary comrades", apes and gorillas, this summer ?), mass immigration and a property collapse worse than the UKs, the highest unemployment in the EU - it doesn't look good at all.
While the violence was triggered by the death of a 15-year old boy, the underlying motives of the protest obviously run deeper. The hard left can mobilize demos because the youth unemployment is endemic and because the goverment is being forced by economic constraints to adopt a hair-shirt policy at a very bad moment. At some stage a major political party - perhaps PASOK - will start to reflect whether it can carry out its spending and economic revival plans under the constraints of a chronically over-valued currency (for Greek needs). Then there will be a problem.
I am a little surpised that the riot phase of this long politico-economic drama known as EMU has kicked off so soon, and that it has done so first in Greece where the post-bubble hangover has barely begun.
The crisis is much further advanced in Spain, which is a year or two ahead of Greece in the crisis cycle.
Mr Evans Pritchard is a hell-in-a-handcart merchant who even I think may be a tad too pessimistic (he also thinks that the recent Chinese devaluation may trigger 1930s style protectionist wars - with all their concomitant unpleasantness) - and I'm not at all sure what the link is between immigration to Greece and the wrong valuation of the drachma at Euro entry, or immigration to Spain and the Spanish housing boom. But our government seem to share his fears, if the recent police harassment of political opponents and attempts to extend powers of detention without trial are any guide.
My old job as Europe correspondent based in Brussels led me to spend a lot of time in cities that struck me as powder kegs - and indeed became powder kegs in the case of Rotterdam following the murder of Pim Fortyn, and Antwerp following the Muslim street riots (both of which I covered as a journalist). Lille, Strasbourg, Marseilles, Amsterdam, Brussels, all seemed inherently unstable, and I do not get the impression that the big cities of Spain and Italy are taking kindly to new immigrants.
The picture is going to get very ugly as Europe slides deeper into recession next year. The IMF expects Spain's unemployment to reach 15pc. Immigrants are already being paid to leave the country. There will be riots in Spain too (there have been street skirmishes in Barcelona).
Hedge funds, bond vigilantes, and FX traders will be watching closely. In the end, a currency union is no stronger than the political will of the constituent states.No doubt events will be ugly in Britain as well.
UPDATE - I'm still not sure that the above totally explains things. If anyone has any decent links, please drop them in the comments - remembering that blogger comments can't deal with links longer than 40 or 50 characters. Chop them up or use tinyurl to shorten them.