Several cities and towns all over Greece have been rioting ever since Saturday saw Greek police shoot dead a 15 year old boy in Central Athens. Over the past four days Thessaloniki, Patras, Chania and Athens itself have witnessed demonstrators engaging in violent running battles with riot police. Today is the day of Alexandros Andreas Grigoropoulos' funeral, in fact it's going on as I write. If anything, this has intensified passions rather than bringing closure. To be sure, on the surface this outburst of feeling is due to the death of a child, but would such unrest be so widespread and so prolonged if there was not some underlying social discontent in Greece?
The Government has a majority of only one in Parliament and that is reflected by its unpopularity with the general public. With rioters calling for the Government's resignation, it is very clear that these days of chaos and grief are collectively a platform for ordinary people to express their dissatisfaction with their leaders. The Government is becoming more and more aware of this by the minute. The interior minister Prokopis Povlopoulous tendered his resignation on the actual night of the fatal shooting. Prime Minister Konstandinos Karamanlis has been meeting with President Karolos Papoulias and members of the Opposition, as well as appealing for calm. I get the feeling such appeals will fall on deafened ears.
One major reason for the Government getting no love is the country's current economic crisis. The fact that many of the banks have been smashed up by protesters' bricks and bottles and that there's a general strike due to start tomorrow is perhaps indicative of this. Unemployment rates are rising and young people in particular are fearful for their futures, maybe partially explaining why many of the rioters are students. The people who are still in work often have to survive on just 600 euros per month, as well as contending with high taxes and costs. As the BBC say, many feel it's a case of "European prices, African wages".
This got me thinking about whether or not we will see such violent discontent in other European centres who are suffering financially. In 1848 there were revolts across much of Mainland Europe, including Italian states, German states, France, the Hasburg Empire, Hungary and Switzerland. This revolutionary wave even spread to places far from Europe, namely Brazil and Sri Lanka. No wonder it was called the Year of Revolution.
Although there was a wide variety of different reasons for each revolution, one of the factors many of the affected areas had in common was the presence of an economic downturn, albeit an economic downturn different in cause and nature to the one Europe and the rest of the world is presently enduring. A main feature of the mid-nineteenth century continental unrest was a resentment of the class system, rigid in its structure, a structure that put the nobility, middle classes, peasantry and urban workers all in their place.
Although the class system in present day Europe is more fluid, that does not necessarily mean there is no current premise for more violent uproar. If it's happening in Greece right now, then where next?