Riots in Greece aftermath – les Fleurs Du Male

It is inevitable that the sun will rise at the beginning of a new day. Not every day; but on most days this simple truth has held true so far.

The prevailing opinion was that “Greece is relatively sheltered from the crisis”; “Greece is fairly stable financially speaking”. Well, these famous last words didn’t last long before reality suddenly came crashing in, doing away with what can easily be now called wishful thinking. Out of seemingly nowhere, pent-up anger, frustration, even rage consumed the centers of all major Greeks cities for a few days – for Athens and Thessaloniki, the two largest cities, that was about two weeks.

All hell broke loose, as “anarchists” burned down cars, banks, shops and everything that was readily accessible. Almost without fail, day after day, a bit after the sun disappeared into the Greek seas, the Greek mainland was burned down by the angry protesters. Shop owners would not repair the damages, as they knew that come next day, they’d have to repair them anew. And in the morning, the smell of freshly burned garbage fouled major streets and avenues where real estate value in the not so distant past soared at several thousand Euros per m2. This, day after day, was what life in the center of Thessaloniki and Athens was like – not in 1821, the date Greece became an independent state, but in 2008.

The Greek political system was slow to respond, if it did respond at all. In a climate of despair and pending doom, trapped into a whirlwind of scandals and widespread corruption, ranging from Siemens to the “holy scandals” of Vatopedio, the government obviously decided to wait this one out. And so did the opposition. To be quite frank, nobody here in Greece knows where either party stands – or what really happened during this time. The whole thing is but a blur for most and what’s left is essentially just a severe case of hangover.

In a somewhat spectacular move, the Greek Prime Minister decided to compensate the shop owners using (much needed elsewhere) public money. But their real problem is revenue lost during Christmas season – usually the most profitable season – not their broken windows and displays. And their problem will become everyone’s problem come middle/end of January, when they will be forced to lay off their at least part of their sales force, in an attempt to cut costs down and avoid bankruptcy. Guessing is a dangerous game, but at this time it is a lot safer to bet on the pessimistic scenario and sell any government induced optimism short. Which is exactly what the Athens Stock Exchange has done, dropping continuously while global markets mostly moved sideways or even went up a bit.

In fact this very move added injury to insult, as the Greek government, not long ago, in an unprecedented move heavily taxed all self-employed professionals, by abolishing the 0% taxation bracket for the first EUR 9,500 of income earned. That income is now taxed at 10%; the government is effectively seeking to collect an extra EUR 950 from each self-employed individual (on top of what they usually pay). One of the cruelest taxation measures ever to put forward in any EU state, this may be the reason – or one of the main reasons – why the so-called “middle class” remained largely on the sidelines, not voicing discontent at the protests and the widespread looting; even shop owners were seen live on prime time TV and news agreeing with protesters, although, obviously, they did disagree with the widespread destruction of cars and shops (though notably – and quite interestingly – not banks!).

But in the country where tragedy was born, there is also a place for comedy – the government and the prefecture of Athens engaged in a bizarre power play regarding whether shops would remain open or not on Sunday 28. The prime minister “prompted” shop owners to open their shops on Sunday; this seemingly required some kind of law to be passed, but the law was never put forward by the government, so the prefecture (controlled by the opposition) decided that shops would remain closed this Sunday. Shop owners protested, the opposition blamed the government, and the prefecture promptly changed their decision “in view of new data” (what a change a day brings!) and endorsed a very obscure legal interpretation to get out of the deadlock.

It is inevitable that the sun will rise at the beginning of a new day. Not every day; but on most days this simple truth has held true so far. However, sometimes and in some countries, it may take a while between two successive appearances of the life-giving god of sun; and the blame lies not on any god of winter whatsoever.

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