December may come tomorrow

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Professor Nikos Alivizatos was one of the people who best described the rage-filled days of last December. He witnessed the scene of a teenage boy, aged somewhere between 15 and 16, wearing a red bandanna across the bottom of his face, rather than the customary black hooded sweatshirt, kicking a trash dumpster with fury before setting it alight in front of stunned passers-by as he shouted: "Take that Ephraim!"

"I doubt," wrote the professor, "whether the young arsonist knew who head monk Ephraim is or anything about the Vatopedi Monastery. Nevertheless, I believe that this scene, as it was broadcast all over the Internet, condenses better than a thousand words the meaning of the uprising we have experienced over the past few days." (Kathimerini, December 14, 2008)

Of course, Ephraim and the Vatopedi land-exchange scandal had no cause-and-effect relationship with those events. That explosive period of December 2008 had to do with so many little things that had gradually built up to create the general feeling that the law is enforced selectively. It had to do with a nebulous, yet very real, rage aimed at a state that many, especially the young, feel expends its severity on the weak while being benevolent to the powerful.

A political, economic or diplomatic scandal is incapable in and of itself of lighting the fuse, as was the case with the shooting of a teenage boy by a police officer in Exarchia. But the buildup of scandal and disappointment in the authorities and institutions can provide the kindling that a random shooting can easily ignite.

This thing that we call society is a chaotic system of human relations and collective action that can be stirred by the smallest gust of wind under the right circumstances, and no one can predict from where this gust may come. The only thing that society can do, and this via politics, is to ensure that a gust does not escalate into a storm and this can only happen if we realize just how important our institutions are.

«Kathimerini» English Edition, 5.6.2009