(AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Thursday 11 December 2008
The shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos is seen by most people outside Greece as the reason for the wave of rioting across the country. For most young Greeks, however, this was another example of the government dealing them a bad hand, this time in the most brutal and politically explosive way possible. For Greek youth, this has become about much more than just Alexandros. He was the catalyst but not the cause of recent events.
I was there last September when Greece re-elected the country's centre-right party, New Democracy. However they voted, most young people wanted just that – a new democracy. They yearned then, as they do now, for the shadow of corruption to be lifted, the culture of backhanders to cease and the day-to-day nepotism to come to an end.
These problems have persisted under successive conservative and socialist administrations. Top-to-bottom corruption has created disillusionment. One young man at an election rally remarked to me that the UK is fortunate to have a "state that looks after your interests", rather than one in which officials are busy feathering their own nests. This is not a recent phenomenon. The problem has been simmering under the surface for many years.
Many young Greeks return from the UK, France, the USA and elsewhere with good qualifications, ready to embark on the task of finding a job. Many immediately find that several vacancies are not open to them, that they are overqualified for much of what remains and that those which are available are appallingly paid. Overcoming the way Greek society has operated for so long is not an easy challenge, but with so many in their 20s taking home just €650 per month you can understand why many are now protesting. Costas Karamanlis, the prime minister, needs to understand the day-to-day frustration faced by those who should be easily able to find work. A feeling of unfairness, poor treatment by incompetent authorities and a glass ceiling is widespread among the younger generation.
And if that bleak description is not sobering enough, remember that those who have found some form of employment are the fortunate ones. Imagine having worked assiduously for years, to come out of university with a good degree and find no work. With one in five 15- to 24-year-olds out of work, the joke is that most of Athens' taxi drivers are qualified engineers or architects. But it's no joke that so many skilled workers are forced into lowly jobs. To add insult to injury, it feels as if every time you open the newspaper, a new sex, money, church or corruption scandal involving a high-ranking minister has broken – a reminder of how the privileged are becoming even richer.
Greek politicians know what young people want and need. They are not asking for anything special: just a living wage and a meritocratic job market that would allow the most talented to achieve better things in the long term. The creation of jobs at all levels is needed. But time is ticking. The violence on the streets is there for all to see; the flight of professionals turning their backs on Greece is less obvious, but almost as big a problem.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008