US embassy cable - 08ATHENS1692

GREEK RIOTS - WHAT HAPPENED AND HOW THEY IMPACT U.S. INTERESTS

Identifier: 08ATHENS1692
Wikileaks: View 08ATHENS1692 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Athens
Created: 2008-12-18 13:00:00
Classification: SECRET
Tags: PREL SOCI ASEC PHUM ECON TU MK GR
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2941
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RHMFISS/EUCOM POLAD VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 ATHENS 001692 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/17/2018 
TAGS: PREL, SOCI, ASEC, PHUM, ECON, TU, MK, GR 
SUBJECT: GREEK RIOTS - WHAT HAPPENED AND HOW THEY IMPACT 
U.S. INTERESTS 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Daniel V. Speckhard for 1.4 (b) and (d) 
 
------- 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
1.  (C) The riots that began in Greece following the December 
6 police shooting of a teenager have shocked even the most 
cynical of Greeks, and have resulted in hundreds of millions 
of Euros in economic damage.  The unrest has deeply polarized 
society, with youth of all socio-economic backgrounds 
generally supporting the demonstrations, and most people over 
thirty condemning the violence.  Although it is difficult to 
pinpoint the exact causes of the riots, major contributing 
factors included: 
-- the insular, hothouse atmosphere of Greece's few hundred 
ultra-radical "anarchists;" 
-- popular frustration with corruption and political leaders; 
-- the disillusionment of the youth, who see fewer economic 
opportunities than previous generations did; 
-- irresponsible and inflammatory media coverage branding the 
shooting as cold-blooded murder; 
-- demoralized Greek security forces, weakened by post-junta 
limits and public distrust; and 
-- popular sympathy (and in some cases nostalgia) for the 
radical left and public tolerance of expressions of 
opposition through violent means. 
 
2.  (C) The government response was characterized by PM 
Karamanlis' absence, and most government announcements were 
left to Minister of Interior Pavlopoulos.  The government 
apparently instructed the police to respond solely with a 
defensive posture.  We believe the Prime Minister wanted to 
avoid any additional deaths or any platform for grievances 
and negotiations with the authorities (such as an occupied 
government building).  Many Greeks believe the Karamanlis 
government mishandled the situation -- both by not taking a 
tougher stance against the violence but also by having 
allowed socioeconomic conditions to deteriorate.  Thus, most 
Greeks, including those who would normally be Karamanlis 
supporters, now believe it is only a matter of time before 
the PM has to call new elections, although Karamanlis appears 
resolutely opposed to doing so.  We expect the opposition to 
continue to press hard to bring down the government, and we 
expect the government to take steps to show leadership and 
action, including likely Cabinet changes. 
 
3.  (S) U.S. interests will be affected.  Constrained by the 
unrest, the Greek government will be even more 
inwardly-focused than usual.  Greece will likely be unwilling 
or unable to take bold actions on regional foreign policy 
issues, including the Macedonia name issue, relations with 
Turkey, or pressing the Greek Cypriots on negotiations in 
Cyprus.  The government bureaucracy, ever cautious, will 
become even more wary in the face of political uncertainty, 
making it harder to address other issues on our agenda, 
including commercial, educational, security, and human rights 
issues.  Finally, there are precedents in Greece for domestic 
terrorist groups to strike in the wake of major civil unrest, 
taking advantage of exhausted and demoralized security 
forces.  We will need to continue to monitor aggressively a 
potentially growing domestic terrorist threat.  End Summary. 
 
--------------- 
What Caused It? 
--------------- 
 
4.  (C) Although Greece is no stranger to demonstrations that 
include destruction of property, Molotov cocktails, and 
rioting, the riots that began on December 6 were 
qualitatively different.  Estimates are still pending, but 
the total bill is expected to amount to hundreds of millions 
of Euros in damage.  The rioting and demonstrations were not 
limited to Athens and Thessaloniki but took place throughout 
the country, including in normally quiet provincial centers. 
Also, although the violent demonstrations were initially the 
work of anarchists, thousands of university and high school 
students of both sexes eventually joined in.  Televised 
footage showed youths as young as 13 throwing rocks at police. 
 
5. (C) Reports by major foreign news organizations 
highlighted problems in the Greek economy as a cause of the 
rioting, and these problems certainly played a role.  Like 
other smaller European economies, Greece is being affected by 
the global downturn.  Its two leading industries -) shipping 
and tourism -) already are feeling the impact of the credit 
 
ATHENS 00001692  002 OF 004 
 
 
contraction and weakening consumer demand.  GDP growth, 
relatively strong in recent years (4 percent in 2007), has 
slowed in 2008 (the government projection is for 3.2 
percent), and is expected to decelerate further in 2009 (the 
government projection is for 2.7 percent, but private 
analysts, including the IMF, project a lower 2.0 percent 
growth rate).  Unemployment, especially amongst the young, is 
rising, and about a fifth of the population now lives below 
the official poverty line.  Unemployment numbers are likely 
to spike as the economic slowdown hits Greece's real economy 
in the new year.  But even before the current global 
downturn, the Greek economy suffered from structural problems 
including a rigid labor market and a large public share of 
the economy that limited its flexibility, discouraged 
innovation, and stymied expansion.  Greece, indeed, has many 
of the elements of a corporatist system, in which a 
relatively small group of well-known families control 
economic and political centers of power.  Corruption and 
connections, rather than entrepreneurship and innovation, are 
seen as the keys to getting ahead.  Greece is considered an 
unattractive place to work and invest, ranking 96th -) the 
lowest in the EU -) in the World Bank's "doing business" 
ranking. 
 
6.  (C) The Karamanlis government came to power in 2004 with 
a reformist agenda, but has met with resistance from 
entrenched interests and members of the public -- all for 
reform as long as it does not reduce their own individual 
perks.  Moreover, the Karamanlis government has been plagued 
by its own corruption scandals, including the current 
Vatopedion monastery affair, which brought down some of the 
Prime Minister's closest advisors. 
 
7.  (C) Problems in the economy and governance have led to 
widespread social dissatisfaction and a sense that economic 
opportunities, for the first time in a generation, are 
contracting.  These frustrations contributed to the recent 
rioting and fostered an attitude of tolerance amongst much of 
the general public for the youthful "victims" of a government 
and society unresponsive to their needs.  At the same time, 
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"asylum" policies prohibit state security forces from 
entering campuses without permission from university 
administrators (granted very rarely), adding to the 
ideologically charged atmosphere of "anything goes." 
 
9. (C) The anarchists, headquartered at the Athens 
Polytechnic, have escalated their violence in recent years. 
Many observers believe that this trend was a concerted 
attempt to provoke the police into a disproportionate 
response, in turn sparking an even broader "uprising."  The 
anarchists appeared to get what they wanted in the December 6 
 
ATHENS 00001692  003 OF 004 
 
 
shooting of Grigoropoulos, and they used blogs and SMSes to 
spread the news and mobilize their forces.  As anarchist 
violence escalated, other university and eventually high 
school and even middle school students, some disgruntled, 
others attracted by the radical chic, joined in. 
 
-------------------------- 
Dinosaurs of the Hard Left 
-------------------------- 
 
10. (C) Exacerbating the unrest was the opportunism of the 
leftist political parties.  Unlike their counterparts in many 
other European countries, the leftist parties of Greece have 
not evolved with the fall of the Berlin Wall, further EU 
integration, and economic globalization.  The ideology, 
tactics, and goals of the Greek "hard left" remain much as 
they were during the Cold War, and these parties have served 
as a retiring ground for many aging anarchists.  Reflecting 
the ideological divisions of an earlier era, the left remains 
divided between the orthodox Marxist-Leninist, Soviet-style 
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the new left SYRIZA 
party, which has taken up the slogans and mindset of 
anti-globalization while retaining a loyalty to Marxism. 
Both the KKE and SYRIZA supported the recent demonstrations 
in an effort to further discredit the government.   While the 
KKE publicly supported only peaceful, disciplined 
demonstrations, however, SYRIZA more openly egged anarchists 
and students on to violent action. 
 
------------------- 
Irresponsible Press 
------------------- 
 
11. (C) Finally, the Greek press had a role in aggravating 
the riots.  Most Greek media carried breathless reports 
seemingly aimed at inflaming and not calming the situation. 
Media hyperbole helped trample the principle of "innocent 
until proven guilty" in the court of public opinion, with 
many journalists reporting that the accused police officer 
had fired on Grigoropoulos in cold blood, although government 
officials made similar statements.  Police explanations that 
the shooting may have been accidental were derisively 
dismissed. 
 
------------------------------------ 
What Did the Government Do About It? 
------------------------------------ 
 
12.  (C) One of the most striking aspects of the events was 
the Prime Minister's absence; Karamanlis stayed largely out 
of the public eye, leaving public statements to his Minister 
of Interior, Prokopis Pavlopoulos.  At the height of the 
violence, Karamanlis made just two short television 
appearances -- calling for calm in the one and laying out a 
technocratic, detailed plan for government assistance to 
affected businesses in the other. 
 
13.  (C) The police generally did not respond assertively to 
the violence and instead assumed a defensive posture.  We 
assess that there are two explanations: 
 
-- Initial Indecision:  Initially taken by surprise, the 
government took the populist road, not wanting to be seen as 
"fascists," and thus did not direct the police to clamp down. 
 
-- Avoid Any Additional Deaths and Deny Anarchists a 
Platform:  As the riots worsened, however, we assess that 
Karamanlis and his advisors calculated that he must first and 
foremost avoid the possibility of any additional deaths that 
could fuel greater unrest.  At the same time, greater force 
was apparently authorized to allow police to ensure that the 
protestors did not occupy government buildings or significant 
landmarks that could be used as a basis for a prolonged 
public platform for grievances and negotiations with the 
authorities.  The police were clearly operating under 
different rules of engagement when defending the Parliament 
or the Foreign Ministry, than the commercial establishments 
next door. 
 
------------------ 
What Does It Mean? 
------------------ 
 
14.  (C) Weaker Government:  While the long-term implications 
for Karamanlis are unclear, for now many Greeks believe the 
PM and his government severely mishandled the situation. 
 
ATHENS 00001692  004 OF 004 
 
 
Most, including those who would normally be Karamanlis 
supporters, are openly stating that it is only a matter of 
time before the PM has to call new elections.  Conventional 
wisdom holds that these events are a final "mortal blow" that 
comes on the heels of other political crises, scandals, and 
the global economic crisis.  The opposition, criticizing the 
government's response, called for the government to step 
down, and we expect these calls to grow louder, particularly 
if the unrest continues.  The opposition is smelling blood. 
That said, it is impossible to predict exactly when this shoe 
might drop.  If/when the government does fall will depend 
less on the opposition and more on dissent within the 
government's own ranks.  We expect the government to take 
steps to show leadership and action, including likely Cabinet 
changes. 
 
15.  (C) Our Interests:  In short, the Karamanlis government 
will be even more inward-looking than before, and it will be 
either unwilling or unable to take bold actions or be out of 
sync with popular sentiments on key regional foreign policy 
issues.  This means that the Greek government will likely 
take defensive positions on the Macedonia name issue and 
relations with Turkey.  It will also likely eschew any troop 
deployments that could open it up to criticism -- such as 
sending significantly increased numbers to Afghanistan. 
Greek politicians will also be unwilling to be out of sync 
with the Greek Cypriot leadership, and therefore loathe to 
press them on any aspect of the current negotiations.  The 
ever-cautious Greek bureaucracy will, in the face of 
political uncertainty, become even more risk adverse, making 
it harder to address other issues on our agenda, such as 
commercial, educational, security, and human rights issues. 
Finally, should rumors of a cabinet reshuffle or early 
elections grow stronger, FM Bakoyannis may be seen by her 
interlocutors as a potential "lame duck" as she takes on the 
role of OSCE Chairman-in-Office in January. 
 
16.  (S) Terrorism:  Most importantly, we will need to 
monitor aggressively the growing domestic terrorist threat. 
Following the public outrage that resulted from the 1985 
killing of a youth by police, the November 17 terrorist group 
entered a renewed operational phase and carried out 
additional attacks against Greek, U.S., and other targets. 
We will need to sharpen our vigilance to defend ourselves and 
to encourage a robust Greek response to terrorism in the face 
of exhausted and demoralized security services, popular 
dissatisfaction and angst, and a government that will 
undoubtedly have its attention focused elsewhere. 
SPECKHARD 

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