By Vasilis Kanellis
The image that Greece once again displayed yesterday does honour to no one.
A country that has ostensibly left behind its bailout memorandums and which is pursuing a leading role in the Balkans as the prime minister has said cannot tolerate such a situation.
A left-wing government which ordered that a crowd including families, women and children be teargased in order to break up a peaceful demonstration once again revealed its harshness.
If instead of SYRIZA New Democracy or Pasok were in power there would have been calls for the competent minister’s resignations.
Citizen’s Protection Minister Olga Gerovasili and Deputy Minister Katerina Papakosta retain their posts, as does the Chief of Greek Police and the head of the forces whose assignment it was to guard the protesters.
One must not forget what SYRIZA used to say when it was an opposition party in similar circumstances. It exploited the tear gas attack a few years ago straight in the face of the over 90-year-old left-wing icon Manolis Glezos, who during WWII along with Apostolos Santas took down the Nazi flag from the Acropolis and replaced it with a Greek flag.
Images of shame
Lives were put at risk by the indiscriminate use of tear gas. The images of shame transmitted by the media around the world can in no way be justified, even if the PM’s office skews reality or attempts to turn attention elsewhere.
It makes little difference whether those who tried to storm parliament were from the far right or from anti-authority groups.
The essence is that certain people set up a provocation and police were ordered to use tear gas indiscriminately. The essence is that children and elderly people were among those choked by the teargas.
What is important is that a passer-by on a motorcycle was stabbed with a knife because he was holding a Greek flag.
What is important is that a big demonstration was broken up by chemical warfare in a matter of minutes.
One should note that the breakup of the demonstration and the government’s attacks on the far right benefited only the government, and no one else.
On the one hand the PM’s office scorned the protest and on the other it broke it up in record time, indifferent to whether there could be victims.
The tactic had been tried and tested by previous governments which reacted in this manner to the indignados who filled public squares.
A group of provocateurs and hooligans would trigger the incidents, the riot police would step in and it was over. This way one stirred disdain for the protests and each time fewer and fewer citizens and families would show up, as they wanted to avoid becoming victims of police violence or of unknown hooded hooligans regardless of stripe.
Precautions were not taken
The organisers were obliged to take into account that something like this might happen and to protect the demonstration. They did not.
Now the protest is history, unfortunately due to the violent incidents that the whole world saw.
A furious political confrontation has resulted and has divided Greek society. The prime minister maintains that he confronted extreme right elements that tried to storm parliament and that the demonstration was small anyway, and that it did not demonstrate that the Greek people are against the Prespa Agreement.
With this background, the PM this week will move to ratify the agreement in parliament. Whether Alexis Tsipras will be a winner or a loser will become apparent in the next general election.
Until then, he will portray himself as a democrat who dared to confront “extremists, nationalists, exploiters of patriotic sentiment, and latter day fighters for the liberation of Macedonia”.
On the other side, New Democracy will denounce police violence, will maintain that the people have spoken and will persistently demand either elections or a referendum so that the people can decide.
The crucial issue is the deep division and the climate of extreme polarisation that is prevalent in Greek society.
With a glimpse at the internet anyone can understand that something bad is brewing, something with which we shall all be faced, and especially those who sowed the seeds of division and are expecting to reap benefits.