YOUTH PROTEST AND ANARCHISM—ARE THE GREEK YOUTH RIGHTS A HARBINGER OF YOUTH UNREST TO COME WORLD WIDE?
By Kevin Stoda
As many followers of European news note: This weekend in Athens there was further rioting and anarchistic activism.
According to the KUWAIT TIMES, “The ferocity of rioting by frustrated young Greeks shocked many across Europe but provides a warning to the continent's leaders as they discuss ways to confront the global economic crisis. Seven days of protests, which caused hundreds of millions of euros of damage across 10 Greek cities, were triggered by the police shooting of a teenager on Dec 6 but fed on resentment at high youth unemployment, low salaries and inadequate welfare.”
Soon “sympathy protests from Moscow to Madrid” had been “quickly organized over the Internet or by SMS message, as many young people feel leaders are ignoring their frustrations.
Some of these European-wide protests were “organized over the Internet or by SMS message, as many young people feel leaders are ignoring their frustrations.”
Do the events in Greece pose a harbinger of dissatisfied masses of youth worldwide over the next decade as more and more young people feel permanently caught in an economic traffic jam as the same old-powerful economic and political leaders maintain the status quo—even in time of recession and depression?
STORY FROM AN ACTIVIST’S POINT OF VIEW
Nikos Lountos, a student activist and Greek Socialist worker party member, both warns and explains the reasons behind the protests and violence, “I think it’s a mixture of things. We [in Greece] have a government that’s—a government of the ruling party called New Democracy, a very right-wing government. It has tried to make many attacks on working people and students, especially students. The students were some form of guinea pigs for the government. When it was elected after 2004, they tried—the government tried to privatize universities, which are public in Greece, and put more obstacles for school students to get into university.”
Lountos, who was interviewed last week on DEMOCRACY NOW, explained to American listeners, “The financial burden on the poor families if they want their children to be educated is really big in Greece. And the worst is that even if you have a university degree, even if you are a doctor or lawyer, in most cases, young people get a salary below the level of poverty in Greece. So the majority of young people in Greece stay with their families ’til their late twenties, many ’til their thirties, in order to cope with this uncertainty. And so, this mixture, along with the economic crisis and their unstable, weak government, was what was behind all this explosion.”
The same situation certainly exists in the U.S.A. in this decade. Could a major youth revolt be in the offing in the U.S. and other lands more permanently in 2009, 2010 and onwards?
That’s right! After the collapse of a decade-long economic boom in most corners of the globe, youth everywhere are feeling a great pinch and they perceive this to be a very long-term pinch.
The first riots in Greece on December 6 had been sparked when police shot to death an unarmed 16 year-old boy named Alexandros Grigoropoulos.
These riots had appeared to die down at the end of last week, but rioting took off again on Saturday after the “one-week anniversary” of the shooting took place and Greek anarchists along with others attacked the very police station where the culprits who had shot young Grigoropoulos were stationed.
Actually, to be fair to a large number of Greek youth, December 13th’s one-week vigil of the Grigoropoulos shooting had started peaceable with a candle light vigil being the main focus.
However, as has occurred often in the past week, more violent groups joined and usurped the more peaceful protests.
What is most surprising and notable is that most of the earliest protests in Greece were carried out by school-aged teenagers (mostly between the ages of 13 and 16).
The overall disillusionment of Greek youth reminded me of the “No Future” movements in the 1970s and 1980s in NATO European lands, whereby alienated youth were tuning out all over the continent. This was especially trued in the mid-1980s as the political hope of the 1960s had died out and a new Cold War rhetoric had re-enveloped the continent, especially after the year when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and the sudden increased spending on armaments across Europe dovetailed with the bad economic effects resulting from the higher fuel prices and high rates of unemployment in Western Europe in those same years.
After 1982-1983, when millions of Europeans had protested the newest NATO armaments expansion in Holland and Germany, most European youth turned inwards and cynical beings as a “greed is only good” became the political-economic-and social mantra for the next decade.
By the time I arrived to live in Germany in 1986, unemployment and underemployment for youth had been from 10 to 15 percent for many years and sometimes reached over 20 percent. In northern UK and Ireland unemployment for young people sometimes reached double that level unemployment and underemployment in that decade.
FROM GREECE TO PARIS
As noted above, last week there were sympathy protests from youth from Istanbul and Romania to Paris and Madrid.
Meanwhile, back in Greece, one BBC journalist wrote, “What needs to emerge from this tragedy is a new incorruptible force [in Greece] that is brave enough to challenge Greece's vested interests, implement essential reforms, ignore the political cost, and to inspire selflessness and civic responsibility.”
So far, it looks like youth are losing out and pure anarchists are torching the movement even as unions participate on and off.
Meanwhile, Greece economic-political-social landscape resemblance to economies in Asia and in Africa. This is because a preference for young people to defer to their elders, tradition, and status quo has been stronger in lands of western Asia and Africa than elsewhere. This has partially been reinforced by anti-colonialist forces in the development of these modern states.
Overall, in many countries throughout this planet--especially in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa--there are certainly oligarchies of all varieties who have been in place for decades (if not centuries).
Till now, there has rarely ever been any young groups with enough influence to topple them.
The only exceptions in the late 1980s were those states involved in forcing the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the fall of Apartheid in South Africa. These had started with the ousting of President Ferdinand Marcos in Philippines. However, within a few short years youthful hopefulness has often turned to cynicism in recent decades.
NO MORE “LOST GENERATIONS”?
The traditional deference of youth to their elders in Asia has certainly been one typical emphasis that world travelers and businessmen or investors have come to expect and anticipate when visiting or doing business there.
Respect of one’s elders and waiting one’s turn to move up the hierarchy of whatever oligarchy or despots are especially to be expected in Confucian capitalist and communist countries. However, this Confucian tendency can naturally be experienced in South Africa or South America, as well.
Naturally, the youth-powered movements of Chairman Mao in China are exceptions to this rule.
On the other hand, in the case of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and its mass youth movements propelled against the elder peoples in that country was manipulated by higher-ups in the Communist Party.
Similar horrible excesses in manipulating youth movements in Southeast Asia in the 1970s led to the horrors of the Killing Fields under Pohl Pot.
In short youth movements in many corners of this planet have sadly often been something to fear—especially by the oligarchies. Therefore, these sort of movements have either been put down brutally as occurred in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China in 1989 or have been bought off—as has happened in wealthier lands like in Britain, Germany, the USA, Scandinavia, and even in Gulf Oil Sheikhdoms in recent decades. (Of course, unless the governments in these lands don’t make it easier for youth to spend years acquiring higher education—rather than try to enter the job market—pressure from soon-to-form full-blown youth movements are not impossible imagine in Western Europe or North America, either.)
When I think of bought-off youthful generations, I often recall my days in Japan and my two decades teaching and working with Japanese and South Korean students at the university level.
I, personally, was amazed by how much impotence both Japanese youth in general and Japanese college students specifically were manifesting in the 1990s (and later) as their country floundered for nearly 15 years of recession and deflation.
The youth of that era in Japan have even come to be called by all observers as “The Lost Generation”. These age-cohorts were part of the mass of unemployed and under-employed youth in Japan between 1989 and 2003. (In short, Japan was a nation which only finally got out of its economic depression 5 years ago—only to face another one this autumn in 2008. Will youth be able to accept any more of the status quo in life-business and economics?)
I was living in small-town Japan from 1992 to 1994. In small towns some young people have often ended up locking themselves up in their rooms for years.
For this reason, the source of most domestic violence in Japan has been viewed as a role reversal, whereby much domestic violence in the U.S. is simply “adults versus children” or between two spouses, a lot of Japanese domestic violence comes from youth against their parents.
These youth are called hikikomori in Japanese. Michael Zielenziger, a scholar at the East Asian Studies Center in Berkley, is an expert on hikikomori. Zielenziger explains that most hikikomori, are “young men who lock themselves away in their bedrooms,” and they are “fearful of society's expectations.”
Japan's aging working class now also face young women who “shun motherhood”, and do their best not to continue to rebuild the burdensome family relationships that their parents have put up with for generations.
COMPARING THE GREEKS AND JAPANESE
Unlike in Japan, where neither psychological training holds much sway nor where other modes of handling changes in the modern-economic tendency to alienate and under-employ its most youthful populations, Greece should have known better. Greece has experienced youthful discontent every generation for nearly two centuries.
Nonetheless, Greek government leadership this decade has appeared not to appreciate the alienation of its youth at all—despite having much more experience of youthful rebellion and anarchism than has existed in Japan over the past 6 decades.
So, in a fairly brash action, the Greek government in 2004 began to go out of its way to further alienate younger citizens. The government did this, for example, by reducing the number of university seats available to graduating Greek students and by running up the cost of education while trying to privatize numerous parts of the higher education system in the country.
Unlike their Japanese cohorts who are still under similar pressure to the Japanese in 2008, Greek children and university students have not responded like their pampered and frustrated East Asian youth. Instead of turning inwards, the young Greeks’ attention has turned first to symbolic activism.
This may primarily because the wage levels these young people in Greece face--even after decades of biding their time in the school system and in the unemployed world of the Greek economy—is from 600- to 800 Euro-per-month category. These are wages that most Western Europeans would never be able to accept. Moreover, like in Japan, these Greek youth must live into their thirties at their parents’ expense in their parents homes or flats.
Concerning this December 2008 student activism in Greece, Nikos Lountos states, “What was the most striking. . . was that in literally every neighborhood in every city and town, school students walked out of their school on Monday morning.”
Lountos adds, “So, you could see kids from eleven to seventeen years old marching in the streets wherever you could be in Greece, tens of thousands of school students, maybe hundreds of thousands, if you add all the cities. So, all around Athens and around Greece, there were colorful demonstration of schoolboys and schoolgirls. Some of them marched to the local police stations and clashed with the police, throwing stones and bottles. And the anger was so really thick that policemen and police officers had to be locked inside their offices, surrounded by thirteen- and fourteen-year-old boys and girls.”
Lountos emphasizes how these young students’ actions were received at a more universal level, “Th[is] picture of these young people in Greece standing up to have their political say during the world economic crises of 2008 was so striking that it produced a domino effect: The trade unions of teachers decided [to have] an all-out strike for Tuesday [last week. Next] [t]he union of university lecturers decided [to hold] a three-day strike. And so, [finally] there was the already arranged . . . . strike . . . for Wednesday against the government’s economic policies, so the process was generalizing and still generalizes.”
I ponder whether these events in Europe in 2008 are a one-time affair or whether the expected length of the oncoming world depression or recession will lead to more youth becoming more radicalized world-wide.
SHOUL DISCRIMINATION LAWS PROTECT YOUNG PEOPLE?
My interest into the concerns of youth in the Asia, the Middle East, in Europe, and Latin and North America has been strong for decades, especially as I have taught and educated young people now in nearly ten different countries and on a variety of continents since 1985.
Most recently, I have been teaching in Kuwait, where I accidentally got a whiff of the generational wars that potentially may brew here, even though much of Kuwaiti society respects more traditional pecking orders in societies, tribes, and on the globe stage. However, as the world-wide global expansion collapse will dovetail with the rise in teenage population in Kuwait over the next decade, will there be youth becoming more vocal.
For example, it was mostly youth—including well-organized Kuwaiti youth often-too young to vote--who organized a political coup of sorts in 2006 by spearheading a movement to redistrict the parliamentary system in the State of Kuwait.
Just days prior to the shootings and the protests in Greece in early December 2008, I observed some 11th grade students in Kuwait holding a debate on the topic of age discrimination.
The topic of age-discrimination is old-hat in many Western countries.
In fact, age discrimination has definitely been debated, discussed and banned by law since the 1960s in the United States.
However, what was fascinating for me a few weeks ago was that I was observing how Kuwaiti youth in high schools defined age discrimination differently than their western counterparts.
For the Kuwaiti students debating the “banning of age discrimination”, age-discrimination was not against elderly people in their society’s.
Instead, age-discrimination as defined by youth in Kuwait was “discrimination in the work place and higher practice of people of their age-cohort”—that is, young people in Kuwait are being discriminated against by employers, oligarchies, and status quo. Tradition and status quo mean that they have to always defer to their elders in the marketplace of work and advancement.
Skills are hardly ever under consideration in their hiring and advancement. Age is a determining factor. The older one is the more job prospect one has.
Well-educated young people feel locked out of the job market and societal niches which their forefathers have patiently waited for year-after-year.
However, young people are being told that there will be less and less government jobs for them and their children. So, like those in Greece, Kuwaitis are promised a job many years into the future—if they sit peaceably in school or university.
Now, with the economy in question in the long-term, many youth are more disgruntled at their long-term prospects in Kuwait.
RESULT OF DECADES OF POPULATION BOOM
Would you believe that at the turn of the 20th Century, there were less than 20,000 residents in all of Kuwait. Now, the population is around 3 million.
Therefore, the social and political-economic problems include that in Kuwait—like in most of Africa, South Asia, and South America—the youthful population has continued to boom dramatically over the past 4 decades.
This means the average age of a Kuwaiti under 24 years of age. Twenty-five percent of the population is under 15.
Whereas young Kuwaiti’s parents had been guaranteed jobs for life when they graduated from high school, the present population of Kuwaiti youth find the bar has been set back decades. That is, most will have to get college degrees and higher level training. This can cause a lot of stress on youth and their families. Suddenly the average marriage age is pushed back.
The uncertainties of the world economy and problems with education in Kuwait itself (in general) bcause part of this stress. The other facet that causes stress is that despite earning a good degree and having a lot to offer, the Kuwaiti society has little to offer that matches the career yearning of younger Kuwaitis.
This is because even if a student manages to earn really good educational training or work qualifications honestly from great universities abroad, Kuwaiti youth usually will have to wait behind many more peoples in order to finally get a shot at their career than their parents or grand parents ever did.
In such a situation, despite apparent adherence to traditional appreciation of the aged and aging in Kuwait, a distaste for the system is likely to expand—even here, in a country where a cradle-to-grave welfare system is financed by oil-dollars.
In summary, qualifications are almost always totally thrown out the window in Kuwait when hiring is going on.
Either one gets a job through family connections or one waits in line for years until the elders retire before any young person can hope to make his or her mark on how his own country or workplace is done.
NOTE: This is the status quo in Greece and in my homeland, the USA.
However, until now, there has existed a social contract in Kuwait, whereby the young peoples agree to follow the traditions, tribal rules and practice of age-over-qualification. In turn, they receive their end of social contract—a good salary and jobs have been promised.
In this way, until this very decade almost any revolt of youth in Kuwait and in the neighboring Gulf Sheikhdoms has been unthinkable.
But, what happens when the working population jumps by two or three-fold during a decade of economic downturn?
In the past, disgruntled modern Arab youth have turned to their faith and rewriting of western or modernist societies by throwing themselves into anti-colonial or extremist paradigms, such as offered by the Taleban and al-Qaeda.
Already alienation in Kuwait leads to a lot of drug addiction and alcoholism among Kuwaiti youth.
Meanwhile, in other countries, like Greece and Turkey, no social contract as in Kuwait and Japan can be afforded by the current political-economic oligarchies.
In short, many traditional oligarchies all over the globe might be facing years of street battles if they don’t realign their economies and allow others to share in the wealth and decision-making processes—sooner than later.
Flynn, Daniel, “Angry Young Greeks Give Wake Up Call to Europe”, http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=NzU1OTAxODQ1
“Uprising in Greece: Protests, Riots, Strikes Enter 6th Day Following Fatal Police Shooting of Teen,” http://www.democracynow.org/2008/12/11/greek_uprising_protests_riots_strikes_enter
Labels: Greek riots Japan "lost generation" Kuwait USA youth young people economy oligarchies future harbinger