Rioters torched shops and offices, with banks and foreign businesses the main targets. Pensioners wearing gas masks joined a blockade of Parliament and squared off against some 4,000 police officers. The city’s best-known cinema was burned to the ground, along with nine other national-heritage sites.
This was Athens on Sunday night as the Greek Parliament voted for austerity measures that are their only ticket to a €130 billion bailout. Don’t think these scenes can’t—or won’t—be repeated in other Western capitals.
When it comes to naming the bad guys in this Greek tragedy, the net can be cast very widely. Both leading political parties acquitted themselves dishonorably, one by lying about the country’s fiscal position, the second by failing to do much about it. The country’s government unions have resisted every serious reform and paralyzed the economy with strikes. An anarchist movement with an appetite for destruction rarely misses an opportunity to feast on mass discontent.
Greeks themselves seem unable to choose between taking another bailout and adopting austerity, or abandoning the euro and accepting the consequences of default. It’s so much more convenient to blame foreign creditors (“thieves”) for demanding repayment of loans that funded the lavish welfare benefits Greeks could never have afforded on their own. And when that fails, blame the Germans for being such demanding paymasters.