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Violent protests have flared up in Athens as President Barack Obama flies into the country as part of his final foreign trip in office. According to The Guardian, approximately 3,000 left-wing protestors took to the street to march against the neoliberal institutionalism imposed on the Greek government by international organizations, such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. The protests were specifically aimed at the outsized influence of the United States within these institutions and how they are viewed by a significant portion of the Greek population as a form of American imperialism. The march then turned violent after protesters attempted to enter a part of the city that was deemed to be off limits during the course of President Obama’s visit. Though nobody was injured, petrol bombs were thrown at police, and riot police responded in kind with tear gas and with the use of force. The demonstrators then returned to Athens Polytechnic University, which is known as a ‘safe haven’ from law enforcement who are not allowed to step on campus grounds.
Though Greece, and particularly Athens, has a rich history of political activism, events have increasingly become more violent, as a result of the debt crisis in the country. The Guardian reports that the total debt level has reached €320 billion and that the poorest 20% of the population have suffered a 42% decrease in disposable income since 2009. These economic hardships have exacerbated ideological differences between the protestors and law enforcement. In contrast with the extreme left-wing anarchist protestors, over 50% of police officers voted for Golden Dawn (according to AnsaMed), an extremist right-wing party in the Athenian elections in 2014. This is compared to just 8% of the overall population. Members of Golden Dawn consistently engage in attacks on immigrants while The Economist notes that the party’s leadership is currently facing charges, such as murder, attempted murder, setting off explosions, and robbery. The influence of the party has significantly increased in recent years as the consequences of economic austerity affect the Greek population.
There has been little historical precedent for the benefits of violent forms of protest and in Greece, they have achieved very little in terms of tangible and beneficial outcomes for citizens. However, they will continue to occur in the absence of viable solutions to the debt crisis and as people become increasingly disenfranchised by the policy of the current Tsipras government. In order to achieve productive and peaceful debate over policy, constituents with a wide array of political perspectives need individual and financial security within a cohesive society, and current policy to resolve the crisis in Greece is not working towards these ends.