The Lasting Impact of the Debt Crisis Continues to Haunt Greece

The Lasting Impact of the Debt Crisis Continues to Haunt Greece
A protester amid smoke from tear gas during clashes at the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, Sept. 8, 2018 (AP photo by Dimitris Tosidis).

ATHENS—Last September, a story consumed Greek media outlets. A fatal altercation had taken place near Omonoia Square, a neglected plaza in downtown Athens known primarily for its small shops, markets and Middle Eastern restaurants. According to initial reports, a knife-wielding drug user had attempted to rob a jewelry store, only to be apprehended by the owner and killed during the fight that ensued.

Within hours, the story became a sensation, a fact that had less to do with its details, which were scant, than with Greece’s current political climate. It presented a prime opportunity for New Democracy, the center-right opposition party, to hammer its message that the country’s crime problem had gotten out of control.

The party, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis—the scion of a political dynasty that has been active in Greek politics for more than a century—has made crime a central component of its attacks on the current left-wing government, led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of the Syriza party. To hear New Democracy tell it, Athens has become too dangerous for average citizens, including small business owners, who are powerless to defend themselves against criminals overrunning the downtown. There is little statistical evidence to support this message, but it has nonetheless gained traction among voters, a fact that reflects anxieties about immigration and worsening living conditions in Greece’s largest city.

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