No one was hurt when a powerful bomb tied to a stolen moped blew up Thursday morning outside a court building near central Athens. But beyond the material damage to nearby buildings and cars, the familiar images of fire, thick smoke and smashed shop windows were a reminder to Greeks of just how badly 2010 had gone. “Seeing those images makes you think, Jesus, this is just going to compound all the problems we already have,” says Ted Couloumbis, a professor emeritus of international relations at the University of Athens and vice president of a prominent Greek think-tank, ELIAMEP. “Tourists will stay away. Investors will be scared off. It’s the last thing we need right now.”
That’s no understatement. Weighed down by debt of some $400 billion, Greece narrowly avoided default earlier in the year by asking for nearly $150 billion in international loans. In exchange for the loans, which were granted by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in May, the Greek government applied drastic spending cuts, tax hikes and labor reforms to shrink the deficit. Those moves not only deepened the country’s recession, but it added fuel to growing grassroots anger and frustration.
Much of Europe is in a similarly tight and tense financial situation. Across the continent, anxiousness about slumping economies has sparked waves of public protest, some of them violent, a few even deadly. And, says the European Union police agency Europol, it appears to have fed a growing number of attacks by militant groups who identify themselves as anarchists or far-left rebels. Between 2008 — which saw the height of the global financial crisis — and 2009, Europol recorded a 43% increase in attacks by militant groups in the E.U., most of them in Italy, Spain and Greece. “There is anger because there is so much disillusionment, and there is always a small group of people who will take guns and explosives and elevate violence,” says Mary Bossis, a security expert at the University of Piraeus. “They want to hit what they perceive to be a weak state.”
In Greece, authorities are working to stop the trend. Police spokesman Thanassis Kokkalakis says a crackdown in 2010 has helped bring the number of domestic terrorist attacks involving bombs or shootings in the country from 23 in 2009 to 12 in 2010. He added that while no group has yet claimed responsibility for Thursday’s blast outside the Athens court building, counter-terrorism police are investigating the incident. “We are going to continue cracking down on the anti-establishment sources that feed this kind of terrorist activity,” he says. “These are just a few criminals. Greek society is against them.”
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Background: A Brief History of Anarchism: The European Tradition