We have no illusions about this or any other government’s realistic hopes of mending the current Greek circumstances. The rot has progressed so deeply, with the joint responsibility of all of Greece’s political forces, that a turnaround seems distant, if at all attainable. In a previous comment on this page, we put the emphasis on how fallacies become the measures of “reality”. We now have to wait and see whether they will, again, become the propelling force behind policy as well.

There is so much to be done that even those optimistically disposed toward the new administration try to keep their fingers crossed. While the economy has literally pushed all other issues off the table, these “other issues” are very much as keen and pregnant with dangerous implications as the facts and figures of the Bank of Greece. And primary among “the rest of them” is internal security.

Predictions on internal security with or without a crystal ball aren’t encouraging. “Common” crime (i.e. crime not associated with terrorist or other ‘politically motivated’ violence) has been on the upsurge for years. Domestic terrorists are again busy with small and bigger bombs. Illegal immigration is flooding the country with swarms of undocumented persons whose background can be hardly checked or their movements monitored. Smuggling of humans by slave runners feeding sexual exploitation gangs is flourishing. Drug trafficking, arms smuggling, and laundering of proceeds of crime continue unabated.

Greece’s has a new “Citizen’s Protection” ministry to battle all these threats. Citizen’s Protection brings police, national intelligence, border guards, coast guards and even the fire service under one ministerial roof. The consolidation of law enforcement command-and-control under one umbrella organization is encouraging, especially given the notorious inability (or, more precisely, unwillingness) of individual law enforcement agencies to collaborate with each other. Hopefully, the new organization will be more effective in collecting, analyzing, and sharing intelligence as well as fielding better trained and organized forces.

Opening statements by the Citizen’s Protection minister do carry a ring of new determination. Practice though will be the true measure of bold talk. Some of the measures announced, like the return of the “neighborhood policeman,” have been implemented by the same people re-proclaiming them today and came to naught. The overhaul of the anti-terrorist branch is long overdue, yet it will be crucial to see whether this re-organization will put the emphasis on actually catching terrorists instead of learning how to do elaborate circles in the water waiting for “more evidence” to accumulate -- a process that has consumed years in the past without any concrete outcome. Will Citizen’s Protection be able to foster the “security mindset” Greece is so badly lacking in combating domestic terrorism?

And there is so much more. On the very first day the new government got under way, a gang of masked hooligans, armed with clubs and sledgehammers, raided downtown Athens smashing shops, banks, and parked vehicles. The police, unlike in the recent past, reacted to the rampage with a proactive sweep of an anarchist-infested neighborhood from where the hoodlums emerged. Citizen’s Protection said similar operations will target all neighborhoods that have become foci of violent crime. Again, an encouraging announcement that will need to be tested in practice.

Meantime, December, and the first anniversary of the huge riots that battered Athens and many parts of other Greek cities in the closing days of 2008, looms. With the trial of two police officers, accused in the shooting death of a youth that triggered the riots, scheduled to begin on December 15, the Citizen’s Protection backbone, and that of the new government, will be put most probably to the ultimate test. There is no doubt that as we speak various “anti-establishment” groups are planning their December protests, which invariably include rampage, destruction, and plunder.

The valley of politics is littered with the remains of good intentions. The new government will undoubtedly seek to send reassuring messages to both the Greek public and foreign governments watching closely Greek affairs. At the end of the day though, deeds and not words will count decisively in bringing in the verdict. And here our crystal balling is still quite ambivalent.

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