There's a reason why I love traveling – you get to try all the awesome cultural food, you get to see history unfold before your eyes, you get to immerse yourself in the language and the music and the riots … Wait a minute, did I just say "riots?"
I wrote an article in the Feb. 24 issue of The Lamron about the riot that occupied Athens just down the street from where I currently live. I'm sure that, if you looked at every international news outlet the next day, you saw pictures of flaming motorcycles, clouds of tear gas, the mass generalization that violent outbursts in the streets of Greece's capital are all too common and increasing questions about the Greek government's capability to control its own people.
I'll give you the flaming motorcycles and the tear gas (which, by the way, is incredibly unpleasant), but are riots common? No. Is the next Greek revolution at hand? Not a chance.
Contrary to the "reality" portrayed by international media, violent riots in Athens are often small, consisting of anarchist youth – no older than you are – throwing rocks at police armed with tear gas. The police toss tear gas and the anarchists retreat to fight another day.
I can say several things with certainty: Tear gas is not pleasant and is actually quite painful. Greece will not go the way of Libya. Demonstrations in Greece, while common and large in number, are rarely violent, and when protests do become violent, they are often small in scale and poorly organized. The anarchists often tag along and hide among peaceful demonstrations, waiting for the opportune moment to throw a Molotov cocktail. The Greek people rarely support the violence and never, with the exception of the September 2008 riots, defend the protesters responsible for the violence. The peaceful demonstrators, as I witnessed last week, quickly departed from Syntagma Square once the rocks started flying.
While violence is rare here in Athens, demonstrations are incredibly common. In my experience, there is at least one massive demonstration per week, and it's typically on the busiest transit day of the week – Wednesday – when transportation workers shut down the metro and bus lines and inconvenience the entire city. I've heard from Greeks time and time again that the only reason they don't like the protests is because they add an extra 45 minutes to their morning commute. While the rest of the world is overcome with sensationalist reporting after a Greek riot or massive demonstration, the Greek people simply take it in stride.
America currently sees the power of assembly in Wisconsin, where over 70,000 workers are fighting for their interests and the people take it as a big deal. In Greece and all over Europe, demonstrations of such scale are expected. It's simply an example of overexposure – if you experience something often enough, it simply becomes normal.
So, America, please don't make mountains out of molehills and don't listen to everything the media says. Everything's just fine over on this end of the world.
Tyler Ocon is currently studying abroad in Athens, and has witnessed firsthand the events described.