In December 2008 in Athens, a “special security officer” shot dead a young student, igniting demonstrations, strikes and riots. Young people were at the forefront of the protests, in a country with a long tradition of youth participation in social and political movements. Several commentators at the time spoke of a “youth rebellion.”
In late 2009 it became clear that Greece had been living through a period of false prosperity and was in effect bankrupt.
The country fell into the tender embrace of the troika — the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank.
Following severe austerity measures in 2010 and 2011, there were again mass demonstrations and strikes, culminating in the “movement of the squares” — protests against the destruction of private and social life.
Young people were again prominent, lending enthusiasm and spirit to the movement.
Then there was nothing.
As economic and social disaster unfolded in 2012 and last year, the youth of Greece became invisible in social and economic life.
The young have been largely absent from politics, social movements and even from the spontaneous social networks that have dealt with the worst of the catastrophe.
On the fifth anniversary of the events of 2008, barely a few hundred young people demonstrated in Greek urban centers.
There was no tension, no passion, no spirit, just tired processions repeating well-known slogans. Where were the 17-year-olds from five years ago?
Similar patterns can be observed in several other European countries, though perhaps not to such an extreme degree.
What is the youth of Portugal doing as the country’s social structures continue to collapse? Where is the youth of France as the country drifts further into stagnation and irrelevance? Where has the youth of Britain been while the coalition government has persevered with austerity?
The answer seems to be that European youth has been battered by a “double whammy” of problematic access to education and rising unemployment, forcing young people to rely on family support and curtailing their independence.
Uncertain about the future and worried about jobs and housing, the youth of Europe shows no confidence and trust in established political parties.
Significant sections have already been attracted to the nihilistic ends of the political spectrum, including varieties of anarchism and fascism. The left, traditionally a home for the radical strivings of young people, has lost its appeal.
Take education. As the Greek crisis deepened, large numbers of students were forced to accelerate, or even interrupt, their studies.
There are no relevant official indicators of these trends but anecdotal evidence abounds and fits with other aggregate statistics.
In 2008 Greek households spent on average 17 percent of their disposable income on education and low-income families more than 20 percent.
This was already a high proportion reflecting the importance traditionally placed on education in Greek society.
As the crisis unfolded over the next five years, the proportion doubled, making education an unbearable burden.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that in 2011, 15 percent of people aged 15 to 29 were not in education, employment or training.
In Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain this proportion was at 20 percent, and the latest EU data indicates that in 2012 things became worse in the three southern countries.