I am a bit shocked about the way Cypriots of my age conceptualise and analyse the riots in the UK. I was a recipient of quite a few remarks against what they described as people who live on benefits and who are driven by consumerism rather than by a genuine anger against the conservative policies. Not only they dismiss the people on the streets as thieves who seized the chance to steal things, they also challenge the whole idea of the welfare state. The latter point is the most worrying.
Their argument is a rather simple one: (a) they dismiss as irrelevant the claim that people’s long established rights have been cut/decreased by the coalition government and (b) they define people who live on benefits, not as individuals who did not have equal opportunities in their lives, but rather as people who do not want to work or pursue the opportunities available to them. They do not see the correlation between race, class and geographical location. For example, according to this twisted logic, it is impossible that the people on the streets respond let’s say to the cuts on education because they do not want to go to the university anyway. The matter shifts from “opportunity” to “choice”, and as it goes with choice, little room is left for responsibility outside the individual. In other words, they blame no one other than the people in the streets.
What makes me angry the most, is that even if their holistic and monolithic understanding of “people living on benefits” was reflecting reality, they are not willing to think “Why do these people choose to live on benefits and do not want to become educated and therefore pursue more rewarding careers?” [all of this of course, if we ignore the big elephant in the room, which is the cost of studying at a University]
I obviously disagree with them. It is one thing to condemn violence, and another to support the government, which I argue, had it coming. You cannot expect that it would suddenly be ok to impose neo-Thatcherian measures that empower (and to a certain extend recreate) the class-system of the previous century, and yet expect people not to react. What is even more naive, is the expectation that people whose collective identity has been destroyed as a result of the conservative attack on worker’s unions during the 1980s, would be in position to express their collective anger in an orderly way.
I hope that much more Cypriots than those that I had the chance to chat with see things from the perspective of people who grow up having no chance at all. Unfortunately, to my surprise, this uncritical and homogenizing understanding of (mostly) marginalized and oppressed groups, slowly becomes the norm.