What happened on Zakynthos early on Wednesday was a tragedy. It seems trite to say so, but amid the breathless pursuit to find a specific reason for the fatal stabbing of a British teenager by a 21-year-old taxi driver on the Ionian island, it’s easy to forget that such incidents result from the fateful crossing of many dark paths.
A family in Britain mourns the loss of a youngster’s life while a family in Greece will agonize over the events that changed another young man’s life forever. The pain they will feel cannot be the same but they share equally in this tragedy. In fact, we all share in it. There are many things that could have been done at all levels to keep those dark paths from veering into each other.
That’s why the debate that emerged on the airwaves and the Internet in Greece following the incident has no hope of healing the wounds created by the Zakynthos stabbing or righting the wrongs that created the circumstances in which it could happen. Commentators and officials adopted two distinct lines. One group condemned the incident as a failure of the Greek state, which is accused of not monitoring cabbies on Zakynthos and providing too few police officers for the island, and of the local authorities, which allegedly turn a blind eye to the excesses and illegality at the notorious resort of Laganas.
The other group, including Zakynthos Mayor Stelios Bozikis, suggested directly or indirectly that the stabbing was the result of Greece accepting low-grade tourists: youngsters on cheap deals and with little money in their pockets, most of which they will spend on alcohol.
There are elements of truth in both arguments but neither provides the catchall we always seem to search for when incidents like this occur. Negligence on the part of Greece’s central and local government undoubtedly contributed to the young Briton’s death, as it has in the death of tourists, and many locals, in the past. The collapse of the roof over the Akrotiri archaeological site in 2005, which killed 46-year-old Richard George Bennion, and the fatal gas poisoning of Christianne Shepherd, 7, and her brother Robert, 6, at a hotel in Corfu in 2006 are just two cases that come to mind.
They are tales of corners being cut, responsibilities not being met, laws being ignored and professionalism being sacrificed.
However, there have also been deaths that have come about as a result of young people apparently going beyond the limits.
In 2009, for example, Andre Young, 17, was found dead in Malia, Crete, after an alleged night of heavy drinking with friends. In 2007, 19-year-old Jonathan Hiles died after being punched in a nightclub in Laganas, where Tuesday’s stabbing occurred.
These seem to be tales of dangerous excess, disregard for safety and loss of self-respect as well as respect for others. The source of Tuesday’s deadly incident won’t be found in one strand or the other, it will probably lie in their confluence. This is why the British Embassy in Athens, the British and Greek police and local authorities on several Greek islands have been working together over the past few years to prevent unnecessary injuries or loss of life. Their aim has been to encourage responsible behavior from young visitors to Greece but also from those who serve them. Their efforts have borne positive results that will be overshadowed by the Zakynthos killing.
However, it’s on this effort to establish common interests that we should all focus now. Those who visit Greece should understand that their vacation is not a holiday from the generally accepted rules of society, while those who make a living from these visitors must appreciate it’s their duty, and indeed it serves their interests, to treat their customers with respect. This effort needs the support of politicians, police, local authorities, business owners, the media and broader society.
Again, it seems trite to make these points but there’s a danger we will again be sidetracked into stereotypical conversations that portray Greece as a perilous land of lawlessness or British teenagers as exclusive purveyors of wanton savagery when neither is true. Instead, we should pause, think and improve. Anything else will simply perpetuate the tragedy.