Monday 13 February 2012

Athens burning

It was a sad, sad day yesterday as we sat glued to our television screens watching the news, seeing a country that is already on its knees destroying itself. Athens was on fire. The situation was totally out of control.


Thousands of protestors assembled yesterday afternoon in Syntagma Square to protest against the signing of the deeply unpopular bailout deal which would lead an already impoverished country to further, unimaginable hardship. Very soon however, the protestors had to disperse and try and hide in nearby streets to avoid the tear gas released by the riot police. Around 200 youths retaliated by throwing stones and molotov cocktails at the police.


A second CP-led demonstration which started out from Omonia Square with the intention of joining the other demonstration had to repeatedly retreat as the atmosphere was getting asphyxiating. Battles were raging on four fronts by 6:00 pm - 6,000 riot police had been deployed to deal with the demonstrators.


The demonstrators who had retreated returned and would not go away. They started fires in the streets to protect themselves from the tear gas. And this was the way things went for the rest of the evening and night. Riot police would move people on who would later return again and again. Despite the unbearable atmosphere and the violence people kept returning, insisting that their point be made. As we watched live coverage we were amazed at the thousands of people, who would not budge. 80,000 is the current estimate, with 20,000 in Thessaloniki. Demonstrations were held in other cities around Greece as well.


The two hundred 'hoodies', as they are called here, swelled to 2000 and the violence increased as the evening progressed. 40 buildings were set on fire, mostly banks, but also cafeterias, one cinema and quite a few shops were burnt and looted.


The majority of the people who went to demonstrate against the parliamentary approval of more austerity measures found themselves in an impossible situation, stuck between youths determined to show their anger and the riot police who used violence indiscriminately. The demonstrators refused to go away despite the fact that they were literally in a war zone.

As for the tear gas, it is impossible to describe how awful it is - at times all you could see was a haze of chemicals, and a lot of people had to be taken to hospital with breathing difficulties.


(all photographs courtesy of 247news, on-news, BBC, The Guardian)
So, what happened inside Parliament? The MPs voted in favour of billions of euros in spending cuts and fresh austerity measures in order to avoid default on its national debt and keeping the eurozone intact. 43 politicians abstained or voted against and this morning they were expelled from their parties.

Where is the 130bn euros which has been borrowed go? It is nearly all going to go to the banks.

What have Greek people got to gain from this?

  • a cut of 15,000 public sector jobs
  • liberalisation of labour laws
  • lowering the minimum wage by 20% from 751 euros to 500

The Greek people are caught between the demands of the EU/banks and a lying, cheating, incompetent government that cannot look after its people, that likes to line its own pockets and that cannot keep its promises. (for more on this, see my post on 8 February)


It is worth quoting The Guardian in full here:

"Forthcoming elections are expected to change Greece's political landscape dramatically, with many MPs voting on Sunday unlikely to be re-elected to the 300-seat Parliament. With the rise of leftwing parties that have vehemently opposed the budget cuts,  commentators said that it was very unlikely the reforms would be enforced despite the pivotal ballot. "The men and women voting on this agreement are political ghosts", said the analyst Giorgos Krytsos. "The troika has not bothered to make a decent political analysis because if it had it would know that these measures will never be implemented. The agreement is meaningless. It won't be worth the paper it was written on"". 

So what happens now?

  • This latest bailout is not going to help Greece - it will help the banks, but not the people of this country
  • Following the last bailout, Greek debt increased.
  • The Greek government is not going to implement the structural, economic, social and political changes that are going to be necessary, as they didn't for the last bailout. What they will do is what they find easy. Unable, unwilling and incapable of tackling tax avoidance, the Government had the 'ingeneous' idea to impose another property tax on top of the council tax that everyone pays - they decided to collect this tax through the electricity bills, with the threat of cutting people's electricity supply if they did not pay. But this was not enough and six months later, they announced yet another property tax. We have a small flat in Athens and we have had to pay 1400 euros this year on top of the council tax.

Is default the answer, I have started asking myself. The Greek people face years of austerity and poverty. The hardships created by the bailout will not lead to a position where Greece can grow again. The economic, social and political crisis threatened by default is already upon us. Default opens the possibility that Greece will go through the present hardships with some hopes of recovery and some semblance of national sovereignty.

This is something I would not even have considered up to a few days ago, but I cannot think of anything else that might pull Greece out of the situation it finds itself in.


1 comment:

  1. The tragedy behind this is that the austerity measures, after all this protest and upheaval, will lead the Greek economy into further decline, as they have already, and this will undermine the economic improvements that the bailout was meant to create. If ever there was a downward spiral, this is it.