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Greece: Demonstrators Losing Steam

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By Andy Dabilis

After nearly two years of austerity that has sparked protests, riots and strikes from workers angered over pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and layoffs, there are signs that Greek anger may be turning toward resignation — or fear that default could be even worse.

Private sector workers, who are next in line to have their wages cut, could lose collective bargaining rights and see the end of the 876-euro monthly minimum wage, took to the streets on Tuesday (January 17th) in a peaceful protest that some analysts say signals a winding down of rage.

“There has definitely been a slowing down,” Alex Afouxenidis, a professor at the University of Peloponnese and sociologist at the National Centre for Social Research in Athens, told SETimes regarding the tepid protest. Chilly temperatures may have played a part too.

Still, Afouxenidis said, Greek workers seem to be uncertain about what they want, beyond an end to austerity. “It is a movement without demands, and that means a deadlock,” he said.

Protests in recent months have been smaller and less vociferous. Tuesday’s demonstration, which was limited to workers in the Attica region around Athens, may have been small, but the resolve is still big, said officials from the GSEE union, which organised the rally and represents nearly two million workers.

“It was powerful and combative, like all movements that have been against the blackmailing demands of the Troika, as well as the measures the government is applying at the orders of her creditors,” Union spokesman Stathis Anestis told SETimes.

“Hope is still powerful and that’s why we are still fighting,” he added.

Vassilis Xenakis, national affairs secretary for the ADEDY labour union that represents beleaguered public workers, told SETimes that “What happens in the public sector happens in the private sector, and we expect solidarity.”

The demonstration comes as the coalition government, led by former European Central Bank Vice-President Lucas Papademos, tries to negotiate a stalled second bailout of 130 billion euros from the EU-IMF-ECB. The bailout could include a more than 50% reduction in the country’s debt.

Without the next infusion of aid, Greece won’t be able to meet a 14.5 billion-euro loan installment in March, nor be able to pay its workers or pensioners.

A recent poll showed 77% of Greeks want Papademos to do whatever is necessary to keep the country in the 17-member eurozone. While the negotiations for a debt write-down have stalled over disagreements on the interest rate, Papademos told CNBC in an interview that leaving the eurozone “is not really an option”.

However, the new loan means more of the austerity measures that have triggered a deep recession in the country.

Stratos Georgoulas, a sociology professor at the University of the Aegean on the island of Lesbos, said he doesn’t think the protest movement will peter out.

“They believe what the Greek capitalist system has done the last 30 years is wrong,” he told SETimes. He noted recent polls that showed the former ruling Socialist party PASOK has fallen to a 14% approval rating, barely ahead of the rising Democratic Left and Communists who are being fueled by public discontent.

“It seems public opinion now is like a wait-and-see stance,” until the coalition either reaches a deal, or, as some private investors are balking at taking big losses, falls apart, George Tzogopoulos, a senior research fellow at the Athens think tank ELIAMEP, told SETimes.

But not all are willing to sit back and wait.

“Nothing is going to stop me. I am so angry I will fight with my hands and teeth. I have nothing to lose. We’re not giving up; maybe some people are tired, but we’ll regroup again,” construction worker Charalambos Georgakopoulos told SETimes.

SETimes

The Southeast European Times Web site is a central source of news and information about Southeastern Europe in ten languages: Albanian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, English, Greek, Macedonian, Romanian, Serbian and Turkish. The Southeast European Times is sponsored by the US European Command, the joint military command responsible for US operations in 52 countries. EUCOM is committed to promoting stability, co-operation and prosperity in the region.

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