By Andy Dabilis
The images that reappeared in Athens this week are familiar by now, after 18 months of pitched battles: protesting Greeks taking to the streets, the poor and pensioners aggrieved by pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and layoffs, screaming outside the parliament at lawmakers holed up inside, protected by battalions of riot police.
That was followed on Thursday (October 20th) by squads of hooded anarchists tearing up marble sidewalks and storefronts, hurling Molotov cocktails, drawing reprisals of stun grenades, tear gas, chemical weapons and batons.
Many sectors of society — teachers, tax inspectors, customs officers, finance ministry employees, bus and Metro workers, taxi drivers, air traffic controllers, lawyers, hospital workers, pharmacists and doctors — walked off their jobs for two days this week.
Despite the strikes, the parliament — controlled by the Socialist PASOK party of Prime Minister George Papandreou — passed the bill on Thursday. A move, Papandreou said was critical to the country’s survival.
What’s behind the anger and despair?
Professor Nickolaos Travlos of the Athens Laboratory of Business Administration (ALBA) told SETimes that Greeks are dispirited because the government is a “Parliamentary Dictatorship” that ignores them.
PASOK MP’s who refuse to go along with Papandreou’s line are dismissed from the party — former Minister Louka Katseli was ousted after she refused to back a proposal to end collective bargaining rights.
As Greece drowns in 330 billion euros of debt and has a deficit of 10.6%, the austerity measures have largely backfired, creating a deep recession with 16% unemployment, shuttering of more than 100,000 businesses, and fuelling rage.
Hara Golfinopoulou, an unemployed shop assistant, 48, marched to save not her future, she said, but her children’s. She said her parents went to the United States with dreams and hopes before coming back, which she now regrets.
“Who would have thought that our children would have to follow in their grandparents footsteps and become immigrants again? I’m afraid they’ll leave out of fear and despair,” she told SETimes.
One demonstrator, Maria Karra, a school teacher, said she was surprised at the ongoing intensity of the protesters. “People were angry, indignant, with rightful demands. There were young people and middle-aged who feel insecure about the future,” she told SETimes.
Golfinopoulou and her peers were described by Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos as enemies of democracy.
“We have to explain to all these indignant people who see their lives changing that what the country is experiencing is not the worst stage of the crisis. We are fighting the battle of all battles,” Venizelos said.
Venizelos said the immediate problem is implementing more austerity to get the next loan installment, now pushed back to next month — without which he said the country will not be able to pay its workers and pensioners
Marios Evriviades, a Professor of International Relations at Panteion University in Athens, told SETimes that he wasn’t buying the argument the Troika would withhold the loans if more austerity wasn’t imposed.
“Nothing worse than what is happening now will happen,” he said. “They managed to scare the hell out of the Greek people.” He said, “The Greeks should call the bluff of the Troika and if they do, the money will come.”
However, some disagree. “I don’t think we have a choice. We have to go through this very harsh program of austerity …the situation is so urgent, we don’t have what we need, a totally new public sector,” Kostas Ifantis, a political Professor at the University of Athens told SETimes.
While Papandreou and Venizelos have said Greece can return to a surplus, perhaps by the end of next year if the government sticks to its course with austerity, Evriviades said it’s an illusion.
“There is no light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “There is another tunnel.”