Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Greek authorities take no chances on the eve of Polytechniou Day

It seems that the Greek nation has finally accepted the inevitable and got on board with the austerity package demanded by the country's creditors. It must be true since the prime minister, Giorgos Papandreou said so during his speech after the results of Sundays local elections. So did IMF head Dominique Strauss Kahn in an interview on French radio when he said that the victory of the ruling PASOk party showed that Greek had understood the need for change.

What both leaders choose to ignore was the enormous drop in turnout by Greek voters, in some cases 50% less than in previous elections in 2006 and the growing dislocation between the country's ruled and rulers. While both major parties made some gains the overall trend is one of ever intensifying disenchantment with the current political system. Less an endorsment of the country's politicians than an understanding that the country no longer controls its destiny, no matter which party is nominally in charge.

Tomorrow marks the 37th anniversary of the Polytechnic uprising which set in motion a chain of events that led to the overthrow of the military dictatorship that had siezed power in 1967. Every year students and others march in Greece's major cities in commemoration of those who died to restore freedom and democracy. The day is often used as a platform by political groups to demonstrate against unpopular government policies. This year's anniversary is likely to repeat this tradition and the presence of 7000 additional police officers in the centre of the capital is testiment to how worried the government is about the marches turning into something more violent.

Already there have been clashes in Athens between youths and the police around the university of Athens campus the scene of many of the violent confrontations during the 2008 uprising which caused billions of euros worth of damage.

Polytechniou day as it is known in Greece will prove to be an acid test over whether young Greeks in particular have accepted the massive cuts in public spending and job losses proposed by the European Union, European Central Bank and IMF.

Given the anger and frustration felt by much of the population over the continued economic crisis there is a very real possibility that a miscalculation by the authorities could have drastic consequences.

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