Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Greece: Light blue touch paper and stand well back

Evangelos Venizelos by Teacher Dude's BBQ
Evangelos Venizelos, a photo by Teacher Dude's BBQ on Flickr.
Over the last two days it seems that the Greek government has been in tense negotiations with the IMF and EU partners over the conditions attached to the country's sixth bailout installment. The local media has been cutting into normal programming to report even the the slightest update over the state of play.

In an address to the nation on Sunday, deputy prime minister quoted Churchill to show quite how serious the situation Greece was facing. In Venizelos's opinion anything but a united front by Greek political parties, academics and the media would lead to disaster and  in a fierce attack on critics he stopped just short of accusing those opposed to the austerity measures of treason.

Angry taxi drivers protesting outside Thessaloniki trade fair

So considering the atmosphere of supposedly feverish negotiations it came as more than a surprise when the IMF's official spokeman said that Athens's creditors had in fact demanded no new cuts or taxes but rather that the ruling PASOK government applied measures that had already been agreed upon in summer.

And there you have so many of Greece's problems in a nutshell. The country's political elite, even as the situation deteriorates even further still continues playing the same old games.Like generals fighting the last war, the leadership of PASOK still thinks it can fob off foreigners with promises it cannot keep while fobbing off domestic critics with talk of victories won.

However, this particular web of half-truths, fudges and outright lies is about to crumble as it becomes more and more apparent that Athens hasn't the political power to stop massive cuts in public services and pay. On the other hand local trade unions, public sector workers and huge swathes of the population facing yet more tax hikes are at breaking point. After three years of recession pockets are empty, people are desperate and anger at the mendacity and ineptitude of the country's political class is at an all time high.

Thousands of riot police on duty to protect Greek PM during visit to Thessaloniki

Even before the present debt crisis public confience in the political system was low following the seemingly endless series of corruption scandals that dogged the conservative New Democracy's five years in power. Even by the abysmally low standards of Greek politics the Karamanlis administration had reached new depths of veniality, helped in part by laws drafted by present deputy PM Venizelos protecting ministers from prosecution.

Both major parties are polling historically low and are struggling to get more than 20% of the vote. Nor have the smaller parties both of the left and right been able to capitalise on this trend. Instead there has been a widespread sense of disgust which is signalling a seachange in Greek political life.The current politicial set up is in crisis and despite frantic claims to the contrary no one is clear about how to get Greece out of the hole it finds itself.

Outside the hermetically sealed world of party politics however, protests movements are being created that promise to challenge prime minister Giorgos Papandeou's plans. Even the traditionally pro-PASOK public sector trade unions are promsing a long drawn out fight over cuts in pay, conditions and numbers. A battle that will intensify once details of lay-offs involving 100,000 civil servents are announced this week.

Greek protesters in face off with riot police during anti-government march- Thessaloniki, Greece

Less predictably, and perhaps more explosively, the country's Indignant movement is likely to see a resurgence following it's violent surpression in June. In addition the "I Won't Pay" civil disobedience movement created to fight road toll hikes is likely to pick up support amongst the 5 million housholds facing an emergency property tax in October as part of their electricity bill. Failure to pay in full will, according to the government result in people having their power cut off

This measure is deeply dispised as it is seen as little more than a legislative smash and grab that will includes the unemployed and disabled but not the nation's second largest property owner, the Greek Orthodox Church.

Just today there are at least three major demonstrations being planned in central Athens, a number that is likely to rise as the full extent of Athens's new austerity measures beome clear.

Venizelos may have compared himself with Winston Churchill on Sunday however, Marshal Petain, leader of the puppet Vichy French regime during World War Two seems a much closer historical fit, given how much national sovereignty has been surrendered propping up an economy on the brink of collapse.

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