Monday, March 26, 2012

Greek government under siege

Most Greeks in Athens were deeply unhappy with how their Independence day parade was held this year by Teacher Dude's BBQ

I was wrong. I had thought that the Independence Day parade in Athens yesterday would act as a catalyst for the ground swell of popular anger with the Greek government's deeply unpopular austerity measures. Instead of turning up to jeer and boo their leaders Athenians stayed away from the parade in droves. Just a fraction turned out to cheer the military units that made their way passed parliament and senior government figures.

The reason had less to do with acceptance of the government's policies than the overwhelming police presence and draconian security measures that meant that no one except carefully screened visitors would be allowed within 500m of the VIP stands set up near Syntagma Square.Along the rest of the route place lined both sides of the road with riot police units literally waiting on every corner. In terms of keeping the peace the event was a complete success as no one was allowed to demonstrate anywhere near the parade, let alone bring it to a halt. All that was needed was the transformation of the centre of Athens into an armed camp with seemed to have more in common with Pyongyang than any EU capital.

Greek media reported that anywhere between 4,500 and 13,000 police and security personnel were needed to police the parade.

Greek riot police use shield to move protesters away from VIP stands

In other parts of Greece, less favoured by central government a very different story was playing out. In Patra, Larissa, Kozani and many other smaller towns the police were unable to muster overwhelming numbers with the result that protests went ahead leading to wide use of tear gas and clubs against people during what is meant to be a national celebration attended by all the family.

However, since nothing happened in Athens the media and the government are happy that all is well in the state of Greece. They believe that that tensions can be kept in check and that come the elections, whatever party wins the most seats it will be business as usual with a PASOK - New Democracy coalition continuing to implement the terms of the troika agreements signed recently. 

On the ground the worsening economic crisis which shows no sign of halting is pushing more and more people to the wall as unemployment and income cuts bite even deeper. Few believe that the parties in power will do anything other than continue polices that have brought about widespread poverty and misery. Although opinion poll show a rise in support for PASOK following the election of Evangelios Venizelos as party leader and a firming up in New Democracy's numbers the results owe more to wishful thinking than a reflection of the situation in the street. According to an article in the Paron newspaper, 7 in 10 people refuse to take part in phone polls so rendering the results unreliable.

Being in Syntagma Square yesterday left me with an belief that the present government is both terrified of and utterly indifferent to the opinions of its own electorate. Perhaps they really believe their own propaganda or maybe it's just the belief that if push comes to shove they have the power to impose their will, no matter how unpopular upon people.

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