Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Greece's beleaguered government cracks down on dissent

Perhaps it is appropriate that Thessaloniki, which this weekend celebrated the 100th anniversary of its liberation from the Ottoman Empire looked like a city under siege. For three days the centre of Greece's second largest city was the objects of draconian security measures designed to avoid a repetition of last year's peaceful protests which closed down the annual military parade and forced the president of the republic to flee.

Mindful of the fact that the event lead to the resignation of the then prime minister, Giorgos Papandreou just weeks later the current political leadership decided to make sure last year's events were not repeated.

As a result 2,000 extra police were drafted to protect prime minister Antonis Samaras and president Karolos Papoulias as they visited Thessaloniki over the weekend. The security measures for the Oxi Day parade were so tight that no even the parents of high school pupils taking part were allowed within the 1 km “dead zone” that surrounded the VIP stand and effectively isolated the parade from the vast majority of citizens who'd turned out to follow it.

Greek riot police protect politicians and VIPs during high school student parade

This was the equivalent of banning the public from 4 July/ Bastille Day/Remembrance Day. Only those with an invitation from the government were permitted to attend the event which is held annually to mark the entry of Greece into the Second World War.

Even journalists were turned away as the invitation only rule caught many by surprise. As a result the event was covered nearly exclusively by pro-government media who did an excellent job on ignoring the fact that no one was watching, apart from armed soldiers, riot police units and party cadres from the political parties that form Greece's coalition government.

Instead of commenting on the strange absence of ordinary people on a day many Greeks consider sacred, the state run media was generous in its praise for the organisers as nothing untoward had happened.

Greek PM arrives in Thessaloniki amid draconian security measures

As Greece's economic slide continues the country's political leadership has become more isolated from voters and as a result has grown ever more paranoid. The few public appearances by government officials are invariably marked by the presence of thousands of uniformed and plain clothes police officers. Even the most traditional and innocuous gatherings are eyed with suspicion and policed as if they were a football derby between deadly rivals.

When on Friday Antonis Samaras visited the Agios Demitrios Cathedral in Thessaloniki to attend a religious service to celebrate the city's patron saint, heavily armed riot police units carrying shields and tear gas kept back curious worshippers from the leader. Inside the perimeter between hundreds of police officers made sure that the 100m journey from the prime minister's limo to the church entrance went off without incident. Inside, dozens of plain clothes officer kept a watchful eye of the congregation to make sure no embarrassing images of pensioners booing were seen on TV screens.

(UPDATE - The one hapless reporter from the local state run ET3 channel who happened to mention heavy police presence during the visit of the prime minister was quickly taken off air and later fired).

Karolos Papoulias - One of Greece's hidden leaders.

Such scenes are just part of growing intolerance towards dissent and protest, both in the streets and in the press. Whilst pro – austerity sentiment dominates both state run and private mass media, even the slightest show of anti – government defiance is now being punished. In the last 48 hours alone, Greek journalist Kostas Vaxevanis was arrested for publishing a list of possible tax dodgers given to then finance minister, Papakonstantinos by IMF head, Christine Lagarde.

Unlike his French and German counterparts Giorgos Papakonstantinos did not act upon the information (reasons why seem to vary from week to week), instead handing the information to his successor PASOK leader, Evangelos Venizelos, who kept it in desk drawer for two years.

Such heavy handedness was also repeated when two presenters on a popular morning TV show were fired suddenly by the state run NET TV channel after they mentioned reports in the Guardian that linked law and order minister Nikos Dendias in connection with an alleged police torture scandal.

It's hard to see how long any democratically elected government, especially a coalition one made up of such disparate elements can survive just using just the power of a supine media and the blunt instrument of massive police force.


Dot.Hakers said...

The link for the ERT-3 reporter was not correct; the link (roughly translated using Google Translate) is here

Dot.Hakers said...

Or better, here: http://goo.gl/GttBO