Wednesday, September 04, 2013

All the fun of the fair

Mussolini must be in town. The streets are full of cops, traffic is flowing freely through the city's central thoroughfares and rumour has it that the trains are once again running on time. However, to add a more modern touch to the scene police helicopters circle overhead constantly. For at least once a year the authorities pretend that they run Thessaloniki and at least for a few days most of the rules of the road are obeyed.

It is Trade Fair week and once again Greece's second largest city hosts either the annual international trade fair or a riot police convention, as the days count down to the grand opening on Saturday the difference between the two shrinks to nothing. Already flocks of scooter riding cops roam the city headed by officers on larger machines leading the way, like a mother duck leading her brood to water. Inside the trade fair itself workers hammer away setting up the stalls and stands that will host the 78th Thessaloniki International Trade Fair.

Traditionally, the fair has marks the end of summer, at least politically and the start of a new parliamentary session. it also marks the annual expedition by Greek government up north to see how folks in the provinces are doing. It gives the prime minister the chance to give the nearest thing Greece has to a State of the Union address and trade unions, political groups and anyone else with a beef the opportunity to march and show their discontent with present policies. Sometimes it goes off peacefully, other times the centre can be turned into war zone for the space of the evening.

In years gone by the political leadership would take the chance to make lavish promises and announce grand public works in the city. Indeed this approach proved so popular that five PMs in a row announced that, unlike their tardy predecessors, they would ensure that Thessaloniki's promised subway would start  the following year.

Despite the fact that the country has yet to reach budget targets and is faced with the prospect of requesting yet more bail out cash, government officials and their friends in the media have once again started making promises that public works project, long stalled for lack of cash will resume, a minimum guaranteed income will be introduced and the country will be flowing with milk and honey before the month is out.

On the other the list of those unhappy with New Democracy and PASOK's austerity measures continues to grow and after five years of economic contraction, broken promises and despite claims that the worst is over few believe that Athens is in a position to say no to its creditors demands for yet more cuts.

So the stage is set for a potentially violent showdown on Saturday when the prime minister will give a speech surrounded by anything up to 8,000 police and the streets fill with angry Greeks.

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