Friday, May 28, 2010

Robbed again

There are times when my life seems more like an endurance test than anything else. Just when you think that you've got over once crisis or another something else comes along and once again hits you for six. Last night my flat was burgled and while I was asleep somebody managed to open the balcony door and stole cameras, my hard disc, mobile phone and all the cash I had saved up to see my through the summer months.

I reported the crime to the police and the forensics guy came around to take fingerprints. It took all my powers of self control not to leave the place whilst waiting for him to arrive. I just couldn't stand the thought of being there knowing what had happened, different scenarios go through my mind and I shudder to think if this had happened over the weekend when Lydia, my daughter usually comes to stay.

I must have slept especially heavily last night, perhaps the result of the fact that I had to push my Vespa halfway across town yesterday after the clutch died on my. Pushing 120kg of dead scooter in 30C heat is enough to take it out of you.

Twice in less than six months I have had all my camera equipment stolen and this time they even took the hard disc with months worth of work on it. The only pictures that I still have are those which I uploaded to Flickr, a tiny fraction of the total. This has hit my hardest of all, that and the fact that I don't know how I'm going to get through the next months. I have just 20 euros in my pocket, givento me by a friendly neighbour. What I'm going to do about the rent this month or the other bills that I was planning to pay off this week I do not know.

I don't think I can go on living like this tottering from one disaster to another and as a result I'm seriously thinking about whether I have any kind of future here in Greece.


Thanks to everyone who has got in contact with messages of sympathy and offers of help. If you feel like you would like to help donations can be made via Paypal.
using this email.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thessaloniki sunset

Thessaloniki sunset, originally uploaded by Teacher Dude's BBQ.

Thessaloniki harbour at sunset

Just thought I'd change the tome of the blog, just to get away from all the doom and gloom and remember the beautiful things, if at least for a moment. Bread and roses, as they say.

The battle of the Banquet restaurant goes on - Thessaloniki, Greece

When one of the employees of the upscale Banquet restaurant in the centre of Thessaloniki had the temerity to ask for wages owed him he was promptly fired setting off a chain of protests outside the establishment which has continued now for over a month.

Accused of failing to pay overtime, legally mandated minimum wage, overtime rates and keeping tips the management decided to close down the place rather than pay what they owed employees and re-hire the dismissed worker.

What you have in microcosm is the painful choices being forced upon millions of Greeks, either work for a pittance without "luxuries" such as overtime, holiday pay or health insurance or become unemployed. Despite what the foreign media may say about the Greek welfare state its provisions come nowhere near providing a safety net for the country's poorest and most vulnerable.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Looking into the abyss - Greek market shock therapy threatens to kill patient


Sometimes it's the little thing that show you how grim things are getting here in Thessaloniki, the long lines of taxis waiting at ranks for customers to turn up even in the middle of the day when up till recently getting a cab was next to impossible. Or perhaps its the accents of wandering street vendors who are now more likely to be people from the city than some recently arrived immigrant from West Africa or a member of Greece's Rom community. The city centre has become a near ghost town on week nights, a mere shadow of its former, vibrant self with cafes uncharacteristically quiet and empty streets, this in a place that prided itself on 4am traffic jams.

Despite the ruling PASOK government's claims that the country is on the way to re-inventing itslef and "entering a new era" the IMF - EU imposed Stability Pact brings to mind the old medical joke, "the operation was a success, but the patient died". The price being paid to trim public spending and raise revenues to pay off Greece's massive $420 billion debt load has been steep indeed and the greatest burden is being carried by those on middle and lower incomes. i.e those least likely to have benefitted from previous state profligacy.

They have been hit by the double whammy of falling wages and rising prices. Even in the relatively priviledged public sector incomes have taken a 20% dive whereas in the private sectors wages which had been been stagnant for the last five years have taken a nose dive as threat of unemployment forces people to accept whatever they are given (regardless of labour legislation laws or union agreements) or face losing their jobs.

On the other hand inflation still rages at nearly 5% with the steepest rises being observed in food, clothing and transport, i.e goods and services used by all. As a result the the greatest pressure on budgets is being felt by the poorest. The rises in VAT and a second round of tax hikes on petrol have just added to the problem and as a result the economy is going into free fall as people consume less so adding to financial woes. The numbers speak for themselves; 48% of Greeks reported in a recent newspaper poll that they have cut down on food expenditure recenty whilst 90% have cut down on money spent on clothing.

With petrol averaging 1.50 euros a litre, (the most expensive in Europe) those in the tourist industry are bracing themselves for a rough summer season as fewer and fewer Greeks are able to reach holiday destinations, let alone afford to stay there. The crisis has already become obvious in the last few months with a 21% drop in car use in the greater Athens area. Similarly the recent bank holiday saw a signifigant drop in Athenians leaving capital for nearby villages and beaches, with many of those who did leave opting for a day trip rather than taking advantage of the gorgeous weather to spend three days away from the city.

However, perhaps the most corrosive effect of the economic crisis is not one that shows up in accountants' ledgers or bankers' balance sheets, its the fear and sense of desperation that is eating away at many, even those who have a job and money in their pockets are terrified that all could just disappear in the near future.

The problem is even greater for the young who have seen what little hope they had for the future evaporate with nothing it seems to take it place except the prospect long term unemployment or a lifetime of insecure badly paid labour with nothing to show for it at the end. Many people I talk to speak obsessively about living the country, trying their luck elsewhere. They are angry and disappointed that after years of study and hard work their qualifications mean virtually nothing in Greece.

They may be right as it is very hard to see how Greece is going to pull out of the present financial nose dive brought about imposition of "internal devaluation" which is also being applied in Latvia with similarly devastating results with a drop in 25 % GNP in just one year. The total loss is estimated to reach 30% next year, a figure greater than the USA during the Great Depression during 1929-1933 according to the Centre for Economic and Policy Research.

Sarah Ferguson - A Very British Scandal

This weekend the Sarah Ferguson money for introductions scandal broke in the News of the World, a publication usually more interested in sex lives of footballers's wives and girlfriends than corruption amongst Britain's elites,. Since then, however, there has been precious little coverage in the country's more serious publications, even the Guardian saw fit to publish just one article entitled "Why I feel sorry for Sarah Ferguson" and seemed to suggest that she was more a victim of a royal plot than a money grubbing con woman out to make herself rich through supposedly setting up contacts with the rich and powerful via her ex-husband, the son of Queen Elizabeth II. Just weeks ago hundreds of thousands of Greek gathered outside the nation's parliament and tried to storm the place, in part because they feel their political elites were guilty of this kind of behaviour.

So what do the British do? Nothing, instead the story is quietly buried, at least as far as the "respectable" press is concerned and a woman filmed taking what constitutes a bribe is allowed to flee the country in style while Buckingham Palace publishes an apology on her behalf stating that she showed "a serious lack of judgement".

Serious lack of judgement is knocking back too much chardonnay at a party and dancing the Lambada on top of a table. Serious lack of judgement is telling your boss what you really think of them at the office Christmas party. I do not think the phrase was meant to cover demanding half a million pounds ($746,000) in bribes to ensure access to Britain's trade envoy. I'm sure that there are plenty of other phrases that more accurately describe what happened, pithy ones such as "greasing palms", "pulling strings" or perhaps the more formal "influence peddling".

Monday, May 24, 2010

Corruption? That's a Greek problem. Would never happen here.

Following Greece's descent into economic crisis much was made of the fact that corruption is part and parcel of Greek public life. Many newspapers abroad woke up to the fact that much of the country's ruling political class is both venial and corrupt and that irrespective of what ideological colours they profess to wear bribe money speaks louder than either Adam Smith or Karl Marx when it comes to how they wield power.

It was the perceived endemic corruption of both PASOK and New Democracy that lead to their previous electoral defeats in the last three general elections. The widely held idea that politicians are untrustworthy and easily bought was one of the main factors behind the massive protests that have taken plac recently in Athens and other Greek cities. When hundreds of thousands of citizens chant, "thieves thieves" outside parliament then even the most hardend advocate of the present system has to admit that public trust in the current political system is at an all time low.

It would be very easy to see the problems as a purely Greek one, the result of local pathologies and which do not apply further afield. However, today a story broke which shows that corruption and influence peddling are just as easily practiced by those abroad as those inside.

The British tabloid The News of the World has broken a story which could have been written especially for Greece, yet this time the person invoved has a far more aristocratic pedigree than any politician here. The news that Sarh Ferguson, the ex-wide of Prince Andrew, son of Queen Elizabeth II had been filmed eliciting money in return for ensuring access to her former husband shows that money still talks whoever you are. The newspaper set up a sting operation in which Ferguson was filmed pocketing $40,0000 in cash from a reporter posing as a foreign businesman, part of a half a million dollar deal that would supposedly allow him access to the prince.

Of course I'm sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for taking the money after all, this is England and not some backward Balkan state. Ferguson is royalty and not some grubby politician who demands wads of cash in return for commercial favours. Not the same at all, is it?

Back to teaching


I guess I've taken a break from reporting what has been happening here in Thessaloniki as I need some time and space for myself and do the other necessary stuff in my life so that the bills get paid and there is something in the fridge other than ice cubes and satchets of mustard.

Last week I helped present seminars in how to make and distribute videos on the internet using freely available software tools. As with using the web for teaching English I tried to adhere to two basic principles. The programs and equipment have to be;

1 Free (in the case of programs) or cheap (in the case of equipment) - so this means working with peoples' compact cameras or mobile/cell phones that have video recording capabilities.

2 The programs have to be easy to master.

There is little point wading through complex software that requires state of the art equipment if people do not have access to it afterwards. Instead the message I was trying to get across was that with simple tools and a little bit of knowledge we can capture half decent images that will help promote our message via the internet in ways that text alone cannot.

None of what said was groundbreaking or particularly new however, as with many powerful tools it's the application of existing technologies in new and innovative ways that makes all the difference. A mobile phone, a cheap netbook and use of the myriad of possibilities that social media offers means that we can all contribute something to the debates that surround us in the traditional media.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Greek protesters remember Argentina

When the IMF hit squad rolled into Argentina during their financial crisis, one of the ways people reacted was by going out onto the streeets en masse banging pots and pans. A tactic repeated here in Thessaloniki during yesterday's protest march.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Greek general strike - Thessaloniki, Greece 20th May 2010

Greek general strike - Thessaloniki, Greece 20th May 201

About 10,000 people took part in two protest marches today in Thessaloniki. The demonstrations passed off peacefully and the police kept a discrete distance so managed to avoid inflaming a tense situation. Though the demo was smaller than the one on 5th May it was still reasonably well-attended. For more pictures check out my Demotix story.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Οι επιτροπές AKΡΙΒEIA-STOP! ΘΕΣ/ΝΙΚΗΣ καταγγέλλουν τη διοίκηση του ΟΑΣΘ

"Οι επιτροπές AKΡΙΒEIA-STOP! ΘΕΣ/ΝΙΚΗΣ καταγγέλλουν τη διοίκηση του ΟΑΣΘ, που με περισσή υποκρισία κ ψεύτικη συγνώμη, κάτω από το βάρος της αντίδρασης χιλιάδων πολιτών της θεσ/νικης, ανακοίνωσε την απόσυρση της αύξησης στην τιμή του εισιτηρίου κατά 100% μέσω των λίγων γραμμών ενός δελτίου τύπου. Εντούτοις η τιμή του βασικού εισιτηρίου παραμένει αυξημένη κατά 20% σε σχέση με πριν. Επιπλέον, ενώ για την αύξηση αυτή η διοίκηση του ΟΑΣΘ ενημερώνει ακόμα και σήμερα, καθημερινά, μέσα στα λεωφορεία κ στους τηλεματικoύς πίνακες των στάσεων, η ανακοίνωση για την ακύρωση έγινε μέσω ενός απλού δελτίου τύπου, δίχως να ενημερωθούν σε ανάλογο βαθμό οι πολίτες"

Activists from the Akriveia - Stop consumer rights group in a protest in the centre of Thessaloniki against the local bus company. Recently OASTH (the Thessaloniki public transport company) decided to raise the cost of tickets by 20 - 100%. The most expensive change was the abolition of the right to transfer from bus to bus for up to 70 minutes without having to by a new ticket, effectively doubling the cost of longer bus journeys. After weeks of protest the bus company reversed its decision but has failed to notify anyone or change the instructions on ticket vending machines.

Friday, May 14, 2010

News from the front

Thessaloniki central courts cordoned off afater bombing - Greece

I haven't posted for the last few days not because things have been quiet but rather that there has been so much happening that I haven't had time to keep the blog up to date. Today, for example a bomb went off inside the central court building in Thessaloniki at midday. I heard about this by chance when the woman sitting next to me in a cafe got news of the event from a friend on her mobile phone. I happened to be in the middle of a major computer meltdown caused by some virus and so lost valuable minutes before I could reach the courts which by then had beeen closed off. Still, where's there a will, there a way in, so I managed to bypass the security cordon and get quite close.

According to eye witnesses I spoke to the bomb went off while people were still inside the building despite a warning phoned into the Athens based Eleutherotypia newspaper,. I think some people thought the whole thing was some kind of practical joke, not an unreasonable assumption given the fact that such phoned in threats are common here in Greece and almost always prove to be a hoax.

However, the fact that those who planted the bomb were able to breach security in a building that is literally crawling with police officers during working hours is not going to look good, especially coming just hours after the bomb attack on the Kordyllios maximum security prison in Athens (For previous security breaches click here).

Greek protest banners.

During the week there were also a number of demonstrations and marches against the government's changes to the national pension scheme, most of which were throughly ignored by the mainstream Greek media who are quite happy to be the government's electronic cheerleaders, repeatedly parroting whatever is today's media line.

Much has been made of the fact that many very rich doctors with private practices in the upscale Kolonaki neighbourhood of Athens will be charged with tax evasion. This has been a staple diet of the TV news for the last few days, I suppose in the hope that by soaking the rich, at least symbolically then people will somehow accept the austerity package being foisted upon them. I doubt that even those who write this believe it will succeed but they faithfully carry out the orders of their "betters", no matter how absurd or untrue (for more on how the Greek media works check out this post).

Yes, you, capitalist running dog!

There is still a real sense of anger over what is happening and despite what the Vima newspaper opinion polls might purport to show there is no popular mandate for the massive eonomic changes being made. Whilst no one is happy with the present situation the cuts in incomes in conjunction with price hikes on everything from petrol to electricity bills has infuriated most Greeks I know and is the constant source of complaint in radio talk in shows and cafe conversations. Where Vima managed to find 55% support for the PASOK government's handling of the crisis is beyond me especially as other polls by internet news and the centre right Kathimerini newspaper show exactly the opposite.

Soon, however, we'll have student elections in Greece universities and other highter education institutes and these are often seen as an indicator of the general state of the country's political parties support. It'll be interesting to see how PASOK and New Democracy fare given their support in parliament for the EU-IMF rescue deal.

Also the scale of the general strike and protests planned for May 20th should show how much prime minister, Giorgos Papandreou has managed to convince ordinary Greeks to take their medicine.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Whilst Greece sinks German subs and French frigates come to the rescue

Whilst Greece sinks German subs and French frigates come to the rescue

Lots has been made of the profilgacy of Greek state spending, on the way in which billions have been wasted on white elephants and unjustifiable wages and benefits. Yet there are areas of public expenditure which have barely been discussed, let alone touched by the swingeing cuts in services and incomes. Whilst the present socialist PASOK government is busily implementing cuts in minimum wage and lowest pensions the country's massive defence outlays seem to be immune from the fiscal demands of the IMF and EU.

Just today two stories have come to light which show just how much military spending weighs down the public coffers and the shadowy way in which Greece's EU partners have used their clout to ensure their own countrys' defence industries are insulated from any possible effects of the economic crisis in Greece.

Despite the dire state of the economy Athens is still going ahead with the purchase of two more German built submarines worth one billion euros in total. To add insult to injury the first Type 214 submarine when delivered to Greece in 2006 had 400 defects according to Strategy Pages, including excessive rolling in bad weather, overheating fuel cells and below par specifications which failed to live up the manufacturer, HDW's claims.

In addition European MP Daniel Cohn Bendit has claimed the Greek prime minister, Giorgos Papandreou confided that French leader, Nicolas Sarkozy strong armed Greece into fulfilling its previous commitment to purchase three billion euros worth of French defence equipment in return for French support for any bailout deal.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Greek teacher protesting - Thessaloniki, Greece

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Will Greek government be able to implement austerity package?

Shop owner tries to negotiate truce between protesters and riot police outside his shop

The streets of Thessaloniki are full of kids carrying bunches of flowers to take home since today is Mother's day here in Greece. It's strange to be strolling with my daughter along streets that just a few days ago looked like scenes out of a war movie with phalanxes of riot police charging protesters and the air heavy with the stench of tear gas and burning plastic.

Yet the calmness is deceptive and belays the fact that people here are extremely angry over the latest developments concerning the IMF-EU brokered bailout deal, and despite the concerted efforts of the country's media and especially the main TV stations not convinced that the massive cuts in incomes and public spending are the inevitable price Greece will have to pay to stop the slide into bankcruptcy. In a poll carried out by VPRC 55% of those asked said that they supported the idea of renegotiating the terms of the debt repayment whilst nearly a third wanted a stop on payments altogether. Similarly, the May 4th poll carried out by Public Issue on behalf of the Greek newspaper, Kathimerini on Sunday found that 66% of Greeks were against the measures. (it should be noted that opinion polls carried out for the Vima and Naytemporiki papers found exactly the opposite figures).

Anti-government protests - Thessaloniki, Greece

Once again despite what Prime minister Giorgos Papadreou may declare to fellow EU leaders at meetings in Brussels there is absoluely no popular support for the current measues and that the tactic of bypassing constititional and legal objections as part of their imposition is simply fanning the flames of disdent. Reform by diktat is not going to win over many hearts or minds here in Greece and is rapidly dismantling what little consensus exists within the country.

There is also the growing fear that even if the measures announced are enforced there is no guarantee that the sacrifices will bear any kind of fruit. If the rest of the world thinks that the Greek people are simply going to may down and play dead in order that Wall Street/The City/ Franfkfurt can sleep easier at night is in for a terrible shock. The month long wave of riots and revolt that struck Greece in December 2008 following the death of 15 year old Alexander Grigoropoulos was the work of Greece's youth to alarge extent. Current dissatisfaction with the political and economic system covers a much wider segment of the population and is likely to be even more bitter as millions slide into poverty and despair.

Greek riot police try to split protest march in two - Thessaloniki, Greece

One only has to see the example of IMF intervention in Argentina to see the likely social effects of an austerity package which may last for a decade and may nothing but the chance of better macroeconomic statistics at the cost of untold human misery.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Greeks demonstrate against bus price hike - Thessaloniki, Greece

Friday, May 07, 2010

Ireland Vs Greece

Yesterday I was once again by the BBC World Service to comment on why people are reacting no negatively to the EU-IMF bailout deal. I was paired with the head of one of Ireland's teaching unions (whose name I forget) to show perhaps how different the two country's reaction has been to similar measures.

Whilst Ireland underwent a painful readjustment in incomes and public services there was none of the violence recently witnessed in Athens an many other Greek cities. The impression I got was that Dublin managed to negotiate the changes through dialogue with the major trade unions and built up a consensus, that the cuts in wages and services was vital for the country's future.

No such dialogue exists here in Greece and the massive reductions in public spending combined with tax hikes has been imposed as a fait d'accomplice by the ruling PASOK party.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Greek riot police use military stun grenades against demonstrators

Greek riot police used stun grenades designed for use by special forces in anti-terrorist situations to break up protests outside the ex-ministry of Macedonia and Thrace in the northern city of Thessaloniki yesterday May 5 2010.

"The Grenade Hand Stun N580 and Grenade Hand
Stun Multi’s N582, N591 and N592 are diversionary
assault grenades, designed for use in confined
spaces by Special Forces during hostage release.
Noise and candela levels induce disorientation in
any persons within the effective range

Chemring Defense

Greece mourns loss of three bank workers lost in arson attack

Last night my dreams were full of smoke, flame and screams. I slept fitfully and when I woke I felt a sadness that I could not place till I remembered the tragic deaths of three people in a branch of Marfin bank in Athens yesterday after a group of people smashed the bank windows on the ground floor, poured petrol into it and set fire to the building. As a result three employees, including a pregnant woman died of asphyxiation. Everyone I know, everyone who has heard the news is in a state of shock, mourning those who were lost in such a senseless manner.

When the news first hit the internet, Twitter was full of wild rumours and speculation, some argued that the deaths were just black propaganda or the work of agent provocateurs intent on discrediting the anti-government demonstrations. Others still insisted that the real target of the arsonists were the archives of the government's anti-fraud agency which supposedly has offices in the same building. As time passed and the details of the tragedy came to light the rumours were quietly replaced by the realisation that the attack and deaths were most probably the result of that most deadly of human traits, stupidity. Those who set fire to the bank saw a target and give little or no heed to the possibility that people were inside.

This is not to say they are not responsible for their actions and I sincerely hope that they are caught and receive the punishment they so richly deserve.

On the other hand there is great sadness amongst those who took part in yesterday's demonstrations that this brutal act has allowed the local media to shift attention from the demands of the hundreds of thousands who took part in the marches onto those responsible for the deaths and so tar legitimate opposition to the austerity package with the actions of a handful of murderous morons.

Despite the attempts by the local media and especially the country's TV channels to present the massive cuts in income and jobs as inevitable the reality remains that the majority of Greeks are unwilling to sacrifice so much in order to pay debts racked up by the current economic and political systems which is already creaking under the weight of the anger that is building up. Today the Greek parliament will most probably vote in favour of the IMF-EU bailout plan but that is almost irrevelent as what really matters is the ability of the ruling PASOK government to implement the measures in the face of opposition from virtually every sector of society, to impose a cut in living standards unprecedented not just in post war Greek society but in the post - war history of western Europe.

Even within PASOK itself resistance to the measures is growing and how long prime minister Giorgos Papandreou will be able to maintain party discipline is a matter of doubt. More fundamentally the current political leadership does not have the moral clout to demand so much of the Greek people when it has been mired so deeply in corruption and scandal. The role of leading PASOK politicians in the Siemens, Daimler and Krupps corruption cases has yet to be satisfactorily resolved and there is a widespread belief that the hundreds of billions destined for Greece will just be used by the political elite to line their pockets and pay off political favours.

Yet it is not business as usual in Greece as people are starting to realise. The rage felt has momentarily subsided replaced by grief over yesterday's awful events but that will be just a brief respite for the government as the underlaying causes of popular anger still remain. When you see a woman pensioner, apoplectic with rage, using virtually every swear word available in the Greek canon to insult police menacing protest marchers then you know that Greece is undergoing a profound sea change.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Greek anti-austerity protests turn violent

Greek anti-austerity protests turn violent

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Greek teachers kick off country's general strike

Following the announcement of the austerity measures accompanying the EU-IMF bailout package thousands of Greeks have started a two general strike which is set to close down the country tomorrow. This morning thousands of teachers marchs in cities around the country over cuts in educational budgets and lost positions.

Yesterday evening approximately 40 teachers entered the state run NET TV station and interrupted the news forcing the channel to cut its regular programming. The incident ended with the intervention of riot police units who clashed with protesters..

Monday, May 03, 2010

Do you feel grateful? You've got to be kidding, right?

Just got off the phone with the BBC. I got a phone call earlier today asking if I would like to take part in a discussuion on the their Have Your Say programme and I said that I would be delighted to take part, especially after the BBC employee me asked me why Greeks were not feeling more grateful about the recent bailout deal. People here have a number of reactions to the EU-IMF brokered deal but gratitude is certianly not one of them. Anger, outrage, frustration and fear are far likely to be quoted but no one, and I mean no one I have heard discuss the matter considerd the current situation something to celebrate.

This seemed to puzzle some of the other participants on Have Your Say and many of the listener who sent in emails. Perhaps this stems from the fact apart from the raw economic facts people living outside Greece have only the vaguest idea of how things work here and how big a shock the present crisis is to people throughout the country. As I said to the presenter imagine being mugged and then being asked to contribute to your mugger's legal costs, which is basically what many Greeks are feeling at the moment.

Whilst everyone here is aware of the extensive faults of the Greek government (we live them daily) and the problems with graft and waste the the sheer size of the deficit created by the past two government's came as much as a surprise to ordinary people here as it did to the world's financial markets. Now it seems that the two major parties have not just sold off the family silver but mortgaged the future of the whole nation for at least a generation the mood of seething anger lies over the country like some kind of toxic fug.

How did it come to this? Where did all that money go? How come the country owes so much? are just some of the questions on everyone's lips. Now those who are responsible for getting the country into this "death spiral" as the BBC put it are now calling for a joint national effort to pay off an impossible mountain of debt. I swear that if the leader of either PASOK or New Democracy made a public appearence at the moment they'd be lucky to escape a lynching by a baying mob.

A measure of the fear that the present administration feels over the strength of popular resentment that it announced the fact that the country was going to go to the EU-IMF from the island of Kastellorizo which about as far away from Athens as it far to get and still remain in Greece. This is akin to Gordon Brown announcing the most regressive social measures in a generation from the Outer Hebrides.

Greeks angry over price hikes in wake of austerity package

As well as cuts in wages and pensions Greeks are also reeling from massive price hikes in basic goods and services.

In the country's second city, Thessaloniki there was anger and minor scuffles outside the bus company offices when long lines of commuters queued, forced to upgrade tickest and pay the difference.

Members of Akrivia - Stop ("Stop rising prices") staged a ticket boycott and called upon passengers to refuse to buy tickets today in protest against what it called unjustisfiable increases in a time of economic crisis.

More pictures on

Austerity package details bring Greeks out on the streets again tonight

Just hours after Athens revealed the final details of the country's $140 billion dollar rescue package about 1,000 people took to the streets of Greece's second city in protest over cuts in jobs and wages which accompany the deal. Closely followed by platoons of riot police marchers went through the city centre calling for the overthrow of the government and for Greeks to refuse to pay back debts. Despite some tense scenes the march passed off without incident.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Judgement day for Greece

May Day in Greece

Today Greek prime minister will announce the full details of the deal that it has negotiated with the EU-IMF-ECB over the conditions of the bailout package. So far the media here have been coy about saying what exactly the agreement contains but the general consensus is that it will include painful cuts across the board in terms of pay and conditions in both the private and public sector. In addition there are likely to be large job cuts as many civil service positions are axed.The most likely tactic will be a change from permanent contract to fixed term ones which when they run out will not be renewed.

As well as cuts in income Greeks are also going to be hit by yet another round of rises in VAT and other indirect taxes (the second in six months). Already the local public tranport authority here in Thessaloniki has announced 20-100% increase in bus ticket prices.

As you can imagine there is a lot of popular anger from people affected by these measures and this is likely to fuel a wave of protests and strikes in the coming months. Already the Greek communist party (KKE), which is the third largest has delared that it will fight the austerity package and is calling on workers to raise up. Other groups are also oganising different ways to try and fight against the government's plans with direct action and protests which have been scheduled for the coming week.

While everyone in Greece agrrees that the present situation is dire and things cannot continue as before they are bitter and angry that the very same politicians who failed to avert the present economic crisis either due to incompetence, corruption or indifference are now calling upon ordinary Greeks to make sacrifices. This would be a steep order for any country even in the best of circumstances but giving the extreme corruption of Greece's ruling political and economic nomenclenture none of country's leaders retains the moral stature necessary to convince people to take the difficult steps that lay ahead.

THe ruling PASOK party headed by Giorgos Papandreou has done little to clean up ts own house when it comes to graft and influence peddling and despite court cases in Germany and the UK, the scandals its senior members were involved in during their last term in power have yet to result in any criminal charges being brought against those involved here. On the other hand the newly elected leader of the defeated New Democracy, Antonis Samaras heads a party whose members presided other one of the worst periods of corruption in Greek history yet few have even been fired let alone been the subject of a court trial.

What people are enraged about is that such incompetence and corruption is likely to be repeated since no one is in a position to put a stop to the pevious abuses of power. The judiciary is little more than an extension of whoever is in power and can be ignored at will while the media is suppine in the face of the temptation of rewards from those in power in the form of state jobs, contracts and advertising revenue. Sometimes it seems that the news here is a choice between a Hellenic version of Fox News or Pravda, with very little objective reporting.

The clashes witnessed in Athens during May Day are likely to be repeated in the following days as the general strike this week is going to a catatlyst for people's rage and frustration.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

May Day marcher - Thessaloniki, Greece

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