Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Tale of Three Starbucks - Or a day in the life of the Greek economic crisis

On Tuesday I happened to pass by three separate Starbucks here in Thessaloniki and in each case witnessed  scenes that in other times would have been considered unbelievable. In the first case I saw a smart young man come in, case the place and sit down next to somebody's laptop which has been left unattended, I know that this guy was probably up to no good as I regularly saw him do the same thing in another cafe I used to hang out at. Every two, three days he'd, come in, look around and sit down for a few minutes next to any jacket, bag or mobile that seemed to unattended and then leave when he caught me glancing in his direction. I never saw him steal anything but the same suspicious pattern was repeated enough times to leave me with little room for doubt.

This time he saw me looking at him and quickly got up and left.I promptly warned those around me about the incident and made a note to myself to make sure I never leave anything when I use the bathroom. While there has always been petty crime in Greece the amount has risen exponentially over the last few years and is now becoming endemic in some areas. This is no longer a place where you can leave your possessions even for few minutes which is deeply saddening.

Later on while arranging to meet with a friend at another Starbucks near Kamara our conversation was interrupted by a junkie asking for money, when I refused he got nasty and started grabbing at my friend's jacket, only the threat of a phone call to the police seemed to get through to him as he was in such an addled state they I'm not sure he was fully aware of what he was doing. Like crime in general illegal drug use in the centre is on the rise and with the economic crisis hitting hard people are far less likely to give beggars anything making them more insistent in turn as they become more desperate.

Finally, I was covering a protest march by Thessaloniki football fans which turned violent and led to a series of attacks on cafes and other businesses alone the seafront. Amongst those was the White Tower Starbucks which become the target of the fans' fury, however the situation was not helped when some bright spark decided to lock the front doors, leaving customers alone inside. Luckily, a side door remained open and so they found their own way out amidst the chaos inside.

The strangest thing about these riots was the composition and choices of those taking part, in contrast to other such clashes the participants were all ages from kids of no more than ten (who happily covered every surface available in graffiti) to middle aged guys, nor were the targets of their wrath the usual ones such as banks and government buildings but also included a seemingly random assortment of supermarkets, cafes and apartment blocks. The one thing that was sure was that the thousands who took to the street were outraged and their anger once started spiralled out of control, perhaps reflecting deeper frustrations many Greeks feel over how their lives are going. Pummelled by austerity measures and an economy in free fall many people are incensed by what is happening in the country and so looking to lash out.

All of these incidents happened in the space of 12 hours.

Hands off

Hands, originally uploaded by Teacher Dude's BBQ.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Greek fireman deals with aftermath of football fan riot in Thessaloniki

Between four and five thousand fans of the local football team Iraklis Fc took to the streets of Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki over the decision by football authorities to revoke the team's right to take part in national championship games.

After violent clashes with fans of rival PAOK FC the march once more turned violent later on in the evening with protsters attacking cafes and apartment blocks after alleged insults against their club by residents and customers.

The intervention of the riot police with tear gas and flash grenades turned the city's central shopping district into a war zone as police and fans clashed repeatedly amidst trapped drivers and startled shoppers.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Summer's coming

Summer's coming, originally uploaded by Teacher Dude's BBQ.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter shopping in Greece

Easter shopping in Greece

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Unemployment crisis in Thessaloniki

According to a study recently carried out by the Workers Centre in Thessaloniki (Greece's second largest city and home to over a million inhabitants) one in four is unemployed, however in some trades such as construction that figure is nearly 70%.

In terms of everyday life this means that the city is being torn apart by the sudden loss in income suffered by many families with some estimates putting the drop as high as 40%. This means that even those who have a job and an income are loathed to spend money on anything other than the basics in the fear that they too may lose their job in the near future. As you can imagine the sudden shrinkage in economic activity has proved to be disasterous with For Sale and To Let signs sprouting up even in the city's most exclusive shopping areas. In less favoured districts the number of emply or closing businesses is enormous, in some cases outnumbering those who struggle on.

Not that much of this story makes it onto the nation's news bulletins, instead the state run channels and the pro - government sections of the press are more interested in presenting the official line that such changes are an inevitable in order to bring growth and development to Greece. This is in stark contrast to the message in the media abroad which is more and more convinced that the current austerity measures are doomed to failure as government income projections time and time again turn out to be unrealistic.

The current policy seems less like a rescue package than scorched earth economics which leave in their wake nothing but ruin and poverty.

Game Over

Game Over, originally uploaded by Teacher Dude's BBQ.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Part of Thessaloniki's bid for the 2014 European Youth Capital

Friday, April 15, 2011

Protesters demonstrate against rising unemployment in Greece

Figures recently announced by the Greek government show that unemployment nationwide at the record high of 15.1% and set to go even higher as nearly 1000 jobs are lost per day in the worst economic crisis the country has seeen since the end of the Second World War..

As the effects of the austerity package implemented at the behest of its creditors bite even deeper the Greek economy has contracted by over 6% in the last year alone. With cuts in the public sector and wages in general the average household has seen a drop in spending power of 40% which has led in turn to job losses in the private sector.

However, according to recent studies carried out by the GSEE (Greece's equivalent of the British TUC) the unemployment rate is likely to top 20 - 22% in 2012, meaning that 1,2000,000 will be looking for work in a nation of 11 million inhabitants..

In protesters outside a local unemployment office in the Northern Greek city of Thessaloniki today demanded the extention of benefit payments to all jobless for the entire period of their time out of work. At present jobless Greek can only claim dole if they have had collected 250 national insurance stamps in the previous two years, so ruling out hundreds of thousands who were previously employed in the country's extensive black economy. In addition once benefit payments run out after 12 months those without work can only claim again after two years of full unemployment leaving a question mark over the future of millions of families who may be faced with a future without any tangible source of income

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

We Won't Pay - Civil disobedience in Thessaloniki, Greece

Over the last year a group of ordinary Greeks have embarked on a series of acts of civil disobedience by refusing to pay bus fares which have gone up 280% in some cases. Every weekend volunteers board buses and encourage fellow passengers not to buy tickets. Worrried by the movement the government has ordered a police crackdown on such acts, leading to the detention and harassment of activists.

Ανάπτυξη στην πράξη - The Greek Economic Miracle

The only miracle most Greek can see is how anyone could possibly believe that the current government's policies will bring anything other than economic stagnation and massive poverty.

Lydia by the sea

Lydia, originally uploaded by Teacher Dude's BBQ.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thessaloniki Graffiti

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

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Plans for a future that no longer exists

With the Greek economy in free fall more and more businesses are going under with a resulting surge in unemployment which in turn adds to the country's economic wows. The continued "Iceberg? What iceberg?" attitude of the PASOK government and its Troika (IMF, ECB and EU) partners is destroying what is left of the economic base.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Lack of trust in Greek government fuelling popular protests

With virtually every economic indicator in Greece showing an ever worsening situation the ruling PASOK administration and its supporters in the media have been desperately trying to convince Greeks that the worst is already over. With phrases such as the "light at the end of the tunnels" and the "first green shoots of recovery" prime minister Giorgos Papandreou has been embarking on a concerted campaign of turning around public perceptions.

With this in mind Athens has been announcing new measures to promote development on an almost daily basis with ministers hoping that people will be convinced to accept the massive cuts in spending that have crippled the economy not just in Greece but Ireland and Portugal as well.

However, the grandiose policies being promoted so assiduously in the media are as real as the phantom armies Hitler ordered to counter attack the Red Army as it surrounded Berlin. Hunkered down in his bunker the nazi leader sent units that existed only on paper to counter the Russian divisions closing in on the Reichstag.

Similarly, a beleagured Papandreou and cabinet members have been promising large scale projects for education, economic and ecological devlopment , yet for which the funding simply doesn't exist except on the pages of glossy PR handouts.Case in point being last month's ambitious life long learning project with an estimated 2.4 billion euro budget. This at a time when the country is being obliged to close or merge nearly 2000 schools and hundreds of others are without heating due to unpaid fuel bills.

As time goes on the gap between the reality of everyday life for most Greeks and the optimistic pronouncements of the government drift ever further apart.Just as the downgrading of Greece's credit rating by both Moodys and Standard and Poor's reveals the money markets lack of faith in Athens to deliver what it has been promising so Papandreou's lack of credibility at home is becoming ever moe apparent in the opinion poll figures that show support for his PASOK party at historically low levels.

A seemingly endless list of broken promises, botched polices and an ever present stench of corruption have made the vast majority of voter wary of any promise made by government officials. This lack of faith means that most negotiations between ministers and groups such as trade unions, business leaders and others become infinitely more difficult as few believe that the government will keep its word and whenever the country's creditors decide to impose yet more austerity measures any agreement will be void.

Such lack of faith is stiffening resistance to any kind of change proposed by officials leading many to believe that only a show of force in the form of strikes or street protests will stop PASOK from reneging on deals.