• Crisis and the People in Greece

  • By Stavros Panagiotidis | 17 Feb 12
  • “They are not frightening us, they are just making us furious!”

    The so-called negotiations between the Greek Government and the Troika (European Union – International Monetary Fund – European Central Bank) have come to the prescribed result. A cut on the minimum wage of 22% (and up to 40% for the rest), which means that people in Greece will have to live on a 400 Euro monthly income, combined with a 15% cut on the already extremely low pensions and the dismissal of 150.000 public servants, has been decided.

    The announcement of the governments’ intentions created waves of rage in Greece and the General Confederation of Trade Unions called for a 48-hour strike. On Sunday, the day of the voting procedure, an enormous demonstration took place. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators flooded all the streets around the Parliament. The provocative action on the side of the police forces (along with the propaganda of dominant media saying that the people gathered were not more than 20,000!) proved the governments’ fear of the people’s reactions and its decision to destroy the demonstration and terrorize the citizens. The first task was accomplished when police forces, after hours of terrorizing attacks against people in the nearby streets, without any excuse attacked the main body of the demonstration shooting gas bombs inside the blocks, causing many people to faint out, get injured or even suffer suffocation for a few moments. More than 50 demonstrators went to the hospitals, injured or with respiratory problems and once again the Internet was flooded with videos showing the police’s illegal actions. The second task though, was never accomplished. Especially when Mikis Theodorakis and Manolis Glezos, the two most prominent figures of contemporary Greek history, tried to enter the Parliament and suffered being attacked by the police forces, the demonstrators were furious. Theodorakis and Glezos finally managed to enter the hall of the Parliament, as they stated, “in order to look the members of Parliament straight in the eyes, now that they are preparing to vote for the death of Greece!”

    During last week, officers of the EU were preparing this outcome with public statements, claiming that the minimum wage in Greece has to be reduced, since that of Portugal and Spain was even lower. Apart from the cynical admission that European workers have to be paid as little as possible, this statement also offers a great example of a misleading way of using the data. Equally crucial for the level of the Greeks’ living standards as the average salary (which in Greece far smaller than in the countries previously referred to) is the level of prices in the country, both of goods and services. This last figure is extremely higher than in almost all countries of the EU for a variety of reasons, having to do with the taxes that are imposed on goods and the malfunctions of the market and the creation of cartels. And in addition to these, the percentage of people working without insurance has been increasing tremendously up to 30%, as well as of those who work for less than the minimum wage.

    The idea of the EU’s political leaders and bureaucrats is quite simple and rather old: “divide and rule” is their unofficial slogan, trying to turn European working classes against each other. Until now, this was also the case in Greece. At the beginning of the crisis the government and major media were stirring up resentment against public servants, claiming that their wages had to be reduced and a big percentage of them had to be dismissed. People seemed to be in favour of the idea because of the fact that a significant part of the country’s public sector has been staffed not through meritocratic procedures but through a clientelist system and because of various instances of inefficient operation of the public sector. Nevertheless, this has not resulted in a bigger or more costly public sector than those of most European countries. Parties of the Left had been warning that this procedure would not affect only public servants but private sector workers as well. For the past few months, when the effects of these policies showed, people did not seem willing to accept such measures. Even some headlines and paroles of the dominant media completely changed their stance from supporting the measures into condemning them.

    No one left alone in the crisis

    The realization that people share common interests has been boosted by the appearance of a variety of local initiatives called social solidarity networks, operating under the slogan “No one left alone in the crisis”. These initiatives are organized by citizens, sometimes with the participation of institutions – such as municipalities – both of left and non-left majorities. People are offering their work in these structures, not just as a form of charity but also as a way of helping themselves face the consequences of the crisis. Gathering food supplies for poor families, homeless people or even strikers, the creation of time banks, where people exchange services (for example, a doctor may offer his services twice a week and in exchange a maths teacher will offer lessons to his children etc), actions to prevent the electricity company from cutting the electricity supply from people who have not paid a new large tax on real property that was attached to the electricity bill in order to blackmail people, are just a few examples of the initiatives’ actions. These procedures are creating a completely new situation in Greece, teaching people that organizing social structures and functions, which is the actual meaning of politics, should not just be considered a responsibility of the experts, but an everyday task of everyone. And that contrary to the “divide and rule” of those in power, our own quote that is applied on our self organizing practices is “Together we stand”.

    Upheaval of the political scene

    The situation seems to have seriously affected how people perceive politics. A series of polls indicate that the political scene in Greece is dramatically changing. All of them show that the major Social Democratic Party of PASOK is being torn apart, going down from 44% in the national elections of 2009, to 10%. The Conservative Party of New Democracy is topping all polls but with a percentage as low as 30%, inefficient for an autonomous creation of a government. The third part of the coalition government, the populist, anti-immigrant, extreme right party of LAOS, also suffers the consequences of its decision to participate in it, having its percentages stuck to 5%. This is also the result of LAOS being the only example of an extremely neoliberal European extreme right-wing party, a fact which makes it incapable of a consistent political representation of the social strata most affected by the crisis.

    Two more factors have to be considered. The first one is the rise of the extreme right neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which, according to some polls, could even enter the Parliament. This is the result of LAOS’s neoliberal agenda and the disappointment it caused to a part of its traditional voters. It is also a sign indicating that in the context of the crisis, the radicalization of people could also be of conservative character. The second factor is the rise of the Left. SYRIZA seems to be doubling its percentages, going from 5% to 13%. The Communist Party is also growing, reaching the same percentages as SYRIZA. Both are gaining votes from PASOK and, in a smaller amount, from New Democracy. The new interesting factor is the presence of the party of the Democratic Left, created by former members of Synaspismos and a mix of former members of PASOK, having the same, or in some polls even bigger, percentages as the rest of the Left.

    The official expiration of the mandate of the current government is October 2013. Parties of the opposition (hypocritically including New Democracy, which participates in the government) ask for immediate elections. The proposal of SYRIZA, expressed constantly by its president, Alexis Tsipras, is the formation of a left government with a minimum programme of cancelling the Memorandum deal, increasing taxes on high incomes and big fortunes, renegotiating the debt by cancelling a part of it and imposing a 3-year-moratorium until the Greek economy manages to have a surplus. Both the Communist Party and the Democratic Left are rejecting this proposal. The Communist Party claims that there is no ground for such co-operation, because SYRIZA does not support the country’s withdrawal from the EU. At the same time the Democratic Left also rejects the proposal, on the grounds that SYRIZA is not fully supporting Greece’s participation in the EU! What is true, though, is that a government of the Left is not part of these parties’ strategy. The Communist Party, which recently adopted Stalin as its archetypical figure for the construction of Socialism, is dreaming of a classical type revolution that will lead to a “dictatorship of the proletariat” and a one-party system. The statement of its General Secretary, that a formation of a left government would only offer to the bourgeois class a period of time to reconstruct its political forces and regain power, is absolutely indicative of the party’s stand. The Democratic Left, on the other hand, is planning to participate in a government with PASOK or the new parties and groups that may emerge from it, in case of a split.

    Thus, the scenery in Greece is rather complex and very conflictual at the moment. The only thing that is sure is that what will follow will depend strongly on peoples’ reactions. Both the actions of the government, as well as the stand of the parties of the Left after the elections will be affected by the mobilization of all types of movements and initiatives. At the same time with the attempt of the rulers of the political systems to reduce citizens’ ability to effect public policies, even of having a government formed by elections and not by the force of the Troika and the bargaining of three parties, public mobilizations and reaction towards this new authoritarian decisions is creating new types of opportunities for radical political outcomes. The streets of Greece are waiting to host our rage, our struggles and our hopes, once again. The bonds and visions that all those who participated in the large demonstration are now sharing proved to be much stronger than the fear that this government of the neoliberals, the bankers and the fascists is trying to impose on us. As one of the main slogans of the demonstrations was stating, “They are not frightening us, they are just making us furious!”