Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
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.
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.
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).
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.
Monday, October 29, 2012
Greek soldiers and riot police line the streets of Thessaloniki during annual military parade., a photo by Teacher Dude's BBQ on Flickr.
To avoid embarrassing the president and other political leaders the citizens of the northern city of Thessaloniki were kept 1 km from the VIP stand, able to glimpse just a fraction of the annual NO Day parade that marks Greece's entry into the Second World War. Even the parents of high school students taking part in the parade were stopped and turned back at police barricades that lined the route of the event.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Unpaid for three months - shop assistants in Fokas department store protest, a photo by Teacher Dude's BBQ on Flickr.
In addition according to Union of Shop Workers, the company is in the process of replacing full time positions with part time ones paying just 200 Euros a month for a 20 hour week.
(200 euros a month is just enough to cover rent on a modest one room apartment in the poorest parts of Thessaloniki.)
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Greek police once more on front line in labour dispute, a photo by Teacher Dude's BBQ on Flickr.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Yet young educated Greeks are sallying forth into a very different world, one in which jobs, even badly paid, low status ones are becoming more and more difficult to find. While some will find work that fully utilises their knowledge and skills many will find that a foreigner in a declining economy, not matter how well educated will always be at a disadvantage.
In just a five years, the percentage of the popular vote captured by the Nazi party grew from 2.6% to 43.9%, a political rise that is being eerily echoed by their modern day counterparts in Greece, who have increased their popular support at an even more spectacular rate, going from just 0.29% to 14% in three years.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Saturday, October 13, 2012
I was hoping that my trip down to Athens would allow me two visits in a row when I wasn't tear gassed and up till late in the afternoon of Tuesday it seemed that was exactly what was going to happen. Despite the massive crowds that turned up in Syntagma Square to mark the visit of German chancellor, Angela Merkel the mood of the people was peaceful if not calm.
Despite draconian security measures which included a ban on any form of gathering or assembly along the planned route from Athens airport to the centre between 60,000 and 80,000 turned up to voice their anger and frustration not only with EU - IMF imposed austerity but also their own corrupt government coalition.
As the day wore on groups of stone throwing youths started their ritualised attacks on the riot police units that had lined the square. It's hard to express the surrealistic nature if such clashes as they seem to serve little purpose with both sides acting out a pre-arranged script which they've failed to share with the rest of us. To add to the sense of the unreal the small army of photographers and camera operators present gave the scene the feel of some alternative sports match.
Of course, the tear gas and the chunks of marble which often filled the air were real enough and at one point I was forced to retreat as I had not brought any protection. Fearing the possibility that I'd be stopped by the police I'd left my gas mask at home rather than face a day in police custody while they checked out my ID.
At any point the police could have used their overwhelming force to clear the place in just a few minutes, but instead they chose to play a bizarre game of cat and mouse with masked protesters. Even when they managed to catch someone the crowds immediately swarmed around them hurling every kind of vile insult in the Greek language to show just what they thought of them.
True to form the Greek police managed to foul up their image once more, this time by using a woman detainee as a human shield against stone throwers in a narrow back street, an action which ensured the story went global.
Later on, like children bored of playing the same old game for hours on end the police entered Syntagma Square in force using batons, pepper spray and tear gas to clear the area, once gain using their doctrine of casual brutality in the name of restoring public order.
The same absurdist script was also playing out for the cameras in the streets behind parliament as Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras and Angela Merkel strolled through the tree lined streets on the way to a joint press conference. I assume the images were intended to show that contrary to foreign press reports the PM could walk freely in public without fear of attack.
What the TV pictures did not show were the seven water canons parked just up the road and 1000's of heavily armed riot police that separated the leaders from the seething demonstrator in Syntagma. With security measures as tight as these even Barack Obama could happily spend a carefree morning window shopping in down town Kabul or Baghdad.
It hard to fathom what was the point of the whole expensive exercise since Merkel said little of substance and merely repeated her position that Greece needed to stick to the terms of the bailout deal and press ahead with yet more tax hikes, public spending cuts and lay offs. Instead of strengthening Samaras's position within Greece's shaky coalition government, Merkel underlined just how little real power Greece's political leadership has in its negotiations with the EU/IMF/ECB troika.
On the other hand the hardware stores in Monestiraki which do a roaring trade in improvised gas masks and marble wholesalers who regular replace the smashed stone work in Syntagma had a great day.
Friday, October 12, 2012
Greek youth throwing a rock at riot police units in Athens, a photo by Teacher Dude's BBQ on Flickr.
Taken during German chancellor, Angela Merkel's lightning visit to Athens, Greece. Her arrival was marked by mass protests and violent clashes between demonstrators and the 7000 police officers present.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Greek protester running away from riot police units, a photo by Teacher Dude's BBQ on Flickr.
Taken during protests over the visit of German chancellor, Angela Merkel to Athens, Greece.
Monday, October 08, 2012
After much consideration I've decided that I'll be going down to Athens to cover the protests planned for the arrival of German chancellor, Angela Merkel to Greece. It's not a decision to be taken lightly as angry protesters are unlikely to be throwing rose petals and messages of good luck tomorrow. Already political organisations from across the entire political spectrum have said they will be calling upon supporters to take part in anti - austerity demonstrations on Tuesday in the centre of the Greek capital.In addition both public and private sector trade unions will be also part of the mix with marches set for 1 pm in Syntagma Square*, opposite parliament and the scene of the many violent confrontations.
If you feel you can help out financially (every bit helps, believe me) you can contribute via Paypal using email@example.com
*UPDATE Greek trade unions have announced that the government has banned assembles in Syntagma Square and told them to choose another spot.
Thursday, October 04, 2012
Protesting Greek firefighters - Thessaloniki, Grecee, a photo by Teacher Dude's BBQ on Flickr.
Even while incomes shrink and unemployment grows Greece still remains one of the most expensive countries in the EU for everyday goods and services according to Eurostat.
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
Greek trade unionists protesting latest austerity measures, a photo by Teacher Dude's BBQ on Flickr.
Measures include yet more tax hikes, pension cuts, privatisations and job cuts in civil service positions as well as wage cuts in the private sector.
Whilst Greeks struggle with the sixth consecutive year of economic contraction, prices of basic goods such as milk and meat remain among the highest in the EU, a legacy of the previous governments' unwillingness to tackle the cartels and monopolies that set prices throughout much of the economy.
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
The Genti Koule Downhill Urban Bike Race - Thessaloniki, Greece, a photo by Teacher Dude's BBQ on Flickr.
Waiting to go.
Monday, October 01, 2012
The Genti Koule downhill urban race - Thessaloniki, Greece, a photo by Teacher Dude's BBQ on Flickr.
Taking as its starting point the once notorious Genti Koule former prison, 160 cyclists competed in this year's Downhill Runaway event, each aiming to negotiate a course that took them from Thessaloniki's highest point to the the centre of the Greece's second largest city.
The course which included ramps that dropped sharply from the city's medieval walls provided a stiff challenge for participants and led to some crashes, luckily none serious.