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Greece – a country in turmoil

Isidoros Diakides reports on the latest turn of the screw as Greeks battle against the savage consequences of Troika imposed austerity

The sudden (and almost certainly unconstitutional) closure of Greece's national broadcaster ERT (equivalent of our BBC) a few months ago and the sacking of thousands of its workers, had drawn worldwide condemnation, as well as generated a huge public reaction, with numerous well attended demonstrations and support events. It led to the breakdown of the three party government coalition, with the junior partner DEMAR pulling out of the government.

In early November the dreaded MATs (Greece's notorious specialist Anti-Riot police units) raided the main premises in the middle of the night, throwing out the occupying workers and sparking another round of demonstrations across the country. Many opposition MPs from Syriza and the KKE (the communist party) participated in the demonstrations, a number were manhandled by the MATs when attempting to enter the premises

Opposition

Reacting to this latest ERT raid and recently announced additional austerity measures, Syriza, the main opposition party, put a Censure motion in parliament (a step before a no-confidence motion). It was narrowly defeated with one PASOK member supporting (and subsequently expelled) whilst a number of other PASOK MPs made it clear that they were obeying their party whip with heavy heart, warning in their speeches the government that it has exhausted their patience.

Sadly 23 opposition MPs (mainly DEMAR, the centrist ex-coalition partner and assorted individuals that have resigned from the coalition parties since the last elections sitting as independents) abstained and five actually voted against the motion. A likely explanation, in at least some of the cases, is that most of them fear that early elections would lead to the loss of their seats and therefore, despite their opposition to the government, they put their personal career interests up front.

Golden Dawn

The well publicised state action against the fascist Golden Dawn party (arrest of its leadership, raids on its offices, unearthing and publicising various allegedly illegal operations and activities etc.) following the murder of antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas, seemed, at least for a while, to have led to an erosion of public support for this extremist party, (though still remaining a significant political force). It also seems to have boosted anti-fascist and anti-racist action by relevant organisations with an obvious increase in related demonstrations and public meetings.

Leaked papers, especially evidence of witnesses to the public prosecutors carrying out the relevant investigations, have revealed a very tightly controlled and highly centralised organisation (with every single decision taken by the leader himself, assisted by a small group of trusted individuals acting on his behalf). This probably explains the relative inactivity of the party since the arrest of its leadership, which has left it headless and unable to take any decisions.

However, the beast is not dead yet by any stretch of imagination.

Opinion polls indicate that it is still the third largest political force in Greece (after the governing ND and the Opposition Syriza), with higher levels of public support than it had in its record breaking last elections, whilst more recent unpublished polls hint at a probable resurgence.

The more recent cold-blooded assassination of two young GD activists, has been damaging to the cause of those fighting against neo-fascism in Greece, it fuels fears of boosting the conservative government's evident strategy of presenting itself as the stable moderate centre of democracy, fighting against violent extremes from both its Left and its Right.

The timing of this mindless crime (just when GD was on the back foot) and its blatantly obvious negative repercussions have led many in Greece to suspect that it was the work of agents provocateurs rather than any hot-head anti-fascists.

Demonstrations

GSC has worked with other organisations here in London, supporting various actions and well attended demonstrations in support of Greek anti-fascist and anti-racist groups. A new British based forum (AAFG – AntiFascist Action for Greece) has also been launched to continue this work.

The fifth Greece Solidarity Campaign Delegation visit to Greece returned in early November.

The main focus of our delegation this time was the impact of the Troika-imposed austerity measures on education and the way the Greek people and trade unions are responding to it. This emphasis was reflected in the membership of our delegation which included the president of UCU Simon Renton, Mary Compton past president of NUT and educationalists Bob Archer of the Retired Teachers Association Tony Russell (Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation) James Youd and Mike Davis ( Chartist editor).

As usual the delegation met both senior politicians and leading Trade Unionists, as well as visited poor areas and talked with ordinary people and local activists fighting against the imposed austerity measures and their impact on the most vulnerable.

The first impression was of Athens as a city in turmoil, with demonstrations, rallies, occupations and meetings taking place all the time in every part of the city. Huge numbers of police and army units as well as repeated cordoning of central parts, metro and traffic restrictions and sirens, being a part of the daily experience of Athenians.

On the education front we've established facts that indicate a massive reduction in educational provision at all levels (more than 1 000 schools closed or amalgamated, universities in crisis, vocational education decimated, pay and conditions massively reduced and a parallel demonization by the private media and the conservative government of teaching and other school workers, blaming them for the deterioration, i.e. a remarkably similar picture to the one we found on the health services at our last delegation visit.

We've also heard about the back-door privatisation of large parts of state education, the class bias of the cuts, the fragmentation of the traditional trade unions representing the workers and also the remarkable efforts of dedicated staff and activists to resist, create alliances and counteract the impact on poor communities. One of the themes that came out of our visit was the vision of a new kind of Unionism, going beyond just pay and conditions, but rooted within local communities, working with parents, students and other activists in local social solidarity initiatives, as the most effective way to fight the austerity measures and to pre-empt the demonization of trade unionists.

The delegation also met peace and anti-nuclear organisations, as well as the veteran 92 year old Syriza MP Manolis Glezos (a hero of the anti-Nazi resistance during the German occupation, whom we had also met at our first solidarity visit) who delighted us with anecdotes from the Aldermaston marches that he had attended as a guest of his close friend Bertrand Russell, and also his spirited anti-austerity rhetoric.

A full report of the delegation's findings, along with a report of the April delegation with MPs David Lammy and Andy Love is available on the GSC website.

Medical Aid For Greece:

€1700 was donated to the Patisia Solidarity Pharmacy in another poor part of Athens, as part of the visit.

The Pharmacy was established 9 months ago in premises within a schools complex provided by the teachers' association. It is a joint initiative between the local teachers association, parents association, residents association and local volunteer medical practitioners. The same coalition of local forces is initiating other social solidarity projects and mobilising self-help. We had a two hour long, very lively and inspiring session with all the key activists and we were impressed by the spirit of solidarity and defiance of ordinary Greeks. A telling quote from one of the activists was: “If we were just a charity plugging holes in the state provision, they would all love us; because we are a solidarity project, encouraging people to get involved and demand their rights, the state sees us as a threat”.

GSC members will remember also the Ellinikon solidarity clinic we had visited with our previous delegation. This is the first of now 45 such clinics across the country and the centre of the movement. We were impressed by the work and the spirit of the volunteers and the overall ethos of the clinic and its founder Dr Vichas (who has already featured in two BBC documentaries).

Medical Aid for Greece raises funds for vaccines for children and other vital medicines, supporting the work of Solidarity Clinics in Greece. If you want to contribute, you can either send a cheque to:

Medical Aid for Greece, Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DX, or do a direct transfer to: Medical Aid for Greece A/C: 20307259 Sort Code: 08-60-01

Many individuals in the UK, including unions with over 3 million members, are affiliated to the Greece Solidarity Campaign. We support all (non-fascist) parties and community campaigns opposing austerity in Greece.

Greece Solidarity Campaign - www.greecesolidarity.org