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Athens, 15 June

In News on June 15, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Today, 15 June 2011 is the day when the Greek Parliament debates on the new austerity measures (medium-term programme) requested by the EU and IMF in return for a second bail-out package. The austerity programme (€28 billion in cuts)  is to be implemented from 2012 to 2015 and includes a list of privatizations and tax increases. These measures are demanded by the EU and IMF in return for the release of another €12billion, which will allow Greece to pay off maturing debt. Today was also the day on which the trade unions (both of the private and public sectors) had called for a general strike, the third in 2011.

Since this morning, thousands of Greeks were gathering in Athens’s central square (Constitution square) in front of the parliament. At the same time, the Police’s special force units or Public Order Restoration units (MAT) were barracking themselves and the parliament building, behind plastic protective walls and iron barriers.

The protest started peacefully with the demonstrators shouting “bread, education, freedom”, the same phrase which was shouted in the falling days of the Greek junta (1967-1974). But soon enough there were clashes between police and rioters, who threw Molotov bombs. Naturally, the police replied with tear gas and flash bangs.

There was a great debate in the Greek media about whether the rioters were citizens with seeking to express themselves violently, anarchists, hooded thugs or provocateurs, i.e. men who were intentionally placed among the demonstrators (by the government? By the police?) with the aim of causing trouble and in effect breaking up the demonstration. Photographs released this morning by several Greek blogs show hooded youngsters among policemen – a common picture in previous Greek demonstrations – and men carrying stick poles under the eyes of special forces units (See here and here). The police denies the accusations.

Whatever the truth is, there was one result. By 4pm Greek time, the centre of Athens was soaked in tear gas, there were eight people hurt (the total toll by now is twenty nine), the Constitution square was empty, while rioters and police were playing hide-and-seek in the streets leading to the Constitution Square. The demonstration was broken up.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister George Papandreou is holding talks with the President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias and the opposition leader Antonis Samaras  with the aim of forming a government of national unity. The Greek media is filled with special reports about the new government’s possible ministerial posts and guesses on whether the new “unity” government will last six months or three years (the full length of the austerity programme). Presumably, the Greek PM seeks to secure consent across the political spectrum in order for the medium-term programme to be implemented in full.

The question arises: What is the value of a democracy when the police are guarding the parliament with iron walls and barricades, in order to protect it from the demonstrators? What is the quality of a political system where its political elites protected by armed forces conspire to go ahead with the exact programme which the majority of Greeks oppose? Is this bail-out worth this degradation of Greek democracy?

P.S. More pictures from today’s demonstrations (from indymediademotix, and the Boston Globe).

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