A day of no surprises

In News on June 29, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Today at 2pm (UK time), the Greek parliament voted in favour of the austerity measures, which are requested by the EU and the IMF as a condition to release the next instalment of the €110 billion bail-out that Greece received in May 2010. Without this payment, Greece would probably have to default on debt payments due on 15 July (the alternative would be to borrow from the international markets at very, very high rates).

In the 300-seat parliament, 155 MPs voted in favour and 138 against. In the run-up to the vote, members of the Greek government and administrators, as well as European officials have made dramatic political statements to heighten the sense of urgency and stress the need for an approval of the measures by the Greek parliament. George Provopoulos, governor of Greece’s central bank, said that a “no” vote would be suicide. The president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy said “the impact of the Greek vote would be felt worldwide said”, while the economics Commissioner Olli Rehn said that Greece has two options “pass the mid-term package or default”. While Christine Lagarde, the new head of the International Monetary Fund, called on the Greek opposition party (New Democracy) to support the government in pushing through a new austerity plan. Finally, the deputy prime minister Theodoros Pangalos, continuing his dangerous scare propaganda declared: “A return to the drachma would mean that on the following day banks would be surrounded by terrified people trying to withdraw their money, the army would have to protect them with tanks because there would not be enough police.”[1]

However, anyone who knows the Greek political scene, knows that there was never an really issue of a “no” vote. Party discipline has been at the heart of the Greek political system and the new Socialist government secured a majority of 155 MPs out of the 300 parliament seats last Wednesday. There were really no surprises there. The only surprise today was a negative vote by a Socialist MP (Panagiotis Kourouplis, who was immediately expelled from the socialist party as a result). However, this was matched by a positive vote by Ms Elsa Papadimitriou, MP of the opposition New Democracy party (again, officially no longer belong to the New Democracy party whose official line was against the measure).

As the MPs were voting inside the parliament, there were violent clashes outside the parliament building in Syntagma (Constitution) Square. This is the second day of violent clashes, following yesterday’s demonstration and violence, as there is a nationwide 48-hour strike in opposition to the measures. According to eye witnesses, there was a unprecedented use of tear and gas stun/smoke grenades by the riot police, which created a cloud of chemicals in the centre of Athens, making it impossible for anyone to breathe. According to reports from the Red cross tent at Syntagma Square, there were over 100 people with respiration problems and 40 injured (burn, bruises etc). The riot police used tear gas indistinctively, targeting demonstrators (there were reports from a SKAI journalist that tear gas was fired within a coffee shop), as well as journalists and reporters.

What followed was the usual cat-and-mouse game, played by the riot police and the “hooded” rioters who threw sticks, stones and self-made bombs. There were some arrests and some people ended up in the hospital. The people in the hoods who caused the violence were not arrested. Riot police in Greece is well-known for its lack of training, absence of professionalism, aggressive arrests, abuse of power in general and excessive use of tear gas and den bombs. So again, no surprises there.

The Greek parliament’s approval of the austerity measures was welcomed by European leaders who sighed with relief and markets picked up. According to the common statement issues by the Presidents of the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, “the country has taken an important step forward […] but also a vital step back – from the very grave scenario of default”. Again, no surprises there.

[1] Anyone how knows about the military dictatorship in Greece (1967-1974) knows about the tank which run over the entrance of the National Technical University of Athens killing  Greek students in 1973, and can understand that this statement will deeply anger many Greeks and that such words are simply fuelling an already very tense social situation in Greece.


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