A volatile, heavy ambiance of uncertainty hangs over the birthplace of Western democracy.
All eyes have turned to Greece as it feverishly tries to avoid defaulting on its colossal public debt, which, if left untreated, many fear could elicit the end of the Eurozone and trigger further financial chaos throughout European and global markets. As the Greek parliament voted in favour of tax rises and spending cuts worth 28bn euros – both prerequisite conditions if Greece is to avoid immediate default, remain within the Eurozone and receive its second financial bailout from the European Central Bank and the IMF – Athens’s central squares and boulevards bear witness to an unprecedented squalor and despair.
“dismissals and unemployment are the worst types of violence”
Amid the sea of tents and protest banners which now adorn central Athens’s Syntagma (constitution) square, one large banner posted directly opposite the Greek parliament building is a justified standout: it announces that “dismissals and unemployment are the worst types of violence”. Adjacent to it, another oversized flag depicts Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou with the subtitle “IMF employee of the month”.
With Greeks agonizingly aware of the fact that their future is gradually being determined by external forces, a grassroots, people’s movement known domestically as the aganaktismenoi – best translated as “the ones who’ve had enough” – has been occupying Syntagma square since the 25 May. Their aim is to express the Greek public’s acute discontent and disillusionment towards the self-indulgence, corruption and utter failure of Greece’s financial and political elites to secure the nation’s well being.
…Athens resembling a mini-war zone…
Although the movement has been primarily peaceful, the last few days of nationwide strikes (28-29 June) saw violent confrontations between riot police and protesters, with central Athens resembling a mini-war zone – overwhelmed by discursive fires and rock throwing instigated by a minority of masked and raged protesters, as well as by the incessant use of tear gas and stun grenades deployed by police forces in an attempt to disperse an increasingly furious crowd.
Reflective of the emerging political mutation occurring throughout Europe’s financially troubled urban centres, and embodying a real novelty for a country where party politics permeate almost all social institutions and are the cause of much alienation and hostility within Greek society, thousands of protesters of all ages and occupations have, at least temporarily, discarded their political affiliations in order to unite against what is perceived by many to be their country’s worst financial and political humiliation. While the popular resistance movement was partly inspired by similar events in Spain, Greek popular momentum has assumed a different direction, one in favour of direct democracy over the often marginalising representative democracy played out in parliaments.
…a public debt that reeks of top-level corruption…
Over the last 36 days, thousands have gathered daily to attend open discussions on alternative politics, predominantly peaceful marches and music concerts.
All, despite frequent and occasionally violent internal disagreements, have been essentially concerned with what is perceived to be a socially and financially oppressive EU austerity plan, a public debt that reeks of top-level corruption, high and rising unemployment (16 per cent and 35.6 per cent for youths), as well as with the potential sell out and privatization of all Greek state assets, as stipulated by the European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF.
Hungry and begging, homeless and often amputated locals and foreign nationals…
Some of the potential alternative approaches that have been discussed involve the ease of Greece’s interest payments, the declaring of public debt as unpayable, the establishment of an independent audit committee to examine the legitimacy of the government’s previous loan agreements, as well as the potential feasibility of Greece’s departure from the Euro.
In Athens’s historic centre, Omonoia (peace) square and the surrounding streets have become locales for the hopeless and dispossessed. Hungry and begging, homeless and often amputated locals and foreign nationals wander the square alongside hustling drug dealers, prostitutes, bewildered tourists and hundreds of heroin addicts who administer their fixes in broad daylight, utterly indifferent to their surroundings.
…Greece is also home to 80 per cent of the EU’s detected illegal immigration…
In addition to an estimated 300,000 undetected illegal immigrants already residing in a country of 11 million, Greece is also home to 80 per cent of the EU’s detected illegal immigration – all of which is encouraged by authorities to dwell in Athens while awaiting processing – adding further strain to the city’s already dilapidated and underfunded social services.
The real problem is imagining an attainable alternative which can be eventually embraced by the majority of Greek society. This isn’t to say that achieving one isn’t possible. In reality, with the prevailing financial chaos and increased uncertainty engendered by the global economic recession (or is it still a crisis?), we’re in the bizarre situation where everything – especially the prolongation of the status quo – seems impossible, but may be likely.