Athens, 29 June: as MPs debate a new austerity package in Parliament, thousands protest the new measures in rallies at central Athens’ Syntagma Square. Protests are peaceful as a whole, with exceptions of isolated outbreaks of violence. A few clashes occur outside Parliament between riot police and separate groups of furious protesters, mostly youths. Police, under bombardment of bottles, trash and chunks of marble, fires tear gas.
Everything came to a halt as workers launched a 48-hour general strike on Tuesday, the first two-day walkout since the restoration of democracy in 1974. Out of all transport services only the Athens metro operated . Flights were disrupted, dock workers threatened to block the port of Piraeus.
The protesters presented a mix of people organized by labor unions, others were the self-proclaimed “Indignant” and there were also groups of discontent citizens. This is the countdown so far.
Meanwhile, the Greek Parliament has passed the government’s medium-term fiscal plan, seen as crucial for staving off bankruptcy with 155 votes in favor and 138 against. Panayiotis Kouroublis was the only PASOK lawmaker who voted against but this was outbalanced by New Democracy MP Elsa Papadimitriou, who backed the midterm fiscal plan. Kouroublis was ousted from the party for this small-scale revolt.
The government now has to pass the implementation law for the measures through Parliament on 30 June to secure Greece’s next loan installment, worth 12 billion Euros, from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
The heat and tension in Greece have stung Europe as well. Prior to the vote in the Greek Parliament, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy admitted that the coming hours in Greece are “crucial” to the stability of the world economy. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso advised the Greek Parliament to “redouble its efforts.” European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn summed up briefly that Greece will immediately default if its Parliament does not support the government’s economic austerity proposals this week.
The 2012-15 plan introduces 28 billion Euros of austerity measures and an ambitious 50-billion-Euro privatization plan over the next five years.
However, the illusions of the past will haunt Greece for long. The results of some of them are identifiable like the Olympic Airways that amassed a cost of around 3.5 billion Euro in a single decade on top of debts and the state-owned Greek Railways (OSE), that received 917 million euros in 2010. Now Greece will have to shrug off its doubts over long-postponed privatizations to create income wherever it can.
Greece has realized that everything has a price and sooner or later, it has to be paid. Athens has sent the message that it will catch the last straw of the offered bailout. And the Greek will have to realize that the money for privileges and social benefits does not grow on the trees, it has to be earned by somebody. So far that somebody were the taxpayers in Germany, France and other countries, now it’s time the Greek do their share too.
(Sources: Middle East & Balkans News own research; 29 June 2011)