The Greek right-wing New Democracy(ND) party won the June 17 elections by a narrow margin, getting 29.7% of the vote. Left-wing Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) came second with 26.9% on a clear platform of opposing the savage austerity measures imposed on Greece.
ND’s dubious victory was largely achieved through blackmail and mud-slinging against SYRIZA ― as well as promises to negotiate the harsh memorandum measures if it was elected.
However, the coalition government of ND, social democratic PASOK and Democratic Left (a right-wing split from SYRIZA) is pushing ahead with the memorandum agenda. This agenda is being enforced on Greece by the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Union in return for “bail-out” funds.
PASOK won 12.3% of the vote and the so-called Democratic Left won 6.3%.
Due to the grossly undemocratic electoral system, the three parties hold 179 parliamentary seats in total compared with SYRIZA’s 71 seats.
The three-party government is pressing ahead with the implementation of more austerity measures, which include cuts of over 14 billion euros ($16.5 billion) until 2015. The severe measures were to be decided on by August 20.
The measures are stipulated in the agreement already signed between the troika and ND and PASOK representatives on February 12.
Now the government has abandoned its pre-election promises, remembering that the country’s credibility comes first. So it says it will implement the package now and try to negotiate the memoranda later.
The government is blackmailing the people. It says it will not be given the new loan installment to pay salaries and pensions, unless it goes ahead with the required “reforms”. The expected installment is 30 billion euros, of which 25 billion is intended to bail out banks yet again.
The government is passing the measures during the summer, when many people are on holiday and resistance is low. This summer especially, an unprecedented long heatwave and high humidity levels have proved debilitating.
The coalition government is closing more than 250 state-run services and institutions, including childcare services and hospitals. This will result in dramatic job losses and have serious consequences for people’s health and welfare.
Funding for health care and medicine (already savagely cut) is to be steadily reduced each year. Funding for education and teacher positions will be further slashed.
In most pension funds, including the public service pension fund, the lump sum payment ― already cut by 20% ― will be further reduced by 23%. New pension cuts, to the point of complete abolition of some pensions, are also planned.
The retirement age is to exceed 65 years. Some of the other measures include slashing wages and unemployment benefits (already almost halved), further cutting other benefits and sacking tens of thousands of public servants.
These types of measures are not new. They are in the same spirit of recent government policies, which have become much more ferocious since the first memorandum agreement in May 2010. The targets are people’s income, work conditions, health, education, welfare services, art and culture.
They are the types of measures that have dismantled the economy and have led to widespread misery and insecurity. It is no accident that there has been a steep rise in suicides in Greece.
More than 3000 suicides in the past three years (out of a population of 10 million) have been officially recorded. In reality, the number of suicides is even higher, as families often withhold this information for fear of being refused a religious burial service.
Psychological problems, violence, crime and prostitution have also risen dramatically.
Despite the disastrous consequences of the memorandum policies, the new government is continuing along the same path. The planned huge-scale privatisation of public goods and services is certain to add to the country’s problems.
Successive PASOK and ND governments have paved the way for large-scale privatisation through years of undermining the public sector.
The privatisation program includes rail and road transport, airports and ports, water sewage, energy and natural gas utilities, the Agricultural Bank, the Hellenic Post, casinos and public real estate holdings.
The program is touted as a great step towards reconstructing the economy, combating unemployment and contributing to the ongoing fiscal consolidation effort.
The only ones that benefit from privatisation are the entrepreneurs and their political allies. The consequences of privatisation have been well documented. They include a steep rise in prices accompanied by a drop in quality, worsening workers’ conditions, a loss of job positions, a deterioration of living standards for most people and practices harmful to the environment.
Criminal racism helps the powers-that-be divide and rule.
The name “Xenios (hospitable) Zeus” is, insultingly, used for a police operation against “illegal” migrants that started early this month. It has been criticised as blatantly offensive, provocative and cynical.
The operation is directly overseen by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. It takes place on the streets, but also includes house invasions.
By August 14, it had resulted in the arrest of about 8000 people on the basis of their appearance. About 1600 were found to be without documents and were taken to detention centres.
Those without documents were awaiting deportation under unacceptable conditions. There have been of about hundreds of people in detention being bashed and tortured by police.
International organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned these Nazi-like tactics.
The timing of “Xenios Zeus” is not accidental. Samaras has been explicit about his intention to deal with “the illegal migrant issue”, ― as well as with people resisting the government’s barbarous policies.
The decision to persecute migrants echoes the fierce anti-migrant propaganda before the May election. It accompanied the announced construction of concentration camps (politely called “reception and hospitality centres”). It is usually the first item on the news, taking people’s attention away from other issues, while increasing racist sentiment.
It is the first time that racism has permeated most of the media and society to such an extent. It has been successful in diverting people’s attention from the policies affecting their lives.
Indicatively, many people believe their lives will improve if the country is “cleared” of “illegal” migrants.
Against this background, there was a horrendous assault on a 15-year-old girl, allegedly by a young Pakistani man. This has given fodder to the government and the usual mass media practice of directly linking crime to “illegal” migration.
As the official pogrom has been in progress, the unofficial pogrom by fascist gangs has flared up. It has resulted in many assaults and murders of immigrants all over Greece.
Society has been deeply poisoned by racism, while the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, after contributing to the government’s racist agenda, is lurking ready to make more gains.
So far, Golden Dawn has taken advantage of people’s despair and a decades-long undermining of people’s rights, social coherence and ethical values.
The neo-Nazis’ public image, populist action, lies and arguments, reminiscent of other times, are well thought-out. They have also infiltrated the police and the army in large numbers.
In the elections, their methods won them 7% of the vote. They now show a respectable face to the world, though they have been proven to be involved in criminal activity. They are not to be underestimated.
Earlier this month, a Golden Dawn representative expressed the group’s opposition to migrants having public gatherings and praying in public spaces. In this way, the party is setting the agenda for official racist policies.
The government’s job is facilitated by the extreme right. Stepping up repression is the only option left to the system to deal with the anticipated popular opposition to the extreme austerity.
Insult to injury
In this context of poverty and insecurity, with official unemployment exceeding 23% and still rising, the people of Greece have an extra burden imposed on them. Taxation has become unreasonably high, even for people with no income, as it is partly based on assumed income for all taxpayers.
Property owners are also required to pay rising poll taxes, which are becoming more unaffordable by the day.
After a big wave of opposition to the house poll tax in recent months, the government is becoming more vicious. It is now threatening people with salary deductions, as well as seizures of movable and real estate property for tax debts over 3000 euros.
Interestingly, the internet is full of real estate advertisements for cheap houses in Greece with headings like “Buy your holiday home in Greece”. However, troika representatives are complaining that Greek house prices are still too high.
Left's historic duty
The deep global capitalist crisis means the system cannot make any concessions to ordinary people. The system's representatives are well aware of it.
It is no accident that governments of recent years have passed laws that would make it easier to stifle resistance.
The left must organise its forces in united action to reclaim ordinary people’s lives. The combined left vote was more than 30% in the last election. This shows there is room for mass militant action.
SYRIZA had the trust of 27% of the voters, so it falls on it to organise its voters and lead the struggle.
Unity of the left is absolutely imperative. United action with people of other countries facing similar problems should be seriously considered. We need to use all the power at our disposal.
We must think clearly and act cleverly to overcome the huge hurdles and disempower the enemy. The exact details can be discussed among us, under appropriate conditions.
It is going to be a hard struggle and we are dealing with a powerful, experienced, unscrupulous and ruthless enemy. They have a lot of weapons to use in their undeclared war on us ― so numerous and advanced that most people dread even to start contemplating them.
We have to find the right way to outdo the enemy on many fronts. If we fail to, all our efforts will be wasted and the movement will suffer a crushing defeat. We have to get it right.