Hundreds of thousands protested around the Athens parliament on February 12. Tens of thousands protested in Thessaloniki, the country's second biggest city, and sizeable protests took place in other Greek cities.
The rallies followed a 48-hour strike over February 10-11. They were organised in opposition to the new austerity package signed by the Greek government and the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Union (EU).
The relevant bill was to be voted on at midnight. The austerity measures it sets out are horrendous and come after a long series of ferocious attacks on Greek people.
They include cuts of €14.3 billion between 2012 and 2015, starting with €3.3 billion this year. On top of that, there are continuous troika demands for more and more measures.
The money will come from further pension cuts, a 22% cut to the minimum wage, as well as at least 150,000 public sector sackings — one fifth of the public service.
The consequences will be dire for Greek society and the economy.
Greek people are enraged at the troika and its domestic friends. Not surprisingly, the rulers have stepped up repression in fear of the people’s reaction.
More than 5000 police, including police from other parts of Greece, were placed around the Greek parliament on February 12. The aim was to disperse the rally.
The police fired tear gas on the rally, just as renowned singer-songwriter Mikis Theodorakis and world-known left-wing politician Manolis Glezos were to speak.
The two men were immediately taken to the parliament hospital due to serious breathing problems. Later, they attended the parliamentary session as ex-members of parliament.
The police kept on using the highly toxic chemicals indiscriminately and without pretext. At the same time, they hit, abused and threatened protesters.
It is said that police use extreme violence deliberately to cause deaths or provoke extreme reactions. The government can then take advantage and turn it against the movement.
That was the case when three Marfin Bank employees were killed on May 5, 2010. They died of asphyxiation from toxic gas and smoke inhalation as a big demonstration took place outside.
The government and the media launched a huge campaign against the movement. They blamed the deaths on the protesters in order to control any further anti-government action.
On February 12, the opportunity was given to the government to tighten repression in an attempt to terrify people out of protesting.
Many historic buildings, small businesses and banks in the centre of Athens were set on fire by a group of masked men. The men threw molotov cocktails at the buildings, as police looked on. The masked men, presumed to be provocateurs, also looted many shops. Dozens of small businesses were destroyed as a result.
The rioting and looting was used as a pretext for the police to intensify their attacks on the non-violent demonstration.
Buildings going up in flames made good sensational material for the mass media. The size of the demonstration, as well as the meaning of the protest, were hugely downplayed.
Grabbing the opportunity, unelected Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papadimos told parliament: “Vandalism and destruction have no place in a democracy and will not be tolerated. I call on the public to show calm. At these crucial times, we do not have the luxury of this type of protest. I think everyone is aware of how serious the situation is.”
Citizen protection minister Christos Papoutsis took it a step further: “For one more time, I want to make an appeal to everybody: Under no circumstances should we allow any neighbour, friend, relative or family member to participate in this sort of vandalism. The state, the police, the Ministry for Citizen Protection will do anything in their power, within the constitution and the law, in order to prevent the reoccurrence of such phenomena.”
The government is clearly changing the law to suit its plans. There has been talk about restricting the right to demonstrate for years and now it seems convenient for the government to capitalise on the riots.
There are specific plans to alter the related law. The changes are part of a proposal set out two years ago by the government and the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The proposal was dug out by the government after February 12. It bans demonstrations, with a few exceptions. A written application would be required five days before the demonstration; the police should be paid to ensure the orderly running of the demonstration; otherwise, the organisers would have to recompense for any damage done during the demonstration.
The regime, often compared to the military dictatorship of 1967-74, is tightening its grip.
At least the rulers are showing their fear of the people’s reaction, which seems to be in the right direction, hence the repressive measures.
There was also completely unprovoked police violence at the end of the magnificent February 12 demonstration in Thessaloniki.
February 12 march in Thessaloniki.
In this climate of government and troika terrorism, people’s lives are deteriorating by the minute. Greek people live in a climate of insecurity, having realised that their rights are gradually eroded and everything is taken away from them: their income, their savings, their jobs, their health, health and welfare services, decent education, art and culture, democracy, freedom, dignity.
The troika representatives keep changing what they say all the time, as they become more and more aggressive. The pressure, blackmail and threats are unrelenting.
Talking about the current memorandum, German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble said: “The promises from Greece aren't enough for us any more. Greece needs to do its own homework to become competitive, whether that happens in conjunction with a new rescue programme or by another route that we actually don't want to take.”
What he meant by another route was not clear. But it has become clear what EU officials mean by competitive in referrence to Greece.
The term is used to express their need for a cheap labour force without any worker rights. This is great cause for concern for most.
The propaganda in mainstream media has convinced many in other countries that Greek people are lazy and deserve everything done to them. In Germany, in particular, people have come to believe Greek people are worthless parasites who live at their expense.
The facts about the loan conditions or where the money actually goes are artfully concealed.
It is also expected that other countries were planned to follow in its footsteps. Are all these people deserving of a similar fate? International solidarity and unity of the people is needed to deal with the common enemy.
A high number of MPs voted against the new memorandum, but the package passed through parliament.
All left parties voted against. Forty-three Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and New Democracy deputies voted against the package. The dissenting MPs were expelled from their parties. They were presumably trying to save face and votes because of the strong public pressure.
Popular Orthodox Alert (LAOS), the crypto-fascist populist party and the third party of the coalition government, withdrew from the government just before the highly controversial bill was debated in parliament.
Two of its MPs, notorious neo-fascists Makis Voridis and Adonis Georgiadis, voted in favour. They were subsequently expelled from Laos and have now joined New Democracy, the traditional right-wing party.
The servants of the system form alliances putting their interests before any supposed ideological differences. It is time for ordinary people and left leaders to see where their interests lie and join forces to defend their lives and their children’s futures.