Greece: Open war against the majority in favour of the rich

Saturday, April 5, 2014
Police tear gas protesters outside a meeting of European Union finance ministers in Athens earlier this month.

In yet another parliamentary coup, new austerity measures were passed through parliament, albeit by a narrow majority, on March 30.

The bill contained three articles, which seem to give the final blow to the remaining worker and pension rights, the country’s economy and public ownership of land and services.

As the bill was passed, protesters outside parliament were beaten, tear-gassed and detained by special police squads.

It was a continuation of an unprecedented peace-time attack on the people of Greece. This attack takes place in all spheres of life and is affecting people to such an extent that their lives are endangered.

The most obvious victims are the people who have chosen to end their lives due to austerity-related problems. The number of suicides since the first “memorandum” agreement in 2010 (signed with the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund, European Union and European Central Bank) is about 5000. Greece is now leading the world in its rising rate of suicides.

The greatly undermined health care system also causes a great deal of suffering and fails to stop normally avoidable deaths.

The troika and Greek government have been viciously demolishing social, working and human rights, as well as robbing the people of private and public property. The aim is to plunder the country’s natural wealth and exploit to the utmost its destitute and subjugated people.

To impose such barbaric measures, the powers-that-be are rapidly shedding all remaining pretences of democracy.

Police violence

The violence of police and other state institutions mainly targets those who are resisting. State terrorism, however, has permeated all areas of life and is affecting most people. Brutal police repression of those seeking a decent life is an everyday occurrence.

Police violence against the sacked cleaners at the finance ministry has been constant during their persistent struggle. It culminated on March 26, when four women cleaners were bashed so badly they were hospitalised.

More often than not, protesters are beaten by police and sprayed with highly toxic chemicals (politely called “tear gas”). As a result of this savage behaviour, people have suffered inhalation problems, had their arms broken, lost their hearing from stun grenades, or have had serious head or eye injuries ― such as photo-reporter Marios Lolos in April 2012.

On October 20, 2011, a man died from complications attributed to tear gas inhalation during an anti-austerity protest outside parliament.

It is common police practice to target left-wing unionists, photo-reporters and journalists, and even elected MPs. Two MPs from the opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) were sworn at, brutally kicked and beaten with police batons during a symbolic ministry occupation in February last year. This was despite the fact they displayed their MP ID cards to police.

The police have no qualms about spraying straight onto people’s faces or liberally using chemicals outside hospitals, kindergartens or schools.

In March last year, police fired tear gas in the town of Ierissos. Their target was people protesting against mining in the nearby forest in Skouries in the Halkidiki region. Some tear gas grenades were directly thrown into a schoolyard, causing students to lose consciousness and be hospitalised.

The struggle against the deforestation and mining of the forest has been magnificent. It has rallied a lot of support across Greece. Huge protests have taken place in the area as well as other parts of Greece.

A great cause of concern is the expected irreparable environmental damage in the wider area. The consequences for the environment, jobs and tourism will be tremendous.

Protecting big business

The government has openly used the police as servants of corporate interests against the people and the environment. Police ferocity and unlawful arrests, detention and prosecution practices have been extreme.

The police often work in conjunction with a company’s private security on the company’s side, against the people’s will and welfare. The Ministry for Public Order and Citizen Protection makes no secret of which citizens it protects.

The police have also shown excessive zeal in looking after big private interests in protests against the excessive fees charged by road toll stations for badly built and poorly maintained national roads.

Any kind of challenge to such injustices is stifled. Police officers have even raided schools, ostensibly to check on criminal activity or to detect students smoking in the toilets.

These responsibilities are exclusively the domain of the education ministry. It is easy to infer that the real aim is establishing a climate of police control and terror in schools to prevent anti-government action by students.

This is confirmed by recent incidents of police asking principals for information about student activists. Students who have taken part in school occupations are summoned to the police station. They are interrogated about their families’ and their teachers’ political views and voting practices, are pressured to give information on other students’ roles in the occupations and are often taken to court.

In the same spirit, high school teachers are prosecuted for expressing their opinion about the occupations in parent-teacher meetings. Similarly, municipal workers are interrogated over their union activity.

For the first time since the dark days of the military junta, which ended in 1974, such practices have become the norm. The banning of strikes, rallies and marches is also reminiscent of those times.

Apart from political resistance, even social solidarity action from left-wing or community groups is penalised. Social surgeries by health care workers and open food markets with reasonably-priced products sold directly by the producer are routinely harassed by police.

There are also instances of even more extreme police behaviour, like torture of activists or migrants in detention. One well-known case of police torturing anti-fascist activists was reported in The Guardian in October 2012.

The police have been given the power to check on people for tax debts. There have been many arrests of feeble elderly people for tax debts caused by deliberately predatory government policies.

The number of people jailed for debts has risen. About 210,000 taxpayers are now threatened with jail for tax debts as low as 5000 euros (almost $7500).

Jail conditions have become hideous. More than 10,000 people are kept in prisons with a total capacity of 5584 prisoners. There is hardly any heating or health care, and inmates are exposed to life-threatening contagious diseases.

Under these conditions, a prisoner of Albanian origin was battered and tortured to death by prison guards on March 27. He was awaiting trial for the fatal stabbing of one of their colleagues. The circumstances of the guard’s killing are still to be investigated.

Unlawfulness by the government and its institutions is now commonplace. This contempt for democracy, necessary for the imposition of barbaric policies, is complemented by the support given to the government by other mechanisms.

The mainstream media is aiding the government and the troika’s destructive work by manipulating public opinion. Journalists who carry out this work enjoy special privileges, while those who do an honest job are often given a hard time.

Journalist Popi Christodoulidou reported information already published in the government gazette in February. She was detained and investigated for leaking military secrets, presumably because the slant of her article was not to the liking of the authorities.

Authoritarianism and violence have seeped through Greek society at large. Police and private security guards are now seen everywhere. Violence against minority groups and women has reached unprecedented heights ― on top of the fact these groups are already the most affected by the savage government policies.

Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn members, usually in gangs, have been attacking and killing innocent migrants on the basis of their appearance and social standing. Leftist individuals, groups and offices have also been targets. Anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas was the first non-migrant to be murdered by Golden Dawn thugs.

Though this activity has somehow subsided, partly due to strong anti-fascist action, it has paved the way for racist government policies.

For the first time in the country’s history, there are concentration camps for migrants. Thousands of people are detained in appalling conditions.

Also, there are many extraditions of Kurdish and Turkish activists based on their political beliefs and activity. Many forced repatriation cases reveal ugly unlawful practices on the part of the authorities.

The same attitude led to a tragic fate for 12 refugees and their surviving kin near the island of Farmakonisi in the Aegean Sea last February. They had entered the country in a boat, but coast guards allegedly pushed them back, with 12 people drowning.

After that event, the government decided to introduce a law providing for the deportation of migrants found to falsely report officers for violence. Presumably, the court decisions will be based on testimonies of the perpetrators’ colleagues.

A related issue is the severely limited access to legal support for the less powerful, due to reduced powers for legal support services and unreasonable government legal fees.

There are many other aspects and instances of the erosion of democratic rights taking place in Greece. But on the bright side, there has been a great deal of resistance and even some partial victories.

However, the struggle needs to be much more organised, coordinated and united ― otherwise there is no hope of overthrowing this inhumane system.

From GLW issue 1004