Strikes of workers in public transportation continued this week despite the civil mobilization of metro employees imposed by the government last week.
On Wednesday morning, members of the communist-affiliated labour union PAME staged a protest at the Ministry of Labour. They attempted to occupy the premises symbolically after the Minister refused to meet with them. This resulted in an intervention by the riot police, who used tear gas, which resulted in clashes with four wounded and 35 detentions. A march in solidarity with the detainees then followed as they were taken to the Athens police headquarters.
The government accused PAME of “invading” the Ministry. The communist party’s secretary-general Aleka Papariga stated that the government’s accusations were comical and called for the dissemination of the video which captured events. Meanwhile, SYRIZA denounced the “orgy of government repression”, as two of their MPs were also assaulted by the police. The communist party further denounced that undercover police entered the Red Cross hospital to take the personal details of the wounded. The 35 detentions were finally turned into arrests and the arrested labour unionists were taken to court on Thursday.
The protest in solidarity with the 35 detained unionists from PAME went on until late at night on Wednesday. Another protest took place on Thursday morning as the arrested were taken to court. They were subsequently released until their trial, which will take place on 12 February. The communist party is still accusing the government of forging accusations. This atmosphere of tension moved to parliament on Thursday morning, with an argument between communist and SYRIZA MPs on the one hand and government coalition MPs on the other hand.
The public power corporation’s union GENOP also staged a strike on 31 January to protest the civil mobilization of public transportation workers.
Further protests took place on Wednesday. Teachers were protesting the fact that substitutes will be asked to work longer hours, while students in schools specializing in the arts were protesting cuts to education.
On Thursday, retired workers of the first line of the Athens metro occupied symbolically, for a few minutes, the train lines in Piraeus to protest civil mobilization. Meanwhile, in a surprise move, farmers took over the Nikaia interexchange in central Greece with their tractors, trying to block the national highway without success. The presence of a heavy riot police force has allowed so far for the highway to remain open. Another road protest took place this week in Aiginio, where locals were complaining about the high tool fees, which they consider to be extortionate. The protest was dispersed brutally by the riot police.
Also on Thursday, health workers staged a protest in front of the Ministry of Health to protest cutbacks. Doctors, nurses and other employees of the national health system and the first-aid service EKAV gathered in front of the Ministry and later marched to Syntagma square.
The SKAI radio station also went on strike for 24 hours on Thursday as well to protest recent sackings of journalists.
Finally, the General Confederation of workers GSEE announced a general strike to take place on Wednesday 20 February with regard to Collective Labour Agreements and civil mobilization.
The funeral of Nikos Dertilis took place on Thursday 31 January. Dertilis was the last senior officer involved in the 1967 coup that brought the Junta to Greece to be still imprisoned, having refused to ask for a pardon. He had been imprisoned in 1975 for the murder of an electrician during the uprising of the Athens Polytechnic University in 1973. Golden Dawn MPs and representatives were present at his funeral. The bishop of Kalavryta, Amvrosios, who conducted the funeral mass, said Dertilis had been a hero like Greek revolution captain Kolokotronis and the ancient philosopher Socrates. During the funeral, people in attendance shouted the Junta slogan “Greece belongs to Greek Christians.” Approximately 15 shots were fired in the air, even though the funeral was under heavy police guard. After the shots were fired, the police arrested a young man who was found to be carrying 21 empty shells and a collapsible dagger. A search in the 21-year-old man’s house found, according to some media sources, Golden Dawn leaflets. Junior coalition partner Democratic Left complained that the funeral was allowed to evolve into a celebration against democracy, while SYRIZA stated that the silence of the State following this type of manifestation was nothing but guilty. The sister of Michalis Myroyiannis, who was murdered by Dertilis in 1973, simply stated: “I hope there is a hell Dertilis has gone to.”
Yiannis Pretenderis, a journalist and commentator with Greece’s largest private TV station, Mega TV, admitted this week that in 2010, he and his colleagues had received instructions from persons he wouldn’t name to cover up information pertaining to the sustainability of the Greek debt. He said specifically that it was known, from the very beginning, that the Greek debt was not sustainable, but that journalists were pressured not to reveal it to the public. The importance of this piece of information cannot be overstated, as the impression that the debt was sustainable was the justification for the troika’s intervention in Greece. It must be noted that at the time, any voices doubting the sustainability of the Greek debt were shouted down and heavily criticized as fear-mongers by politicians and media alike. Pretenderis’s revelation came a few days before a journalists’ protest in front of his TV channel, Mega TV. The protest was poorly attended.
Freedom of the press is however still being challenged in Greece. On Monday, the National Council for Radio and Television held a meeting, after which it issued a statement requesting that TV stations and radio channels do not show people living in extreme poverty. The statement specifically reads: “The National Council for Radio and Television recommends to all TV and radio stations that they should not promote images of 1) people living in extreme social poverty and marginalization without their explicit or tacit agreement, 2) people taken to judiciary or police authorities without their explicit or tacit agreement.” While this statement can be justified on grounds of protecting privacy, there are concerns that it may also lead to camouflage sad but inconvenient realities in Greece.
The workers of the industrial mining company BIOMET seem set to realize the dream they have been struggling for over the past few months: to operate anew their factory, which was abandoned by their employer, as a self-managed industry, as per a decision voted by their union’s general assembly.
The union’s decision is based on the rationale that workers should not be left to their own devices, which would certainly lead to unemployment. The union further reminded that, since October 2011, the workers were seeking to create a cooperative, which would be under their full control, demanding that such experiments be founded in law for themselves and for other groups that would take similar initiatives. The plan they came up with was met at first with absolute indifference on behalf of the State and umbrella unions. It received however enthusiastic support from the workers and people supporting them, through the development of the Open Solidarity Initiative in Thessaloniki and of similar movements that subsequently developed in other cities and towns across the country.
The union also emphasized the importance of developing such business models across the country. They consider that the demand that factories and businesses pass in the hands of the workers is the only possible answer to the constant rise of unemployment and poverty. They thus called for activities that will involve workers from other economic sectors. A large assembly, a gathering and a march will take place at the BIOMET factory in Thessaloniki between 10 and 12 February.
Greek households have lost €4 billion in one year in the name of the bailout memorandum. Specifically, according to the Hellenic Statistical Authority, Greek households lost €4 billion in the past year, with their value falling from €37.2 billion to 33.2 billion, which represents a drop of 10.6%. These losses are due to an 11.3% drop of income and a 10.2% drop of social benefits, but also to a 17.7% increase in taxes on incomes and assets.
However, those behind the memorandum policies are not discussing the possibility to change their approach, even though they admit that the policy was mistaken. Speaking to the French TV show Telematin, the head of the IMF Christine Lagarde said: “Of course! We made a mistake in our assumptions.” She does not seem to regret that mistake however, since she added that the Memorandum “was necessary and is still necessary, but with less pressure”, in other words, it simply needs more time.
She also spoke of mistaken expectations, as the consequences of the austerity plans on growth have been immense. The IMF now believes that the memorandum must be implemented in a softer way in order not to sacrifice growth. The governor of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, believes that Greece will return to growth in the second semester in 2013, due to improved fiscal performance and the achievement of a primary surplus. Greek Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras also told the BBC this week that, if the memorandum is properly implemented henceforth, there will be no further austerity measures and that growth will come in 2014. This is however not likely to give cause for optimism to many Greeks, since such statements have been often repeated by government ministers and their international partners since the beginning of the crisis.
A migrant school student was stabbed in the face by suspected members of Golden Dawn in the Athens suburb of Palaio Faliro on Tuesday. Golden Dawn members also assaulted a Pakistani household in Peristeri, while a 37-year-old Senegalese peddler was electrocuted on Friday night after falling on the train lines in downtown Athens; his fall was due to the fact that the municipal police were chasing him.
A group of United Nations independent experts on Wednesday stressed that Greece must improve the conditions of detention for migrants and effectively implement recent legislation to enhance screening procedures for asylum-seekers. The group, which just finished an 11-day visit to the Mediterranean country, found pre-trial and convicted detainees in the same cell, as well as irregular migrants mixed in with criminal detainees in violation of national and international standards.
One of the members of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Vladimir Tochilovsky, said: “In most detention facilities visited by the Working Group, the conditions fall far below international human rights standards, including in terms of severe overcrowding. Detainees are being held for months in police holding cells and border guard stations, although these facilities were designed for a maximum stay of 24 hours. This situation also affects the rights of pre-trial detainees to properly prepare their judicial defence as there are no adequate facilities for the communication of the detainees with their defence lawyers.”
During the visit, the working group interviewed detainees and found that few of them were aware of their right to legal assistance and, in numerous instances, did not enjoy this right without payment.
They also stressed that the lack of judicial review as well as the excessive length of detention can be considered an arbitrary deprivation of their liberty. “The imprisonment of a migrant or an asylum-seeker for up to 18 months, in conditions that are sometimes found to be even worse than in the regular prisons, could be considered as a punishment imposed on a person who has not committed any crime.” The group met with Greek authorities from the executive, legislative and judicial branches as well as with legal representatives, civil society organizations and international organizations. It also visited various detention centres in Athens, the Aegean island of Samos, Alexandroupolis, Orestiada, Komotini, Soufli and Thessaloniki.
On a positive note, Mr. Tochilovsky welcomed the adoption of legislative reforms on this issue and commended the Government for the creation of the new Asylum Service Department to establish the First Reception Service responsible for screening procedures. The new department will be independent from the police and under the control of civilian and specialized personnel.
“Impunity for the rising number of racist crimes in Greece has to end. The police, prosecutors and courts need to become fully acquainted with and give effect to existing anti-racism legislation, including the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination by which Greece is bound”, stated Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, at the end of his five-day visit to Greece.
Between October 2011 and December 2012 more than 200 racist attacks were recorded by the racist violence recording network headed by UNHCR and the National Commission for Human Rights. “This is only the tip of the iceberg. The fatal stabbing of a young Pakistani worker in Athens a fortnight ago by two criminals, one of whom was linked to the neo-nazi party of Golden Dawn, has rightly alarmed the authorities and made them more determined to fight and eliminate the scourge of racist and other hate crimes”.
“Many political leaders in Greece now realise the need to firmly condemn and sideline every person and organisation that promotes hate speech and engages in hate crimes. I welcome the establishment of the 70 anti-racist police units and the appointment of a special prosecutor in Athens to deal with racist crime. Both however need to be reinforced with appropriate staff and systematic human rights training. I also urge the Ministry of Public Order to take all necessary measures in order to create an independent and effective police complaints mechanism that would enhance the public’s trust in police forces. Such a mechanism is also necessary for the coast guard.”
The Commissioner added that “anti-racism measures by the government need to be combined with initiatives, such as the Athens city Council for the Integration of Migrants, that promote the political participation and integration of all regular migrants, especially of their children who are born and educated in Greece and consider it their home country. Naturalisation should continue to be possible for these children”.
Lastly, Commissioner Muižnieks underlined the critical role played by National Human Rights Structures, such as the Ombudsman and the National Commission for Human Rights, in the context of the current, serious economic and social crisis. “It is now, more than ever, that Greece needs robust and effective human rights structures, able to support the state in its efforts to overcome shortcomings in areas such as the systematic human rights training of law enforcement officers, judges and prosecutors and the monitoring, recording of and the fight against hate crime”.
Golden Dawn is still establishing offices abroad. In Cyprus, its sister party ELAM has announced that it will be fielding a candidate to the presidential elections later this year. ELAM’s programme includes reducing rights for ethnically Turkish Cypriots and immigrants, deportation of undocumented migrants and imprisonment of asylum seekers in special centers, expansion of the Cyprus National Guard, renewed enforcement of the “United Defense Front” dogma between Greece and Cyprus, and financial incentives to families to have more children. It also transpired this week that Golden Dawn is setting up shop in Nuremberg, Germany. This caused an uproar, not least among the Greek community of Germany, who released an outspoken statement condemning Golden Dawn.