#rbnews weekly bulletin 27 April – 3 May 2013

Prepared by the #rbnews international team, translated by @IrateGreek

There was no #rbnews international show this week due to the orthodox Easter holiday, but the show’s text companion is online anyway. You can read it after the jump.

This week’s headlines

– A new omnibus bill was voted by parliament, which stipulates, among other things, salaries much lower than the minimum wage for unemployed people who find a job.
– Migrants go on strike again in detention centres to protest the duration and conditions of their detention
– A 23-year-old woman passed away after spending a month in hospital following a beating by a member of Golden Dawn. The perpetrator is still sought by the Greek police.
– Protests against gold mining in the Skouries forest of Halkidiki continue, with a demonstration on May Day.
– Websites distributing copyrighted material for free are at risk of being shut down.

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A new austerity bill was voted by parliament on Sunday 28 April. The procedure was similar to the one used for the latest memorandum voted in November 2012, with the bill not only pushed through parliament on the emergency procedure, but also presented as a single article, so as to deprive MPs of the possibility of voting down individual items.
A last-minute addition to the omnibus bill added by Finance Minister Stournaras determines that the maximum wage upon recruitment for unemployed people who benefitted from National Labour Office services stands at €490 per month and at €427 for those aged under 25. These amounts are far below the minimum wage and essentially abolish it as a concept.
Another important element in the new austerity bill is the decision to sack 15,000 civil servants by the end of 2014. International and Greek media were prompt to hail this decision to make Greece’s “bloated” civil service “leaner” but ignored some important points. There is first of all the fact that the claim that Greece’s civil service is “bloated” is at best questionable, compared to other EU countries according to OECD data. Furthermore, historically, tenure was introduced for civil servants in Greece to avoid that new governments can sack them and appoint their political supporters. This explains why the official reason for the upcoming sackings will be that the administrations hosting the positions held by those to be fired are abolished, as the Greek Constitution does not allow for mass sackings on other grounds. However, the same omnibus bill includes a provision that allows for recruitment of local government workers outside the authority of the Supreme Council for Personnel Selection, an independent agency established in 1996 to oversee recruitment of civil servants and avoid recruitment for political favours. In short, these provisions open the door to new recruitments based on political preference rather than competence.
Greece’s two main labour unions, GSEE and ADEDY, held a small protest outside parliament during the vote. Opposition parties questioned the constitutionality under which the bill was brought to a vote.  The bill passed the vote with 168 yeahs, 123 nays and 1 abstention.

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Hunger strikes have been multiplying in Greece in recent months to protest either detention conditions or the treatment of immigrants and/or refugees or both. Two new cases were reported this week, one of them in Larissa and the other in Mytilene. In Larissa, the detainees held in the local prison are protesting their detention conditions. In Mytilene, 12 Afghans and 4 Syrians who arrived in Greece recently went on hunger strike to protest the fact that they are in legal limbo, with tragic and absurd consequences on their lives. Because the police and coastguard refuse to arrest and process them due to the lack of detention facilities, the refugees are stuck in the harbour of Mytilene with no possibility to go anywhere, and have to live, eat, sleep and wash wherever and however they can, with support only from local community members and volunteers who provide them with food and basic hygiene items. The absurdity of their situation is clear in the fact that they are actually begging for the police to arrest them, so that they are issued with a deportation document after which they can remain in Greece for one month and leave the island to seek to continue their journey to northern European countries.

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A 23-year-old woman passed away this week after spending several weeks in the hospital after she was beaten by her boyfriend, who is known to be a member of Golden Dawn. Beyond the tragic character of this event, it was noted by several activists who are concerned by the authorities’ tolerance of Golden Dawn’s actions that, while the perpetrator is on the run, the police and courts have not released his personal details and picture to the public, whereas this practice is common, not to say systematic, in the case of arrested left-wing or anarchist suspects.
Golden Dawn further made headlines this week by seeking to organize a food distribution for Greeks only in Athens. The food distribution was banned by the Mayor of Athens Giorgos Kaminis, who was subsequently assaulted by Golden Dawn MP Germenis (see here). Mayor Kaminis was criticized however for the legal grounds on which he banned the distribution: he argued that Golden Dawn distributing food in Syntagma square was an “illegal occupation of public space” whereas Greece’s anti-racism laws are adequate to ban any Greeks-only event on grounds of discrimination.
Finally, on Good Friday, many Twitter users reported that Golden Dawn members were present on toll stations on the highways to the Peloponnese. At the Elefsina tolls at least, they lifted the bars and let vehicles go through without paying. It was noted there again that they were allowed to conduct their operation and leave undisturbed, whereas the “I won’t pay” movement, which has been campaigning against extortionate toll fares, are systematically faced with the riot police in such operations.

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The people of north-eastern Halkidiki held yet another demonstration against plans to mine gold and copper in the Skouries forest on May Day. The demonstration was repelled by the riot police, who used liberal amounts of teargas to disperse the crowd (video).
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Halkidiki Police Employees Union Ioannis Kyrgiafinis denounced the fact that the police force in the region is being used as private security for mining company Hellas Gold and its Canadian parent company Eldorado Gold (report and video, in Greek). Kyrgiafinis denounced the high cost incurred by the state in this operation, which involves the presence of 80-90 policemen in the Skouries forest every day, and the exceedingly long working hours imposed on his colleagues, but also the fact that the rest of Halkidiki is left without an adequate police force to run everyday police business, with problems expected to keep increasing with the start of the tourist season.

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A lawsuit filed by the Greek Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (known by its Greek acronym AEPI), which demanded provisional protective measures against some internet service providers, was examined by the courts on Tuesday 30 April. AEPI was demanding that specific websites, which give free access to material such as movies, music and games which are normally covered by copyright, be blocked. The demand was rejected by the court, while as second lawsuit, which seeks permanent protective measures, will be examined in August. The rejection of the case by the court is only temporary until the second lawsuit is examined by a court which will take a final decision regarding such webpages. Should the court come out in favour of AEPI, this will establish a precedent for all other similar cases.
It must be noted that it is the first time such an issue is raised in court in Greece. Another, similar case concerning the well-known site The Pirate Bay is due in court at the end of May.

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