#rbnews weekly bulletin 13-19 July 2013

The text companion to this week’s #rbnews international show is now online. You can read it after the jump.

1. Continued abuses against trans women in Thessaloniki.

The Greek Transgender Support Association denounced a new case of brutal and arbitrary detention of transgender women in Thessaloniki in the night of 17 July, while yet another such incident was reported on 19 July. These events come as part of a long series of such detentions since the end of May 2013, with several women having been detained several times for no other reason than their sexual orientation, while others were asked if they were members of the Transgender Association. Furthermore, on 04 June, the Association’s lawyer Elektra Koutra was detained herself after she went to the police station and demanded to see her clients. Both Elektra Koutra and the Association have filed lawsuits against the police for these incidents.

Minister of Public Order Nikos Dendias drew the ire of the Transgender Europe Association when he sought to justify the arbitrary detentions with the argument that they are intended to “improve the image of city areas” and to “tackle, among others, prostitution and exploitation of the sexual life of socially and economically vulnerable individuals, to enhance citizens’ feeling of safety and to improve the image of the abovementioned areas.”

Meanwhile, the re-introduction of public health provision 39A, which allows forcible testing for HIV of groups considered to be “at risk”, continues drawing harsh criticism from the international public health and human rights community. The provision had allowed upon its introduction in 2012 for a massive sweep operation against drug users in Athens, whose personal details and HIV status had been released to the media. It had been revoked in April 2013 but was immediately reintroduced by Minister of Health Adonis Georgiadis as soon as he took office two weeks ago following the cabinet reshuffle.

A Lancet editorial this week, titled “HIV testing in Greece: repeating past mistakes”, notes that not only is such a policy in breach of basic human rights, but that it is also counter-productive in terms of public health. However, the Minister of Health made it clear in parliament on 12 July that he not only intends to maintain the provision for the time being, but also that he considers the opinion of international groups as irrelevant.

Adonis Georgiadis caused further mayhem on Friday 19 July when he sought to visit the Attikon hospital under the escort of two platoons of riot police. The Attikon staff were among the first and most vocal to react to his announcement, upon taking office, that hospitals would be shut down to save money, and gathered to protest his visit. The Minister claims that he was heckled and even punched by protesting staff, while the staff union say that they were assaulted by the riot police escort in plain view of the patients. Available videos of the incident show neither.

2. Austerity measures, demonstrations and Schaeuble’s visit

The Greek parliament passed on Wednesday evening a new austerity package that allows, among other things, for the sacking and/or inclusion in the so-called mobility scheme of several thousands of civil servants. “Mobility” means the suspension of civil servants on reduced pay, and their reintegration in the civil service only if a new position can be identified for them. The groups hardest hit by this provision, namely teachers, school janitors, municipal policemen and municipal workers at large, have been engaging in industrial action since last week and held several demonstrations on Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the measures. A controversial provision that enabled criminal liability of mayors if their municipalities exceeded their planned budget was pulled out at the last minute. The bill was passed with a slim majority of 153 votes out of a total of 300 MPs.

Furthermore, downtown Athens was put on lockdown on Thursday 18 July for the visit of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to Greece. Several central metro stations were closed and any form of public gathering was banned in a large portion of downtown Athens by the police, on the basis of legislation dating back to the days of the Junta. It is the second time in the last year that such draconian measures are put in place, both times for the visit of German officials, the first being Angela Merkel’s visit to Greece in October 2012. A protest was held in Athens against what essentially amounted to a curfew on Thursday afternoon, at the end of which a delegation of protesters handed a letter of complaint to the European Commission office in Athens.

3. ERT shutdown, continued

Greece’s public broadcaster ERT is still transmitting 40 days after the government officially shut it down on 11 June. Broadcasts continue online, via satellite with the help of the European Broadcasting Union and on analogue frequencies wherever possible. The federation of ERT employees, POSPERT, voted on Thursday 18 July to continue occupying the premises and broadcasting.

Meanwhile, the so-called “Greek Public Television” channel, which was launched last week by the government, is also broadcasting on the ERT digital frequencies with the help of digital network provider DIGEA. It remains unclear whether the channel has any legal existence and if it even has a licence to broadcast. Artists who had announced that they would not allow any new broadcaster to use their work are still complaining about the fact that the channel is doing it nonetheless, while there has also been at least one case of a civil society organization that denied that it had submitted to the channel a promotion TV spot for its work.

Parliament rejected on 18 July a proposal by SYRIZA to establish an investigation committee into the ERT shutdown issue. It must be noted that Democratic Left, which opposed the shutdown, voted against the proposal, while Golden Dawn, which supported it, was absent altogether from the voting process.

Media unions went on strike in the private sector on Friday as legislation paving the way for a new public broadcaster to be created was voted through Parliament, with the minister in charge pledging to create a service that would be free from political intervention. All of the government’s 155 MPs supported the legislation despite several lawmakers expressing qualms earlier in the day. The bill did not receive any other support in the 300-seat House.

SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras accused the government of an “unconstitutional and undemocratic” action and said that the “hard core of the [Antonis] Samaras government despises democracy.” He also questioned whether Pantelis Kapsis, the deputy minister in charge of the new public broadcaster and a former managing director at Lambrakis Press, which owns 22 percent of private TV channel Mega, was the appropriate person to lead the new public broadcaster.

4. The impact of austerity on demographics

Austerity has fuelled a dramatic decrease in the birthrate and a rapid increase in stillbirths in Greece and is directly related to the increase in unemployment, research from National School of Public Health (ESDY) has shown.

The research, whose findings were published in Sunday’s Eleftherotypia, found that from 2009 to 2011, the birthrate has fallen consistently, from 10.45 births per 1,000 inhabitants in 2009 to 9.39 births per 1,000 inhabitants in 2011, an overall decrease of 10.13%. Similarly, from 2008 to 2011, the rate of stillbirths has increased by 21.5%, from 3.31 per 1,000 in 2008, to 4.01 in 2011.

The report notes that these trends accompanied the dramatic fall in GDP from 2009 to 2011 by 14.82% and the increasing rates of unemployment, particularly among women, from 11.7% in 2008 to 24.5% in 2011.

The researchers who conducted the study noted that economic downturns are usually associated with such an evolution of a country’s demographics. Eleftherotypia notes that a similar trend can be observed in Portugal, where the birthrate has fallen by 14% since 2008.

5. Golden Dawn’s antics in parliament

The Greek parliament became on Thursday the setting for unprecedented scenes as Golden Dawn crudely insulted and threatened SYRIZA MPs inside the assembly and offered to take the fight outside, prompting an intervention of the parliament guard in front of the building as things were about to get out of hand.

According to the English-language version of newspaper Kathimerini, it was the efforts of far-right Golden Dawn to hold a festival in Kalamata on August 3 and 4 which prompted the row, that culminated in MPs from the neo-Nazi party hurling obscenities at SYRIZA lawmakers and making references to Greece’s bloody Civil War.

The incident took place after SYRIZA MP Thanasis Petrakos claimed that Golden Dawn deputies were using the party’s parliamentary office to telephone and intimidate anti-fascist campaigners in Kalamata who want to prevent the August 3 and 4 festival from taking place.

Golden Dawn MP Dimitris Koukoutsis accused SYRIZA of being “hooded murderers” that “burn Athens.” He then made reference to the battles at Mount Vitsi and Mount Grammos in 1949 that led to national forces overcoming Communist resistance and bringing the Civil War to an end.

“At Vitsi and Grammos, we buried you in the sand,” Koukoutsis told SYRIZA MPs. The Golden Dawn deputies then left the debating chamber, walking past the SYRIZA benches and swearing at the leftist lawmakers. They also offered to fight the SYRIZA deputies outside, prompting the intervention of the parliament guard.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou labelled the incident as “condemnable and deplorable” but there does not seem to have been any further reaction on behalf of the government or the speaker of the parliament. It was announced on Friday morning that the secretary-general of the Peloponnese prefecture cancelled all events planned in the Kalamata Harbour Park, including the Golden Dawn festival, until 30 August.

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