Video: Greece could be the spark for defeating austerity across Europe

Alexis Tsipras, the radical left party Syriza which is leading in the Greek polls, interviewed by Seumas Milne:


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Greece: A debt colony, shackled to its lenders

Matthaios Tsimitakis writes: The Greek government has hailed the eurozone finance ministers’ latest decision on Greece, requiring the country to lower its debt in return for bailout funds, as yet another political victory. This was not surprising at all to Greeks, who have often seen their government celebrating decisions that have made life miserable for its citizens.

But this time, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras went so far as to call the agreement a “landmark for the country’s rebirth”, releasing a video on YouTube entitled “Greece starts now”.

Viewers of the video pointed out the irony of propagating national unity and hope to Greeks, who have meanwhile been devastated by the government’s harsh austerity measures. This simplistic piece of propaganda elicited comments reflecting the genuine bitterness and disenchantment of the Greek people.

A boy aged 14 wrote: “The present is uncertain, the future looks nonexistent. When a country dies, so do its inhabitants.” A low-income woman then asked: “What will you do for those who have to live on 5,000 and 10,000 euro per year? Thank you for your valuable time and your earnest contribution in the common affairs of our occupied land”. [Continue reading...]

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Video: Golden Dawn taps into international network of fascists

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Greece’s far-right party goes on the offensive

Golden Dawn MPs give fascist salute in Greek parliament.

Reuters reports: Arm raised in a Nazi-style salute, the leader of Greece’s fastest-rising political party surveyed hundreds of young men in black T-shirts as they exploded into cheers. Their battle cry reverberated through the night: Blood! Honour! Golden Dawn!

“We may sometimes raise our hand this way, but these hands are clean, not dirty. They haven’t stolen,” shouted Nikolaos Mihaloliakos as he stood, floodlit, in front of about 2,000 diehard party followers filling an open-air amphitheatre at Goudi park, a former military camp near Athens.

“We were dozens, then a few hundred. Now we’re thousands and it’s only the beginning,” cried the leader of Golden Dawn, a far-right party that is seeing its support soar amid Greece’s economic collapse. Last month’s rally revealed the party, which describes itself as nationalist and pledges to expel all illegal foreigners, has a new-found sense of triumph, even a swagger, that some find menacing.

Riding a wave of public anger at corrupt politicians, austerity and illegal immigration, Golden Dawn has seen its popularity double in a few months. A survey by VPRC, an independent polling company, put the party’s support at 14 percent in October, compared with the seven percent it won in June’s election.

Political analysts see no immediate halt to its meteoric ascent. They warn that Golden Dawn, which denies being neo-Nazi despite openly adopting similar ideology and symbols, may lure as many as one in three Greek voters. [Continue reading...]

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Greek democracy now teeters on the edge

An editorial in The Guardian says: In spring 2010, as Athens wrangled with the IMF and the rest of Europe for what would turn out to be a €110bn emergency loan, a revealing, chilling phrase slipped out. When Greece’s then-premier, George Papandreou, begged for easier borrowing terms, he was told by Angela Merkel that the deal had to hurt. According to a well-sourced report in the Wall Street Journal, the German chancellor said: “We want to make sure nobody else will want this.”

She certainly made good on her side of the deal: Greece has spent the past two years on a financial life-support that has kept its government ticking over, but which has destroyed its economy and pushed its entire democracy to the brink of collapse. This week, Athens re-enacted what has become a traditional ritual. Under duress from its troika of creditors (the IMF, the European commission and the European Central Bank), the government identified more areas for cuts and deregulation: another 8,000 civil servants to be sacked by next Christmas, yet more slashing of pensions and wages and of the minimum wage. Meanwhile, the country went on a general strike and petrol bombs were lobbed at the Vouli, the parliament, even as MPs voted through the package. If the government also passes its 2013 budget this Sunday, it will get another chunk of cash to keep paying salaries and other bills.

The price of the severest austerity programme ever imposed on postwar western Europe has been severe. Greece’s economy is in severe depression: this year its annual national income is projected to be 23% below what it was in 2009, that is to say that nearly a quarter of everything the economy used to produce has disappeared over three years. Partly as a result, the debt burden will soon be three times GDP. Unemployment has skyrocketed, with one in two young people out of work.

Extreme policies in; extremist politics out. From being a rump just three years ago, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn now effectively polices parts of Athens and has infiltrated the official police force. The centre has collapsed: after acceding to Mrs Merkel’s terms, Mr Papandreou’s Pasok has gone from being a reliable centre-left party of government to a husk of its former self. Journalists who threaten to show any independence of mind, such as the admirable Kostas Vaxevanis are hounded by officials.

In the heart of Europe, a democracy now teeters on the edge. True, most of the blame for this is that of a corrupt Greek elite that has dominated politics, business and media for many decades. But the rest of the eurozone is also guilty: first for enforcing impossible austerity, then for turning a blind eye to the predictable results. Mrs Merkel was surely right: no other country – in Europe or elsewhere – would want this.

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Video: Greek parliament approves contentious law to expand privatization

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Fear and loathing in Athens: the rise of Golden Dawn and the far right

The Guardian reports: You can hear it from blocks away: the deafening beat of Pogrom, Golden Dawn’s favourite band, blasting out of huge speakers by a makeshift stage. “Rock for the fatherland, this is our music, we don’t want parasites and foreigners on our land…”

It’s a warm October evening and children on bicycles are riding up and down among the young men with crew cuts, the sleeves of their black T-shirts tight over pumped-up biceps, strolling with the stiff swagger of the muscle-bound. They look relaxed, off-duty. Two of them slap a handshake: “Hey, fascist! How’s it going?”

Trestle tables are stacked with Golden Dawn merchandise: black T-shirts bearing the party’s name in Greek, Chrysi Avgi, the sigma shaped like the S on SS armbands; mugs with the party symbol, a Greek meander drawn to resemble a swastika; Greek flags and black lanyards, lighters and baseball caps. I lean over to talk to one woman stallholder, dressed in Golden Dawn black with thickly kohl-rimmed eyes, but as soon as she opens her mouth a man in a suit strides up: “What are you writing? Are you a journalist? Tear that page out of your notebook. No, no, you can’t talk to anyone.”

Tonight is the opening of the Golden Dawn office in Megara, a once prosperous farming town between Athens and Corinth. The Greek national socialist party polled more than 15% here – double the national average – in the June election, when it won 18 seats in parliament. (One was taken up by the former bassist with Pogrom, whose hits include Auschwitz and Speak Greek Or Die.)

Legitimised by democracy and by the media, Golden Dawn is opening branches in towns all over Greece and regularly coming third in national opinion polls. Its black-shirted vigilantes have been beating up immigrants for more than three years, unmolested by the police; lately they’ve taken to attacking Greeks they suspect of being gay or on the left. MPs participate proudly in the violence. In September, three of them led gangs of black-shirted heavies through street fairs in the towns of Rafina and Messolonghi, smashing up immigrant traders’ stalls with Greek flags on thick poles.

Such attacks are almost never prosecuted or punished. Ask Kayu Ligopora, of the Athens Tanzanian Community Association, whose premises were vandalised by around 80 “local residents” on 25 September after police walked away. He’s lived in Greece for 20 years; for the first time, he says, he’s thinking about leaving. Or Hussain Ahulam, 22, who told me how four men with dogs and a metal crowbar left him bleeding and unconscious by the side of the road as he walked home one day. Or 21-year-old HH, a Greek citizen of Egyptian origin, who was beaten on 12 October by three men with chains as he stepped off the trolley bus, and whose sight may be damaged for good. [Continue reading...]

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Greek police aligned with neo-fascists

Paul Mason writes: Newsnight’s report on the Greek far-right party Golden Dawn made headlines across Europe last week. [See video above.]

In it, MP Ilias Panagiotaros claimed Greece was “in civil war” and indeed advocated a new kind of civil war, pitting the far-right against migrants, anarchists, etc.

Within 24 hours Mr Panagiotaros had retracted his claim that Greece was “in civil war”, saying instead “there is no civil war” and accusing Newsnight of “paraphrasing” his words. We had simply broadcast them, un-edited and in English.

Now three new reports cast light on the substance of our story – which was: alleged police torture of anti-fascist detainees, Golden Dawn’s influence inside the Greek police force, and its potential influence on the operational behaviour and priorities of the police in the Attica region around Athens.

Today, lawyers for 15 protesters who claim they were mistreated and abused in police detention, have shown Newsnight coroners’ reports on eight of the detainees.

The most serious of the coroners’ documents confirms “grievous bodily harm caused by a sharp and blunt object,” requiring the victim to be off work for a month.

Another describes a kind of injury that is consistent with being caused by a taser, as claimed in the original Guardian report.

Fifteen protesters have told us they intend to bring a case against the Athens police.

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Greeks shocked at EU winning Nobel peace prize

The Guardian reports: Almost three years into the debt crisis that began beneath the Acropolis there is no doubt in the minds of many that Greece is at war – an economic war whose byproducts of poverty and hate, anger and desperation have begun inexorably to tear its society apart. And for the great majority the EU – with Germany at the helm – is solely to blame.

“It’s a new kind of war, one without weapons but just as deadly,” said Takis Kapeoldasis, a tattoo artist, giving voice to the mood at large. “I don’t want to be insulting but it’s Europe’s policies that have done us over and now it gets the prize of all prizes for peace and reconciliation.

“Those who made this choice should come and walk our streets now while there is peace and harmony because soon it’s going to be too late.” For young Greeks like Karmela Kontou, who belong to the generation hardest hit by the country’s descent into economic and social meltdown, the idea that the EU had been rewarded for its “successful struggle” to reinforce democracy and human rights was especially galling. After all, she said, “more and more Greeks are killing themselves” precisely because they see no light at the end of the tunnel.

Even worse was the democratic deficit. Growing numbers of Greeks feel they have no democratic say over any of the policies that have changed their lives. Greece may be paying for years of profligacy but the coffins of those who could no longer take the pain of being unable to pay extra bills and higher taxes on wages that had also decreased sharply were also lining up.

“The mood is not just dark, it’s hopeless. People are killing themselves, the suicide rate is soaring, because they just can’t cope and the EU is definitely partly to blame,” said a 25-year-old.

Yiannis Baboulias writes: The timing is nothing if not ironic. On the day the EU has been awarded the Nobel peace prize, we watch as Europe sits idly by and lets fascism brew once again – this time in Greece. If a sharp turn towards religious fundamentalism and fascism is to be avoided, Europe needs to act now.

On Thursday night the Athens premiere of Terrence McNally’s play, Corpus Christi, was cancelled following protests by members of the far-right party Golden Dawn (including some MPs) and religious groups.

The protest had a clearly homophobic agenda. Manolis V, a journalist, was attacked by protesters while the police apparently did nothing: “The police is next to us. I shout ‘They’re beating me, aren’t you going to do something?’,” he wrote on Twitter. “I move away so I can look on from distance. A well-known Golden Dawn MP follows me. He punches me twice in the face and knocks me to the ground. While on the ground, I lose my glasses. The Golden Dawn MP kicks me. The police are just two steps away but turn their back.”

The spectacle of fascists physically attacking people whose moral agenda they disapprove of has become routine in today’s Greece. What should come as more of a shock is the tacit approval of the police.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports: Greece’s unemployment rate hit a new record in July with one in four now out of work, like in Spain, as a crippling recession and austerity measures continued to take a toll on the labour market.

Unemployment rose for a 35th consecutive month to 25.1 percent in July, more than double the euro zone average and up from a revised 24.8 percent in June, Greece’s statistics service ELSTAT said on Thursday.

The jobless rate has more than tripled since the debt-laden country’s five-year recession began in 2008 and now stands at 54 percent for those aged between 15 and 24 years, compared with 22 percent in July 2008.

A record 1.26 million Greeks were without work in July, up 43 percent from the same month last year.

The slump in the Greek economy is expected to accelerate later this year if the government implements further budget cuts of almost 12 billion euros over the next two years as a pre-condition for more funds under its EU/IMF bailout.

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Golden Dawn’s popularity rising rapidly in Greece

The New York Times reports: The video, which went viral in Greece last month, shows about 40 burly men, led by Giorgos Germenis, a lawmaker with the right-wing Golden Dawn party, marching through a night market in the town of Rafina demanding that dark-skinned merchants show permits.

Some do, and they are left alone. But the action quickly picks up, as the men, wearing black T-shirts with the party’s name, destroy a stall with clubs and scatter the merchandise. “We saw a few illegal immigrants selling their wares,” Mr. Germenis says in the video. “We did what Golden Dawn has to do. And now we’re going to church to pay our respects to the Madonna.”

Just a few months ago, the name Golden Dawn was something to be whispered in Greece.

But three months after the extremist right-wing group won an electoral foothold in Parliament, talk of Golden Dawn seems to be on everybody’s lips.

In cafes, taxis and bars, Greeks across the political spectrum are discussing the palpable surge in Golden Dawn’s popularity, which has risen in recent political polls even as the group steps up a campaign of vigilantism and attacks against immigrants.

The poll gains come amid growing disenchantment over rising illegal immigration, and with the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, which is being forced by its international lenders to push through $15 billion in additional, highly unpopular, austerity measures. If Greece were to hold new elections soon, Golden Dawn could emerge as the third-largest party in Parliament, behind Mr. Samaras’s New Democracy and the left-wing Syriza. Currently, Golden Dawn is the fifth largest, with 18 out of 300 seats. [Continue reading...]

Greek Reporter: The Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party has set up an office in New York City in a bid to bolster its support among expatriate Greek communities and promising to dispense it only to Greeks and not immigrants it blames for a rise in crime and who it wants pushed out of the country.

The ultra-nationalist party has been collecting food and medicine at drives in New York for Greeks left destitute by the country’s massive financial crisis and recently distributed the aid in Athens, the Kathimerini daily reported, getting response from Greek-Americans who favor their anti-immigrant, anti-government agenda.

The website of the Golden Dawn New York branch, which features the party’s black swastika-like symbol across a dark New York skyline, promises the aid will be donated “only to Greek people.” Similar drives also have been held in Melbourne, Australia and Montreal, Canada.

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Greece is being blown away by the Brussels and Berlin blunderbuss

Costas Lapavitsas writes: Last week I was in Athens and took the metro to Syntagma Square. Like many northern Greeks, I have mixed feelings towards the capital. Northerners do not like to admit it, but we secretly enjoy the smell of jasmine – the true scent of Athens. But this time the air smelt of cordite.

Syntagma was abnormally quiet: shops shut, people halfheartedly shopping, riot police everywhere. The atmosphere crackled with the expectation of something sinister about to happen. And lo, in Monastiraki Square, afew hundred yards away, agroup of young men attacked a shop owner; just another violent episode in a city resembling a tinderbox.

The prime culprit for the disintegrating social order is the economic policy emanating from Brussels and Berlin. In 2009-10 the troika – the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank – judged that Greece had a problem of public deficits and debts due to profligacy, corruption and tax avoidance. They offered bailout loans in exchange for cuts to public spending, higher taxes, and reduced wages. Successive Greek governments have imposed austerity with alacrity, delivering a vast contraction of the deficit – perhaps even 8% of GDP by the end of 2012.

The trouble was that austerity could not have its usual accompaniment of currency devaluation, since the country remained a member of the European monetary union. The pressure of adjustment thus turned inward, causing an unprecedented depression – GDP has contracted by 4.5% in 2010, 7% in 2011 and probably 7% in 2012. Unemployment has rocketed, and a humanitarian crisis has emerged in urban centres. The NGO Médecins du Monde estimates that for the past several months the majority of its clients have been destitute Greeks rather than immigrants. Its medicine stockpile is currently running very low, and its managers have no idea how they will cope this winter.

But cope they must, because the troika is now demanding a further bout of austerity – cuts of nearly €12bn to create a large primary budget surplus and to start reducing Greek public debt by 2014. Desperate to remain in the EMU, the Greek government has agreed to slash pensions, retirement lump sums, public sector wages, social expenditure and military spending. The ensuing reduction in aggregate demand means recession will continue next year, with official unemployment perhaps even reaching 30%. In 2013 there will be people in Athens who will not have enough to eat. The tragedy is that the pain will be for nothing as the fresh austerity will probably fail. The troika is yet again underestimating the depth of the oncoming recession, and thus the loss of revenue and the higher unemployment expenditure. Greek public debt, meanwhile, remains completely unsustainable. It is very likely that further austerity measures will be demanded in 2013 and beyond. [Continue reading...]

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As Golden Dawn rises in Greece, anti-immigrant violence follows

The New York Times reports: A week after an extremist right-wing party gained an electoral foothold in Greece’s Parliament earlier this summer, 50 of its members riding motorbikes and armed with heavy wooden poles roared through Nikaia, a gritty suburb west of here, to telegraph their new power.

As townspeople watched, several of them said in interviews, the men careened around the main square, some brandishing shields emblazoned with swastikalike symbols, and delivered an ultimatum to immigrants whose businesses have catered to Nikaia’s Greeks for nearly a decade.

“They said: ‘You’re the cause of Greece’s problems. You have seven days to close or we’ll burn your shop — and we’ll burn you,’ ” said Mohammed Irfan, a legal Pakistani immigrant who owns a hair salon and two other stores. When he called the police for help, he said, the officer who answered said they did not have time to come to the aid of immigrants like him.

A spokesman for the party, Golden Dawn, denied that anyone associated with the group had made such a threat, and there are no official numbers on attacks against immigrants. But a new report by Human Rights Watch warns that xenophobic violence has reached “alarming proportions” in parts of Greece, and it accuses the authorities of failing to stop the trend.

Since the election, an abundance of anecdotal evidence has indicated a marked rise in violence and intimidation against immigrants by members of Golden Dawn and its sympathizers. They are emboldened, rights groups say, by political support for their anti-immigrant ideology amid the worst economic crisis to hit Greece in a decade.

As the downturn deepens across Europe, the political right has risen in several countries, including France, the Netherlands and Hungary. But the situation in Greece shows how quickly such vigilante activity can expand as a government is either too preoccupied with the financial crisis or unable or disinclined to deal with the problem. Greece’s new prime minister, Antonis Samaras, has said he wants to put an end to the “invasion” of illegal immigrants, but “without vigilantism, without extremism.” Yet, as attacks mount even against legal immigrants, he has addressed the violence infrequently.

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Video: Greek pro-bailout party wins most seats as majority reject the deal

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Greek election ‘too close to call’

BBC News reports: Greece’s right-wing New Democracy and left-wing Syriza parties are almost neck-and-neck after parliamentary elections, exit polls suggest.

New Democracy, which broadly supports a European bailout deal, looked to be almost tied with Syriza, which opposes the measure.

The outcome could decide Greece’s future inside the euro.

The election was the second in six weeks, called after a 6 May vote proved inconclusive.

The two main parties are thought to have polled between 27 and 30%, the exit poll showed.

But though the result could be almost a dead heat, the party that does come out on top will receive an extra 50 seats.

The BBC’c Chris Morris says that with the parties so close, the cliche that “every vote counts” has never been more true.

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A Syriza victory will mark the beginning of the end of Greece’s tragedy

Costas Douzinas and Joanna Bourke write: The Financial Times Deutschland last week published an article on its front page headlined “Resist the demagogue“. It was written in Greek. The article advised the Greeks to reject the radical left Syriza party and vote for the rightwing New Democracy today. It is the culmination of an astounding campaign of fear and blackmail against the democratic right of Greeks to elect a government of their choice.

Angela Merkel, the European commission president José Manuel Barroso, and even George Osborne, have ordered the Greeks to vote the right way. This direct intervention into the democratic process of a sovereign state follows a plethora of threats and rumours, secrets and lies, telling people that if they vote for Syriza, the country will be ejected from the euro and untold catastrophes will follow.

Why are the European elites carrying out this unprecedented campaign, which strikes at the heart of the EU and would lead to outrage if the target were the British, the Italians, or the French? The reason is simple. If the Greeks vote a Syriza government into office, the EU and the IMF will have to drastically change the austerity policies that created an economic disaster and a humanitarian crisis.

The 6 May result saw Syriza’s share of the vote jump from 4% to 17%, while the New Democracy and Pasok parties, which had alternated in government with a combined 80% of the vote in the last 40 years, collapsed to 32%. On 7 May, the Europeans started admitting the Greeks have been punished disproportionately, and that austerity does not work and must be mitigated. On 17 June, a Syriza victory will be the first defeat of austerity in Europe and will have international repercussions.

The belated admission by the IMF and EU “experts” that austerity does not work is a direct result of the 6 May results. The figures are staggering: more than 20% contraction of output over four years; 22% unemployment and 54% youth unemployment; a 24-point jump in the poverty index; and a 50% reduction in the salaries and pension of civil servants. The second memorandum moved to the private sector, abolishing collective bargaining and other basic labour law protections, as well as cutting the minimum wage and unemployment benefits by up to 32%.

The Guardian has documented the humanitarian catastrophe that followed. Soup kitchens for the middle class, a huge jump in homelessness and mental disease, daily suicides, lack of basic medicines, cancer patients turned away from pharmacies, and hospitals ceasing operation because of a lack of basic supplies. The question on Sunday is not between the euro and the drachma, but between the continuation of these policies or salvation from the greatest destruction a people have experienced in peacetime. If something is leading to the exit from the euro, a probable collapse of the eurozone and a possible world crisis of 1930s magnitude, is not the Syriza policies but extreme austerity and mad economic recipes. [Continue reading...]

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Syriza party takes aim at corruption in Greece’s news media

McClatchy reports: Greece’s crushing economic crisis, which has upended the country’s politics and jeopardized its currency tie with the European Union, has also put another institution on the spot: the news media.

Amid allegations of unethical journalistic practices that may have contributed to the mess the country’s in, the outsider political coalition, whose popularity has skyrocketed, says it wants to abolish the cozy relationship that’s long existed between media owners and politicians, and to halt the practice of government payments to individual journalists.

On the eve of Sunday’s second-round election, the outsider coalition, known as Syriza, or the Radical Left, was reported neck-and-neck with the conservative New Democracy party. Both parties were expected to draw less than the 35 percent of the vote needed to form a government, and the winner is likely to have to search for a coalition partner.

Public support for the upstart Syriza party has surged largely because of its pledge to suspend the EU-imposed economic austerity measures that have led to a dramatic economic contraction here, but in demanding reforms to the rules governing the news media the coalition may have tapped into another source of voter disaffection. A poll earlier this month published by Mono magazine showed that more than 80 percent of the public do not view the Greek news media as objective.

While Greece has some excellent investigative journalists and some mavericks who challenge the system, the absence of a prevailing ethos of independent reporting helped enable the government to overstate Greece’s readiness for adopting the euro, and later precluded public awareness that the government was lying about its deficit to the European Union, said George Pleios, head of the department of communications at the National University in Athens.

One reason for the lack of trust may be that a significant number of journalists have two masters – their own news outlet and the organizations or firms they are covering. A Syriza official alleged that thousands of reporters maintain conflicts of interest and that 500 to 600 journalists are or have been on the payroll of a government agency.

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