Fighting the Greek meltdown

Activists are protesting the effects of the financial bailout in Greece – and taking matters into their own hands.

greece liz dunningham piece
Activists from the Den Plirono [‘Don’t Pay’] group swamp the toll booths, move the barriers and wave their bright yellow flags, allowing vehicles to pass through – saving each driver 3.05 euros on their journey [Al Jazeera]

On May 11, thousands of angry Greek workers, students – and even pensioners – will again take to the streets to protest the government’s response to the economic crisis. They say they shouldn’t be made to pay for the mistakes of their government – past or present. Many of them think the government was wrong to borrow money which ties it to carry out strict austerity measures. While Wednesday’s protest coincides with a national strike, those unhappy with the deep public spending cuts are diversifying their methods in an attempt to make officials “sit up and listen”. 

It’s the crack of dawn at a toll booth station outside Athens. We are waiting for our contacts to arrive, activists from the Den Plirono, or “Don’t Pay” group. Their bus pulls up and they get off – 40 of them, highly visible in bright yellow vests and carrying flags, and highly audible with loudspeakers and whistles. They swamp the toll booths, remove the barriers and simply wave passing vehicles through, saving each driver 3.05 euros on their journey.

Toll charges, like many public services, have risen sharply as the government tries to recoup revenue. The activists told us their actions were symbolic of a wider demand for free public services. One Den Plirono activist, Electra Bravaco, said: “The government is against us and we want to change that and change many other things. We are every day in the road, there are many people who fight for this, simple people that want to change this situation.”

The Den Plirono struggle is a collective one, and their membership, already in the thousands, is increasing daily.

But another Greek activist has chosen a lone fight against the government.

Doctor Dimitris Antoniou is a driven man, a workaholic even. A surgeon specialising in oncology, he has also written tomes of – albeit unpublished – books about his various interests: the history of art, quantum physics and mathematics. But it’s his interest in law which made him a hero to many Greek people.

undefinedDr Dimitris Antoniou says Greek sovereignty was violated by the bailout agreement [Al Jazeera]

A year ago, in May 2010, the doctor submitted a lawsuit to the Greek courts accusing the government of betraying the country’s constitution and charging them with high treason.

The reason? Antoniou says that the terms of the loan agreement with the troika of the EU, IMF, and the ECB, are illegal. He says the three must be consulted in any changes to the Greek legislature – in order to get its emergency bailout loan, the government had to agree to change the country’s labour laws and pension system – which should be the job of the Greek parliament. He also points to another clause of the bailout agreement which secures the assets of the Greek state against the loan. This, he says, equates to the Greek government giving up its sovereignty.

He compares the loan agreement to the occupation of Greece by Germany during the Second World War. “Nothing has changed, only the weapons. This time the weapons are the terms of the loan agreement.”

His way of thinking is not uncommon in post-bailout Greece. Having dinner with Greek friends before I met Antoniou, one of them told me: “This is no longer Greece, our laws are not our own, we no longer exist as a country.” And certainly the message from the many anti-bailout protests is that the Greek government only panders to its debtors while making life more and more difficult for the “ordinary people” – cutting benefits, pay and pensions.

The first prosecutor to hear Antoniou’s lawsuit threw it out. Antoniou said she agreed with his conclusions about the terms of the agreement, but said that Greece had simply needed the money.

It’s a sentiment echoed by many economists.

“It’s easy to throw punches at the agreement, the problem is that the Greek government had no other choice last year, it had to find the money to pay for the 15.4 per cent [of GDP] deficit,” analyst George Pagoulatos told Al Jazeera. 

“And obviously, the only way was for the bailout mechanism – and that came with terms, many of which, as painful as they are, include measures which should have been taken decades ago.”
Antoniou has appealed, and his lawsuit is still making its way through the Greek legal system, bolstered, he says, by reams of new evidence – such as papers which prove the EU, IMF and ECB have “meddled in Greek laws”.

He is also encouraged by the thousands of emails, letters and phone calls he has received from fellow citizens.

Amid these many messages and conversations, he said one emotion which struck him was that of fear. “So many people told me they are afraid of the Greek government – and this for me was very emotional when I realised the Greek people were afraid.”

There’s certainly no fear in the actions of the Den Plirono group. The busload we met was on its way to the trial of a fellow member in the city of Patra, where they intended to make themselves as loud as possible to get their message across.

“The leaders of this country have to come to a stage where they realise that the Greek population doesn’t agree with their practices and they must either change those practices, or go home,” said Giorgos Kosmopoulos, one of the movement’s founders.

His words sum up a new feeling in Greece – that people won’t be afraid anymore.

Source: Al Jazeera



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