Tension rises between Greek government and media after TV presenters are suspended over criticism of public order minister
Greek journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, centre, emerges from an Athens court after his trial was adjourned. Photograph: Demotix/Corbis/Stathis Kalligeris
Greek journalists have warned that press freedom was under unprecedented attack, with critics being suspended or put on trial by a precarious coalition government struggling to push through an economic austerity programme as a way of attracting foreign funds.
The clash between the government and the press appeared to be nearing a crisis with a strike due to start on Tuesday on state television (ERT) over the suspension of two popular presenters for mild criticism of a minister. Meanwhile, the editor of an investigative magazine went on trial on Monday for publishing a list of some 2,000 wealthy Greeks with Swiss bank accounts who the government has yet to investigate for possible tax evasion.
Dimitris Trimis, the head of the Athens Newspaper Editors Union said the current pressure on press freedom was the most intense of his career. "This is a matter of democracy," Trimis said. "The government feels insecure. The only way it feels it can convince society of its policies is to try to manipulate the media through coercion.
"This is true of both state television and in the private sector of the media where there has been a large number of lost jobs and wage cuts and so it has become easier to manipulate in the interests of the government and the economic elite."
Marilena Katsimi and Kostas Arvanitis were summarily dropped from their morning magazine programme on ERT after discussing the reaction of the public order minister, Nikos Dendias to a Guardian report on claims by anti-fascist demonstrators that they had been tortured by the police. Katsimi said on air that Dendias had not carried out his threat to sue the Guardian over the article because the medical examiners report "shows that there was indeed a crime." She described Dendias's actions as "strange" but did not think he would resign.
"About an hour after the programme ended, the director of information called for a transcript. He didn't ask to talk to us. And it was then announced that two other journalists would present tomorrow's show. We were cut," Katsimi told the Guardian.
"The style of the programme is very informal. It is a morning conversation over a cup of coffee and it is very popular with high ratings. We have been critical of ministers in the past from all parties, and there have been complaints to the management before but this is new. This is threat to public and private media."
Katsimi said the journalists' suspension was one of several "peculiar things" to have happened at ERT recently. "Everywhere in media people are being fired, but at ERT they are hiring. The government want people who agree with their position and they want to hire their friends."
ERT journalists are planning an initial two-hour strike from 6am on Tuesday, to be followed by 24-hour strikes until the suspension of Katsimi and Arvanitis is revoked.
Aimilios Liatsos, ERT's general director for news issued a statement on Monday claiming that the two journalists had "violated the basic rules of journalistic practice". He added that they had made "unacceptable insinuations" against Dendias without giving him an opportunity to express his view, "while their comments appeared to anticipate the results of a court decision".
Another prominent journalist, Kostas Vaxevanis, went on trial on Monday for publishing a leaked list of about 2,000 wealthy Greeks with Swiss bank accounts, who may face investigation for tax evasion.
The list was seized from a computer technician at HSBC bank in Geneva, who was suspected of trying to sell it, and was originally supplied to the Greek government in 2010 by the then French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, now head of the International Monetary Fund. However, the Greek finance ministry failed to act on the list for two years before it was leaked to Vaxevanis's Hot Doc magazine.
The case has triggered an uproar in Athens, where the speed of Vaxevanis arrest and trial – within three days of charges being pressed – has been contrasted with the many years it has taken the government to pursue rich Greek tax evaders.
On emerging from court where the trial was adjourned, Vaxevanis was greeted by cheers from a crowd of about 250, mostly journalists.
"I was doing my job in the name of the public interest," the journalist said. "Journalism is revealing the truth when everyone else is trying to hide it."
The Vienna-based Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe expressed concern about the Vaxevanis's brief arrest on Sunday. "I am relieved that Vaxevanis was released from custody after a brief detention, and trust that he will now be tried in a transparent manner considering the acute public interest in the case," OSCE media freedom representative Dunja Mijatovic said.
"It is the responsibility of media as the watchdog of democracy to disclose information in the public interest, even if it is considered sensitive by some."
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Monday, October 29, 2012
Kostas Vaxevanis at centre of political storm after publishing names of wealthy Greeks alleged to have Swiss bank accounts
Greek journalist Kostas Vaxevanis leaves the prosecutor's office following his arrest over the publishing of the so-called Lagarde list. Photograph: Alexandros Beltes/EPA
A magazine editor in Greece will appear in court after publishing the names of more than 2,000 wealthy Greeks alleged to have Swiss bank accounts, triggering a row over tax evasion that threatens the stability of the government.
Kostas Vaxevanis was arrested on Sunday, after his weekly journal, Hot Doc, printed the list of names, which including prominent members of Greece's political and business elite.
The editor was giving a live radio interview when police arrived, and broke off saying he had to go "to be arrested". At the same he tweeted about the arrest, comparing the police to German stormtroopers in the second world war. In another tweet he wrote: "They're entering my house with the prosecutor right now. They are arresting me. Spread the word."
Police officials said that Vaxevanis had illegally published personal details without proof that the people involved had broken the law. But he and other critics of the government have portrayed his arrest as part of a cover-up intended to obscure claims that the finance ministry had had the list for more than two years without taking action against those named.
"If anyone is accountable before the law then it is those ministers who hid the list, lost it and said it didn't exist. I only did my job. I am a journalist and I did my job," Vaxevanis said in the video sent to Reuters news agency.
The case has triggered a parliamentary inquiry and could provide the basis for prosecutions at a time of rising radicalism on both left and right and a sense of injustice over the widespread destitution and despair created by Greece's economic crisis set against the relative impunity of the country's rich, who have a long history of tax evasion.
George Papaconstantinou, a former finance minister, said the Greek tax authorities had failed to act on the list because they were afraid of confronting the country's elite tax evaders. He also claimed that the affair brought to light only a small part of a massive tax evasion problem that was part of what he described as a "broken and corrupt system".
The scandal has its origins in a raid in January 2009 on the French home of a former computer technician for HSBC bank's Geneva branch, Herve Falciani, accused by the Swiss of selling stolen data on the bank's clients. The French police found computer files on 130,000 potential tax evaders and, to the fury of the Swiss authorities, held on to them and began investigating them.
In mid-2010, the French intelligence service, the DGSE, informed Athens that many of those named in the Falciani dossier were Greek.
Papaconstantinou, then finance minister, asked his French counterpart at the time, Christine Lagarde, to pass it on. It arrived through diplomatic channels in the form of an unlabelled CD containing spreadsheets for the roughly 2,000 accounts now known in Greece as the "Lagarde list". What happened to it next is at the heart of the current political storm in Athens.
"I handed the head of the tax police the 20 people with the biggest balances, and who accounted for about half of the total amount on the files we got from the French authorities, and asked him to see what we could learn by looking at their profiles," Papaconstantinou told the Guardian. "He came back and told me that their profiles did not justify these kind of bank accounts in Switzerland. On the basis of this information, I asked him to go ahead and do a full investigation. I was not happy with the lack of follow-up."
As Greece faced economic meltdown, Papaconstantinou enacted a series of measures aimed at cracking down on tax evasion, but was forced out as his austerity programme became politically toxic. "Before I left the ministry in mid-2011, I handed all the files to the new head of the tax police and asked him to proceed with a full investigation," he said.
Papaconstantinou told a parliamentary inquiry last week that the French CD stayed at the ministry when he left and he did not know what had happened to it since. He has been lambasted in some parts of the Greek press for having lost it.
"I am being accused of having lost the original. I did not; I gave all the information to the tax police with instructions to investigate, so it is there on the record in electronic form," the former minister said. "The CD of course I left at the office when I left finance. I don't know where it is now, but even that is not the original. It is a copy of a CD which the French authorities have."
Papaconstantinou also rejected the argument presented to parliament by a former tax chief that the data could not have been used for an investigation as it had been illegally obtained, saying: "This information is equivalent to getting an anonymous tip. It is not permissible in court but the tax police are obliged by law to follow it up and use it in their investigations. And they did not."
Papaconstantinou argued that the tax authorities deliberately chose not to pursue information on the list. "My interpretation is they probably got scared. They looked at the names on the list and saw it was full of important people from business and publishing and decided not to go ahead without clear political instructions and cover," he said, adding that the Lagarde list was only the tip of a Greek tax evasion iceberg.
"It is not insignificant [about €1.5bn in total] but the truth is that compared with other lists it's not the treasure trove everyone is looking for," Papaconstantinou said. "There is a list from the Bank of Greece of 54,000 people who took €22bn out of the country. That is official and can be used in court. The first check found 6 billion that can't be justified and letters are going to 15,000 people on that list who will be taxed at the 45% rate."
The former finance minister said measures he took to tighten tax collection still face resistance and delay in the bureaucracy and judiciary, adding: "What we have is a corrupt and broken system."
Petros Markaris, an author and social commentator, who recently published a bestselling detective novel about a serial killer targeting tax evaders, said: "This really is a mess, and it has become a mess because the politicians have handled it so badly. This was not incompetence but because they did not want to make public what could harm them."
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard 7:46PM GMT 28 Oct 2012
The EU-IMF Troika of inspectors in Greece has called on European bodies and official creditors to write off a chunk of their loans, opening the way for first taxpayer losses since the sovereign debt crisis began.
Riot police clash with protesters during a recent 24-hour nationwide general strike in Athens Photo: AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris
A draft version of the Troika report obtained by Spiegel magazine said EMU governments and the European Central Bank must accept their share of losses in order to bring Greece’s public debt back to 120pc of GDP by 2020, deemed the sustainable level.
Greece must carry out a further 150 reforms, some involving a drastic loss of sovereignty. Troika payments will be held frozen in a special account under creditor control.
The Troika will have power to raise taxes automatically. There must be new laws to make it easier to fire workers and adjust the minumum wage.
In exchange, Greece should be given two extra years until 2016 to meet budget targets, costing up to €38bn.
German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble said over the weekend that taxpayer "haircuts" were unthinkable. "The question has very little to do with the reality in eurozone member states," he said.
Public sector losses are politically explosive in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel has told her own people that bail-out loans to southern Europe entail no risk, and have been profitable to date.
She would have to account for any losses to the Bundestag. This would poison debate on further loans for Portugal, Spain, Cyprus, or Slovenia. The fast-growing eurosceptic camp in Germany would claim vindication.
Until now all losses from debt restructuring in Greece have been concentrated on a diminishing pool of pension funds, insurers, and banks, which have suffered an implied `haircut’ of 75pc. They have been squeezed dry.
The ECB’s president chief Mario Draghi says the ECB cannot accept write-downs on its estimated €40bn holding of Greek debt since this would amount to illegal state financing, so the losses would fall on EMU governments and the bail-out fund (EFSF).
The International Monetary Fund has made it clear that it will no longer provide any money unless Greece is put on a sustainable course.
Separately, Mr Draghi told Spiegel that any purchases of European bonds -- meaning Spanish bonds, once Madrid requests a rescue -- will come under strict terms. "Unlimited does not mean uncontrolled," he said.
There will be no intervention unless bond spreads are "excessive". Any support will be switched off if states fail to comply with conditions. "Countries have to give up part of their sovereignty if we want to restore trust in the eurozone," he said. The comments have been seen as a warning to Madrid that a "bail-out lite" is not on offer.
Michael Fuchs, a key Bundestag ally of Chancellor Merkel, said "every single measure" of the Greek package must come under intrusive control.
"Tranches will paid out only when there is compliance, and not just in the Greek parliament, but also in the administration," he said.
Diplomats say there is an element of theatre in these demands. German politicians are trying to put a gloss of control on a crisis that has long since slipped out of their hands.
Yet the tone of language grates in Greece where president Karolos Papoulias warned creditors -- and Germany in particular -- not to push his country too far as it braces for a sixth year of deep depression. "We cannot ask more from the people," he said on Sunday.
In pointed language, Mr Papoulias said Europe had forgotten the debt owed to Greek fighters who pinned down Wehrmacht forces in mid-1941 long enough to delay the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Some historians say the delay prevented the fall of Moscow.
Hans-Werner Sinn, head of Germany’s IFO Institute, said it is becoming cruel to keep Greece in EMU. "The austerity needed to restore wage and price competitiveness will break society first. We are sacrificing a generation of young people who cannot find work, and all in the name of the euro. It is irresponsible. A euro exit would offer hope at last," he said.
Dr Sinn said Europe should craft a controlled return to the drachma with help to shore up the Greek banking system and to provide trade credits. "There is no need for catastrophe scenarios," he said.
Russian president Vladimir Putin echoed the words, saying Greece would "have a way out" if it could return to the drachma and devalue.
Mr Putin said Europe had charged ahead prematurely with the euro project "for political reasons" and was now facing the consequences.
In Athens, police arrested Greek journalist Kostas Vaxevanis for breach of data protection laws after he revealed the names of 2000 wealthy Greeks with HSBC bank accounts in Switzerland.
Known as the `Lagarde list", it was given to the Greek authorities by Christine Lagarde in 2010 when she was French finance minister.
"Instead of arresting the tax evaders and the ministers who had the list in their hands, they’re trying to arrest the truth and freedom of the press," said Mr Vaxevanis.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Second general strike in less than a month takes place amid latest round of draconian measures
Greek police clash with anti-austerity demonstrators in Athens. Source: Reuters Link to this video
Vanna Mendaleni is a middle aged Greek woman who until now has not had vehement feelings about the crisis that has engulfed her country. But that changed when the softly spoken undertaker, closing her family-run funeral parlour, joined thousands of protesters on Thursday in a mass outpouring of fury over austerity policies that have plunged ever growing numbers of Greeks into poverty and fear.
"After three years of non-stop taxes and wage cuts it's got to the point where nothing has been left standing," she said drawing on a cigarette. "It's so bad families can no longer afford to even bury their dead. Bodies lie unclaimed at public hospitals so that the local municipality can bury them."
As Greece was brought to a grinding halt by its second general strike in less than a month, Mendaleni wanted to send a message to the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, and other EU leaders meeting in Brussels.
"We once had a life that was dignified. Now the country has gone back 50 years and these politicians have to be made aware that enough is enough."
Greek demonstrations are not now marked by the vehemence or violence of the mass protests that occurred when Europe's debt drama erupted in Athens, forcing the then socialist government to announce pay and pension cuts, tax increases and benefit losses that few had anticipated. Anger and bewilderment have been replaced by disappointment and despair.
But the quiet fortitude that has been on display could soon run out in the country on the frontline of the continent's worst crisis since the second world war. For on Thursday demonstrators were sure of one thing: if pushed too far they may be pushed over the edge.
"Personally, I'm amazed there hasn't been a revolution," said Panaghiotis Varotsos, a computer programmer.
"In Portugal they're rioting over one measure when here we've been made to accept countless cuts and tax increases. And the worst thing about being ground down is that it breeds extremism," said the silver-haired leftist. "In the case of Greece it is extremism that is going to the right because [the neo-Nazi party] Golden Dawn has managed to exploit people's despair. But it won't just stay here. It will spread, like this economic crisis, to other parts of Europe, too."
For the vast majority of those who took to the streets, the tipping point could be the latest round of austerity measures being demanded of the debt-stricken country in return for the international rescue funds it so desperately needs to keep bankruptcy at bay.
Under intense pressure from international creditors at the EU and IMF, Samaras' fragile coalition has been forced to draw up a draconian package of spending cuts worth €13.5bn – the price of a whopping €31.5bn loan instalment that is already four months overdue. Officials have suggested the burden will fall on society's most vulnerable with pensioners and low-income Greeks once again having to make the biggest sacrifices.
"After nearly 50 years of work and paying into an expensive pension fund, I have been forced to retire on €1,000 a month and if they pass these measures it will be even less," said 60-year-old Nikos Xeros, who until this year had repaired ships since the age of 16. "It's like having a noose about your neck that is getting ever tighter. The next time I come out to demonstrate it's going to be with a gas mask and a big wooden club."
Law enforcement officials cut off access to Syntagma Square – home of the Greek parliament – before protesters could reach it, stoking widespread fury on Thursday. For some it was evidence of the mounting fears that parliament could be stormed.
"Greeks are becoming increasingly conscious … and it was especially noticeable that the main slogan today was 'the time has come to overthrow these polices'," said Tania Karayiannis of the union of civil servants. As many as 80,000 people participated in the protests in Athens alone, she said. "The political leadership of this country should not underestimate that. If they don't take our opposition seriously they will bear historic responsibility for the disintegration of Greece's social fabric and the developments that will surely follow."
Friday, October 19, 2012
Matthew Raphael Johnson
Heroes of Modernity: The Greek Military Junta of 1967-1974
When one sees the years the military government ruled in Greece, one can see why this particular sort of rule was important, necessary and why the Regime was despised with such vehemence. Like all such governments the Greek military revolt came in the wake of failed liberal democracy, chaotic public morals and a general decline of civilized behavior, not to mention the disintegration of the economy and a drying up of the valuable tourist trade. Military leaders considered themselves the only source of rectifying the situation, and hence took action. Their accomplishments and rationale have yet to be defended in English.
I. The Background
After the Second World War, Greece was a major battle ground between the forces of Stalin and that of Greek tradition and Orthodoxy. The vary fact that every single article written on this coup refers to “communists” rather than Stalinists is telling. These were not Menshiviks, but the most murderous group in history, in the USSR, responsible for upwards of 30 million deaths. Greece, was therefore, in a fight for its life. Has the Stalinists taken over, millions of Greeks would have been liquidated. This was the nature of the battle, and a major Civil War broke out between Greek patriots and Stalin-backed rebels that only ended close to 1950. Of course, there would have been no support whatsoever for Stalin had the wartime government of Greece ben even remotely competent in dealing with the economy. Inflation skyrocketed and bred discontent among the normally conservative Greek population. All in all, the Stalinists were relatively small–being able to field about 10,000 men, though of differing nationalities–though lavishly funded from abroad, both from Yugoslavia and the USSR. When Stalin broke with Belgrade, much of the Marxist’s funding was cut off, thereby leaving their organizations to wither, and proving, incidentally, they had little internal support.
Greece was considered a major prize for Stalin. She is strategically located and possessed of much natural wealth. Thankfully, Stalin failed, and the Greek anti-communists defeated Stalin’s rebel forces in 1949. However, it was made clear that some of the western powers, though often enamored with Stalin, were dedicated to protecting Greek sovereignty, and the British were instrumental in organizing certain elements in the Greek military forces; elements, with rather divergent political outlooks, in order to protect Greek independence from the USSR and her imperialist agenda under Stalin.
Unsurprisingly, Greek Stalinists were banned and many were forced to leave the country. Establishment sources considered this a “persecution” of the communists, but considering the agenda of Stalin, it was a mere act of self-defense, and a rather pallid one at that.
Regardless, it became clear that the Greek military was a conservative institution, though it was equally clear that not all officers were. The top brass of the Greek armed forces were conservative in the general sense of that word, most of whom cut their teeth fighting Stalin and his imperialist designs. In the early 1960s, after years of conservative governments (normally led by the National Radical Union, a strongly popular anti-communist party) elected by the Greek people, a liberal republican was elected, the ill-fated and pompous George Papandreou, Sr. This occurred after the assassination of the even more pompous George Lambrakis, a self-styled pacifist who had no difficulty with Stalin’s aggression. This assassination was considered shocking to the Greek people, who reacted and elected a slightly more liberal parliament. The significance of Lambrakis was that his funeral led to large leftist demonstrations, as the left had regrouped after the military victory of the Greek nation in the late 1940s. Now, the Greek military needed to deal with violent demonstrations led by unrepresentative elements from the Greek population. Certainly, given the time period in the mid-1960s, the Regime was up to something, and the world was beginning to feel the dawn of the famed Aquarian Age.
The “constitutional crisis” came to a head when the liberals, now running Greece, clashed with the moderately conservative king, Constantine II. With a few defections from Papandreou’s side, the king was able to bring down his government, while the king himself struggled to form a few of his own, with little success. Strong leadership was necessary, and none was forthcoming. Papandreou, for his part, made no secret of his republicanism, and hence, his desire to radically restructure Greece’s rather popular style of government. Papandreou provoked the king with his tirades against monarchy, and thus bears full responsibility for the constitutional crisis, a crisis one might say certainly crossed the prime minister’s mind.
In Greek politics at the time, it was generally agreed that the king had full charge of the army, which in leftist eyes, was a major problem in that the coercive power was in his hands. With all things leftist, the world is about power and the fulfillment of their ideological fantasies, and therefore, a constitutional crisis needed to be provoked to destroy the monarchy and thus bring the army into their control. Therefore, Papandreou, in the fit of anger, demanded to be appointed defense minister–guaranteeing that the left would achieve its goal–the army always being a thorn in the left’s side. The king, as all knew, refused, and eventually accepted the resignation of Papandreou from his post as prime minister.
Just as significant, strikes and street protests developed, supporting one or the other side in this scandal, as it became clear liberal democracy had failed. The king’s governments could not stand, and the parliament, as well as the people, were split. The slight majority of the liberals was ended by the defection of a few of his “apostates” (as they are called), leading to a situation where a basic 50-50 split ensued. Certain leftists, in other words, could not abide the arrogance of Papandreou. No government, it seemed, could receive a vote of confidence, and the Greek economy began to suffer as a result of the political instability. By 1967, governments were lasting a week or so and the country was sinking into poverty and hyperinflation; unemployment was rising and out of control, and investment was drying up due to high rates of interest.
What happened alarmed the world: The major liberal party, without a shred of scruple, formed an alliance with the Socialist Party, considered by many to be a cover for the banned Communist Party, which even liberal historians think is true, at least in the fact that the ancient Stalinists were supporting the Socialists openly. Since no party could form a government by itself, such a solution was considered proper, and the more conservative elements of the Greek population were aghast.
Therefore, very quickly, the notion of a communist threat was made clear. Since, by this time, in 1967, Marxism was responsible for the deaths of 30 million in the USSR and another 30 million in China, such a threat was severe indeed (in fact, 1967 was the midst of the “Cultural Revolution” in China). It was this that led to the coup of 1967.
II. The Coup
Democracy had failed–again. A split population, an obvious decline in public morals, a failing economy, strikes and street protests, squabbling politicians, pompous speech making, institutionalized lying, threats, and endless other problems created by the democratic system had the Greek people outraged, and the coup was received with cheers from the population, as is normal and ordinary for these sorts of events.
The Coup took place on April 21, 1967, just short of the elections that everyone knew would be inconsequential and simply prolong the agony that had become Greece. Arrogant politicians were arrested en masse as the creators of Greek poverty and misery. It should be noted that the officers that took over were relatively low ranking, as far as these things go. Two Colonels were the leaders, Nikolas Makarezos and the undisputed leader George Papadoupolos. One general was involved, Brigadier Stylanos Pattakos, but he was a minor figure behind the colonels. It is also worth noting that these men were populists by conviction, considering the political crisis to have been created by corrupt politicians out of touch with Greek life, a sentiment echoes by the overwhelming majority of the population, regardless of background. This included the king, with Papadoupolos considered to be too young for the job, though the Colonels respected the institution of monarchy in general.
Most of the coup’s members were of the agricultural classes and looked to the city with disdain. For them, the city was the basis of corruption, big money and oppression. As always, the Establishment, both left and right, was close to big money and was thus an urban phenomenon. Therefore, in the propaganda war, the military did not have a chance in terms of elite public opinion. True to their populism, the first to be arrested was the chief of the army, a very cosmopolitan figure, General George Spantidakis. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. immediately condemned the coup, referring to it as a “rape of democracy.” The coup itself was supported by lower level officers and rejected by the upper brass, including all politicians, who saw their power ebbing away to the increasingly wild cheers of the population.
The Colonels, effectively arrested the generals, a military and political move with social and economic effects. This was a populist move, and was meant to signal that the nation of Greece will no longer be an oligarchy. The policies initiated by the Colonels bears this notion out. The king, isolated and surrounded by sympathetic military leaders, was forced to legalize this government (which improved the military’s imag in the eyes of the population). Relations between the monarchy and Papadoupoulos were extremely poor, though the Colonels were monarchists in theory.
The monarchy, as a result, attempted to oust the Colonels from power. The plan was simple: Constantine was to fly to the north (near Salonika, significantly the Jewish capital of the Balkans), with a military force loyal to him. The Navy and Air Corps strongly supported the king, at least at the higher levels. The king sought to create an alternative northern government and receive international recognition as a result. The result was unfortunate for Constantine: the army was split, the lower level officers refused the commands of loyal generals stationed in Salonika, and the king’s plans failed. Generals were arrested by lower level officers and these officers then took control over their units; Constantine went into exile in Rome.
It is widely admitted that CIA cash was placed on Constantine’s movement. U.S. foreign policy in such areas is normally (such as in El Salvador) to split the difference between two movements. On the one hand, finance does not like nationalist movements, but they also do not like many forms of Marxism (though this is not universally true, as in South Africa or Namibia). Therefore, the Regime usually places its bet on the center, whatever that might be. Duarte’s party in Salvador, Constantine in Greece.
The junta, or the Revolutionary Council, as they termed themselves, faced opposition from the United States, the middle classes (read urban intellectuals and businessmen) and international finance. They were strongly supported by labor and, especially, agriculture. Even the worst enemy of the Council accepts this as a fact. In the 1970s, Papadopoulos established a new constitution that made Greece a republic. Unfortunately, what brought the Council down was an invasion of Cyprus by Turkish troops. Some believe that this was a NATO concept to destroy the Council, but more others claim that this was a result of the support of right-wing paramilitaries in Cyprus by the Greek junta. Either way, this invasion was a victory for the Turks, and was a major setback for the junta.
III. The Successes of the Revolutionary Council
The name the Colonels gave to themselves was not mere rhetoric. These men were ideologically driven in the best of senses, as they saw Greece government by a small urban clique allied with international finance and capitalism. They saw, as a result, the despoliation of labor and agriculture, both created and resulting from the disastrous economic policies of the previous democratic oligarchy. Regardless of one’s view of the coup itself, the fact remains that the Colonels remained consistently popular with the broad masses of the population until the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1973. A hostile critic of the junta writes this:
To gain support for his rule, Papadopoulos was able to project an image that appealed to some segments of Greek society. The son of a poor family from a rural area, he had no education other than that of the military academy. He publicly stated contempt for the urban, western-educated "elite" in Athens. Modern western music was banned from the airwaves, and folk music and arts were promoted. The poor, conservative, religious farmers widely supported him, seeing in his rough mannerisms, simplistic speeches, even in his name ("Georgios Papadopoulos" is one of the most common names in Greece) a "friend of the common man". Further, the regime promoted a policy of economic development in rural areas, which were mostly neglected by the previous governments, that had focused largely in urban industrial development.
Colonel Papadopoulos was a man of his word. Outside of the hostile rhetoric of this critic, the fact is that the Colonel was disgusted at the obvious connection between democracy (in the vulgar sense of the term) and oligarchy. This is seen everywhere modern liberal democracy has been tried.. It is the ideology of the rich and the official ideology of international finance. It is even the case that many in the middle class, at least in the 1960-s, were convinced that the military government was better than that embarrassment of liberal democracy, overseen by a young and inexperienced monarch.
The greatest achievement of the coup was in economic growth and development. Greece is poor. It is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Under democracy, the economy stagnated, and Greece experienced high interest rates, high unemployment and negative economic growth. Foreign investment proceeded apace, but those profits went abroad. Under the Colonels, all of this was reversed. Another hostile critic of the Junta says this, no doubt while gritting his teeth: “The 1967 - 1973 period was marked by high rates of economic growth coupled with low inflation and low unemployment. GDP growth was driven by investment in the tourism industry, public spending, and pro-business incentives that fostered both domestic and foreign capital spending.” This is the primary reason why the Council maintained the popularity of the general population. Another reason is that the communists were thrown in prison by the thousands. As they were (at least at one time) planning in creating a GULAG system in Greece, it is little wonder.
Additionally, the Junta is aware of the hippie movement, supported by capital in the US. It banned this particular elite social experiment it, as did Franco’s Spain, with both governments, incidentally, blaming US policy for this social invasion.
Here is an example of a movement banned in Greece by the Junta, proving its popularity. There was a rock group known as “Aphrodite’s Child” in Greece at the time, they were banned and forced to flee to Paris, no doubt to the cheers of the agricultural classes in the country. Here is one write up about the band:
The rock group Aphrodite's Child began in Greece in the sixties. Bass-player and singer Demis Roussos was a member of The Idols and We Five, while keyboardest Vangelis Papathanassiou was a member of The Forminx who had several hits in Athens in 1964 and 1965, playing British invasion influenced rock. In 1968 during the dictatorship, Vangelis, Demis and drummer Lucas Sideras left Greece for England where being a rock band is less oppressive. They don't even get in the country due to problems with work permits and end up in Paris. It works out for them. The band puts out an album and several of the songs rise to #1 on the French charts. It seems everything they touch turns to gold and each release becomes a hit. In 1970 they begin their most ambitious work, a double album based on the Book of Revelations called 666. The record company is horrified by the contents, in particular a song in which actress Irini Pappas simulates (or maybe it's not simulated) masturbation. Vangelis refuses to remove the offending track and the record company delays the album's release.
This is first, clearly against the social interest of Greece, and it, more significantly, is clearly the result of western pressure, where such ideologies have derived from American sources. This is the sort of trash the junta was set at destroying, and is another major source of the Council’s popularity. All of this material is coming in through U.S. official sources, specifically the U.S. military radio station AFRS. The Council responds to all of this by drafting the offending kids into the army. This simple, country sort of approach is part of Papadopoulos’ appeal. The single best aspect of Junta policy, however, was the treatment of agriculture. Papadopoulos’ was the son of a poor farmer, and he knew first hand the contempt that urban politicians hold the farmers in. During the democratic oligarchy (called “democracy” in the west) farming was a dangerous occupation. Much like in America, farmers were going into bankruptcy in large numbers. They had the utmost contempt for bankers and leftists, but certainly had no truck with the “conservatives” represented by Constantine and “moderate” elements. The Revolutionary Council maintained a rock solid popularity from agriculture, still in 1970 the largest aspect of the Greek nation.
First, the Greek government under the Colonels cancelled most agricultural debt, being careful to distinguish family farms from western-owned combines by limiting the amount of money to be written off, numbering about $100,000, a large sum, but too small for large combines and agri-business. Second, some support for struggling farmers is sent. Third, it becomes easier for farming families to send their children to college, and they are given free textbooks. In fact, all college students are given free books and reduced tuition. College students, as usual, respond with riots and well rehearsed condemnations of “militarism.” For tourist development, extremely low interest loans were granted by the junta. The financial community went bonkers. For small business start ups, the same sort of loans were granted. But much of this liquidity was reserved for tourism, which had fallen off under the oligarchy. Unfortunately, the oil shock negated many of these gains, though this is no the fault of the regime, and much public support was lost by the end of the system in 1974.
Insofar as finance is concerned, this might well be the central issue. Greece under the junta was quite willing to back out of the U.S., liberal dominated global trading order by making sure the Greek currency remained unconvertable, hence unaffected by "market" pressures. As soon as the west's puppet Papandreou returned to take the helm from his posh post at Harvard, his first act was to render the currency "floatable," and hence vulnerable to outside manipulation.
The Greek military moved in the late 1960s for a few reasons: primarily, it moved so as to end the absurd stalemate in the Greek parliament. Secondly, to stop the re-legalization of Marxism in Greece through the liberals bringing to power of the Socialist Party. Third, the failing economy was destroying Greece, embarrassing her worldwide. Fourth, the military moved because of the destruction of Greek Orthodox morals among the young population, particular from official US sources blaring music and jokes designed to offend conservative Greek sensibilities. And fifth, the military moved to take power to rescue the pathetic condition of the farmers, drowning in debt. If these are the reasons, then the junta succeeded, and maintained a strong and prosperous Greece while they were in power. The Council failed due to reasons beyond its immediate control, the situation in Cyprus and the oil shock of the early 1970s. Without these, Greece would be a freer country today.
V. Select Bibliography
E. O'Ballance, The Greek Civil War, 1944-49 (1966)
G. Finlay, A History of Greece (7 vol., 1877; repr. 1970)
A. G. Papandreou, Democracy at Gunpoint (1970)
D. Dakin, The Unification of Greece: 1770-1923 (1972)
D. Eudes, The Kapetanios, Partisans and Civil War in Greece, 1943-1949 (tr., 1972)
A. F. Freris, The Greek Economy in the Twentieth Century (1986)
T. Bahcheli, Greek-Turkish Relations Since 1955 (1988)
R. Clogg, A Short History of Modern Greece (1988)
Y. A. Kourvetaris and B. A. Dobratz, A Profile of Modern Greece (1988)
J. V. Kofas, Intervention and Underdevelopment: Greece During the Cold War (1989)
T. Boatswain and C. Nicolson, A Traveller's History of Greece (1990).
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
By LIZ ALDERMAN Published: October 10, 2012
Privatizing the Port of Piraeus: The International Herald Tribune’s chief business reporter, Liz Alderman, profiles a Greek port where Chinese management is struggling to recast labor relations.
PIRAEUS, Greece — The captain gazed from his elegant office overlooking this port on the Aegean Sea and smiled as towering cranes plucked container after container from a giant ship while robotic transport vehicles fanned out to transfer the cargo to smaller vessels bound for the Mediterranean.
The cargo volume here is three times the level it was two years ago, before the captain, Fu Cheng Qiu, was put in charge by his employer, Cosco, a global shipping giant owned by the Chinese government.
In a 2010 deal that put 500 million euros ($647 million) into the coffers of Greece’s cash-starved government, Cosco leased half of the port of Piraeus and quickly converted a business that had languished as a Greek state-run enterprise into a hotbed of productivity.
The other half of the port is still run by Greece. And the fact that its business lags behind Cosco’s is emblematic of the entrenched labor rules and relatively high wages — for those lucky enough to still have jobs — that have stifled the country’s economic growth.
“Everyone here knows that you must be hard-working,” said Captain Fu, under whose watch the Chinese-run side of the port has lured new clients, high-volume traffic and bigger ships.
In many ways, the top-to-bottom overhaul that Cosco is imposing on Piraeus is what Greece as a whole must aspire to if it is ever to restore competitiveness to its recession-sapped economy, make a dent in its 24 percent unemployment rate and avoid being dependent on its European neighbors for years to come.
As the Greek government contemplates shedding state-owned assets to help pay down staggering debts, it might be tempting to consider leasing or even selling the rest of the port to China. But if the Cosco example is representative, the trade-offs — mainly a sharp reduction in labor costs and job protection rules — might be ones many Greeks would be loath to accept.
“Unionized labor will push back to keep the protection it has enjoyed,” said Vassilis Antoniades, the chief executive of Boston Consulting Group in Greece. But the Cosco investment, he said, “shows that under private management, Greek companies can be globally competitive.”
Captain Fu, for his part, says Greece has much to learn from companies like his.
“The Chinese want to make money with work,” he said. In his view, too many Europeans have pursued a comfortable, protected existence since the end of World War II. “They wanted a good life, more holidays and less work,” he said. “And they spent money before they had it. Now they have many debts.”
Greece’s troika of foreign lenders — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission — has made similar arguments. Among other things, they are urging Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to end blanket protections for workers and unions and to require Greece itself to operate more like a productive modern business.
Besides the $647 million that put half of the port of Piraeus into Chinese hands, the Greek government is receiving more income from taxes as a result of the port’s pickup in business.
Other than a handful of Chinese managers, moreover, Cosco’s operation is providing around 1,000 jobs to Greek workers — compared with the 800 or so who work the dock that is still under Greek management.
On Cosco’s portion of the port, cargo traffic has more than doubled over the last year, to 1.05 million containers. And while profit margins are still razor thin — $6.47 million last year on sales of $94.2 million — that is mainly because the Chinese company is putting a lot of its money back into the port.
Cosco is spending more than $388 million to modernize its dock to handle up to 3.7 million containers in the next year, which would make it one of the world’s 10 largest ports. Beyond that, workers are also laying the foundations for a second Cosco pier.
The Greek-run side of the port, which endured a series of debilitating worker strikes in the three years before Cosco came to town, has been forced by the Chinese competition to seek its own path to modernization. Still, only about a third of its business consists of cargo handling; the rest is made up of more lucrative passenger traffic
For years, the container terminal was a profitable operation. But Harilaos N. Psaraftis, a professor of maritime transport at the School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering in Athens, said it was inefficient “because worker relations were very cumbersome.”
The salaries of some workers reached $181,000 a year with overtime; Cosco is typically paying less than $23,300. On the Greek side of the port, union rules required that nine people work a gantry crane; Cosco uses a crew of four.
“It was just crazy,” recalled Mr. Psaraftis, who was the chief executive of the port from 1996 to 2002. “I told them, ‘If you keep this up, this thing will be privatized.’ But they didn’t listen.”
Since Cosco arrived, “competition has forced us to take initiatives to find better ways of working,” said Stavros Hatzakos, the general director of Piraeus Port Authority, which runs the Greek operation. “Employees think twice about strikes and labor action now,” he said. And the ones still on the job have taken salary reductions as part of the across-the-board wage cuts of 20 percent or more that the government has placed on public employees.
On the other side of the chain-link fence that separates the Chinese and Greek operations, Captain Fu said he would love for Cosco to run all of Piraeus if the government put it up for sale. That expansion would cement Chinese dominance of one of the most strategic shipping gateways to Southern Europe and the Balkans.
Such a move, though, might meet stiff opposition from Greek unions and officials at the Piraeus Port Authority, who criticize Cosco’s approach to labor.
“It’s like another country over there,” Thanassis Koinis, a deputy director at the Piraeus Port Authority, said one recent morning as he stared out the window of his dilapidated office at the cranes soaring above Cosco’s docks.
Mr. Koinis and some other Greeks accuse Cosco of using employment subcontractors that hire temporary, unskilled, nonunion workers desperate for jobs and exploit them by paying low wages.
Babis Giakoymelos, a board member of the Dockworkers’ Union, contended that Cosco was also saving money by cutting corners on worker safety. “They are bringing third-world labor standards to Europe,” he said.
For Tasos Vamvakidis, Cosco’s commercial manager here, such complaints amount to sour grapes. “It’s easy to say things against Cosco; but when you come here, you see that everything works properly,” he said one morning on the Cosco dock, raising his voice to be heard above the machinery’s din. “We win business by showing that we work 24-7, 365 days a year.”
Casting a glance at the Greek side, he added: “Maybe in other terminals, people work less. In any case, if it’s so bad, thousands of people would not be applying to work for Cosco.”
Dimitrios Batsoulis begs to differ. He was fired from his job as a Cosco dockworker in February, after he tried to organize a workers’ committee to raise concerns about safety violations that he said Cosco subcontractors repeatedly ignored.
He said his bosses had blacklisted him several weeks earlier after he left the steering compartment of a crane when the heater broke one snowy morning, leaving his hands too cold and stiff to control the giant machine from his post 49 feet above ground.
“I was jeopardizing my life and my colleagues’ lives,” Mr. Batsoulis said. When he climbed down to warm himself, he said his manager and a Cosco executive chastised him for slowing operations. He said he was not called back to work for another week.
“If you are a worker for Cosco, then you know suddenly how it is to work in the Chinese Republic,” said Mr. Batsoulis, who is now suing the company for unlawful dismissal and unpaid overtime.
Cosco said it would not comment on the pending case. But Captain Fu contended that disgruntled workers like Mr. Batsoulis were in a minority.
Captain Fu said Cosco took pains to avoid seeming like an invader, partly by hiring Greek companies to rebuild the pier and to oversee the labor force in accordance with Greek law. He boasted repeatedly that Cosco had only seven Chinese managers, who he said trained their Greek work force up to the highest standards.
In the gleaming executive suites abutting Captain Fu’s expansive offices, a recently completed $1.29 million renovation attested to the efforts in Chinese-Greek corporate diplomacy. Pictures of sculptures of Greek gods faced paintings of Chinese dragons, while blown-up photos of President Hu Jintao standing shoulder to shoulder with Greek leaders adorned a cavernous meeting room.
“At the beginning, the Greeks were worried that the Chinese would come in here and take over,” Captain Fu said. “Instead, we showed the local people that we want to help them develop; we don’t want to take work from them and give it to the Chinese.”
As Greece struggles to overhaul its economy, he said, Cosco represents an opportunity for Greek workers — and the country itself. “Cosco is their future,” he said. “We are here to stay.”
Dimitris Bounias contributed reporting
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Greek people stunned at awarding of Nobel to institution they blame for austerity measure tearing apart their society
Students protest in Athens against unemployment. Many Greek people blame the EU for the damaging effects of the economic crisis. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images
There are prizes and prizes. And on Friday night there was no doubt in the minds of most Greeks that the biggest of them all, the Nobel peace prize, had gone to the wrong recipient.
In the country on the frontline of the worst crisis to hit the continent since the second world war, news that the EU had been given the award for its efforts to promote peace and democracy was greeted with bewilderment and disbelief. Three days after tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Athens over a visit by Angela Merkel – some dressed in Nazi regalia — many wondered whether the decision was a joke. Or even a Norwegian ruse to get the increasingly divided, debt-choked nation to bow to Germany's demands for austerity. In the mind of the man who speaks for Syriza, the leftist party that might be a footnote if it were not also Greece's main opposition, the decision had "cheapened" and "harmed" the institution that is the Nobel peace prize.
"I just cannot understand what the reasoning would be behind it," said Panos Skourletis, the party's spokesman. "In many parts of Europe, but especially in Greece, we are experiencing what really is a war situation on a daily basis, albeit a war that has not been formally declared. There is nothing peaceful about it."
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. "I don't know, maybe they are trying to support a project that is going down the tubes because the very least anyone can say is that the decision is really strange"
Petros Markaris, the country's pre-eminent crime writer and a regular commentator on European affairs, thought it was "very wrong" that the EU should be garlanded with a peace prize. The bloc may have been born from the ashes of the devastation of the greatest conflagration on the continent but while it had brought nations together in peace, it had rarely done anything, actively, to promote the concept, he said.
"On the basis of that logic, every country that has lived peacefully deserves the prize," he told the Guardian, adding it was clear the award had become a "prize with an agenda".
The faultlines that had surfaced in Greece as a result of Europe's handling of the crisis and obstinate obsession with austerity were "deeply worrying".
"I don't personally agree that we should bandy the word 'war' around so freely in a country that has been so harmed by [the 1946-49] civil conflict," he said. "But I do believe that the way the economic crisis is being confronted outside Greece by the EU and European central bank and, by our own politicians, is leading the country to catastrophe." With speculation growing that Greece is heading for implosion under EU-IMF pressure – the over-arching reaction to the peace prize announcement was that it was ridiculous. Ioanna Nikolareizi, an Athenian photographer, said: "It's absurd. This is a prize that should go to a human being, not an institution that is going down the drain."
Friday, October 12, 2012
Far-right Golden Dawn party filling vacuum for those neglected by state after MPs elected to fight 'immigrant scum'
People hold sacks of potatoes during a food distribution organised by Golden Dawn, in Athens. Photograph: Yorgos Karahalis/Reuters
Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party is increasingly assuming the role of law enforcement officers on the streets of the bankrupt country, with mounting evidence that Athenians are being openly directed by police to seek help from the neo-Nazi group, analysts, activists and lawyers say.
In return, a growing number of Greek crime victims have come to see the party, whose symbol bears an uncanny resemblance to the swastika, as a "protector".
One victim of crime, an eloquent US-trained civil servant, told the Guardian of her family's shock at being referred to the party when her mother recently called the police following an incident involving Albanian immigrants in their downtown apartment block.
"They immediately said if it's an issue with immigrants go to Golden Dawn," said the 38-year-old, who fearing for her job and safety, spoke only on condition of anonymity. "We don't condone Golden Dawn but there is an acute social problem that has come with the breakdown of feeling of security among lower and middle class people in the urban centre," she said. "If the police and official mechanism can't deliver and there is no recourse to justice, then you have to turn to other maverick solutions."
Other Greeks with similar experiences said the far-rightists, catapulted into parliament on a ticket of tackling "immigrant scum" were simply doing the job of a defunct state that had left a growing number feeling overwhelmed by a "sense of powerlessness". "Nature hates vacuums and Golden Dawn is just filling a vacuum that no other party is addressing," one woman lamented. "It gives 'little people' a sense that they can survive, that they are safe in their own homes."
Far from being tamed, parliamentary legitimacy appears only to have emboldened the extremists. In recent weeks racially-motivated attacks have proliferated. Immigrants have spoken of their fear of roaming the streets at night following a spate of attacks by black-clad men on motorbikes. Street vendors from Africa and Asia have also been targeted.
"For a lot of people in poorer neighbourhoods we are liberators," crowed Yiannis Lagos, one of 18 MPs from the stridently patriot "popular nationalist movement" to enter the 300-seat house in June. "The state does nothing," he told a TV chat show, adding that Golden Dawn was the only party that was helping Greeks, hit by record levels of poverty and unemployment, on the ground. Through an expansive social outreach programme, which also includes providing services to the elderly in crime-ridden areas, the group regularly distributes food and clothes parcels to the needy.
But the hand-outs come at a price: allegiance to Golden Dawn. "A friend who was being seriously harassed by her husband and was referred to the party by the police very soon found herself giving it clothes and food in return," said a Greek teacher, who, citing the worsening environment enveloping the country, again spoke only on condition of anonymity. "She's a liberal and certainly no racist and is disgusted by what she has had to do."
The strategy, however, appears to be paying off. On the back of widespread anger over biting austerity measures that have also hit the poorest hardest, the popularity of the far-rightists has grown dramatically with polls indicating a surge in support for the party.
One survey last week showed a near doubling in the number of people voicing "positive opinions" about Golden Dawn, up from 12% in May to 22%. The popularity of Nikos Michaloliakos, the party's rabble-rousing leader had shot up by 8 points, much more than any other party leader.
Paschos Mandravelis, a prominent political analyst, attributed the rise in part to the symbiotic relationship between the police and Golden Dawn. "Greeks haven't turned extremist overnight. A lot of the party's backing comes from the police, young recruits who are a-political and know nothing about the Nazis or Hitler," he said. "For them, Golden Dawn supporters are their only allies on the frontline when there are clashes between riot police and leftists."
Riding the wave, the party has taken steps to set up branches among diaspora Greek communities abroad, opening an office in New York last week. Others are expected to open in Australia and Canada. Cadres say they are seeing particular momentum in support from women.
With Greeks becoming ever more radicalised, the conservative-led government has also clamped down on illegal immigration, detaining thousands in camps and increasing patrols along the country's land and sea frontier with Turkey.
But in an environment of ever increasing hate speech and mounting tensions, the party's heavy-handedness is also causing divisions. A threat by Golden Dawn to conduct raids against vendors attending an annual fair in the town of Arta this weekend has caused uproar.
"They say they have received complaints about immigrant vendors from shop owners here but that is simply untrue," said socialist mayor Yiannis Papalexis. "Extra police have been sent down from Athens and if they come they will be met by leftists who have said they will beat them up with clubs. I worry for the stability of my country."
Seated in her office beneath the Acropolis, Anna Diamantopoulou, a former EU commissioner, shakes her head in disbelief. Despair, she says, has brought Greece to a dangerous place.
"I never imagined that something like Golden Dawn would happen here, that Greeks could vote for such people," she sighed. "This policy they have of giving food only to the Greeks and blood only to the Greeks. The whole package is terrifying. This is a party based on hate of 'the other'. Now 'the other' is immigrants, but who will 'the other' be tomorrow?"
Fifteen people arrested in Athens says they were subjected to what their lawyer describes as an Abu Ghraib-style humiliation
Protesters carry a banner that reads Fascism Never Again, during a protest in Pireaus near Athens. Photograph: Kostas Tsironis/AP
Fifteen anti-fascist protesters arrested in Athens during a clash with supporters of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn have said they were tortured in the Attica General Police Directorate (GADA) – the Athens equivalent of Scotland Yard – and subjected to what their lawyer describes as an Abu Ghraib-style humiliation.
Members of a second group of 25 who were arrested after demonstrating in support of their fellow anti-fascists the next day said they were beaten and made to strip naked and bend over in front of officers and other protesters inside the same police station.
Several of the protesters arrested after the first demonstration on Sunday 30 September told the Guardian they were slapped and hit by a police officer while five or six others watched, were spat on and "used as ashtrays" because they "stank", and were kept awake all night with torches and lasers being shone in their eyes.
A protester shows his injuries
Some said they were burned on the arms with a cigarette lighter, and they said police officers videoed them on their mobile phones and threatened to post the pictures on the internet and give their home addresses to Golden Dawn, which has a track record of political violence.
Golden Dawn's popularity has surged since the June election, when it won 18 seats in parliament; it recently came third in several opinion polls, behind the conservative New Democracy and the leftwing party Syriza.
Bruising on the protester's leg
Last month the Guardian reported that victims of crime have been told by police officers to seek help from Golden Dawn, who then felt obliged to make donations to the group.
One of the two women among them said the officers used crude sexual insults and pulled her head back by the hair when she tried to avoid being filmed. The protesters said they were denied drinking water and access to lawyers for 19 hours. "We were so thirsty we drank water from the toilets," she said.
One man with a bleeding head wound and a broken arm that he said had been sustained during his arrest alleged the police continued to beat him in GADA and refused him medical treatment until the next morning. Another said the police forced his legs apart and kicked him in the testicles during the arrest.
"They spat on me and said we would die like our grandfathers in the civil war," he said.
A third said he was hit on the spine with a Taser as he tried to run away; the burn mark is still visible. "It's like an electric shock," he said. "My legs were paralysed for a few minutes and I fell. They handcuffed me behind my back and started hitting and kicking me in the ribs and the head. Then they told me to stand up, but I couldn't, so they pulled me up by the chain while standing on my shin. They kept kicking and punching me for five blocks to the patrol car."
The protesters asked that their names not be published, for fear of reprisals from the police or Golden Dawn.
A second group of protesters also said they were "tortured" at GADA. "We all had to go past an officer who made us strip naked in the corridor, bend over and open our back passage in front of everyone else who was there," one of them told the Guardian. "He did whatever he wanted with us – slapped us, hit us, told us not to look at him, not to sit cross-legged. Other officers who came by did nothing.
"All we could do was look at each other out of the corners of our eyes to give each other courage. He had us there for more than two hours. He would take phone calls on his mobile and say, 'I'm at work and I'm fucking them, I'm fucking them up well'. In the end only four of us were charged, with resisting arrest. It was a day out of the past, out of the colonels' junta."
In response to the allegations, Christos Manouras, press spokesman for the Hellenic police, said: "There was no use of force by police officers against anyone in GADA. The Greek police examine and investigate in depth every single report regarding the use of violence by police officers; if there are any responsibilities arising, the police take the imposed disciplinary action against the officers responsible. There is no doubt that the Greek police always respect human rights and don't use violence."
Sunday's protest was called after a Tanzanian community centre was vandalised by a group of 80-100 people in a central Athens neighbourhood near Aghios Panteleimon, a stronghold of Golden Dawn where there have been many violent attacks on immigrants.
According to protesters, about 150 people rode through the neighbourhood on motorcycles handing out leaflets. They said the front of the parade encountered two or three men in black Golden Dawn T-shirts, and a fight broke out. A large number of police immediately swooped on them from the surrounding streets.
According to Manouras: "During the motorcycle protest there were clashes between demonstrators and local residents. The police intervened to prevent the situation from deteriorating and restore public order. There might have been some minor injuries, during the clashes between residents, protesters and police."
Marina Daliani, a lawyer for one of the Athens 15, said they had been charged with "disturbing the peace with covered faces" (because they were wearing motorcycle helmets), and with grievous bodily harm against two people. But, she said, no evidence of such harm had so far been submitted. They have now been released on bail of €3,000 (£2,400) each.
According to Charis Ladis, a lawyer for another of the protesters, the sustained mistreatment of Greeks in police custody has been rare until this year: "This case shows that a page has been turned. Until now there was an assumption that someone who was arrested, even violently, would be safe in custody. But these young people have all said they lived through an interminable dark night.
Dimitris Katsaris, a lawyer for four of the protesters, said his clients had suffered Abu Ghraib-style humiliation, referring to the detention centre where Iraqi detainees were tortured by US soldiers during the Iraq war. "This is not just a case of police brutality of the kind you hear about now and then in every European country. This is happening daily. We have the pictures, we have the evidence of what happens to people getting arrested protesting against the rise of the neo-Nazi party in Greece. This is the new face of the police, with the collaboration of the justice system."
One of the arrested protesters, a quiet man in his 30s standing by himself, said: "Journalists here don't report these things. You have to tell them what's happening here, in this country that suffered so much from Nazism. No one will pay attention unless you report these things abroad."
Damien McElroy October 10, 2012
Vilification ... A protester displays a banner depicting Greek political leaders and Mrs Merkel as Nazis. Photo: Bloomberg
Angela Merkel has told Greece the worst of its financial crisis is over, but the German chancellor's brief trip provoked violent clashes and mayhem on the streets of Athens.
Tens of thousands of protesters gathered at the barricades of a massive police operation to protect Mrs Merkel as she met Greek leaders who are searching for a new package of budget cuts to secure bail-out funds largely underwritten by the German taxpayer.
Mrs Merkel had arrived in Athens with the state plane flying the flags of Greece and Germany.
Tension ... Angela Merkel and the Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, confer after their meeting in Athens. Photo: Getty Images
The gesture set a tone of humility from the German camp, but failed to make a dent in the wave of anger directed at the politician blamed for pushing Greece ever deeper into depression.
The message sent to Mrs Merkel from the streets was unremittingly bleak. Banners read: "Angela, save the world, kill yourself" and "Out with the Fourth Reich".
A group of dustmen dressed in Nazi uniforms and waving swastika flags paraded through Syntagma Square in a jeep. The convoy got as close to parliament as riot police would allow.
Fury ... Police try to disperse crowds during violent protests against Mrs Merkel's visit. Photo: Reuters
One commentator even noted that Mrs Merkel's green jacket was the same one she had worn on the night that Germany beat Greece in the quarter-final of Euro 2012 in June.
Greece's president, Karolos Papoulias, a renowned figure in the resistance to Nazi occupation, demanded consideration of the country's modern calamities, not historical grievances.
"We have almost exhausted our endurance. We must think of measures that will bring hope, particularly growth measures," he said. Speaking after talks with the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, Mrs Merkel said she wanted to develop a deeper understanding of Greek conditions. "I am not a teacher to give lessons. I'm here to be informed, I know that changes are difficult to be implemented," she said.
The only encouragement she could offer was a vague claim that the economy had finally hit the bottom. "I have come here today in full knowledge that the period Greece is living through right now is an extremely difficult one for the Greeks and many people are suffering," she said.
"Precisely for that reason I want to say that much of the path is already behind us. We are dealing with problems that have arisen in part over decades, and these problems can't be solved with one bang, with one measure," she said. "It will be a longer path but I believe that we will see light at the end of the tunnel."
As Angela Merkel makes a futile attempt to prop up Greece's political class, the country is on the brink of self-destruction
Protesters hold anti-German banners during protest against Angela Merkel's visit to Athens. Photograph: Aristidis Vafeiadakis/Zuma Press/Corbis
Angela Merkel and her new act – Deutsch-Griechische Freundschaft – played a gig in downtown Athens this week. Billed as the launch of Merkel's new album "Ich bin eine Athenerin", critics already insist that much of the material is recycled from previous works. They point to the painfully monotonous riffs which set the teeth on edge to suggest that Merkel may well get sadistic kicks out of taunting its listeners. Merkel touched down for six hours. She gave a solid, no frills, no nonsense set. She came, she saw, she played. It didn't set the house on fire – but then again, we Greeks are quite capable of doing that ourselves.
One of the forseeable blowbacks of the wildfire that swept through Greece in 2009 has been the corrosive rise of xenophobia and racism, directed both inwards towards immigrants and outwards towards Europe, especially Germany. The latter was expressed at its most vulgar at this week's anti-Merkel protests in Athens, where images of a Fourth Reich enslaving the country, belittling its people, ripping off its (as yet undiscovered) oil reserves and annexing western Thrace to hand back to the Ottomans played heavily to the collective imagination.
These days, sordid conspiracy theories abound in Greece. Sane considerate folk espouse bizarre political narratives. Old middle-class sureties have given way to gloom, idiocy and self-mutilation. Those already on the edge have tipped over into self-destruction and turned against the vulnerable.
The problem is that, as a society, Greece never made peace with itself. Nor did it engage in a truthful dialogue about the ghosts of its past. It has never enforced self-evident codes and norms of behaviour. The fundamentals of a liberal order were never fully in place. So when the financial tsunami hit, it fell apart.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the country's metropolitan heart. Greek residents stranded in the wasteland of central Athens are turning on "immigrants" who have been in the country for 20 years. Second-generation Albanian kids are venting their jobless fury on Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Afghans their own age. The faultlines of the old civil war are reappearing. Militias of far-right thugs do battle with immigrants and gangs of leftist youths.
Earlier this week it emerged that anti-fascists were imprisoned illegally for days at the Attica General Police Directorate (Gada), the Athens equivalent of Scotland Yard, where they were tortured by officers who, to all intents and purposes, were card-carrying members of Golden Dawn. A slate of attacks on gays in the street may hint at what is yet to come. Yet the minister of public order talks of "zero tolerance", to the accolades of the respectable bourgeois press.
The death of the old political order is all too apparent. Scandals come to light every day and the sums involved, if true, are staggering. This only excites the febrile minds of a ruined petit bourgeoisie, which is turning furiously against the old authorities. Justice proceeds at a snail's pace and the mob bays for blood and everyone is guilty till proven innocent.
The hardline Stalinist CP, for years the bulwark against the rise of fascism in plebeian neighbourhoods, is now openly taunted in parliament by far-right MPs about its terminal decline.
The Syriza left is now a mass electoral movement attracting the old socialist clientele who jumped ship, discredited union bureaucrats and radicalised youth. It promises to roll back the neoliberal onslaught personified to them by Frau Merkel, to halt austerity measures, but also to stay in the euro and the EU. It generally promises to create a brave new world, even if it is a bit coy in spelling out what exactly that world may look like.
The imminent danger for the country is social implosion. Some talk of a postmodern Weimar. Others of a black hole like Kosovo. The purpose of Merkel's visit, on a symbolic level, was to bring the country back into the mainstream European fold and prop up a mercurial and discredited political class. Yet can the people so centrally implicated in the country's fall take on the role of its saviour?
If the European and domestic elites do not quickly change their plan to "manage" this crisis, then the centre will not hold. Then the political economy of pain will truly come into its own.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
By Szu Ping Chan 9:52AM BST 10 Oct 2012
"Disgusting" protests, "outrageous" support from Germany's left wing leader for his Greek counterpart and "relief and satisfaction" is some of the media reaction following Angela Merkel's meeting with Antonis Samaras on Tuesday.
Antonis Samaras, the Greek prime minister, met Mrs Merkel in Athens (AP)
Germany's best-selling tabloid newspaper doesn't do subtle, and today is no exception. Angela Merkel may be many things, it says, but she's not a Nazi.
The paper attacks the "disgusting" protests against Merkel in Athens yesterday. And just to rub salt in German wounds, it adds: "we will pay even more". In this case, €30m more to support administrative reform in Greece.
The paper highlights the stark contrast between the calm of yesterday's meeting inside Maximos Mansion and the protests outside.
"It looked different, very different," the paper says. "They wore Nazi uniforms, army jackets. One poster read: 'Merkel, Hitler's Daughter.' Another stated: 'Get out of our country, you b----.'"
Handelsblatt looks at German politician Bernd Riexinger's appearance with Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras yesterday, and the resulting political backlash:
CDU (Angela Merkel's party) and FDP (Merkel's junior coalition partner) have criticised the participation of the Left party leader Bernd Riexinger in the demonstrations against the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) in Athens.
"It is unprecedented and outrageous, as the chairman of the parliamentary party represented the anti-German protests in Athens as a stage used for policy making against the interests of their own country," Gerda Hasselfeldt, the chairman of the CSU parliamentary group said in parliament.
Alexis Tsipras, right, the leader of Greece's main opposition Syriza party, accompanied by Bernd Riexinger, left, co-leader of Germany's Left party Die Linke, walk during a protest in Athens on Tuesday (Photo: AP).
Süddeutsche Zeitung leads with Merkel's message yesterday that Greece's tough medicine will pay off. It also highlights Samaras's promises to implement reforms.
"Merkel promises Athens a little help" was one of several headlines in today's Die Welt.
The paper says that the German Chancellor had warm words for her Greek counterpart on the brief visit to Athens.
Away from the reportage, a journalist from the paper told BBC News yesterday that Germany was being "kicked in the f----" by the Greeks.
In Greece, Kathimerini's front page talks of light at the end of the tunnel for the country, but highlights that the German Chancellor did not commit to paying its next tranche of aid. Nor did she mention the idea of giving Greece more time to implement austerity measures.
The paper also reports yesterday's protests against Mrs Merkel. "However, there were no riots," the paper points out.
There were "warm words for Greece," Ta Nea reports, but no concrete commitments. It says:
Given the climate of hostility that has poisoned relations between Greece and Germany in the past two years, the first visit of Chancellor in Athens achieved at least the minimum: it conveyed to the German public the message that the Chancellor has not written off Greece from the eurozone.
"Relief and satisfaction". That's how Greek newspaper To Vima reports yesterday's meeting. Merkel is a "powerful ally" for Greece, the paper says, not only in its "quest for the disbursement of the next tranche of its bail-out, but also to win an extension on its fiscal adjustment".
Eagle-eyed journalist James Creedon at France 24 highlights this coincidence from yesterday's meeting:
That result? 4-2 to Germany, although Samaras - that's Georgios - not Antonis - scored an equaliser before Germany prevailed.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Tony Paterson Wednesday 10 October 2012
Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund /Reuters
A Greek corruption scandal appeared to have claimed its second victim yesterday following the sudden and mysterious death of a wealthy defence industry businessman identified on a list of nearly 2,000 Greek tax evaders holding secret Swiss bank accounts.
Vlassis Kambouroglou, an entrepreneur accused of involvement in a Greek defence ministry bribery scandal, was found dead in a Jakarta hotel room. No details were released concerning the cause of death.
Mr Kambouroglou was the second high-ranking Greek figure to die in mysterious circumstances within five days. On Thursday, Leonidas Tzanis, 57, a former deputy interior minister, was found dead in the basement of his home, where he had apparently hanged himself. Both Mr Tzanis and Mr Kambouroglou are reported to have been named on Greece's so-called "Lagarde List", which is said to identify 1,991 wealthy Greeks who hold undeclared accounts with the Geneva branch of HSBC bank. However, the full details of the list have yet to be published.
Christine Lagarde, the current head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), handed the list to the Greek government in 2010 during her tenure as French Finance Minister, in an attempt to help Athens crack down on the endemic problem of tax evasion. But last month, the "Lagarde List" was reported to have gone missing in the Athens finance ministry. The Greek media nevertheless published a list of 36 politicians suspected of corruption. The mounting public and political outrage over failure to publish details of the "Lagarde List" led the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to obtain a copy of the CD containing the names last week. The immediate upshot was the arrest last Wednesday of the former defence ministry official Yiannis Sbokos on corruption charges. Mr Tzanis apparently committed suicide the next day.
Mr Kambouroglou had been accused of being part of the bribery and money-laundering network involving the former Defence Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, who is in jail on charges of stealing $1.29bn from defence contracts.
He was the managing director Drumilan International, a company involved in the sale of a Russian-made TOR-M1 missile system to Greece, and was called to testify before a parliamentary inquiry into the arms deal in 2004. He denied his company made any money from the deal and no charges were brought.