Monday, January 31, 2011

Beyond the Border - Pictures by Mathias Depardon

"In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with some 128,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey.

The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support."

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Angry consumers in protests against rising prices - Thessaloniki, Greece

About 1000 protesters marched through the centre of Greece's second largest city angered by massive price hikes in basics such as public transport, power and road tolls. Even though incomes are dropping inflation has tripled over the last 12 months.

For more information (in Greek)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

ΚΑΡΤΑ ΜΕΛΟΥΣ ΖΙΜΕΝΣ - PASOK/Siemens Party membership card

More photoshop parody of those involved in the Siemens scandal in Greece during which 100 million euros was paid to politicians in return for contracts for the 2004 Olympic games in Athens. Despite the fact that this has cost the Greek people over 2 billion euros in added costs not one minister or MP has been charged, let alone been convicted of any crime so far. I guess membership (of parliament) really does have its privilieges.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Public trust in Greek politicians falls even lower following Siemens scandal report

Nea Kleptocracy- ΝΕΑ ΜΙΖΟΚΡΑΤΙΑ

Yesterday the Greek parliament released its long awaited report on the Siemen bribery scandal. According to the authors of the report the German electronic giant poured millions of euros into the party coffers of both PASOK and New Democracy when they were in power. In return the Greek government granted Siemens lucractive contracts which are said to have incurred additional costs in the region of two billion euros.

As expected report has become a political football with parties making five different sets of recommendations over who is to blame and which poiliticians should be investigated further. The reality of the situation is that whatever happens there is little or no chance that anyone will go to jail. Once again the political leadership has proved that it is unwilling or unable to police its own no matter how how serious the charges. Instead it is reduced to playing power games which are convincing fewer and fewer voters who believe that the country is run by a deeply corrupt, moral bankrupt elite. The report coming just after one concerning the Vatopedi land swap scandal will do little to convince many of the honesty of politicians whose popularity rating are reaching record lows.


The report of the Siemens bribery scandal was released today and as expected Greek parliamentarians are working hard to make sure that even the most outrageous abuses of political power are swept under the carpet.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Greek consumer groups condemn second round of price rises for bus passengers

For the second time in less than a year Greek bus users are being faced with prices rises of between 30% and 180%. Despite growing unemployment and a substantial drop in salaries the government is insisting on passeners paying more for public transport.

In contrast with most other EU countries there are no reduced ticket prices for pensioners, the unemployed and other low income groups.

For more on the ongoing protests check out the their blog

(You can use Google Translate to read the page in English and other languages)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Δεκάδες Ελληνες υπουργοί συνιστούν την Siemens - Dozens of Greek ministers recommend Siemens

ξέπλυμα χρήματος μέχρι και στο μισό χρόνο.
Αυτόματη αναγνώριση όλων των κομμάτων

Launder your money in half the time or less!
Automatic recognition of all parties.

Yet another political scandal gets swept under the carpet by the Greek parliament. Today it was the Siemens corruption case involving accusations that the company spent millions in bribes to PASOK and New Democracy party officials in return for contracts for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Greek pharmacies go on three day strike

"Pharmacies across Greece will be closed from today until the end of the week in protest at the government’s plans to liberalize the sector. The pharmacists called the three-day strike after Health Minister Andreas Loverdos rejected their calls to change some of the measures in the draft legislation he has prepared.

Pharmacies will also be closed Wednesday through Friday next week. During those days, only a handful of pharmacies will be open in each major city for emergencies. Details are available by calling 14944. Lawyers will also be on strike from today until the end of the week in protest at the measures drawn up by the government to open up their profession to more competition."


Unveiling of a controversial new statue in Thessaloniki, Greece

On Monday the mayor of Thessaloniki, along with the leadership of the conservative New Democracy opposition party unveiled a statue of the former prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis (uncle of the previous PM, Kostas Karamanlis) on the seafront.

The statue has been a source of controversy for a number of reasons not leαst being the price tag of 250,000 euros at a time when the local council is 126 million euros in debt and does not have enough money for basics such as fuel and spare parts for the rubbish collection vehicles.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Thank God for the IMF

Thank God for the IMF, originally uploaded by Teacher Dude's BBQ.

"In debt we trust."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Photographs stolen from my Flickr stream on the walls of the Terkenlis cafe - Thessaloniki.

were taken three years ago and put on my Flickr page. Now they are part of a large montage on the wall of the Terkenlis cafe on the corner of Agias Sofias and Ermou in the centre of Thessaloniki, Greece.

I went to the cafe and spoke to the person in charge who said that he would speak to his superiors but that was two days ago and there has been no reply since. Any advice?

Greek politician, Theodoros Pangalos makes a new statement concerning civil servants - Νέα δήλωση του Πάγκαλου για τους δημοσίους υπαλλήλους

New statement by Theodoros Pangalos (the Greek PM's right hand man and party enforcer) concerning civil servants. Pangalos has managed to infuriate many Greeks with his explosive statements which have included announcements that public sector workers are a bunch of mongrels, voters corrupted politicians and that everyone is responsible for the current economic crisis since all Greeks had a hand in racking up the country's record debt load.

Translation of the cartoon caption

"But why so many?"

"Participation was on a voluntary basis."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ολι Ρεν: Εύσημα και συστάσεις για την Ελλάδα. Oli Rein: Praise and recommendations for Greece

"«Είναι σημαντικό η Ελλάδα να μείνει πιστή στην αυστηρή πολιτική δημοσιονομικής εξυγίανσης και να συνεχίσει τις σοβαρές διαρθρωτικές μεταρρυθμίσεις" - Ολι Ρεν.

"It is important for Greece to remain faithful to its policy of strict fiscal consolidation and to continue serious structural reforms" Olli Rehn

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Greek politicians shun public appearances without police protection

It's perhaps a stark indication of how threatened Greek politicians feel that Anna Diamantopoulou's (minister for education) presence on the future of university education required the attendence of nearly 100 police officer and secret service members.

Despite press announcements that the conference woud be open to the public, the authorities refused entry to anyone without an invitaion, including university students who wished to take part in the discussions about their future.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bus passenger reads leaflet during a ticket boycott

On Saturday consumer groups organised rode buses in Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city and encouraged passenger not to buy tickets. The action was organised in response to ticket price increases that range from 33% to 160%.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Angry Greek consumers take over road toll booths in protest over price hikes

Thousands of Greek protesters took over road toll stations across the country today in protest over government plans to raise toll prices next month. From the capital, Athens to Thessaloniki, 500km to the north tolls were raised and drivers were allowed to pass through without paying.

Truck drivers, pensioners, students as well as more seasoned political activists passed out leaflets and encouraged road users to refuse pay tolls in a new form of grassroots activism which is being fed by popular anger at the government's repeated attempts to raise revenues through indirect taxation and cut public spending.

Already between 20and 30% of highway users are not paying toll charges on a regular basis, a figure which is set to rise in the wake of proposed 50% increases.

Greece's poorest face bare knuckle fight for survival in 2011

Greek consumer groups organise bus ticket boycott

Faced with yet more hikes in public transport prices Greek consumer groups go on the offensive with nationwide protest by refusing to buy ride buses, trains and underground tickets. Angry consumers sealed ticket machines and encouraged fellow passengers to not buy tickets today in response to the second major ticket price increases which range from 33 to 180%.

With the Greek government anxious to cut public spending and raise revenue Athens has announced large cuts in public transport subsidies and increases in the cost of road tolls, trains ticket prices and other utilities such as electricity. However, with incomes plunging, the economy shrinking by nearly 5% and unemployment spiralling out of control such moves have angered Greek voters who are facing the most difficult financial conditions in a generation

Tomorrow activists have announced that they will direct their attentions to the country's motorway toll system which has also announced massive increases which have made the cost of travelling by road prohibitively expensive. It is currently cheaper to go from Athens to the country's second city, Thessaloniki by air than to drive.

More photographs can be found on the Demotix news service website.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Fire next time - Greece on the edge

Greek protesters Vs riot police - Thessaloniki, Greece

With 2011 underway there seems little in the way of good news to cheer most Greeks. Repeated increases in VAT, road tolls, ulitility and fuel bills, public transport combined with spiralling unemployment and shrinking wages have made people both angry and weary. The list of social and economic changes being pushed through parliament by the ruling PASOK government has left voters dazed.

Yet as anyone who has ever lived here knows the difference between the political leadership announcing policy changes and those actually being implemented is often huge and in many cases such reforms end up being ignored. On the other hand the massive increases in indirect taxation on basic goods and services are having a real effect on lower income groups who are being pummelled financially to such a degree that many are no longer able to pay basic bills such as electricity and phone.

I predict however, that in the next few months the sense of numbness and helplessness that Greeks feel at the speed and scope of the changes wears off there is going to be a massive groundswell of resistance against the government. Already the first signs are apparent,  it is estimated that 20% of road users are now refusing to pay motorway tolls and despite government officials promises to clamp down that figure is set to rise as non-payment becomes more widely percieved as an act of resistance rather than just a way of saving money.

Indeed the threats by PASOK officials to come down hard to offenders is another sign of the weakness the government has in putting into action promises made to the country's creditors. It's almost a law of nature that whenever Athens announces the latest harsh punishment for tax evasionand other violations the amount of revenue collected drops. In the absence of a reliable tax system politicians are reduced to making ever more grandiose threats of punishment, knowing full well that the are likely to be ignored.

In its quest for tax euros the Greek state has been forced to adopt tactics that sound like a page out of the Sheriff of Nottingham's playbook. Grab whatever you can from whoever you can. In such a chaotic situation non-payment of tax and other obligations makes everyone feel a little like Robin Hood rather than an errant knave.

Which support for government at an all - time low Athens is using the police force more and more to deal with the fallout from its reforms, a policy that is fraught with risk and the potential for re-igniting the large scale violence that Greece witnessed in December 2008 when a 15 year old was shot by a police officer. Already the Keratea region in Attica has been the centre of widespread and violent clashes between inhabitants and police for over three weeks. Villagers in Ovriokastro have fought standing battles, blocked roads,beseiged the local police station and set fire to patrol cars in an effort to block the construction of a rubbish dump in the area. In reply riot police units have repeatedly employed tear gas, plastic bullets and water canon in an attempt to allow building to go ahead.

It is just a matter of time before another such clash between protesters and police in another, more urban part of Greece acts as a spark to set off wider confrontations between Greeks at the end of their tether and the authorities. Unlike 2008 though the spectrum of those unhappy with the status quo is much wider and the stakes much greater. The issues are no longer better wages and jobs but survival as money starts running out for whole families and those without work become ever more desperate.

Prime minister Giorgos Papandreou may cut a convincing figure on the international stage while in Brussels, Washington or Berlin but his ability to convince fellow countrymen to accept painful changes is dropping rapidy and he is faced with a hostile population that would quite happily lynch many member of the government given half a chance. The savage beating by marchers of ex-minister Kostas Hatzikdakis before Christmas was widely seen as an attack of the whole political set up rather than just a single politicians. With the social contract in tatters and the authorities relying more on force to get things done the potential for serious social disruption is growing exponentially.

Unlike the monetarist policies implemented by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the early 80's there is no widespread support from any sector of Greek society for the changes which are seen as unfair and deeply destructive. Whereas Thatcher could rely upon electoral support of Southern England and large sections of the working class, disgruntled with the Labour party Giorgos Papandreou's PASOK has no such mandate and has alienated virtually all the party's natural allies since taking power in 2009. What is left is spin which is propagated by a suppine local media and blunt police force, a recipe for instability as at some point neither will be sufficient to contain the growing sense of unjustice over what is happening to the Greek economy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Citizens’ Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis announced that authorities plan to build a fence along Greece’s 206-kilometer land border with Turkey

"Citizens’ Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis announced that authorities plan to build a fence along Greece’s 206-kilometer land border with Turkey, similar to the US-Mexico frontier, in an effort to curb a seemingly endless influx of illegal immigrants.

In comments made to the Athens News Agency on Saturday, Papoutsis said the government was determined to harden its stance. He also expressed dissatisfaction with the contribution of other European Union countries in the fight to curb illegal immigration despite the mobilization of dozens of guards from the EU’s border monitoring agency Frontex along the Greek-Turkish border in November."

Greece has repeatedly been criticed by Amnesty International, the United Nations. the EU and many other European states over its failure to abide by treaty obligations concerning refugees and maltreatment of immigrants by police and border officials.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Estonia enters the Eurozone

Lemmings of the world unite! You only have your economies to lose.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The swearing in ceremony of Yiannis Boutaris, mayor of Thessaloniki, Greece

Bishop Anthimos, the city's most senior cleric swore that he would do everything in his power to prevent Yiannis Boutaris from becoming mayor of Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki during the country's recent local elections.

Greek butcher in the run up to New Year's eve celebration

Although Greek celebrate Christmas day like everyone else the real big celebration is New Year's when families get together and often eat lamb or kid goat.

This was taken in the Kapani central market just hours before stores closed for the holidays and shoppers were looking for last minute bargains. Of course, most Greek do their shopping in supermarkets but many still prefer places like this as the prices are lower and the produce fresher. Still, if you are not used to seeing meat presented in this manner it can come as a bit of a shock.