Monday, November 28, 2011

Greek protesters in trial by Facebook

Greek protesters who peacefully blocked roads, forcing the country's president to flee a military parade last month have been hauled before judges in the northern port city of Thessaloniki. The district attorney has introduced video and photographic evidence gleaned from Facebook, Youtube and other social media sites to convince judges to press charges against 17 defendants.

If the case goes ahead then I have to seriously re-evaluate where and how I take photographs and video since I do not want to be the reason someone is sent to prison for exercising their right to peaceful protest. In addition the possibility that images posted on social media or news sites is now to be used to prosecute people means that those taking part are going to be loathed to have photographers around, making my job even more difficult.

You have all the weapons you need, NOW FIGHT.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Greece's homeless set up their own shelter in abandoned hospital

Somehow I doubt if this kitchen is going to receive a Michelin star any time soon but in its way it is a small miracle, just a couple of months ago this was an just another empty room in a gutted building that used to be the Agios Pavlos (St Paul's) hospital in the centre of Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki. As the country enters it's fifth year of recession and unemployment continues to rocket a growing number of people have been forced onto the streets. While no official figures exist for Thessaloniki, authorities in Athens report that 25,000 people there spend their nights sleeping rough.

However, amidst all the stories of suffering and despair a small group has turned a shell of a building into a viable living space, offering 28 people the chance to get off the streets. When I first entered the building, just days after activists had broken through the chained front doors ( see here ) I thought that they were crazy to even contemplate turning the five story block into a place where people could live. Massive holes in the roof, dozens of missing or smashed windows, entire exterior wall missing meant that even in daytime the place was uncomfortably cold.

Yet, my pessimism has turned out to be misplaced and now where there had been gutted rooms, a kitchen and dinning area have been created, in the upper floors kids from the neighbourhood use the space for band practice and many of the rooms have been turned into dorm style rooms.

However, problems still remain as there have been conflicts between residents over the use of drugs and alcohol leading to at least one eviction. While I was there a window was being replaced after it had been smashed by angry drug user unhappy with fellow residents insistence that drugs had no place in their space.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Greek protesters clash with riot police units after 17 November commemorations - Video

The anti - junta uprising by Greek students at the Polytechnic School in Athens, 17th November 1973 is commemorated every year nationwide. 

During the march and for hours afterwards riot police units clashed with masked protesters around the campus of the Aristotelion university.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Greece's PM's horse trading reveals political system at odds with public opinion

Over the last week the world's media have been camped out in central Athens following the machinations of Greece's political caste as they vie for power and government positions. Papandreou remains, for the time being, prime minister having survived against the odds a vote of confidence on Friday, a feat that has both mystified observers both domestic and foreign. For the past three days the countries political leaders have been locked in negotiations over what form the so-called government of national unity will take. I thought I'd take the time to try and explain some of the major player involved and why creating a coalition seems to be causing so many problems for Greek politicians.

Γιώργος Παπανδρέου - Giorgos Papandreou

As we speak Greek prime minister and leader of nominally ( labels such as left and right have no firm meaning in a system that is predicted on gaining and keeping power) socialist PASOK party has agreed, at least in theory to come to an agreement with former room mate and leader of the nominally conservative New Democracy party.

New Democracy leader, Antonis Samaras electioneering in Thessaloniki, Greece

The dilemma Samaras faces is that any co-operation with a figure as despised as Papandreou is disasterous for both New democracy's delicate internal political balance and any future electoral campaigning as his  leadership of his party is beset with problems since groups who align themselves with former prime minister Konstandinos Karamanlis are waiting in the wings to mount a leadership challenge.

Also with so little room to manoeuvre New Democracy's claim that they could deal better with the pressure emanating from Berlin and Paris over the nature of austerity measures would be put to the test and most probably be found to be little more than a PR ploy.

On the other hand Giorgos Karatzefris, leader of the far right LAOS party could conceivably be roped into a coalition government,as the party previously voted with PASOK to pass the first round of austerity measures. Although Karatzaferis faces fewer internal challenges (the party, like so many others in Greek political history, is, in essence a vehicle for his personal political ambitions) than Samaras, previous co-operation with PASOK has serious damaged LAOS's claims to be the only true patriotic defenders of the Greek fatherland and cost them poll support.

Giorgos Karatzaferis - leader of Greece's far right LAOS party

At the other end of the political spectrum Fotis Kouvelis, the leader of the tiny Democratic Left party has been mooted as possible new leader, presumably resurrecting the policy favoured by medieval French baron in elevating the weakest and least able amongst them to kingship. But once again, any party seen siding with the government is likely to severely punished in the next elections.

Greek communists kick off election campaign

The Greek communist party ( KKE) and the reformist socialist SYRIZA coalition party have made it perfectly clear that will not even contemplate taking party in any unity government believing that such a government simply legitimises the deeply unpopular public spending cuts and tax hikes being imposed by Greece's creditors. Instead communist leader Aleka Papariga has called for open defiance to austerity measures and communist affiliated unions are in the forefront of industrial action designed to fight cuts.

Similiarly, Alexis Tsipras's SYRIZA coalition has also rejected any possibility of working with Papandreou's government, instead promoting a campaign of protest and civil disobedience against the austerity package.

Αλεξης Τσιπρας/ Alexis Tsipras

What's left is a hodge podge of independent MPs many of them former PASOK members who've been drummed out of the party for failing to follow the party line so chance are they will be less than willing to trust their former colleagues.

However, what last weeks' dramatic developments have shown is that very little is certain in Greek politics and that MP's statement concerning who and what they support are little more than negotiating ploys and cannot be taken at face value. The endless round of horse trading and ever changing political gamesmanship has left many Greeks even more disgusted than ever with the seemingly amoral behaviour of their representatives who seem to consider party political careers a far more worthy use of their time than trying to repair their credibility with voters.

The reality remains that whatever government is formed they will be faced with the same unpalatable choices that forced the prime minister to offer his resignation and the same angry, resentful citizens who believe that they are paying for greed and incompetence of the country's political and economic elites.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Greeks say NO to their own government

The Greek prime minsiter's decisionto hold both a vote of confidence in parliament and a national referendum on lastest austerity measures has taken the world's money markets by storm.

Even within Giorgos Papndreou's own PASOK party the decision has been met with mixed reactions. Whilst cabinet ministers have said they fully support the PM in this, backbenchers are rebelling with some saying they will vote against their own party if a referndum goes ahead, even calling for a government of "national salvation".

Opposition parties have been thrown into confusion by the referendum as well, The main opposition party, New Democracy has come out against it and is calling for elections. many smaller parties on the left are also against it, believing it a PR tactic to divert the public's attention from more important issues.

On the other hand the Greek public have thrown up their hands as far as the current political system is concerned. The nationwide protests and disruption of last Friday's national day parades made that clear to politicians who were booed and in some cases physically attacked by disgruntled voters.

The fact that polls show ever decreasing support for the two main political parties (figures for smaller parties have remained more or less static) shows that whatever the countries leaders may announce they are not in the position to say they speak for anything other than a small minority of the electorate. In such a situation the massive cuts in wages and public services and the prospect of a decades worth of painful austerity continue to have very little public support. Quite the opposite, Greeks across the political spectrum feel betrayed by their leaders and are in mood to go along with more of their follies.

The next crunch point will probably be Friday's vote of confidence which is likely to see the fall of Papandreou's as rebel PASOK MPs vote against their own party. The problem still remains who or what will take their place as no other party has a popular mandate to take over the reins of power and how do politicians campaign for re-election when voters would just as soon lynch them as give them their support?

On the other hand the annual 17th November anniversay of the fall of the Regime of the Colonels is just round the corner and this year a generation of Greeks raised on stories of heroic opposition to a hated regime will once again take to the streets across the country.