Shock Therapy in Greece: A Mega-Strike Aims to Challenge Austerity

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Ferry Batzoglou in Athens, October 19, 2011.

Little wonder, then, that a Greek population already inclined toward public protest are taking to the streets in a general strike on Wednesday and Thursday in order to increase pressure on the government. But there are no concessions left that Athens can offer to its people.  

The European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank troika has made payment of the next tranche of aid money for Greece dependent on parliament passing the latest austerity measures. The sixth loan tranche, worth €8 billion, is already overdue, and if money isn’t transferred to Athens by mid-November, Greece will be insolvent.

Parliament, in short, has little choice but to approve the legislation on Thursday. Nevertheless, the country’s unions have remained firm in their opposition. They have called a general strike for Wednesday and Thursday, threatening to throw the country into a state of chaos. Already, after days of strikes by garbage collectors, mountains of more than 10,000 tons of trash have piled up in the largest Greek cities, Athens and Thessaloniki.

Even normal businesses are expected to remain closed on Wednesday. Their protest motto: “We’re closing for a day so that we don’t have to close forever.”

“A Country Takes to the Streets,” reads the headline in Eleftherotypia, a newspaper known for its critical view of the government. Even Ta Nea, a paper considered to be more aligned with the government, wrote: “This is the mother of all strikes.” The Communists, the third-strongest party in parliament, are also calling for protesters to encircle the parliament building. Observers are anticipating clashes between security forces and demonstrators in front of the building on Sytagma Square.

Protests Also Expected in Finance Ministry: … //

… A German Scapegoat:

Given the extent of the problems, the search for a scapegoat has long since begun in earnest. Some in the Greek media have settled on the Germans. Indeed, one man in particular has made for an easy target: European Union crisis manager Horst Reichenbach, who has been tasked by the EU with aiding Greece in developing its economic reforms. The widely circulated Sunday newspaper Real News ran a headline reading: “The Reichenbach Government.” The story reported on an alleged plan called “Igemon” which foresaw a significant debt haircut for Greece. Afterwards, Athens would be forced to hand over the “keys to the country with far-reaching competencies” to EU Task Force chief Reichenbach.

But even such radical stories have ceased to shock the Greek people. Pensioner Petridis has altogether different concerns right now. It’s freezing cold in his small apartment and if customs officials strike for the entire week, then no heating oil will be delivered to Greek companies or households. (full text).

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