Bombs and Bailouts
The scene was more muted this Sunday, as hundreds of protesters marched in the wake of the approval of the EU-IMF bailout package, a stark contrast from the rioting of last week – a fire-bomb attack killing three, youths and others hurling molotov cocktails at shops, riot policing firing off canisters or tear gas and using stun grenades on demonstrators.
The violence was not unknown or all that unusual. Just in December, roughly six thousand riot police clashed with tens of thousands of workers who marched to mark the anniversary of the police shooting of 15 year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a year earlier.
Many temporary workers were demanding permanent status, contrasted with an EU mandate that 100,000 workers be let go to combat Greece’s spiraling debt. Wage cuts and reduced benefits have done little to curb the debt, which has now risen to 113% of the GDP. Strikes and protests have become a mainstay. Adding insult, local court has declared the subsequent strikes ‘illegal’.
The bailout package that was approved yesterday would reduce holiday payments for civil servants and cut bonuses. 3% wage cuts will go into effect for employees at state run companies. Sales tax will increase, in addition to separate cigarette, fuel and alcohol tax increases. Greece will receive approximately 30 billion Euros ($38 billion) as part of a 110 billion euro package shared with 16 nations.
As recently as 1967, a military coup banned elections and led the country until civil unrest overthrew the military in a student led rebellion, and established a republic in 1975. Greece has been a member of what is now the European Union since 1981 and is a founding member of the United Nations. One in five Greek workers live below the poverty line, according to government statistics.