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Greek Financial Crisis and Anti-Austerity Protests: The Story So Far

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

After a year and a half of desperate rescue negotiations and bailout tranches doled out by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union, the intractable and increasingly ineffective austerity measures imposed by the “troika” (three) on Greece's socialist government, have been met with unrelenting protests. The drama of the European sovereign debt crisis with Greece in its center is coming to a head, as politicians desperately seek options to disentangle the European Union from mounting debt.

Runner statue mocked up as a rioter. Photo courtesy of the Athens indignants' multimedia team, licensed as CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Runner statue mocked up as a rioter. Photo courtesy of the Athens indignants' multimedia team, licensed as CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

The Greek indignant movement, inspired by the “Arab Spring” uprisings and the European revolution movement that began in Spain, is centered mainly around sit-ins in public squares in Athens and Thessaloniki. It seemingly foundered during the summer, after a series of violent police crackdowns, but appeared to be picking up steam again in September, as collective anger began boiling at the imposition of yet another round of austerity measures following the bailout agreed at the emergency Eurozone summit in July.

The effects of austerity

With youth unemployment at over 40% and uncertainty hovering over diminishing work prospects at home, continuous austerity has engendered a new immigration wave, this time of Greece's brightest youth, compounding the drag on the economy by a forced and elective retirement rush brought on by downsizing and raised retirement age.

Austerity itself may constitute a human rights violation, as a United Nations expert noted in July. The relentless cascade of austerity measures is taking a toll on the everyday life of Greeks, with social services being curtailed and even the affordability of basic goods taking a hit due to staggered VAT increases and salary, pension and benefit cuts. A recent publication in the Lancet medical journal claims that the crisis is also incurring adverse health effects on the populace, while suicides and criminality are reportedly mounting.

Mass 'Indignant' protest in Athens. Image by endiaferon, copyright Demotix (29/05/2011).

Mass 'Indignant' protest in Athens. Image by endiaferon, copyright Demotix (29/05/2011).

Creative Greeks are affected by the austerity as well, using blogs and social media to vent their frustrations. Published blogger and copywriter Constantina Delimitrou paints a glum picture of the financial insecurity [es] gripping the minds and bodies of Greeks:

Οι περισσότεροι είμαστε με μόνιμες τανάλιες στα στομάχια για το περισσότερο μέρος της ημέρας και της νύχτας. Ένα βλαμμένο συνοθύλευμα από φόβους, αγωνίες, εικόνες τρομακτικές που δε θες αλλά σου σφηνώνονται στο κεφάλι και δε σ’ αφήνουν να πάρεις ανάσα. [..] ακούς να ρωτάνε πόσα μακαρόνια να βάλουν στην άκρη για μια ώρα ανάγκης, πώς θα πάνε στη δουλειά χωρίς φράγκο και πόσο νερό άραγε να θέλει ένα μποστάνι στο μπαλκόνι. Και εκείνη η κυρία ένα βράδυ στο μετρό. Που έκλαιγε για δέκα ευρώ στο τηλέφωνο. Τα παιδιά της στο νοσοκομείο και δεν έβρισκε δέκα ευρώ να ταΐσει τα εγγόνια. Και αυτός που μιλούσε δεν είχε να της δώσει. Και δεν είχα ούτε εγώ. Αλλά και να ‘χα, πώς να πλησιάσεις τον άλλο να τον βοηθήσεις;

Most of us have permanent pliers gripping our bellies for most of the day and night. A stupid mess of fears, anxieties, terrifying images that stick in your head unwittingly and won't let you breathe. [...] you hear them wondering how much spaghetti to shelve for an hour of need, how to go to work penniless, how much water does a balcony plot need. And that lady, that night at the subway. Crying over ten euros on the phone. Had her children in a hospital, and she couldn't find ten euros to feed her grandchildren. The listener didn't have any to give her. Neither did I. And even if I did, how do you approach somebody to offer help?

Athens indignants' general assembly, 29/5/2011. Photo by Cyberela, licensed CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Web designer Cyberela dryly comments on her prospects as a chronic hemangioma sufferer:

@Cyberela: Φυσικά τις θεραπείες που κάνω τώρα δεν μπορει να μου τις πληρώσει η ασφάλιση. Ο κόσμος με αιμαγγειωμα είναι καταδικασμένος στην Ελλάδα.

@Cyberela: Naturally, my social security can't cover my treatments. Hemangioma sufferers in Greece are doomed.

And actor Haris Attonis tweeted a laconic observation on migration:

@hartonis: Οι μισοί γνωστοί μου μετακόμισαν στο εξωτερικό. Οι άλλοι μισοί, μέσα τους.

@hartonis: Half my friends emigrated abroad. The other half, within themselves

Police clashes

Rampant police violence is exacerbating the social pressures. The most serious incidents occurred when unprecedented police violence against protesters at Syntagma square in Athens on June 28-29, was denounced by international human rights organizations, who noted the massive use of teargas and urged the Greek police to refrain from using excessive force.

Indignant sit-ins, already depopulated due to summer vacations, were raided by police at night and dismantled, with restrictions reportedly placed [el] in some cases to prevent future gatherings, as happened later to sit-ins in Spain and the United States. The customary prime minister's opening speech at the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair in September was greeted with angry protests and clashes, as disparate groups converged on the heavily policed square outside, while another emergency property tax was being announced.

Social media usage

Protest at Syntagma Square, 25/5/2011. Photo courtesy of the Athens indignants, licensed CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Protest at Syntagma Square, 25/5/2011. Photo courtesy of the Athens indignants, licensed CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Twitter has emerged as a mainstay platform for citizen journalism and activism in Greece, since the riots over the police killing of a minor in 2008. Several activist news curators used tweet aggregation tools to chronicle the anti-austerity protests, producing an impressive body of work.

Theodora Economides (@IrateGreek on Twitter) used Chirpstory to curate chronicles of most of the major protest events in Athens, while Antonis Gazakis (@gazakas on Twitter) posted daily livetweeted minutes of the Thessaloniki indignants’ general assembly on Storify.

Myrto Orfanoudaki Simic collected videos of June 29 police brutality. Meanwhile 31,000 users liked the Facebook page of the Athens indignants, while 5,000 users have liked the Thessaloniki indignants Facebook profile. Dozens of photographers have been posting Greek protest photoreportage work on Demotix since early 2009, while thousands of photos and dozens of videos by activists and citizen journalists have been posted on the blog of the multimedia team of the Athens indignants in Syntagma Square under a Creative Commons license since these protests began.

On a humorous note, Theodora also started the #GreekPoliticianManual hashtag, based on Iyad El Baghdadi's Arab Tyrant Manual, to poke fun at the ethics and practices of politicians. The Angry Greeks vs. Angry Birds spoof, created by ToonPosers video art team, has garnered 105,000 hits on YouTube.

Follow the Twitter account (@GVEuropeCrisis) of our special coverage project Europe in Crisis for daily updates on the impact of the sovereign debt crisis on Greece and other European countries.

This article is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

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