from Ekathimerini Website
As Indignant protests enter second month,
opinions divided about nature
and future of the movement
It's past midnight in Syntagma Square, the epicenter of Greece's month-long anti-austerity demonstrations, and Stathis Marinos is sitting at a corner cafe overlooking the colorful tent city under the trees.
Flipping a string of worry beads while sipping a frappe, the 37-year-old software engineer muses about Greece's financial crisis.
He thinks the debt-choked country is being stifled by a mix of brutally rigid measures - and that they must be resisted.
A few yards away, in the heart of the white marble square, a loudspeaker crackles with rhetorical din from the ongoing session at the makeshift assembly meeting.
Modeled after Spain's “Indignados” who took over Madrid's Puerta del Sol and other public squares earlier this year, Athens's “aganaktismenoi” (Indignants) have camped in the capital's main square since May 25.
A month after the first call on Facebook
and other social media, Syntagma, or Constitution square, the starting point
to the capital's main commercial street, is playing host to a postmodern
incarnation of the ancient Athenian agora.
Speakers, who are chosen by lot, are given a two-minute time limit so as to allow for the greatest possible number of contributions. There is little of the typical booing and hissing, and audiences react mostly with hand gestures: waving their hands in the air for approval or giving a thumbs down when they disagree.
Interpretations of what is happening in the square range from the groundbreaking to the delusional or just plain silly.
In the beginning, the Indignants were mostly portrayed as a non-political grouping. It was in the wake of a mass demonstration earlier this month that Greece's mainstream parties, PASOK and the right-of-center New Democracy, came close to clinching a unity coalition deal.
Talks eventually fell through and Papandreou went on to conduct a cabinet reshuffle designed to galvanize his base. He also proposed a referendum in the fall on a proposal to revise the Greek Constitution.
fact that the Indignants have put pressure on the government and the
politicians, some argue, means that they have now become political.
Costas Douzinas, a law professor at Birkbeck, University of London, recently penned one of the most flattering profiles of the Indignants in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, after being invited to speak in Syntagma.
He is not alone.
Vassiliki Georgiadou, a political science professor at Panteion University in Athens, has kept a close eye on the demographics of the square.
All findings so far, she says, indicate that we are dealing with a “politically active” audience.
Their reaction was not a bolt out of the historical blue.
Most research shows that people's disaffection with Greece's social and political institutions dates back to the early 1990s. A public survey published last year found that nearly nine out of 10 Greeks are “dissatisfied with how democracy works.”
The local media, which have suffered their own barrage of criticism (some of it fair) as sycophants of the status quo, like to describe the movement in emotional rather than ideological terms.
The phenomenon seems to have a dream-come-true quality for some, and Douzinas is certainly happy to connect the dots.
Skeptics, on the other hand, maintain that the memorandum is not at the root of the problem, but only a symptom.
Culminating to the memorandum, they say, the trail has been one of dysfunction, waste and corruption. Writing in The Guardian last week, author Apostolos Doxiadis attacked the “charlatans” who blame the evil foreigners for our own ills and failures.
Some soul-searching would instead be more appropriate, he reckons.
When it comes to self-criticism and proposals to overcome the crisis, detractors say, the Syntagma folk are uncomfortably laconic.
He is annoyed at the absence of any serious debate about the hard stuff.
Save their vociferous opposition to austerity measures,
What virtually everyone agrees on is that Greece is a mess.
Faced with bankruptcy, the country received a 110-billion-euro rescue package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in May 2010 but now needs a second bailout of a similar size to meet its financial obligations until the end of 2014, when it hopes for a return to capital markets for funding. International creditors have set the introduction of a painful raft of belt-tightening measures - including tax hikes, spending cuts and privatizations - as a condition for releasing more aid.
A critical vote is to be held in Parliament on June 29 and 30. Meanwhile, unemployment has soared to 16 percent and crime, in what used to be one of the safest states in Europe, is on the rise.
Anti-immigrant sentiment, particularly in the
poorer neighborhoods of the capital, is spreading as once-marginal
xenophobic groups are establishing a mainstream presence.
Mouzelis, a former adviser to reformist Prime Minister Costas Simitis, praises the movement's,
The protests have truly brought together a very
diverse crowd - but one that is not always pulling in exactly the same
At the assembly, people discuss the negative effects of Europe's Common Agricultural Policy on Greek farmers before talking through some organizational issues. With time, the discourse at the meetings has become more progressive and assertive. A recent resolution called for activist-style interventions like the occupation of television stations and public buildings.
For Marinos, some degree of radicalization is a “natural evolution.”
The Indignants' decision to cordon off the Parliament building on June 15 to prevent lawmakers from reviewing the controversial midterm fiscal plan was widely regarded as the first break with the movement's non-violent stance.
The rally, which was also attended by thousands of union members, degenerated into violence as riot police battled with self-styled anarchists for hours. Then came the usual finger-pointing squabble over who deserves the blame for the violence.
A decision to give the movement a more activist orientation, some analysts say, would most likely alienate the big mass of supporters.
Interestingly, however, developments in and around Syntagma Square have thrown left-wing parties - like the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) - into disarray.
Early skepticism - the more sclerotic KKE went as far as to condemn the movement for not being class-driven - gradually gave way to, some say, cynical attempts to hijack the movement.
They are unlikely to succeed, as most protesters view them as part of the problem.
Dogs of war
Demonstrators make the disparaging open-palm “moutza” gesture against the House and point green laser beams - sold here by immigrant street vendors - at television crews conveniently positioned on the balconies of the Grande Bretagne luxury hotel.
Mock gallows and banners taunting Papandreou as being “Goldman Sachs's employee of the year” decorate this part of the square.
Most of the acid is flung at Theodoros Pangalos, the corpulent deputy prime minister and father of the infamous “we-all-ate-the-money-together” comment.
Here, in this more colorful part of the new
agora, is where you are most likely to bump into Loukanikos, the famous riot
dog, and manic street preacher and cult TV personality Eleni Louka yelling
“repent” into a megaphone as bystanders take snapshots with their cell
The blanket rejectionism and often xenophobic
posturing of those upstairs conveys a sense of uncertainty, of lost bearings
perhaps, in a world swept up by rapid social change.
At 1 a.m., the protest has petered out.
About 50 people remain scattered on the sidewalk of Amalias Avenue in front of the House. Some lean over the newly installed railings to taunt the baton-wielding policemen. Two middle-aged men, beer cans in hand, chat with a police chief.
A towering figure with a white mustache, the soft-spoken chief expresses his sympathy for the demonstrators.
Police officers, currently paid between 800 and 1,500 Euros, are in for wage cuts like all civil servants.
As he speaks, fireworks explode overhead as the
Panathenaic stadium, the venue that hosted the first modern Olympic Games,
prepares to host the Special Olympics opening ceremony.
But the long-term impact on Greece's political culture must not be discounted.
And even if the hype about direct democracy in action is exaggerated, recent developments have made people realize that they can be active citizens without belonging to any particular party or trade union.
Back in the square, the assembly is voting on the resolutions proposed over the course of the day.
Attendants vote in favor of organizing concerts
on a daily basis, but reject a proposal to invite the country's premier for
talks. Decisions will soon be posted on the real-democracy website. Most of
them dictate actions to be taken during the two-day general strike on
Tuesday and Wednesday.
Three employees died when the premises were firebombed during an anti-austerity rally.