Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Greece in revolt

The sustained revolt by Greek students and young workers in major cities throughout the country may have been triggered by the shooting of a 15-year-old by police but is actually a confrontation that was waiting to happen. And it reveals that in the country that first conceived of democracy, there is no future for the ideal within the confines of the existing Greek state.

Greece has suffered a long period of corrupt rule, both by the existing New Democracy, right-wing government and before them the social democrats of Pasok. As a result, many Greeks have long lost any semblance of respect for the state in terms of abiding by laws and regulations. Tax evasion, for example, is widespread, an indication that the country has become ungovernable. A World Bank study on Greece found that one in every nine euros of company revenues is not recorded and therefore not taxed. The 11% level of tax evasion is exceeded by an underground economy which is reckoned to amount to nearly 30% of gross domestic product.

As the state has floundered, the divisions between rich and poor have grown sharply. In a country of 11 million, one in five lives below the poverty line and there is mounting anger at the government’s attempt to cut budgets in line with the requirements set down by the European Union in order stay part of the eurozone. A series of corruption scandals have hit the inner circle of Costas Karamanlis, the prime minster. Unemployment is already at 8% on average and much higher among 20 to 25 year olds. All the signs point to a sharp rise in joblessness over the next few months as the global crisis takes its toll on the country.

Today, schools are shut and thousands will attend the funeral of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, killed by police at the weekend. Tomorrow, the trade unions which have been battling the government’s privatisation policies, have called for strike action in protest against his death. "A lot of teenagers identify with Grigoropoulos," said Christos Mazanitis, an Athenian journalist. "There's a whole generation out there who see their parents in debt and feel they have nothing to look forward to in the future. Fear and despair are what these riots are about."

The impotence of the state is even recognised by the right-wing, whose commentators are suggesting that Greece "will now be out of control" after the protests. Nikos Konstandaras, writing in the centre-right newspaper Kathimerini, said: "It is tragic that the loss of one life should highlight so many impasses in our society and our politics. Instead of seeing that our refusal to resolve problems makes them intractable, I fear the way that we will use this death will simply make our problems worse."

There is no certainly no answer to the despair of young people through another Pasok government. The party’s leaders are angling to return to power – to carry on where Karamanlis leaves off. "It is as if the state [machinery], the government, has collapsed," said Ioannis Rougissis, a spokesman for the opposition Pasok party. Clearly, Pasok sees its role as one of restoring the authority of the corrupt and ineffectual Greek capitalist state just at the moment when its grip on power is self-evidently draining away.

A reconstruction of the Greek state from top to bottom is the only practical way forward. This process, which will require organisation and a revolutionary strategy, would aim at a transfer of economic and political power to the majority as a basis for the equitable development of Greek society. Then, and only then, would the term democracy have any substantial meaning in modern Greece.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

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