Greece: The plague of civil unrest

Optimism is running short in Greece’s capital where thousands have taken to the streets following the third general strike after months of civil unrest.

The insurrections were inspired by the growing distaste for the government’s austerity measures – the planned wage cuts in the public and private sectors and the increase of taxes to help manage the financial bailout prepared by the Eurozone nations.

The level of anger and ferocity among citizens has not been seen in Greece for a number of years, but is inspired from the realization of how much the average citizen stands to lose.

Fotini Bogatsiotis, a pension recipient living in Athens stated that “I stand to lose 30 per cent of my pension. It makes it impossible to make ends meet with the cost of living in Athens.”

By May 5, Greek citizens had taken to the streets numbering in the thousands in protest of the new measures.

While some protested with peaceful means, it wasn’t long before others began throwing rocks and projectiles at the riot police. The violence quickly escalated targeting Parliament and many banks in the nearby area.

Marfin Bank, which is central in downtown Athens, was hit the hardest during the May 5 protests. Masked assailants targeting the bank threw Molotov cocktails through the windows at the employees inside. Most inside the bank escaped, however three employees were killed as a result of the attack.

“We could hear the three [employees] screaming for help and the crowd responding that they were going to let them burn because they worked at the bank,” explained Nikos Stathopoulos, a nearby business owner and eye witness.

“The riot had a very organized, military feel to it, with many applauding and cheering on those who attacked the bank.”

The identities of the assailants have yet to be determined; however authorities believe that they belong to anarchist factions whose central philosophies focus on anti-capitalism ideals.

While the police have released statements assuring the public that the assailants are close to capture, many, including Stathopoulos, are certain there will be no real investigation at all and that those responsible will never be caught.

“Many with the police force fear for their lives, thus, it is doubtful any action will be taken. It is very difficult to predict what will happen next,” said Stathopoulos.

The situation

  • The austerity measures, proposed on May 1, persuaded Germany to sign a $110 billion European bailout package, the last nation to sign on. Germany has been highly critical of the proposition to offer Greece any kind of bailout options, offering harsher alternatives instead.
  • Following the falsification of their numbers, the government has stated that the budget deficit has reached 13.6 per cent and debt has reached 115 per cent of the GDP.

Austerity measures

  • Increasing the Value Added Tax from 19 to 21 per cent totalling 1.3 billion euro.
  • A freeze on pensions and an additional cut to pension subsidies totalling 600 million euro.
  • A reduction in public sector pay by approximately seven per cent including cut on holiday bonus and overtime pay totalling 1.1 billion euro.
  • Additional measures include a 10 per cent cut in public sector benefits, tax on luxury items, cigarettes, alcohol, electricity, petrol, and vacation homes.