The following two events dominated Greek news reporting over the last week:
1. The new agreement for a 50% haircut on Greek bonds held by private lenders together with further strict austerity policies closely overseen by international inspectors until 2020.
2. The country-wide protests by thousands of citizens during the celebration of the 71th anniversary of the country’s rejection of Italy's ultimatum to surrender in 1940 - a national holiday known as “Ohi Day”, or "No Day", in Greek.
The week began with further union mobilizations following those of previous weeks. The Ministry of Finance is occupied by workers and the General Secretariat for Information Systems (GSIS) - the public sector's biggest data center- was blockaded on Tuesday morning. The Pan-Hellenic Maritime Federation was on a 48h strike, blocking Argosaronikos ferryboat lines, to demand seafarers’ unpaid wages. Activism spilled once again beyond the country’s borders: on Monday evening, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet was denounced by Greek students when delivering his speech at the Humboldt University in Berlin.
Changes in the political landscape in Greece started since the government passed in the “Memorandum” one year ago. Splits in the five political parties elected to parliament in 2009 have led to seven parties being represented now. On Tuesday – on the very day the government was negotiating the restructuring of the Greek debt – the director of the Economic & Industrial Research Foundation’s Yannis Stournaras, along with ruling socialist party ex-minister George Floridis, novelist Apostolos Doksiadis and other renowned individuals of the public sphere, established the “Social Link” group, leading to discussion and commentary on its ambition to evolve into another party structure dominated by the “modernization” wing of PASOK.
EU Agreement On The Restructuring Of Greek Public Debt
After marathon negotiations on Wednesday night, an official announcement was made regarding the agreement for a 50% haircut on Greek bonds held by private lenders. At this stage we do not know the details of the agreement. Meanwhile, publications considering a restructuring of that magnitude to be a credit event are multiplying.
The broad lines of the plan include the following:
- Reduction of the foreign debt by €100Bn
- Austerity and international supervision of Greece until 2020
- Nationalisation of banks which will be hit by the haircut
- Reduction of the debt to 120% of GDP by 2020
The new agreement will result in increasing the aid package to Greece by €130Bn while the agreement for bank recapitalisation will result in Greek banks being reinforced with €30Bn. This means in essence that the Greek banking system is henceforth considered to hold insufficient capital and will have to resort to the EFSF in order to secure €18-20Bn.
Prime Minister G. Papandreou asked the Greek people to comply with the implementation of austerity measures and emphasised the need for transformation of public anger into creative energy, while Deputy PM and Finance Minister E. Venizelos stated that he cannot believe that «there can be a single political force which is not satisfied with this agreement.»
Country-Wide Protests In The «Ohi Day» Celebration Parades
The extent to which the country would celebrate this agreement was made clear as early as 26 October when Minister of Defence P. Beglitis got a first taste of what was to come during the two days of celebrations for “Ohi Day.” He was surrounded and heckled by hundreds of people when he entered St Dimitri’s church in Thessaloniki to attend mass in honour of the patron saint of the city.
Early signs of the mass protests on 28 October came during the schoolchildren’s parade in Thessaloniki on the 27th, when a group of protesters interrupted the march and forced the officials to flee.
Friday 28 October has already gone down in history as the first time the military parade in Thessaloniki was interrupted since World War II. A group of protesters gathered early on across from the officials’ stands and was chanting slogans against the President of the Republic K. Papoulias. At the same time, thousands of citizens gathered on the seafront avenue, thus preventing the parade from marching. The offensive nature of the chants (e.g. «traitor») caused intense discomfort to Mr. Papoulias, who finally left the officials’ stand, stating: «Shame on them. We fought for Greece. We fought Nazism. At the age of 15 I went down to fight against Nazi Germany.»
Vigorous protests disrupted parades in almost every major city in Greece. In Patras, the parade had to be suspended, with heckling targeting mainly the deputy Minister of Defence K. Spiliopoulos. In Kalamata, PASOK MP O. Voudouris, Secretary-General of the Health Ministry G. Katrivanos and deputy governor of Messinia prefecture P. Alevras had to run away from the parade site. In Trikala, the parade was interrupted by clashes between the police and protesters; officials had to flee and PASOK MP Ch. Mangoufis was physically assaulted. In Volos, the parade was interrupted when university students, schoolchildren and activists from various movements came down on the seafront road and started throwing eggs and yoghurt towards the officials’ stand. In Heraklion (Crete), protesters shouting « traitors, thieves » moved towards the officials’ stand, throwing eggs and water bottles and forcing MPs and local administration officials to flee. In Lamia, angry citizens who were booing officials were pushed back brutally by the police. In Xanthi, the schoolchildren walked out of the parade and joined the protesters, which caused tension between the latter and the police.
In Athens, there was from early on a heavy police presence on the parade site to protect the officials’ stand. However, there were symbolic moves from the parading schoolchildren who turned their heads away from the officials and the Minister of Education A. Diamantopoulou. The Athens Municipality band also paraded with black armbands.
It must also be noted that during the parade, a group of extreme-right activists assaulted an immigrant and a member of the Syntagma square protest movement. Both were wounded and had to go to hospital for treatment.
Further clashes took place in Crete between the police and protesters, not only on parade sites but near the hotel Melia, where the Congress of the Socialist International, chaired by Prime Minister G. Papandreou. Members of parliament and representatives of Cretan entities were also prevented from accessing the building by the Greek police.