Damian Mac Con Uladh

Archive for the ‘Greek crisis’ Category

New film follows the transformation of the Agora from democracy to the market

In Greece, Greek crisis on 15 October 2014 at 1:56 pm

Agora_Poster_EN_web_short

A hard-hitting documentary about the Greek crisis will have its world premiere world premiere on November 9 at the upcoming Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival (CPH:DOX), which runs from 6–16 November 2014.

Entitled Agorá, the 90-minute film is by award-winning Greek journalist and filmmaker Yorgos Avgeropoulos, who created the successful Exandas documentary series that ran on ERT public television until the station’s closure by the coalition government in June 2013.

AGORA – From Democracy to the Market [Trailer] from Small Planet Productions on Vimeo.

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Misleading headlines accompany launch of Greece’s guaranteed minimum income scheme

In General, Greek crisis on 15 October 2014 at 12:18 am
Screengrabs of the misleading headlines on the government-controlled ANA news agency

Screengrabs of the somewhat misleading headlines on the government-controlled ANA news agency

It sounded too good to be true: on Tuesday, Greece’s state-run ANA news agency announced that the government was launching a scheme that would ensure “700,000 persons” would receive a guaranteed minimum income.

“Govt presents ‘minimum guaranteed income’ for 700,000 persons,” trumpeted the main story on ANA’s English-language site, while its parent Greek-language site declared “«Δίχτυ ασφαλείας» για 700.000 δικαιούχους ανακοίνωσε η κυβέρνηση”.

On both sites, the story was illustrated with photographs of the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, who attended and spoke at the launch of the measure, as did the deputy premier, Evangelos Venizelos, and the labour minister, Yiannis Vroutsis.

“The implementation of the measure will start on a pilot basis in 13 municipalities and will cover a [sic] 7 percent of the population, that is 700,000 persons,” read the ANA wire on the launch. (Or, as it said in in Greek, “Το πρόγραμμα θα εφαρμοστεί πιλοτικά σε 13 δήμους της χώρας και θα καλύψει περίπου το 7% του πληθυσμού δηλαδή 700.000 άτομα.”)

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Loukanikos, Greece’s famous riot dog, barks his last

In General, Greek crisis on 9 October 2014 at 1:17 pm
Loukanikos at a demonstartion on Syntagma Square. 5 October 2011 (Photo: Odysseas Gp/Flickr)

Loukanikos at a demonstartion on Syntagma Square. 5 October 2011 (Photo: Odysseas Gp/Flickr)

The death of Loukanikos, the Greek “riot” or “protest” dog that so fascinated the world’s media for his antics during austerity-fuelled disturbances in Athens city centre, has been announced.

Breaking the news, Avgi, a daily newspaper affiliated with Syriza, said the dog had died peacefully, some months ago, in the home of a man who has cared for him over the years.

So great was the celebrity canine’s fame that he was included in Time magazine’s top 100 personalities of 2011.

The dog, who was found wandering the streets at a young age, was named “Thodoros” by the person who took him in.

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‘We’re dying to pay our taxes’

In General, Greek crisis on 6 October 2014 at 9:42 am

This is the transcript of a “Reporter’s notebook” piece I did for BBC Radio Scotland’s “Good Morning Scotland” programme that was broadcast on Saturday 4 October 2014. 

Like thousands of citizens, Nikolas Elliniadis had left it to deadline day to go to his bank, in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city, to pay the first of six instalments of Greece’s new property tax, the latest levy to hit a population beleaguered after five years of austerity.

Finding a long queue, the 70-year-old pensioner took a number, sat down and prepared himself for a long wait in the crowded room as flustered officials tried to process a last-minute deluge of property tax remittances.

In many cases, these were being paid with pensions that had been distributed only the day before.

An hour and a half later, after saying he wasn’t feeling well, Elliniadis collapsed.

He was having a heart attack. Although his fellow customers and the emergency services did what they could, he was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.

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Greece is the only EU country without guaranteed minimum income, report finds

In General, Greek crisis on 26 September 2014 at 10:36 am
poverty is the parent of revolution and crime

‘Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime’ – Aristotle. Graffiti in the Exarchia district of Athens (Photo: aestheticsofcrisis/Flickr)

Greece is the only EU country not to have implemented a guaranteed minimum income and is among the most sluggish in adopting programmes to address social inequality and aid citizens living in extreme poverty and social exclusion, a new report from the Parliamentary Budget Office (GPK) has found.

This is despite the fact that six in ten citizens are living in or at risk of poverty, the GPK report (pdf), which was published on Thursday, said.

“The demand for social responsibility on the part of citizens is pronounced but what the state offers is characterised by fragmentation and administrative problems. Thus the social safety net is characterised by inefficiency, while at the same time there is are no expectations that income lost due to the economic downturn will be replenished in the near future,” the report stated.

The government has said that, this month, a new €20m, six-month pilot programme will begin in 13 municipalities which will provide what it says is a minimum income. Monthly payments will range from €200 a month for a single person on no income to €400 for a married couple with two underage children with no other earnings.

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Greece comes last in EU social justice index

In General, Greek crisis on 16 September 2014 at 10:34 am
An image from the report's cover

An image from the report’s cover

A report that found that Greece ranks last among the EU’s 28 members in terms of social justice has urged the government to do more to concentrate its efforts not only on returning to a stable path of growth, but also on improving participation opportunities for a broader portion of the population.

Published by the German Bertelsmann Foundation, the report (pdf) said while Greece, along with Spain and Italy, has a comparably high GDP per capita, it performed “far worse” in the social justice index rankings, which measures performance in poverty prevention, access to education, access to the labour market, social cohesion, non-discrimination, health and intergenerational equity.

“Greece is at the bottom of the ranking with a youth unemployment rate of nearly 60%, a rapid increase in the risk of poverty, particularly among children and youth, a health care system badly undermined by austerity measures, discrimination against minorities as a result of strengthened radical political forces, and an enormous mountain of debt that represents a mortgage on the future of coming generations,” the report found.

“The resulting diminution of prospects for broad swathes of society represents a significant danger to the country’s political and social stability. These developments illustrate that the cuts induced by the crisis are not administered in a balanced way throughout the population,” it noted.

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The Greek government (June 2013-)

In General, Greek crisis on 24 June 2013 at 11:36 pm

On 24 June 2013, Greece’s prime minister, Antonis Samaras, and his coalition partner in Pasok, Evangelos Venizelos, announced a new government. Here’s the full list. In transliterating names, I have tried to follow the versions used by the ministers themselves, although these are not always clear.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (ND)

Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos (Pasok, also foreign minister)

Administrative Reform and E-Governance Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (ND)

Alternate Evi Christofilopoulou (Pasok)

Culture and Sports Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos (ND)

Deputy Yannis Andrianos (ND)

Defence Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos  (ND)

Alternate Fofi Gennimata (Pasok)

Deputy Thanasis Davakis (ND)

Development Minister Kostis Hatzidakis (ND)

Deputy Thanasis Skordas (ND)

Deputy Notis Mitarakis (ND, responsible for private investment)

Education and Religious Affairs Minister Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos (ND)

Deputy Symeon Kedikoglou (Pasok)

Deputy Kostas Gioulekas (ND)

Environment, Energy & Climate Change Minister Yiannis Maniatis (Pasok)

Alternate Stavros Kalafatis (ND)

Deputy Asimakis Papageorgiou (ND, unelected. Former manager in energy sector)

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras (technocrat, unelected)

Alternate Christos Staikouras (ND, responsible for public spending)

Deputy George Mavraganis (Responsible for revenue. Former tax expert with KPMG)

Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos (Pasok)

Deputy Dimitris Kourkoulas (technocrat, former European Commission official)

Deputy Akis Gerontopoulos (ND)

Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis (ND)

Deputy Antonis Bezas (ND)

Deputy Zetta Makri (ND) (The original nominee, Sofia Voultepsi (ND), announced on June 25 she would not be going forward)

Interior Minister Yannis Michelakis (ND)

Alternate Leonidas Grigorakos (Pasok)

Justice, Transparency and Human Rights Minister Haralambos Athanassiou (ND, former Areios Pagos judge and head of the Union of Judges and Prosecutors (EDE))

Labour, Social Security and Welfare Minister Yiannis Vroutsis (ND)

Deputy Vasilis Kegeroglou (Pasok)

Macedonia-Thrace Minister Theodoros Karaoglou (ND)

Public Order and Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Dendias (ND)

Rural Development and Food Minister Athanasios Tsaftaris (technocrat, prof of genetics and plant breeding)

Alternate Maximos Harakopoulos (ND)

Shipping Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis (ND)

Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni (ND)

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis (Pasok)

Deputy Michalis Papadopoulos (ND)

State Minister Dimitris Stamatis (ND)

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou (ND)

Deputy Minister for Public Radio and Television Pantelis Kapsis

Parliamentary speaker Vangelis Meimarakis (ND)

Greek police face allegations of brutality … again

In Greek crisis on 5 February 2013 at 11:26 am

An Athens prosecutor has launched an inquiry into claims that four men, aged 20 to 24, arrested on Friday after a double bank robbery in northern Greece, were subsequently beaten in police custody.

Two of the suspects were being sought by police over their alleged involvement in the anarchist Fire Cells Conspiracy group, which has claimed a number of bombings since it emerged in 2008.

Concerns about the alleged abuse were raised after the police on Saturday released photos that showed telltale signs of digital editing to remove evidence of bruising. In the crudest case, the Photoshopping technique appears to have removed an object, possibly an officer’s arm, from around the neck and chest of one of the suspects.

Promising an inquiry, the country’s public order minister, Nikos Dendias, admitted that the photos were altered, but said that this was to make the suspects recognisable to the public.

He added that the men were injured during their arrest, a claim that has been flatly rejected by the some of the men, in statements relayed through their relatives.

Romanos_composite

Photoshop or Photocop? Nikos Romanos as the police wanted the public to see him (Left) and how he looked as he was brought before a prosecutor (Right)

The youngest suspect, 20-year-old Nikos Romanos (photo), witnessed the shooting dead of a classmate, Alexis Grigoropoulos, 15, by police in December 2008 in an incident that sparked days of rioting in Athens.

Romanos’s subsequent biography is symptomatic of a wider trend, according to Mary Bossi, professor for international security at the University of Piraeus.

“The fact is that there many on the periphery of Greek youth who understand themselves to be part of this anti-system, anti-everything dynamic, which has been growing for the last 15 years or so.”

“Not all are pro-violence, but the pro-violence element is growing in strength and its list of targets is widening,” she said, adding that the youth wings of mainstream political parties, including those on the left, are no longer able to absorb “extremist tendencies”.

  • A shortened version of this piece was published in the Irish Times on 5 February 2013

Greek police refuse to answer questions on Walid Taleb

In General, Greek crisis on 15 November 2012 at 4:48 pm

He was tortured by his employer for 18 hours in a stable. When he managed to escape, he spent the next four days in a police cell.

His name is Walid Tabeb. And the Greek police are refusing to answer questions about his treatment.

On Tuesday, the The Irish Times published my article on the 29-year-old Egyptian national, who was abducted and tortured by his baker employer on the island of Salamina.

Waled Taleb waits to testify to an examining magistrate in Piraeus courthouse on November 9 (Photo: Eirini Vourloumis)

The article was the most read article on the online edition of the The Irish Times that day and was shared over 1,400 times on Facebook and tweeted almost 400 times. Hopefully, this will help Walid get the justice he deserves.

The piece detailed the shocking treatment Walid endured at the hands of his four captors, but also wrote about how he was detained for four nights in a police cell after the attack. Earlier, when he was taken to hospital, medics said they had no reason to keep him in.

During his time in police custody, he says he received no medical treatment, apart from some paracetamol.

On Monday morning, I sent an email to the press office of the Greek Police containing five questions relating to his treatment.

My questions were as follows:

  1. On what grounds was Mr Walid, a victim of a brutal ordeal, detained?
  2. Did he receive any medical treatment during his attention. If so, from whom. If not, why not?
  3. On what grounds was he released on Thursday?
  4. How much of the money allegedly stolen from Mr Walid by the alleged perpetrators has been returned to him and when did this happen?
  5. Will Mr Walid be allowed remain in the country until a trial against the perpetrators is held?

When I followed the email up with a phone call, I was informed by the press office that, as I was writing for a foreign newspaper (I should point out that I am a member of  a Greek press union), I had to submit my question via the secretariat general of information and communication/secretariat general of mass media, as the former press ministry is now known.

So, I duly forwarded my original email to the general secretariat, and was subsequently informed by an official there that the police would need two full working days to answer my query. Even though that meant the answer would come through after my Irish Times deadline had passed, I nevertheless requested that my questions be answered.

My piece stated:

Contacted yesterday, Greece’s police press office said it would need two working days to answer written questions from The Irish Times about Walid’s treatment.

On Thursday morning, two days later, I duly received a reply from the foreign correspondents’ office at the secretariat general, which I’ve reproduced below:

The Press Office of the Hellenic Police has just informed us that the case of Mr Walid is no longer in their jurisdiction, since the brief has already been filed to the District Attorney’s office. So, they won’t be able to answer your questions.

So there you have it: the Greek Police claims that foreign correspondents must submit questions via the former press ministry and that it takes two working days to process queries.

It was a very disingenuous answer, as other foreign correspondents I have asked say they never heard of this procedure. They say they call the police spokesman directly for comment.

With rules like this, the Greek Police can avoid answering any pressing question from a foreign correspondent on the behaviour of its officers.

A cynic would say they have designed bureaucratic procedures to avoid answering tough questions.

Do similar restrictions exist in other countries?

Update 1: The above post was written in a a hurry. It is true that the case is now before the courts. On Thursday, November 8, the baker and his alleged accomplices appeared before an examining magistrate to present their testimony and were subsequently released on restrictive conditions.

On Friday, November 9, the victim, Walid Taleb, appeared before the magistrate for the same reason.

So when I submitted my query on Monday, November 12, the police must have known about this. It was general knowledge after all, having been reported in much of the country’s press. Why they continued to insist on a two-working day right of reply to state this is most peculiar.

The only reason I can think of for the delay is that they didn’t want to see the sentence “We are unable to answer your questions” appearing in the article.

Update 2: I neglected to mention what my  five questions to the police were. I’ve now added them to the blog post.

Update 3: While the case is before the courts, it’s important to remind ourselves what the justice system will be looking at: the events leading up to Walid’s abduction and his 18-hour torture. I’m unaware that it will look at what happened afterwards, i.e. his four-night stay in a police cell. That means if the police were to comment, it could have no bearing on the trial against the baker and his accomplices.

Slashing salaries

In Greek crisis, Labour rights on 2 May 2010 at 6:35 pm

It certainly counts as the most controversial issue in the debate over the Greek government’s austerity measures – the axing of the so-called δώρα or gifts or holiday bonus from the pay packets of public and private sector employees.

Today, Economy Minister Yiorgos Papakonstantinou announced the abolition of Christmas, Easter and summer holiday bonuses in the public sector, also known as 13th and 14th salaries, for those earning above 3,000 euros a month and will be capped at 1,000 euros for those earning less.

For some civil servants, the loss to income per annum runs into the thousands. Pensioners have also been hit: their 13th and 14th pension payments have now been replaced by a flat-rate payment of 700 euros (gross). In addition, out of their remaining pensions will be deducted a “solidarity levy for the the poor” (known in Greek as the ΛΑΦΚΑ) of 7-9 percent.

As all public sector salaries have been frozen until 2014, there’s going to be a lot less money in civil servant pockets for the time being.

In Greece, all employees are effectively paid their annual income in 14 instalments: twelve payments every month; one payment at Christmas (equivalent to a month’s salary or 25 days’ pay), and a half payment at Easter and summer (each equivilant to a half-month’s salary or 15 days’ pay).

In recent weeks, the 13th and 14th salaries have come in for special attention in the world’s press, who invariably have presented them as yet another example of the wastefulness of the bankrupt Greek state, a throwback to an archaic socialist past, specifically to Andreas Papandreou’s first period in office in the 1980s.

For example, my colleague and friend John Psaropoulos wrote in the Irish Times on April 30:

“Local media have reported a series of draconian measures said to be included in the package. Among them is the complete severance of Easter, summer and Christmas bonuses in the public sector, amounting to two extra monthly salaries a year. The government had already trimmed these by 30 per cent in the last austerity package, announced in early March. Their removal would be a historic irony, as they, along with much of the welfare state, were introduced in the early 1980s by then prime minister Andreas Papandreou, father of current prime minister George Papandreou.”

However, the reality is somewhat different and less dramatic. These payments are much older, in part dating back in law to the immediate post-war period.

It’s generally neglected too that that these payments come on top of what count among the lowest wages and salaries in the European Union, and all this in a country where retail prices are generally higher than in the rest of the EU.

Nor is the situation unique to Greece. Employees are also paid in 14 tranches in Spain and Portugal.

Origins

Before the Second World War, holiday bonuses, particular for Easter, formed part of the customary law in certain localities and was contained in the collective agreements in certain industries. According to Labour historian Giannis Kordatos, in the early days of the Greek revolution, in April 1822, officials in the interim administration in liberated Corinth requested an Easter payment (Kordatos, History of the Greek Workers Movement, Athens, 1956, p. 29).

Their gradual legalisation of these payments dates back to an extremely difficult period in Greek history. In 1941, during the wartime occupation of the country, the collaborationist government passed a decee (310/1941) ordering that the Easter gift was to be paid wherever it had been customary.

Some months after the ending of the occupation, and as the country was descending into a bloody civil war, the government passed a law (539/1945, article 2, paragraph 1), stipulating that employees were entitled to a paid annual leave.

In the early 1950s, legislation was passed (Law 1901/1951, Compulsory Law 1777/1951 and Law 2053/1952) allowing the ministers of finance and labour could “jointly decide to give extraordinary financial support at Christmas and Easter, either in cash or in kind”. This practice soon became widespread in the public and the private sector.

The Easter and Christmas “gifts” were renamed allowances or bonuses in 1980, under a law (1082/1980, article 1) enacted by the New Democracy (conservative) government.

A year later, the new Pasok government passed a law (19040/1981) specifying how the holiday allowances were to be calculated and allocated.

Part of the salary

In place legally and paid out for almost 60 years and in custom for much longer, Greek employees and pensioners understandably and justifiably see the 13th and 14th salaries as an integral part of their income. They compensate for Greece’s comparatively low incomes and the absence of a proper welfare system.

In one article in conservative Kathimerini on the history of the payments, it was argued that they were “a belated application [in Greece] of the Keynesian spirit adopted since the Great Depression of 1929 in the US and Europe”.

That’s the real irony: seeing a measure introduced to help the economy in a time of crisis abolished during another crisis.

According to labour law professor Alexis Mitropoulos, since their introduction, in 1945 and 1951/52, no Greek government or private company has questioned the existence of the bonuses.

“The 14th salary (the Easter bonus and holiday pay) and the 13th salary (Christmas bonus) were designed to strengthen the purchasing power of employees. It contributed to the increase in commercial trade and the alternative consumer behaviour on the part of employees, pensioners and the unemployed.”

He expected that their abolition “would lead to the dramatic proletarianisation of wide strata of employees and pensioners”.

The effects of reduced spending power on what’s left of Greeece’s small time retailers will be immense.

Consequences

When the additional salary payments were legalised, in 1945 and 1951/52, communism held out a better future to impoverished Greeks. Perhaps by legalising them, rightwing governments hoped to kill off worker demands through kindness, much in the same way that Bismarck tried to defeat the social democrats by setting up the social welfare state.

Although the local media had claimed that the 13th and 14th salaries in the private sector were also in danger, they seem safe … for the time being. But how many times have we heard the government tell us that they were done with announcing austerity measures? I’ve a strong suspicion that in a few months the troika and employers will argue that the labour market requires standardisation. They’ll see if they can wrestle the bonus salaries from the public sector first; then we’re next.

Now that the neoliberals feel safe that there is no alternative to the wonderful, free-market world that they have created for themselves, they feel safe in destroying what they see as undeserved privilages. At the same time, they’ll continue to demand dizzying bonuses for themselves and their friends, despite the financial havoc that their system has created worldwide.

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