Athens in Turmoil Over European Union Sanctions: An Eyewitness Report on the Eve of the General Strike

by on September 25, 2012 · 5 comments

in Culture, Editor's Picks, Government, Politics, Travel

by Jim Bliesner, SDFP  Correspondent reporting from Greece

Athens, Greece. Sept. 24, 2012.   In ancient Greek mythology Prometheus stole creativity and fire from Zeus. When Zeus discovered the theft by a relative mortal he unleashed the gods of force and violence against Prometheus to punish him. Zeus chained him to a rock where an eagle arrived daily to eat his liver. Fortunately it grew back daily and he was eventually liberated by Heracles.  For the first time creativity overcame force and violence.

On Sept. 26, 2012, the people of Greece will go on general strike against austerity measures being imposed by the European Union Central Bank. As one person told me, “The measures call for all government workers to receive wage and benefits reductions.” I asked her how they could do that to her since she worked for a private company. “Well I don’t know exactly how but they will. You know how business is- they cut wages whenever they think they can get away with it.”

The austerity measures being set for the European countries are designed after austerity measures employed by Germany over ten years ago in response to the market combustion caused by global securities speculation. The speculation was based on rampant real estate speculations by American investors and banks. The European Central Bank has designed a formula which calls for dramatic reductions for workers. With the exception of France which has chosen to raise taxes rather than make cuts, most countries of Europe are moving to curtail workers’ economic status.

Athens, the capital of Greece and its largest city, seems to be in turmoil. On Sunday Omonia Square, the central commercial intersection of five large boulevards, was surrounded by at least three different police forces. Each of the five main streets was yellow taped or blocked by large black buses with metal grated windows. Behind the buses were phalanges of police with clear plastic shields.

The Square was filled with men, mostly young carrying signs like “Our Prophet is Our Honor.” “Film Innocence of Muslims.” “We Demand the Punishment of the Sinners.”

The speeches went for hours until finally about three hundred men formed into straight compact rows, shoulder to shoulder. They were being led in prayer for nearly an hour by a young mullah in bloused turquoise pants, long beard, white tunic. Together they alternately stood, knelt, raised their arms, folded hands in prayer, responded to the exhortations of the mullah. The intensity of the ritual gained as the mullah pulled increasingly vocal responses from the young men.

The audience for the scene was the police and a phalanx of photographers and cameramen weaving through the rows of worshipers. Finally they  moved en masse shouting, eyes ablaze in a circle around the square, never leaving it or approaching the police barricades.

Later in the Muslim quarter, the energy in the little markets was apparent, with the glow of the day’s events spilling over into the night.
Monday as I walked past the Parliament building where the central action of the general strike will occur, I, again, witnessed the phalanx of police uniforms and blocked streets. In the distance, down the central boulevard came a street full of marchers. They chanted in Greek but I recognized the cadence. “THE PEOPLE UNITED WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED!” Over and over, red banners, yellow flags floated in swirling rhythm to the march. The crowd was mixed, intense, fists raised toward the Parliament building. It seemed a prologue to the events planned for the 26th,  the General Strike.

Omonoia Square, Athens

Remy Bermudez September 25, 2012 at 4:44 pm

WOW! Nothing like being in the right place at the right time with economics and social justice in mind!
Go, Bliesner!

John Lawrence September 26, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Young people all over the world are revolting because there are no jobs for them. This is a continuation of the Arab spring, only now it has jumped over the border into Europe. Greece and Spain are at the forefront. With youth unemployment in the 50% range, it’s not any wonder that there’s a lot of turmoil.

Goatskull September 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm

And sadly will not get better, or not anytime soon. One of my work colleges is originally from the Island of Crete and has a relative who’s a police officer in Athens. According to my colleague (and sometime drinking partner) this relative has lost patience with the majority of the protestors and wants to beat the blood s*** out of them. Hopefully the majority of police out there don’t think that way.

Goatskull September 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm

I meant colleagues, not colleges.

Jim Bliesner September 29, 2012 at 3:39 am

It is very clear that the police have zero affection for the protesters here in Athens. They pursued them for miles throughout the city after the main event and frequently on camera I saw them beating the hell out of each one once they grabbed them. Then off they went to jail. I am sure they are a little intimidated because these kids don’t seem to give a damn. They are aggressive. Firebombs??? Be better if they had a real job but hey maybe this will get them one?

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