Athens Burns During Budget Cut Protests

Allison Kilkenny

Demonstrators throw fire bombs toward riot police during protests in central Athens on February 12, 2012

Athens erupted early Monday in response to Greece’s austerity measures that include deep cuts in government spending, wages (lawmakers agreed to cut the minimum wage by 20 percent), and pensions. Some 150,000 government employees will lose their jobs under the new bailout deal, which is estimated at €130 billion ($172.6 billion) and passed Parliament in a 199-74 vote.

The European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund were the forces demanding Greece’s second bailout. This is the second time in less than seven months that the troika steered Greece toward dramatic budgetary cuts. (photo by Getty)

Tens of thousands of individuals took to the streets in protest that included widespread property damage – the Athens News Agency reports that more than 45 buildings were damaged by fire and numerous others looted – resulting in the arrests of 74 people, according to police.

Some protesters threw rocks at the police, who countered with tear gas. After night fall, the demonstration turned more violent as Greek demonstrators threw molotov cocktails at police:


The violent protests reflect increasing angst in Greece over crushing economic problems, said CNN iReporter Thanasis Trompoukis.

They are protesting because they feel that there is no end in their financial suffering. More and more (people) every day are getting poorer and become homeless in Greece, and especially Athens,” he said.

Despite the passage of these latest harsh cuts, it remains likely that Greece will default because its debt still looks unsustainable. 

Lending them yet more cash is just a stopgap – it’s a bit like borrowing on your credit card to pay your mortgage,” the Guardian reports. (photo via @vourtsis)

Regular readers of any major newspaper within the U.S will have an extremely difficult time finding quotes from Greek citizens regarding how they feel about this austerity business. I waded through mountains of quotes from Finance Ministers and economists this morning as they theorize about the cuts’ effects on the Euro, but nary a word could I find from an Athenian citizen.

Meanwhile, the suicide rate in Greece has doubled since the start of the financial crisis, youth unemployment hovers around 50 percent, the populace has begun emigrating en masse, schools are running out of paper, hospitals are low on medicine, and homelessness is rampant in Athens.

It’s these newest rounds of cuts – and perhaps a tin ear response from media that busily interviews bureaucrats who will be unaffected by cuts – that motivated tens of thousands of already direly struggling Athenians to hit the streets in protest. (photo by Aris Messinis/​AFP/​Getty)

According to Afrodity Giannakis, who works as a permanent English teacher in a Greek village, citizens are being treated like rats in a brutal experiment.

A few days ago, I was looking for a magazine in my neighbourhood at about 9am before going to work. I found that all the shops in the block had put up the shutters, except for one closer to my home, which did not have the magazine, anyway.

Shops closing down is a common occurrence in neoliberal capitalist Greece, but the situation has rapidly deteriorated since May 2010. That was the time of the first memorandum, imposed on Greece by the troika” (the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — IMF) and the Greek Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) government.

Shop owners are forced to close because of the steep plunge in consumption, combined with higher government fees and other expenses.

I drove along the national road to go to work, about 45 kilometres from Thessaloniki. Until recently I worked 80km away from home. Last year I worked 700km away and it is highly uncertain where I will be placed next school year.Far-away placements have been commonplace for Greek teachers for a long time. What is new is the rising casualisation, intensification of work and overall job insecurity.

Now, it is going to be almost impossible for teachers to make ends meet if they have to move away from home. Having a job at all is also highly uncertain.

The reason is that the troika, in close collaboration with the unelected Greek government imposed by the troika, has decided on more public sector sackings.

Photo by Vladmir Rys/​Getty:

Giannakis goes on to describe the crippling cuts” that threaten to crush a population with an estimated 3 million people already at or below the poverty line.

The immediate effects of the public sector sackings will be higher unemployment (the official figure is now 20.9%) and deepened recession.

In my job, after the sackings of temporary and casual teachers, face-to-face teaching hours will rise for those remaining. Needless to say, there will not be an accompanying salary rise.

These austerity measures are taking place against a background of deteriorating conditions for students and teachers.

There is a shocking shortage in school books, about 2000 schools closed down in the last school year, class sizes have risen and funding for education has dropped to 2.75% of the gross national product.

Schools do not have enough funding for photocopying paper or central heating. In this year’s freezing winter, students and teachers have had lessons with their coats on. Schools have been forced to shut down due to inadequate heating.

Photo by Vladmir Rhys/​Getty:

In closing, Giannakis describes the heralding sacrifices many Greeks have made in an attempt to keep their heads above water, including putting their children up for adoption.

I am still managing to hold on to my car; using public transport for work would be very inconvenient.

Many people have given up their cars due to financial hardship. Soaring petrol prices, as well as rises in car registration and car insurance fees, have compounded the problem.

About 160,000 number plates were handed in to the taxation department at the end of the 2010 financial year. Last year, the number exceeded 250,000.


A huge number of homeless people can be seen living in open-air spaces. There are 25,000 homeless people in Athens alone, driven out of unused public spaces by the Pasok-affiliated mayor.

Many homeless people are dying during this year’s extremely harsh winter.

Public welfare services, as well as schools and hospitals, are all but demolished.

People are driven to sordid poverty and despair, as working rights are abolished and public enterprises and resources are sold off. At the same time, rising taxes, along with relentless price rises, are unbearable.

Tens of thousands of households and small businesses have had their electricity cut off due to unpaid bills.

Many children faint in schools after they go hungry for days because their parents can’t afford to buy food. There has been a huge rise in the number of children sent to orphanages.

In many areas, the church or neighbourhood groups give out mess to paupers. People scavenging rubbish bins for food is now a common sight in Greece.

The Greek ministry of health reports psychological problems and suicide rates have risen dramatically.

Photo by Louisa Gouliamaki/​Getty:

Giannakis insists that by implementing more austerity measures, the government is only deepening the recession and devastating the lives of the overwhelming majority of people.

Ironically, it was German leaders who maintained pressure on Greece to pass this latest austerity package despite the fact that Germany recently experienced its own failed budget cut experiment.

The left must take advantage of this historical opportunity, join forces and help the Greek people reclaim their lives,” writes Giannakis. We must thwart the capitalists’ plan. This nightmare has to stop and the capitalists will not stop unless we stop them.”

(Photos of burning buildings via @skar_ and @mmgeisler, @Real_gr respectively)

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Allison Kilkenny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the critically acclaimed radio show Citizen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Uprising, focuses on efforts around the world to address the global economic crisis.
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