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Thousands protest in Athens, flotilla must wait for now

Greek parliament survives confidence vote, but there's no confidence on the streets

by Miles Howe

Syndagma Square at night
Syndagma Square at night

Tens of thousands of Greek protesters again gathered in Syndagma Square last night to voice their non-confidence in embattled Prime Minister George Papandreou and his Panhellenic Socialist Party. The square, which faces parliament, is a 24-hour hotbed of counter-political action.

During the day, hundreds living in the makeshift tent city sit in the shade of strung tarps and palm fronds, discussing the future of Greece over souvlaki. At night, tens of thousands of Greeks, of all age brackets, come to shout and sing songs of derision in the face of parliament. Last night, a hesitant peace was maintained between squads of riot police and the protesters, many of whom peacefully harassed the police by shining green laser pointers into their visors. Needless to say, the light show was spectacular.

In the early hours of the morning, Papandreou narrowly won a confidence vote in parliament, 155-143, after shuffling his cabinet. The cabinet shuffle, in the streets of Athens, is generally perceived to be nothing more than a time-waster, a simple case of same shit, different day. Greece is in dire straights economically, and is now essentially a welfare-state of the EU, surviving day-to-day off a second $110 billion IMF bailout.

The second bailout is lauded as vitally necessary to keep Greece from slipping into genuine anarchy, as many note that without it, money to pay public sector salaries will run out by July 15. The IMF bailout, of course, does not come without a price, and the austerity measures demanded by interim IMF president John Lipsky and his Wall Street taskmasters will further gut Greek social programs, and undoubtedly privatize more services.

The first bailout in May of 2010 was also lauded as vitally necessary to keep Greece from slipping into anarchy, and all it amounted to was a gutting of Greek social services and privatization. So Greece is back where it started: asking the IMF for more cash, politically willing to sell off whatever needs be sold, and letting the people foot the bill. For the IMF and the eurozone, the Greek economy is "too big to fail." But in Athens the popular situation is reaching a boiling point, and the question in Syndagma Square is, when will enough be enough? Most agree that the decisive moment will occur on June 28, when the government votes to pass the latest round of austerity measures.

The translation team at www.real-democracy.gr, who handle all media-related inquiries in Syndagma Square, do not necessarily know of a plan in place for what to do after the populace overthrows Papandreou. For the moment, talk, at least in English, is limited to the understanding that Papandreou must go, and the sooner the better. This is troubling, because it does not directly lead to a worker-controlled situation, but possibly to a dissolve into anarchy, to which a military response might be globally perceived, from an establishment perspective at least, as appropriate.

Such is the political climate in which the organizers of the Freedom Flotilla II find themselves. Answers from parliament, to whom they are for the moment tied, are understandably scrambled. The newly-minted Greek Foreign Minister, Stauros Lambrinidis, must now travel to Israel and meet his counterparts. The Freedom Flotilla is a hot topic on the Mediterranean, and surely the Israelis will at this point whisper harshly in his ear.

It remains to be seen whether the inevitable threats of Israel's displeasure, and disruption to the Greek economy, will be taken with a grain of salt. Greece may balk on safe-harbouring the flotilla, or it may well be that the situation in Greece is so genuinely fucked that Lambrinidis and Papandreou won't risk adding more heat to the Athens simmer by coming off pro-Israel, which is decidedly counter to the general feeling on the street. For the moment, the Freedom Flotilla II needs the Greeks on-side, so we wait and see, wait and see. With the added necessity of getting ten international boats in agreement on all this, you may want to start an office poll on a start date.

Miles Howe will be reporting regularly to the Halifax Media Co-op from the Canadian Boat to Gaza. Visit Dispatches from the Tahrir for updates.


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