“Bombs are not so unusual in Greece,” says Chris, the only Athenian I have met so far who drinks Greek coffees. It’s probably because he’s half-Irish.
We’re in a cafe on Themosticles street, anarchist alley, the fastest route between Omonia Square and the ‘autonomous’ zone of Exarchia. It acts as the first route of escape for the ‘black block’ the masked, black-clad radicals that Athenians call ‘the hooded ones’. Whoever gets to Exarchia Square is home safe – the police don’t come there. Ironically enough, the street is full of shoe stores. ‘Bombs are not so unusual in Greece’ Chris repeats. ‘Even so….’
It’s a few days after the February 24 general strike, when hundreds of thousands of Greek workers took to the streets in 80 cities, for peaceful, disciplined demonstrations of refusal to the austerity package that George Papandreou is planning to appease the EU and the financial markets with.
There was a handful of argy-bargy by the anarchist ‘black block’ and some tear gas, and that’s what made the world news. Later, a separate radical march doubled back up Stadiou redecorating some selected department store windows. The finance ministry was raided, and the kiosks began packing themselves up in fast motion.
In the end, the city didn’t explode. A couple of bombs already had. One was in the JP Morgan Chase foyer in Kolonakai. I went up there about half an hour after. There was a cinema four doors down. I asked the ticket seller if they’d stopped the film. She looked at me as if I was mad. Two days after three more had been planted and phoned in.
According to Chris, the frequency was getting a little high for comfort. “The koukouloforoi are a pain in the arse,” says Chris, whose sympathies are with the KKE, “insofar as I support anyone in this mess. Sure, the KKE is crazy – but they’re consistent.”
Chris is an archaeologist whose PHD got bogged down. Then he got married, now he works as a tour guide. He’s used to what the historians call ‘long durees’, aeons where nothing seems to change, and then everything does. So is the KKE, who are hunkering down for a long steady campaign against the Papandreou plan.
“Our task is to get people to connect their current demands with the more comprehensive goal, the social ownership of production,” says Yanis Ghiokas, KKE MP, at PAME’s rally in Omonia Square on the morning of the strike. It wouldn’t work on a t-shirt – actually it might, given some of the KKE slogans, it counts as zippy – but the KKE’s belief that public support for Papandreou’s plan is soft may be well founded.
Having promised the electorate in 2009 that he would solve the crisis without cutting into conditions, Papandreou has made himself over as the salesman for the EU to the Greek population. “He prefers to be overseas,” said one seasoned politics watcher, an economist so conflicted by the intractability of Greek institutions that he has joined and quit Synaspismos three times over the past twenty years.
That strategy was always a risky one, and if Papandreou thought the EU’s demands would stop there, he was wrong. They may well know that Papandreou has a problem with the electorate – they just don’t care. Deaf and blind to age of Germans barking orders, Merkel, Junckers (he’s actually Luxemburgian) and now EU financial commissioned Olli Rehn, have goaded the country on its commitment to financial reform.
There is no question that a deal will be made – probably a loan guarantee by France and Germany. But Merkel has domestic problems of her own, most particularly, with her free-market coalition partners, who will use the German public’s reluctance to foot the bill, to take more political territory. EU politics as it turns out, is merely various national politics played out at a different level.
So it was inevitable that PASOK’s iron discipline would break under the onslaught, with deputy PM demanding that the Germans give back the gold they stole from the National Bank in world war II, an intemperate, irrational and anachronistic demand that Chris said, “made me feel better than I have for weeks, even though I hate that old hack.”
Chris pours the last of his coffee, and looks at the plume of grounds. Somewhere sirens start howling.
“Papandreou seems to have three major problems,” I say, “at the level of the party, the level of the nation, and the level of Europe.”
“Only three? I think he has about 897.”
“You’re an archaelogist. You look for complexity.”
“Yeah and I’m oversimplifying.”
Guy Rundle is an Australian author, script-writer and political satirist, best known for his work on Comedy Inc. and Keating! The Musical.