Civil Disobedience in Greece: Don’t Pay New Taxes
There are many forms of non-violent action. In Greece, people have been taking regularly to the streets as well as refusing to pay tolls for bridges and taking over government buildings. Now, many are planning to resist a new property tax that is to be collected through energy bills by simply not paying it. Indeed, sales of generators have gone up as people prepare for the lights to go out.
European leaders announced last week that they will write off 50 percent of Greece’s 360 billion euro debt and give the country another 130 billion euros in rescue funds. But the agreement has only fortified resistance among Greeks. To secure the bailout funds, Greece’s government under Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou has had to pass a highly unpopular slate of austerity measures including cuts to salaries and pensions and firing state workers. The government is also raising taxes and has also initiated a fire sale of $71.45 billion worth of state assets including the ports of Piraeus (outside of Athens) and of Thessaloniki in the north.
Greeks are also objecting strongly to the agreement on the grounds that Papandreou and other leaders have signed over too much of the country’s sovereignty to the so-called troika of foreign lenders, the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. Papandreou’s claims that “Nothing in this deal sacrifices our right to take our own decision” and that the agreement will “pave the way for us to freedom from dependency” have not been convincing, to say the least.
The European Union will be sending monitors to Athens to supervise the economy, a move deeply resented by Greeks who displayed their sense of national pride on Friday, October 28, National Day, when Greeks commemorate their country’s entrance into World War II and resistance against the Nazis. Many anti-austerity protesters carried signs saying not only “OXI,” Greek for “no,” but also emblazoned with “NEIN,” the German word for the same. Other carried signs saying “Merkel = Hitler” that made their point even clearer and also burned German flags.
National Day celebrations were actually called off in Thessaloniki after demonstrators called the 82-year-old Greek president, Karolos Papoulias, a “traitor.” Nikos Alivizatos, a constitutional lawyer in Athens, went so far as to say that
“If we weren’t under the E.U., which is the only reason this loss of sovereignty may be justified, I’d have to say that Greece is an occupied country.”
Greece’s anger at Germany goes back for decades, and is not only from the fact that Germany has the largest economy in the EU and that its chancellor, Angela Merkel, has a key role in the EU’s negotiations about Greece’s debt. Germany will most likely be making the largest contribution to the bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). Other European leaders have sent harsh words towards Greece, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy saying that it was an “error” for Greece to be admitted to the EU due to “false [economic] figures” and that Greece was not “ready.”
Spyros Economides, the director of the Hellenic Observatory at the London School of Economics, counters that Greeks did not complain about a loss of sovereignty before the debt crisis and while the country benefited from the EU’s “largess.” Entry into the EU came with conditions such as a limit on budget deficits to 3 percent of gross domestic product — conditions that have not entirely been observed. After Greece joined the EU, it was revealed that the country’s budget deficit had been under-reported.
Populist sentiment and national pride are running high in Greece. Nikos Fotopoulos, who heads the union staffing the public power corporation, DEH, says that
“We are not going to do the government’s dirty work. Electricity is a social commodity, not a means to collect taxes. We will do everything to ensure that unemployed people, poor people do not have their electricity cut.”
The union recently took over the printing press for DEH: The bills with the new property tax have yet to be sent.
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