Disaster averted? Not if you listen to the Greeks
Saturday 18 June 2011
What marks Nikos Brantis out as unusual in the Greek tumult is that he's prepared to accept some responsibility for what's gone wrong in his country.
"Everyone is to blame, I am to blame," he says sitting on a deck chair in the shade of a tree in Athens' Syntagma Square. "There was small-time corruption everywhere and we were all small-time crooks.
"And we're the ones who put the real crooks in there," he says gesturing at the Greek parliament overlooking the square. "I never really had a job and because I could get by with my parents' money I did. Because there was no meritocracy you took what you could."
The unemployed mathematician is one of hundreds of self-declared "indignants" who have turned the historic square into a campsite and transformed Greece's serial protests from a theatre of self-interest into something genuinely interesting. The 29-year-old's honest take on the complicity of ordinary Greeks in piling up the mountainous debt that threatens to ruin the country is unusual, so too are the indignants' determinedly peaceful tactics. Parents and children are more common than the motorcycle-helmeted anarchists who customarily lob petrol bombs at police and last year burned down a bank branch nearby killing several employees including a pregnant woman.
For a country accustomed to regimented annual strike seasons and well-rehearsed violent clashes, the gentler anger in the central square has attracted a different kind of protester.
Georgia Mavriogianni is one of them. The 54-year-old mother of three has been out of work for two years since her small business went bust. "I've never been to a protest in my life but you can see a lot of people are reacting to what's going on. We have reached a dead-end with these politicians and people are waking up and wanting to take part in decision-making."
Every evening at 9pm a popular assembly is formed to vote on everything from appointing teams to clean the square to agreeing common positions on debt relief. The most striking aspect of the Syntagma camp, which was adapted from similar Spanish protests, is the organisation. Among the banners with circus caricatures showing the Prime Minister as a clown, there's a suggestion box where people can post their own protest slogans and a map of popular assemblies happening in neighbourhoods around Athens.
There is no support for fresh elections, with no one seeming to believe that swapping the ruling socialists for the conservatives will change anything. Nor is there passionate support for taking Greece out of the euro, which seems to be viewed as a backward step. Instead there is quiet anger and a determination to participate in cleaning up Greek public life.
Mrs Mavriogianni accepts that workers in Greece's bloated public sector share responsibility for spiralling debt with the politicians they elected to defend their privileges.
The violence that drove the indignants out of the square for several hours on Wednesday is blamed by many here on the police. Nikos Kokkalis, an unemployed media graduate, opens his laptop to display video footage appearing to show plainclothes policemen stashing iron bars and wooden clubs near the square under the noses of uniformed colleagues. He says that police used the pretext of violent protests to flood the square with teargas, and claims that two dozen peaceful demonstrators were hurt when a first aid tent was hit with canisters.
A hardcore of about 400 indignants have remained in the square since 25 May, and say they will stay put until their rather vague Greek answer to Egypt's Tahrir Square has been successful. "We will stay until we have the leadership we need to get us out of this mess and unleash Greece's real creativity," says Brantis, who admits that this means the campers are unlikely to be packing up and going home anytime soon.
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