Austerity Battle Heating Up In Greece

Terrance Heath
Austerity Battle Heating Up In Greece

Last week, when thousands of Greeks took to the streets to protest the Greek government’s austerity driven shut-down the state-run television broadcaster, ERT, I asked whether the latest European backlash against austerity would begin to turn the tide against austerity. It’s too soon to tell, but the Greece is still roiled with controversy over the decision. And the backlash in Greece has proven strong enough to give the country’s governing coalition second thoughts.

Protests in Athens and all across Greece have not abated since the ERT shutdown last week. If anything, they’ve intensified, into a genuine political crisis, raising talk of early elections as the ruling coalition struggles to avoid collapse.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras may dismiss calls for early elections, but with 64 percent of Greeks opposed to the government’s latest austerity measure he can’t ignore the situation. Painted into a corner by polls, threatened by challenges from allies, and facing a court ruling that could put ERT back on the air, Samaras offered a partial reopening of ERT, only to see it rebuffed.

Today, Greece’s governing coalition is in serious talks about how to hold the country and the coalition together.

The leaders of Greece’s increasingly fragile coalition are to meet on Monday in an effort to mend a deepening rift over the closing of the country’s state broadcaster that could force early elections if no compromise is found.

The surprise decision last week by the conservative prime minister, Antonis Samaras, to close the Hellenic Broadcasting Corp, known as ERT, was vehemently opposed by his two coalition partners and by labour unions, and was unpopular with many Greeks. Speculation has been rife that the dispute could fracture the coalition.

The dispute intensified over the weekend when Samaras gave a speech defending his decision to close ERT – which he called “sinful” because of its spending – and to crack down on “the privileged” as part of a cost-cutting drive demanded by Greece’s international creditors.

It was a year ago that Greeks went to the polls amid political upheaval and the spectre of a messy debt default that shook the countries that use the euro. The elections were inconclusive, leading to the cobbling together of the governing coalition. Samaras is supposed to serve a four-year term, but few expect it to last that long.

It’s hard to predict the outcome, but the Greek government is caught between a flawed and failed austerity plan, and a public that’s had enough of it. it’s a “make or break” moment for Greece, and then some.

Speculations about an imminent general election is already circulating in the Greek press, but Venizelos and Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis’ need to cling to power is likely to make them go along with Samaras’ decision.

They might try to buy time, since at the moment international attention and support for ERT is overwhelming. The absolutist way in which Samaras chose to act on his decision triggered a media revolt which was long overdue, with blogs, websites and EBU streaming ERT’s service online.

Reporters Without Borders’ executive director Christophe Deloire deplored the closure, explaining that such media shutdowns are “usual in dictatorships and rare in democratic countries.”

The question of whether Greece, formerly known as the cradle of democracy, still lives up to the title is a persistent one. What is certain is that the current form of democracy is deeply flawed and, unsurprisingly enough, the media and the way they have operated for decades are part of the problem.

But switching off the state broadcaster will only exacerbate the problems, derailing democracy.

Whatever happens, the heat is on, and Greece’s governing coalition can’t afford the usual austerian indifference to the will of the people.

Comments