Occupy ERT Pushes Resistance in Greece Further
By Μαρία Ζεπάτου
Less than two weeks ago, Greek government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou announced the closure of the public television broadcaster ERT - the initials in Greek standing for Greek Radio Television. No warning was given to the 2,700 workers who were portrayed as redundant, or to the viewers who were watching the news when their screens suddenly went black.
At the same time, riot police were sent to protect the offices of a private company called “Digea Digital Provider Inc.,” which happened to be ERT’ s only opponent in the competition for the administration of the national television frequencies, held a few days later.
The leading party of the governing coalition, New Democracy, supported the decision to close ERT stating on a TV announcement that it was “an incredible waste.” However, in May, the Ministry of Finance had admitted that it had a 40.97 million Euros surplus and was contributing 50 percent of its earnings (129 million Euros) to the payment of the Greek debt.
Moreover, the closure of ERT was imposed by a Presidential decree—not approved by the Parliament—and the two other parties of the government coalition were taken by surprise and openly declared their objection. PASOK leader, Evangelos Venizelos, made a speech in the parliament stating “We are opposed to ERT going black,” while DIMAR leader, Fotis Kouvelis, noted, “It is unacceptable for the public broadcaster to be closed”. The Council of State, the supreme administrative court of Greece, also objected, ruling to immediately reopen ERT. But the government ignored this as well.
DIMAR, the smallest party, finally withdrew from the government—after several unsuccessful meetings with New Democracy leadership—under the pressure of its own voters who opposed the closing. However, the party’s leader, Fotis Kouvelis, implied that they will continue to support the government’s reforms - and Thatcherite measures. It seems that no party leader is eager to cause early elections by taking a hard stand on the ERT closing, as there would be a strong chance that the left-wing opposition party, SYRIZA, would win.
Meanwhile a much more genuine objection to the prime minister’s modern coup d’ ’état is springing up in the main building of ERT.
Thousands of people gathered to support the redundant workers, who continued to provide bootleg news online even after their station closed. Many long nights after, concerts are still being organized every night—collective cooking, tango nights. The solidarity movement is overwhelming. The demonstrators call for what has been an intense demand of all Greek movements since 2008: real democracy. And here it is. People in the middle of a humanitarian crisis, with an unemployment rate of 27 percent, are not asking for better management or a simple change of the people in charge. They demand a democracy that comes from the people who are currently excluded from decisions that heavily affect their lives.
Just as the protesters in Turkey manifest, “It’s not about the park, it’s about freedom”, ERT occupiers declare, “It’s not just ERT, it’s democracy.”
And indeed, it’s not “just” ERT. Dimitris Varnavas, president of the Federation of Hospital Doctors of Greece, who went on strike in support to of ERT workers, stated that “It is rumored that the ‘Troika’ – the European commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank – will demand the closure of 5 more hospitals and 600 health departments and we have well-founded concerns that the government will consent.”
So it seems that the the intention of the Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, was to test the limits of a society for which the worst is yet to come. His government partners suggest that by closing ERT, he might have even wanted to cause early elections. He definitely risked them. But he does so every time he sings for a new round of austerity measures, and he seems confident that, like the slowly boiling frog, Greek society will not jump out of the pot.
Could he be proved wrong? Combined with the recent wave of demonstrations in Turkey, could this lead to a “Mediterranean Spring”?