Greek union denounces “coup d’etat”
The besieged people of Greece awoke this morning to blacked-out television screens. They discovered that the conservative Samaras-led coalition government had shut down the ERT, the Greek equivalent of the BBC. No discussion, no warning, no consultation, not even with the two smaller parties in the coalition.
Thousands gathered outside ERT's headquarters after the announcement, and riot police blocked the entrance to a studio in central Athens where protesters had unfolded a banner reading "Down with the junta, ERT won't close!". In Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki, some 500 gathered outside ERT’s northern headquarters. The news editors union called for solidarity from private broadcasters.
The shutdown is a further twist in the spiral of attacks against journalists in Greece. Journalists occupyed the ERT building as their union denounced the shutdown as a "coup d'etat" and called for strikes by all media workers in the country.
The abrupt announcement followed a ministerial decree authorising the government to shut down public enterprises. And it came in the wake of its failure on Monday to find a buyer for the gas utility DEPA part of a general sell-off of state assets. Greece was left unable to meet its bailout targets.
On Monday, inspectors from the so-called troika of lenders, the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, were back in Athens to conduct their latest review of Greece's progress in implementing spending cuts and reforms. They insisted on the immediate sacrifice of 2000 public sector jobs.
ERT’s 2,600 staff are to be paid off immediately, whilst, the government story goes, the three domestic television channels, along with regional, national and external radio stations, costing Greece 300 million euros ($400 million) a year, will be restructured, drastically slimmed-down.
According to government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, the 70–year-old public broadcaster had become a "typical case of ... incredible waste", comparing its costs with the private channels. "At a time when the Greek people are enduring sacrifices, there is no room for delay, hesitation or tolerance for sacred cows," said Kedikoglou.
ERT’s workers occupied the studios, but the state forces took command. Police went onto the mountain and neutralised the people who managed the transmitter, according to Nikos Roukounakis, an engineer at ERT for 30 years.
There are fears that ERT’s orchestra and its valuable cultural archive will be lost forever.
Dimitris Papadimitriou, general director of the radio department and a well-known Greek composer, said that even the 1967-1974 military junta hadn't taken such action.
Papdimitriou is right to make this comparison. No previous crisis in the short history of capitalist society bears comparison with the scale of the unfolding catastrophe, in Greece and around the world.
In the wake of the unprecedented 2007/8 crash, central banks and governments dreamed an estimated $12 trillion dollars worth of new credit into existence. They injected these huge amounts into the global economy which was knocking at death’s door, transferring the cost of mountainous and unrepayable debts across states, individuals and corporations.
Extending its death agony with such extreme measures as ‘quantitative easing’, guaranteed that a new more severe event would not be long in coming.
The Samaras government’s response to the troika’s demands reflects the desperation and determination of those seeking to shore up the global capitalist economy. They will allow nothing to stand in their way.
Using the market imperative to shut down a public broadcaster is indeed a form of dictatorship. For this to happen in the birthplace of ancient democracy, and a small country which through its long history has struggled time and again against tyranny, gives this latest twist of events a greater resonance.
What is happening in Greece is a stark warning, not only for Europe but the rest of the world, about the anti-democratic repercussions of the global economic and financial crises.
12 June 2013