Hello Michigan! Greetings and an introduction to the ‘soft underbelly of Europe’

February 14, 2010

As most of you know I will be in Greece till mid March. I arrived in

good shape and spirits on Friday after a relatively painless set of

flights from Chicago and Istanbul.  I am staying with my uncle here

for the time being. The apartment is on the top floor located right

next to the main train station and along the outskirts of the

Exarcheia neighborhood (more on this later). The view is amazing as

the acropolis is right outside the bedroom window, its a convenient

area for transit and social events, political and otherwise. I am

taking Greek language courses here, so far so good. Class size is

small (6 students), the teacher is friendly and straightforward. In my

off time from these courses I will be conducting  some lab work within

the Agricultural University of Athens, no where else can you find

goats and cows a mere mile from the city center. In short, life here

is busy but fun.

My arrival here also comes at a very interesting social time for

Greece, as evident in several areas. As some of you know, the country

is financially hobbled under a mountain of debt. Publicly, many blame

the previous government of the social conservatives, New Democracy,

headed by the much loathed prime minister Kostas Karamanlis for

downplaying debt/GDP ratios to the European Union.  Regardless of the

authenticity of the competing claims, Greece’s debt exceeds (by 4X…)

the maximum which is allowed to members  of the Euro-zone. In response

to “the crisis” the current government, the socialist of PASOK, have

repeatedly tried to introduce austerity packages which cut into the

public sector in the form of  10% pay reductions and limitations on

benefits. However, to many, me included, this crisis is just another

means to hack away at the foundations of the working class. Off

course, once these pay cuts take place, they will not be reversed. The

broader response of Greek society to all this seems to be a an untidy

mix of resignation, outrage at the capitalist and ruling and apathy.

At the moment it seems to early to tell which trend will define the


Another social stress in the country is present within agriculture,

where for the last 10 days thousands of farmers, in an assortment of

different unions, have been stepping up blockades across the country.

These blockades, done in demand of higher state subsidies and better

pay, started first as symbolic acts (where farmers drive their

tractors to the city center) have now become increasingly militant as

border crossings, highways and rail lines are paralyzed. Some unions

connected to PASOK have stepped back (out of party loyalty) but

recently an independent association of striking farmers, autonomous

from their respective unions, has formed with an increased commitment

to disruption until their demands are met.  Public reaction is hard to

gauge, while most understand the plight and fight of the farmers

(their pay is a pittance), the attitude seems primarily one of

resignation, or, at the very best, muted solidarity. On a personal

perspective I discussed it  with my family, (small scale Grape

farmers) and one of the opinions expressed was the need for solidarity

amongst the people and how such blockades inhibit this solidarity. I

disagree with this point as much the situation is distorted by the

mass media which has resorted to the classic us (the public) versus

them (the strikers) mentality, when in fact the strikers are the


The final obvious tension in the country regards the rebellion in

2008, when a 15 year old boy was killed in the rebel/immigrant/artist/

student neighborhood, Exarcheia. The country exploded (a couple burnt-

out hulks of 5 story buildings still stand testament) and has been

simmering since. For the last nine months there has been an increasing

campaign of bombings across Athens which target various Government

offices and large corporations- an example, the friday before I

arrived a bomb left in front of Parliament (mile away) gave a good

jolt to the building i am in now. More broadly, (and less

clandestinely) there are other struggles regarding immigrant, prisoner

rights, the environment and police brutality which are  broadly lumped

together in ‘a movement of social antagonism’. This movement

continues  along similar themes left over from the struggle that came

out of December 2008.

Ok…so this introduction was longer than i meant it to be, however

there is lots happening here . in the next week or so I hope to

connect with a couple local organizers working out of a project

similar to NS, thanks Lacey for helping with this.  There is also talk

to a General strike occurring here early February, so im sure there

will be more to report on. In the meantime if folks have questions,

comments/ reports from Michigan please send them over, i would

appreciate the contact.


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