This is the second time in my lifetime I woke up with the absence of public radio and television. Once when the Junta of the colonels fifty-five years ago brought out the tanks and took over the public broadcast stations and now when this tripartite government of "national salvation," the local Troika as the Greeks call it, is pulling the plug.
Late at night as I was traveling back from Athens to my hometown in northern Greece from Alter Summit suddenly an eerie silence ensued. Away from the population centers, in the countryside, no radio waves are powerful enough to reach a traveling automobile except those of ERT (Greek Radio Television). And now there is no more signal. No need for tanks either, nor for dictators.
Last week the Troika (IMF, ECB and EC) complained, once again, that the Greek government is not moving fast enough in booting out "worthless" government employees off the public dole, and banging on the conference table the heels of their boots demanded "by June's end" the firing of 2,000. The Prime Minister Mr. Samaras obliged. 2,700 were fired overnight from "a sinful" agency, as he characterized public broadcasting. It is only mid June, mind you. Another 2,700 families have joined the ranks of the 400,000 or so families with no working adult in their households.
EC's Olli Rehn applauded the move the next day. A master stroke. For it is nearly impossible to fire a public employee in Greece. It is in fact illegal. But where there is no agency, no government department, there are no employees, right? Simple and expedient. Everything is made not only legal but also "moral" since the "sinful" agency has purged the equally sinful employees.
At 3 a.m. I drove into Thessaloniki and straight to the ERT building where stunned former employees, from janitors to producers to broadcasters, were busy trying to find alternatives to broadcasting Public Radio. Taking over a building is not enough when the police are holding the radio towers and shutting down power. Some other stations gave them a limited access and they continued broadcasting over the internet but that reminded everyone of London Radio and its clandestine listening during the German Nazi occupation of WWII. It is tantamount to that since the internet is a limited resource for the Greeks and especially for the disenfranchised. You don't buy an internet connection; the world's most expensive by the way, when there is no food on the table.
Chief Samaras, it appears, is willing to risk new elections in Greece over the closing of Public Radio, a thorn on his side anyway, since it dares to be slightly critical of austerity. In fact the governing right wing party is floating the idea of a new coalition with the extreme neo-Nazi party of Golden Dawn, which also applauded the closing. It appears that the time is drawing near for Samaras to jettison its junior partners, the centrist but discredited PASOK and the left of center party of DEMAR.
The German elections are approaching as well and the move of muzzling the public's voice does not play well in Germany or Brussels. Will they swallow such an undemocratic move for the shake of fiscal discipline and austerity?
My bet is that the northern European governments and media conglomerates have managed to pump their voters to reject the siphoning of their own tax Euros for a pan-European bailout. It is clear from all public opinion polls that the prevailing wind is for the punishment of the "sinful" southerners and to hell with them. Swim or drawn but no life jacket is expected any time soon from Europe. Never mind that austerity has pumped 20 billion Euros in profits to German Banks, which are considered "safe heavens" just in the last 6 months.
Black days are a coming. Like Sisyphus our folk are pushing a rock upslope only to arrive at the summit and see it tumbling down the other side waiting to be pushed upward again in a never ending cycle of misery.