The last few years have been a tumultuous time in Greek politics, especially after the debt “crisis” of 2010 and the subsequent EU/IMF bailout. Protests and riots on the streets of Athens have been a common sight on the news.
In the midst of this, some surprising folk heroes have emerged – Kanellos and Loukanikos, two stray dogs with a habit of fighting on the side of protesters. Kanellos (Greek for “cinnamon”) is the original riot dog, famed for accompanying protesters at protests. After a dozen years of living with students at the Polytechneio, the National Technical University of Athens and the site of the 1973 student uprising–sadly, Kanellos died in 2008. But another stray dog Loukanikos soon appeared on the streets of Athens (mistakenly identified by The Guardian as Kanellos). Loukanikos has his own dedicated online following, with a twitter and tumblr documenting his every move. Amazingly, he appears unfazed by even the most violent of protests, even in the midst of thrown rocks, water canons, and tear gas. Loukanikos shows solidarity, just as Kanellos did.
And there has been much need of it lately. Since the imposition of the IMF measures last year, there have been 11 general strikes in Greece, regional strikes and other protests. On May 25th, the aganaktismenoi (outraged) protesters took Syntagma square opposite parliament, holding it ever since with crowds at times of up to one hundred thousand people. These people protest the changes proposed by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, a 38 billion dollar austerity program required under Greece’s ($145 billion) bail-out package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
This is the second such bail-out in less than a year, and given the austerity requirements it is hard to see it not failing. The basic tenet of Keynesian economics in a crisis (stimulate the economy!) has now been replaced by the austerity consensus of the financial decision-makers, despite austerity policies being an unmitigated disaster in many regions of the world. With there already a 16% unemployment rate in Greece, cutting further jobs will only see a further retraction of the economy.
But Greece’s people have refused the austerity narrative which demands a nation’s people shoulder the price for the ruling class’s speculations and mismanagement. Sociologist Panagiotis Sotiris reports that “We do not owe – we shall not sell – we shall not pay” is a popular slogan of the protest movements. Against the forces of the EU and global capital, a kind of defensive nationalism is emerging.
Paul Mason, the BBC’s economic editor, reported from the streets of Athens yesterday that:
a new situation is emerging: Greek people I have spoken to are beginning to express things in terms of nation and sovereignty – and this makes the Greek situation different, for now, to Ireland and Portugal.
While the centre right New Democracy would probably win any snap election, it is hard to find support for pro-austerity politics among ND’s natural support base, the business class. Because austerity for them means getting hammered with a tax bill the like of which they have never dreamed, nor indeed paid.
And I will repeat the point about hostility to the media: it’s not a problem for me and my colleagues to be hounded off demos as “representatives of big capital”, “Zionists”, “scum and police informers” etc. But to get this reaction from almost every demographic – from balaclava kids to pensioners – should be a warning sign to the policymaking elite. The “mainstream” – whether it’s the media, politicians or business people – is beginning to seem illegitimate to large numbers of people.
As in Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, England, many of the outraged are educated students without a future, graduating into a world with few opportunities as the infrastructure of the social welfare state their parents and grandparents is sold off wholesale to the same ruling class that causes the crisis. The world of parliamentary politics offers little hope – Papandreou is desperately shuffling around his cabinet in a bid to get the austerity measures. Papandreou’s ruling party Pasok (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) is nominally leftist, and as Mason reports, the only alternative is the centre-right New Democrat party, unlikely to really deliver a profound change to Greece’s crumbling economy. More cosmetic changes will sate the fickle markets and the banking decision-makers, but not produce a sustainable Hellenic Republic.
In Athens, perhaps they are all stray dogs now. What Would Loukanikos Do?