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Greek Citizens Head Into Streets By Hundreds of Thousands to Protest Austerity

Observers expect a vote of confidence today for Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, a first step on the road to winning bailout money from European finance ministers. In order to get the full amount, Greece must impose another round of austerity measures and privatize multiple government assets. As a carrot for the vote of confidence, Greece will receive 12 billion euros, to allow for debt service through the summer.

UPDATE: I got this wrong. Greece needs to pass all the austerity measures to get the 12 billion. And they did pass the vote of confidence.

But the austerity plan, along with a controversial restructuring of debt, are much bigger lifts. First of all, Fitch, the credit rating agency, said Tuesday it would view the debt restructuring as a default event, even if it’s voluntary on the part of Greece’s creditors, and would downgrade the debt as a result, which will send bond yields higher and possibly trigger lawsuits from investors in credit default swaps. And it adds further pressure on the Greek Parliament to accomplish the austerity plan, pressure coming from raters and European leaders who will not supply the needed funds without the program in place. As I said yesterday, this is a shock doctrine plan to sell off state assets and impinge on Greek sovereignty.

But there’s another factor in all of this, one that’s not being discussed in most media reports on Greece. The public is out in the streets in huge numbers. The Greek government certainly knows this – they’ve surrounded the Parliament with riot police in case of problems today after the vote of confidence – but most people do not. They ought to read Alex Andreou’s account of the “Battle in Syntagma Square”:

Finally, we have woken up and taken to the streets. My sister tells me that what is happening in Syntagma Square is beautiful; filled with hope; gloriously democratic. A totally bi-partisan crowd of hundreds of thousands of people have occupied the area in front of our Parliament. They share what little food and drink there is. A microphone stands in the middle, on which anyone can speak for two minutes at a time – even propose things which are voted by a show of thumbs. Citizenship.

And what they say is this: We will not suffer any more so that we can make the rich, even richer. We do not authorise any of the politicians, who failed so spectacularly, to borrow any more money in our name. We do not trust you or the people that are lending it. We want a completely new set of accountable people at the helm, untainted by the fiascos of the past. You have run out of ideas.

Wherever in the world you are, their statement applies.

I urge you to read the whole thing, as Andreou casts off a series of lies about the Greek people and their economy (they are not lazy, nor a weak economy filled with early retirees, and the people do not want the bailout or the austerity that comes with it). And he also gives a kind of multi-faceted account of the ills that face regular people and how they are, in an uncoordinated but deeply linked series of events, fighting back. In Spain, in England, in Greece, in Madison, Wisconsin, regular people otherwise at the mercy of elites and markets are banding together to say no to the stripping of national wealth, no to the privatization of national resources, no to the different standards for rentiers and the common folk. They seek accountability, justice and basic fairness, rather than bearing the brunt of the pain for rich people’s mistakes. And the final point is priceless:

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is the Lebanese-American philosopher who formulated the theory of “Black Swan Events” – unpredictable, unforeseen events which have a huge impact and can only be explained afterwards. Last week, on Newsnight, he was asked by Jeremy Paxman whether the people taking to the streets in Athens was a Black Swan Event. He replied: “No. The real Black Swan Event is that people are not rioting against the banks in London and New York.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen