|A ghastly new dawn|
Sept 21 2013
A WHIFF of tear gas, the first in the city centre for almost a year, signalled the start of a new round of protests led by Greek teachers, school and university administrators, and members of the capital’s recently disbanded municipal police. All face being laid off in a long-awaited cull of public-sector workers. Riot police resorted to firing the tear gas on September 16th to dissuade a group of school guards from occupying the ministry of public administration.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the minister in charge, has been scrambling to find another 1,500 candidates to complete a quota of 12,500 workers, who will be transferred to a “mobility reserve” at the end of September. University rectors objected to his last-minute proposal to include secretaries, laboratory technicians and computer support staff. Mr Mitsotakis had to cast around half a dozen ministries to try to make up the numbers days before the “troika” of officials from the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF arrive to check up on Greece’s progress.
Another 12,500 jobs must be cut by the end of 2013. Workers dumped in the reserve on 75% of their pay will be given eight months to find a new public-sector job. The striking teachers are backed by Alexis Tsipras, leader of the radical Syriza party, the main opposition, who wants to bring down the government.
The mood is edgy. Middle-class Greeks are struggling to pay three years’ worth of property taxes. Rumours are rife of another cut in pensions to help plug a widening deficit at IKA, the biggest social-security fund. Mr Samaras’s New Democracy party has fallen a point behind Syriza in some recent polls.
Greece is on track to achieve a primary budget surplus this year before debt repayments, but will still need an extra €4.4 billion ($5.9 billion) from its creditors next year and €6.5 billion in 2015. Some indicators suggest that this year’s recession will be shallower than forecast and that the economy will grow by 0.8% next year. Athens officials hope to begin discussing debt relief, perhaps involving another reduction of interest rates, and an extension of loan maturities, once Eurostat, the EU’s statistical arm, confirms the primary surplus in April.
Despite this encouraging news, Mr Samaras worries about a political “blind spot” that extremists can exploit when the economy has begun to improve but ordinary Greeks feel nothing has changed. Opinion poll support for Golden Dawn, the thuggish neo-Nazi party, has jumped from 10% to 15% since June. On September 18th a hip-hop artist was murdered by a man claiming allegiance to Golden Dawn. Violence erupted once again on the streets as demonstrators expressed their outrage. A return of the old strife between left and right now seems all too possible.