Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Support PBS Shop PBS Search PBS

ANALYSIS    AIR DATE: May 5, 2010

In Greece, People 'Quite Incredulous' After Protests Turn Deadly

SUMMARY

Protests in Athens turned violent over Greece's plans to adopt austerity measures to help keep the country from defaulting on its debt. Margaret Warner talks to reporter John Psaropoulos in Greece about the reactions on the ground to the riots and the financial rescue plans.

LISTEN: MP3

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret Warner talked a short time ago with John Psaropoulos. He is in Athens and blogs for TheNewAthenian.com. He also is NPR's freelancer in Greece.

MARGARET WARNER: John Psaropoulos, welcome.

Greece does have a long history or tradition, as we know, of street demonstrations, but I don't think it -- it happens very often that someone is killed. What's been the reaction to that? Are people shocked?

JOHN PSAROPOULOS, The New Athenian: Yes, I think people have been quite incredulous.

The fact that you had immediate statements from all the political parties on the day of the event is -- is quite rare and reflects the public outrage. We will -- we will know more tomorrow. But I think what we saw from the Communist Party was a very defensive statement, saying, this was an act of provocation to frame us.

It is an extremely defensive and unkind statement. And I -- and I think it reflects the unease that is being felt at the grassroots level. All three of the victims were young people, in their 30s. And they were simply either bank employees or people doing business in the bank.

They -- they were clearly not the target of any of the popular rage against the austerity measures.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, there are...

JOHN PSAROPOULOS: And judging from the reactions of people on the street -- the reactions of people on the street at the time of the demonstration -- I was there outside the burning building -- they were shocked.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, there are wire reports that the firemen are claiming they could have gotten to these three people if it weren't for the demonstrators.

You were there. Can you add anything on that?

JOHN PSAROPOULOS: Well, the fire trucks had trouble coming through because the demonstration was coming through.

The demonstration might have been stopped if authorities had been a little more coordinated. But the Communist Party functionaries who are used to shepherd people along were very insistent on moving people past the building. And they were saying, this is -- you know, there is nothing to see here. Everyone is OK. The fire is out.

There was black smoke billowing out of the second-story windows. The fire was clearly not out. The fire brigade was having trouble getting through the bank door there. Their sort of battering ram didn't work on bank doors. They didn't have a crane-hoisted bucket to rescue two women who were trapped on a second-story balcony.

And they -- they clearly were having trouble accessing the building. So, the argument may be true, if the insistence of the Communist Party in shepherding through the demonstration obstructed the bigger vehicles from coming through sooner. They did eventually get through.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the bulk of the protesters, not the black-hooded youths we saw doing a lot of the violence, but the middle-class civil servants and pensioners that were out there, whom do they actually blame for the fix Greece is in right now?

JOHN PSAROPOULOS: I think people are very frustrated and angry, and they don't know where to direct their anger. Some of it is directed at the government, clearly, for making the IMF deal. Some people think the IMF deal should be revoked.

Some people think the money should be offered to Greece on much kinder terms than 5 percent from the E.U. and roughly 3 percent from the IMF. Others are angry with politicians going back 30 years for mismanaging the finances. Others blame the financial markets and the golden boys of investment banks for simply ruining the system, which echoes, I think, feelings in the West more.

But, at the moment, there isn't a scapegoat. And, as one person said to me, people are prepared to make sacrifices, as long as they know that the people who really caused the problem will pay proportionately to their crime. In other words, if we're going to pay greater taxes, then we want to see some people in court as well.

MARGARET WARNER: So, is there a chance that, not just these protests, but the anger that is behind them could either derail this deal or make it almost impossible for the government to live up to the terms of the deal?

JOHN PSAROPOULOS: The government has said that it is not going to be deterred by protests when it announced this deal on Sunday.

And, tonight, when the prime minister made a very poised and solemn speech, a sense of outrage at the deaths of these young people, he gave no hint that there is going to be any change of course. And, in truth, there aren't any other alternatives for Greece.

Greece is borrowing at 5 percent from the European Union and less than that from the IMF. If Greece were to be borrowing from the open markets today it would be paying in excess of 10 percent, and it would very, very quickly skyrocket from there. Last week, the Greek 10-year bond reached 14 percent. That is simply unaffordable for Greece.

Now, the unions say that this is usury. They say 5 percent is too high. Why should we be made to borrow money? Can't somebody just give us the money?

But they're not suggesting any alternatives. They're not suggesting where this other money might come from. Neither are the opposition parties. The conservative opposition, which is the main party, which is the main alternative, said, we will not vote for the government's IMF bill in tomorrow's parliamentary vote, but the government has the seats in parliament to pass it on its own, and, therefore, our vote doesn't matter. Neither will we obstruct it.

In other words, people are stepping out of the way. But the left-wing parties don't have that sense of responsibility. They -- they don't have any chance of ever coming to power, so they can simply say what they like. And that's what been going on for years. And that's what happened today.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, clearly, more chapters to come.

John Psaropoulos, thank you very much.

JOHN PSAROPOULOS: Thank you for having me.