A second massive pro-Europe demonstration took place in Athens on Monday night as a reaction to a series of anti-Europe demonstrations staged by the Greek left, who support their government’s resistance to the IMF and the EU’s austerity programme.
Both sides use Athens’ Syntagma Square as the focus of their protests.
As the left-wing Syriza government continues to not get a deal from Europe that would unlock the country from its debts, more and more Greeks are using the phrase “civil war” to describe the way their country has become divided between the people who want to stay in Europe and those who want to default on the nations’ debt.
Those words are not being used figuratively. People are actually worrying about what might happen if the country can’t solve its crisis.
Here is what today’s pro-Europe demonstration looked like:
It sounds like rhetoric, but the scary thing that non-Greeks need to bear in mind is that Greece actually had a civil war from 1946 to 1949. So civil war is still a living memory for many Greeks.
The two sides in that war sound eerily familiar today: The war was between the Greek government army (backed by the UK and the US) and the KKE (the Greek Communist Party) which was backed by the former Soviet bloc nations of Yugoslavia, Albania as well as Bulgaria.
Today, the descendants of that war find themselves in the mirror-opposite position: A leftist coalition, that may or may not be sympathetic to aligning with Russia and its Eastern satellite states, is facing off against a pro-Europe opposition that would really like the country to reform its clunky economic institutions and make peace with the UK and its allies — mainly Germany — in the EU.
(The KKE still has 15 seats in the 300-seat Greek parliament. It is not a part of the Syriza alliance, although it was asked if it wanted to join.)
Here is how Channel 4’s Paul Mason put:
They understand the likely chaos would not just be economic. The second of the pro-euro demonstrations is due to be held tonight. So far has the mood darkened between this essentially right-wing, pro-austerity movement and the mass base of Syriza that it has in the past week become routine for people to start throwing around the words “civil war”, and no longer in the jokey way they used to.
People fear, sooner or later, that the left and right will stop alternating their demonstrations in Syntagma Square and start vying for control of it.
As I’ve explained before, this is because the election of Syriza triggered kind of recovered memory syndrome on both sides of politics, about the cold war and fascist collaboration and dictatorship in the 1970s.
To be clear, the Greeks demonstrate all the time. Barely a day goes by when Greek leftists aren’t protesting in Athens.
The new development — which has triggered the “civil war” meme — is that Greece’s moderate and conservative population has begun to feel scared because they have had to empty their bank accounts to avoid losing their money in a mass run on Greek banks.
As a result they have begun staging counter-demonstrations against the Syriza government and those who want Syriza to move even further left, and perhaps default the country out of the euro. The Irish Times says:
“Those who have something — or a lot — to lose are becoming quite irritated,” he remarked. “They feel that they are under extreme danger and are now ready to get off the comfort of their couches and protest in the streets.”
The conflict could devolve into a physical contest for control of Syntagma Square, which is in front of the Greek parliament. Here is how The Guardian put it:
“Before, the divide was between the pro-memorandum and anti-memorandum camps,” said Lefteris Pappas, a business consultant standing in Syntagma square.
“Now it is between those who believe our future is in Europe and those who want to split from the EU and its a divide that is becoming ever more extreme. There is a lot of abuse in the social media, on Twitter and Facebook, [between the two]. They have even harked back to the second world war and called us German collaborators because we believe in reform, we agree with a lot of what the creditors are telling us to do.”
Yannis Sviroyeras, a retired entrepreneur, said he believed the growing chasm was being deliberately cultivated by the government.
“They are Bolsheviks, they’re Stalinists, they have Trotskyists, they have got mad ideas about us aligning with Russia. What I worry about is violence. Imagine if the two of us [both camps] want to demonstrate in Syntagma Square – and that day may come soon. It would be difficult not to come to blows.”
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