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The Beastliness of Greek Crowds



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If I understand this item from today’s Guardian properly, Greek public workers, angry about cutbacks and layoffs, have decided to stop working. Own goal, you might say. But there’s more, of course. The unworking public workers also want to grace workers in the private sector — and in Greece, that means tourism — with the blessings of worklessness.

In a step not seen since the return of democracy in 1974, unions announced a 48-hour strike to coincide with what is expected to be a raucous debate in parliament over the cuts. The walk-out, which begins on Tuesday, is expected to paralyse the country at the height of the tourist season.

On Monday, as the 300-seat parliament prepared for the vote, communist militants stormed the Acropolis, unfurling protest banners from the ramparts. As holidaymakers ascended the hill to the fifth-century BC site, they were greeted by the slogan: “The peoples have the power and never surrender. Organise. Counterattack.”

The extent of hostility to the four-year austerity plan, which includes tax increases on everything from property to soft drinks, and loss-making public utilities being privatised at a rate of one every 15 days, appears to have unnerved the socialist government. Prime minister George Papandreou’s majority has been whittled down after a series of defections.

“Loss-making private public utilities” run by loss-making public employees are fortunate to find private investors every two weeks, if you ask me. But it seems particularly mad to make tourism — one of Greece’s few profit-making enterprises — impossible. The whole country’s in ruins, and that’s good. Now, if only they could sell postcards of an economy that resembles the Parthenon, roofless, crumbling.

Yesterday, at the Estoril Political Forum in deficit-rich Portugal, my Fortnightly Review colleague, British philosopher Anthony O’Hear, explained to the attendees the link between the mobs of Athens and those in the Middle East and elsewhere. (His remarks are here.) Plato, he pointed out, had a name for street-choking mobs: he called them the “great  beast.” Those who succeed in riding its back are often taken to unexpected destinations.



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