Farmers' offensive brings Greece to standstill

After refusal of their demands by the government, the climax of the farmers mobilisation across the country has brought Greece to a standstill. The farmers seem not to fear the legal measures that the judicial authorities are threatening against their action.

Mid-winter farming crises are a common phenomenon in Greece. It is the time for the usually tough-going collective bargain between farmers and the Ministry of Agriculture. In a country that the greatest percentage of farmland is in the lands of small-holders divided by both local special needs and political conviction, this is a typically long and contradictory procedure. Yet this years mobilisation has been marked by a persistence and momentum that has been lacking for more than a decade. Despite the popular facade of the Socialist government fresh in office, the country has come to a standstill with all major highways blocked and farmers from Crete preparing an invasion of Athens itself. A similar attempt last year had led to extended clashes between riot police and tractor-driving Cretans in the port of Peiraeus, resulting to mass civil-service walk-outs and even shop closures in Heraklion. The acute state of the greek economy, the enduring overall social tension and the populist pre-election promises of the government have now created an explosive situation. More analytically:

Farmers mobilisation across the country is reaching a climax after the government announced that the following demands of the farmers cannot be satisfied: The demand for a guaranteed income; the demand for compensation for income losses; the demand for a return of the VAT and the special petrol tax; the demand to abolish the distinction between first and second line farmers. The refusal of the demands has caused an extended internal crisis inside the Socialist cabinet and the party at large.

As a result of the government refusal, the mobilisation of farmers has been extended to the Peloponese and Epirus with crippling blockades of highways and civil services. Farmers are threatening with a closure of the Corinth Isthmus which connects the Peloponese with the rest of the country.

In Thessaly a coordination of right-wing farmers has blockaded all traffic between the plain's major cities while autonomous farmers have been reenforced by socialist union farmers in blockades in the north of the province, the only open route to Salonica due to the landslide that will keep the national highway closed until Easter.

Meanwhile farmers from Roumeli are planning a motorised tractor march to the PM's mansion in north Athens demanding that he keeps his promise of a 1bn Euro fund. The situation is further complicated as Cretan farmers are expected to be arriving at the port of Peiraeus with their tractors tonight, with the intention to march to the Parliament. Cretan farmers have already blockaded all major civil services and tax offices on the island.

On the main front of the struggle, the greek province of Macedonia, farmers who continue to block the Egnatia highway at different spots of its route as well as most major smaller motor-ways, have refused government calls to a dialogue, judging it as a fraud. The north Greece mobilisations have come under the scrutiny of the judicial authorities after farmers moved to block one of the main entrances to Salonica. Nevertheless the government seems reluctant to go for a full persecution of the mobilisations which would be certain to cause a revolt in the countryside. At the same time, Bulgaria has declared that it is taking Greece to court because of the continuing farmers blockades of all major border crosses which have brought Bulgarian trade to a standstill as it interrupts its only access to the Mediterranean.

It is practically impossible to list here all farmers blockades in place at the time of writing, as well as record the different aspects of each local struggle besides their umbrella demands. It is indicative of the disruption caused that courier services from Athens to the north have been completely stopped, while the usually hour and a half drive from Athens to Lamia currently takes more than 6 hours via small mountain roads.

Last, it must be noted that the trial of Alexandros Grigoropoulos assassins has been postponed for Friday, nevertheless schools remained closed in the town of Amfissa where pupils after waiting for the arrival of busloads of anarchists from other cities formed a march despite the draconian police presence and continuing efforts of intimidation in their small town.

Comments

MH
Jan 20 2010 13:36

Thanks for yet another great report TP, interesting stuff.
Regards the trial of A Grigoropoulos police assassins moved to Friday, has this been delayed as a result of the farmer blockades, or are there other more sinister reasons?
I understand an attempt by Grigoropoulos's mother to have the trial moved back to Athens was thrown out of a high court recently. What I am not clear on is how many police are up in court - is it 2 cops charged purely with the boys murder? Or are there other charges and other cops charged too?

Also how did the march in Amfissa go off today? Did the anarchists & others actually get there through the blockades to join the pupils?

Lastly i saw on an insurrectionist website yesterday the suggestion that the anarchists Bonano and Stratigopoulos have been moved from Amfissa prison to Korydallos prison. Is this correct and would you agree this was done out of fear by the state?
Apologies if there's a lot of questions, but news in english from Greece is hard to come by!

from_gr
Jan 20 2010 14:37

Despite the blockades of the farmers and the attempt of the police to stop the buses outside the city, many comrades got there and joined the demonstration that took place in the small city of Amfissa. Two demonstrations actually took place, one in the center of the city and another one that went to the prisons.

The reason of the postponing of the trial is not the blockades. The lawyer of the murderer could not be in Amfissa, as he had another case in another city. Also the mother of Alexis Grigoropoulos did not travel to Amfissa today. She stated that she had to stay in Athens, because her mother is in the hospital. She continues her effort to move the trial back to Athens.

Two cops are charged for the murder. Epaminondas Korkoneas is accused for murder, and Vasilis Saraliotis as accesory to murder. I cannot translate the exact charges in english, perhaps TP will.

It's true that Bonnano and Stratigopoulos were transferred to Korydallos prison in Athens. Another anarchist, Ilias Nikolaou, that was there, was also transferred to Diavata prisons in Thessaloniki. Your assumption seems correct about the reason of these moves. Moreover, i think that now in Amfissa prison are held the two police assassins.

MH
Jan 20 2010 16:27

Thanks for that.
Surprisingly, the BBC website carries a short report today about the adjournment. It's buried away under 'Europe' news at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8469682.stm and appears to set out to justify the cops actions. It gives no other news on the general situation in Greece.

taxikipali
Jan 20 2010 19:15

Update: Limited clashes broke out between protesters in Amfissa and riot police forces when the latter attacked the march on its way back from the prison of the town where the two accused cops are held. The trial will start on Friday but without the presence of the assassinated boy's mother. 450 cops remain in town, while the total number of protesters is estimated by bourgeois media to be around 400. The main accused, Epaminondas Korkoneas, has been charged with voluntary homicide, while the second accused Vassilis Salariotis of complicity to homicide. The translation is terminological and not pragmatic, given the different legal systems.

MH surprisingly even the Guardian whose Athens reporter, Helena Smith, seems oblivious of anything besides obscure stories on ancient sites, carried a picture of today's clashes in its 24h in pictures section: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/gallery/2010/jan/20/24-hours-in-pictures?picture=358310905

There will be more main news of the trial once it actually begins.

taxikipali
Jan 21 2010 11:09

Update2: Despite a public call by the PM to stop their mobilisiation, only the farmers of Laconia have abandoned their positions, and blockades continue throughout the country, bringing once again inter-city traffic to a standstill. The farmers have refused to hold a meeting either with the Minstry of Agriculture or with the government committee that has been set up to deal with their demands, and demand a one-to-one meeting with the PM.