It is now my sad undertaking to relate to you the events of this week which have plunged Greece back into crisis mode.
The government announced at 6:00 Tuesday evening that as of midnight it was going to shut down all the the state media: television, radio, and their Internet streaming. That is a little like shutting down NPR and PBS in America, except that here in Greece, it amounts to a major chunk of the media instead of just one among many. A more apt comparison would be the British government shutting down the BBC and all its affiliates. Included here are the National Symphony and the Conservatory of Music and the channel that was the equivalent of C-SPAN, on which you would watch the debates in Parliament. (Now we have no idea what that body may be up to.) Also, for reasons unknown, the student union shut down in the university in Athens, and I think, but cannot yet confirm, here in Thessaloniki's university, too.
The news anchors began putting out pleas for the public to gather at the broadcasting station and prevent the closure. Police were sent in, not regular police who are public servants, but private thugs working for the government officials.
Just before eleven, we went into another room to discuss whether we ought to go downtown or not. By 11:15, when we turned the TV back on, the signal for those stations had gone dead. So, as it was too late to try to prevent the deed, and in view of my still lame foot and the fact it was raining, we stayed home. Hundreds did gather, though, here in Thessaloniki, and thousands in Athens. They are still there and the crowds are growing. So far, they are peaceful.
We have a few junk channels left, home shopping channels and soap opera channels and Nickelodeon and cartoons. The BBC is gone and so is Deutsche Welle, both of which were operating here under contract with the Greek government. (And both of which had programming in English, so there were a few things on television I could enjoy.)
The government claims this is for cost-cutting, and every news report you may read will tell you the same. It's a lie. How can we know? Because had the objective been merely to trim the budget, per the demands of the EU, the way to do it would have been simply to cut the funding, not to send in the special police to evict the staff and lock the building. Had it been merely a cost-cutting measure, the politic thing to do would have been for the government to say, in effect, "We're so sorry. We entirely sympathize with you the public. We hated doing this, but it was unavoidable." Instead, we are hearing invective against the public TV and radio from the Prime Minster and other officials such as has rarely if ever been heard in Greece before, betraying that something more and something bigger is at stake. We do not know what, but here is a quote from the Prime Minister:
"Greece had become a true Jurassic Park, a unique country in the world that saw the survival of dinosaurs with antiquated ideological obsessions that have become extinct everywhere else," Samaras said.
So the issue is an ideological one. You can bet the so-called ideology of the ruling elite has strictly to do with the enhancement and protection of their own wealth. And such quaint ideas as freedom of the press are the dinosaurs to which he refers - freedom, period, actually, or national sovereignty. That crude, outdated, blood-soaked thing called "nationhood" must be wiped out. (It's not just here in Greece. I know from watching the BBC and Deutsche Welle that the Germans are being told anything distinctly German is bad, and the English are being told anything distinctly English is bad.)
"The sinful ERT," said Mr. Samaras in a hateful tone, "is finished." ERT is (H)ellenic Radio Television. A strange thing to say of an arm of your own government, because who is to blame if ERT is "sinful"? Yes, it was a state-run outfit, and yes, there were too many people doing too little; that's how government organizations run; you reward your family and friends with cushy jobs. Yes, these channels had a definite pro-government slant, so not everybody is sad to see them close. The Golden Dawn party shrugs its collective shoulders and says to the ERT, you never gave us any coverage or access anyway (Golden Dawn got the same treatment as presidential candidate Ron Paul in America.) so what is there for us to say now? But not merely to stop funding, but to shut off the signal and seize the premises, suddenly, in the middle of the night, with private police and contemptuous rhetoric? It smacks too, too much of a coup, which some people in fact are calling it. These were not all my favorite channels, but they did still (apparently) believe in freedom, including freedom of the press, and that is the point.
The crowds are still protesting. The nationwide general strike (general meaning all the unions) is in its second day.
The European Broadcasting Union, in defiance of the Greek government, has sent a van here to Thessaloniki and set up a pirate signal, using the car parking lot at the broadcast building. So subscribers can still get the outlawed channels. And everyone, apparently, can get the Internet version, unless or until Google decides to censor it as it censors news in China and in the US and UK drastically curtails items about the unrest going on right now in Turkey.
The European Union itself has said very little, except by way of vague support for the government, in spite of the fact that this deed is against EU Law.
The Geek Government says it will re-instate the ERT as a leaner organization by the end of the summer. I personally doubt they will, but if and when they do, then we shall know what was really afoot. We shall see who owns and who controls the Greek media and what "ideology" these media will espouse. I suspect that, beside the obvious attempt to gain more control over the people, all this is also another part of the looting of this country that has been going on for some years now.
Welcome to the Brave New World. Welcome to the New World Order. Welcome to the EU.