The Greeks, perhaps, have had enough. After the shocking closing of the country’s national broadcast service, Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (HBC or ERT) last week, disaffected citizens have found a cause to rally around. With nearly 2/3 of Greeks disapproving of the closure, the ruling coalition government led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras appears to be on thinner ice than ever.
The HBC broadcast building has become a focal point for several consecutive days of peaceful demonstrations directed at the government. During this period, HBC carried on broadcasting through the internet and other radio stations. With thousands of protesters stationed outside of the building day and night, the Greek police were powerless to enter and shut down the station.
HBC, with a 75-year history, has been broadcasting uninterrupted since the end of the Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II. The closing of HBC has proved to be a flashpoint for the left in Greece, spurring accusations of totalitarian authority against the conservative government. Alexis Tsipras, the head of the leftist opposition, stated, “Many times the word 'coup' is used as an exaggeration. In this case, it is not an exaggeration."
Although many, even among those protesting, conceded that HBC did require an overhaul, people were outraged at the swift, unilateral decision imposed by the state. Even if the broadcaster is seen by many as lacking transparency and as a wasteful source of patronage jobs, the government’s attempt to shut it down all at once has backfired spectacularly.
With Prime Minister Samaras’ coalition shaky, the prime minister was forced to hold an emergency meeting on Monday. The other two parties in his coalition are left-leaning, socialist parties (PASOK and DIMAR), who find themselves unable to support the conservative prime minister’s decision to close down a national public service. Both stated that they would not vote in favor of the move. Although the government has not yet dissolved, the results of Monday’s meeting did nothing to strengthen the current government’s position.
The current government is composed of an uneasy centrist coalition held together by the right-leaning conservative party, New Democracy. The government, led by Mr. Samaras, has spent its year in power enacting a series of austerity measures and budget cuts, hoping to appease its international creditors. Critics of the government’s policies say that the blood-letting has gone too far, causing excessive pain and unemployment for an already beleaguered populace. With unemployment for those under 25 at over 60% and general unemployment at an untenable 27%, it appears the policies are not working. The so-called “troika” of the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the EU imposed these measures in an attempt for Greece to reduce its debt load. So far, the effect has merely been to shrink the country’s economy and further decrease its prospects for future repayment. While the troika has done everything it can to support Greece’s austerity measures, it is the Greek people who vote in elections after all.
With Greece’s government tottering, the EU — and Germany in particular — are taking direct interest in the proceedings. With German parliamentary elections coming up in September, sitting German Chancellor Angela Merkel has a strong interest in maintaining the status quo in Greece. She is putting continuous pressure on Mr. Samaras and his uneasy coalition partners to keep the government together for the time being.
On Tuesday morning, the closing of HBC was blocked by the Greek supreme court. The court, known in Greece as the Council of State, ruled that the station must remain open temporarily.
Another coalition meeting on Wednesday could well determine the fate of the government and whether the elections will be held in the middle of the summer, at the peak of Greece’s tourist season. The results of such an election are very uncertain and there is a risk they would destabilize Greece and by extension, the entire euro zone. While Mr. Samaras has vowed that the calls for an early election are nothing but talk, the situation is totally unpredictable and major surprises loom around every corner.