July 2, 2020

Closing of State Broadcaster Leaves Greece in Turmoil

Thousands of protesters, including many of the 2,900 workers laid off from the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, known as ERT, rallied outside the broadcaster’s headquarters north of Athens in the early hours of Wednesday as ERT’s symphony orchestra played for them. The crowds dispersed and reassembled later in the morning.

Private television channels suspended their news coverage as of 6 a.m. Wednesday in solidarity with ERT employees, while newspaper headlines conveyed the shock felt by many Greeks at the closing of a 75-year-old institution.

The country’s two main labor unions, Gsee and Adedy, called a 24-hour strike for Thursday to protest the government’s “provocative” decision to close ERT. Staff members at daily newspapers also plan to walk out on Thursday in solidarity with ERT employees.

In defiance of the government’s decision, ERT employees continued to broadcast on Wednesday from the defunct organization’s offices in Athens and from the second-largest city in Greece, Salonika, via digital television and the Internet.

The surprise decision on Tuesday to shut down ERT came a day after representatives of the troika — the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund — returned to Athens for new talks on the progress of the country’s efforts to reform its economy. Greece’s pledge to lay off public workers was high on the agenda.

The move to close the broadcaster came a day after Gazprom, the Russian state-owned energy company, failed to submit a bid to buy Greece’s national gas company, a deal that Athens had hoped was done after a series of meetings between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and the Gazprom chief executive, Aleksei B. Miller.

In another blow, MSCI, which compiles world stock indexes, downgraded Greece to the status of emerging market from developed market on Tuesday, citing the country’s failure to meet criteria for market accessibility, like practices regarding securities borrowing and lending facilities.

The timing of the decision on ERT was widely seen by political analysts as an attempt by Mr. Samaras to show boldness and decisiveness after accusations of foot-dragging on economic changes and the Gazprom snub. But his move further alienated his two coalition partners, the Socialist party Pasok and the Democratic Left, who increasingly complain of being sidelined in decision-making.

On Mr. Samaras’s orders, the mass media ministry on Wednesday quickly released a bill outlining the framework for a new, leaner replacement for ERT. The government spokesman, Simos Kedikoglu, said Wednesday that the new entity would be set up over the summer. It remained unclear how many people it would employ.

Pasok and the Democratic Left immediately responded with a joint proposal for the decision on ERT to be revoked. It was the latest in a string of internal disputes that has tested the stability of the fragile coalition, which was cobbled together last June to prevent a messy default and a Greek exit from the euro currency union.

Some officials suggested that coalition would hang together, at least for now.

“We don’t want to bring down the government,” said Andreas Papadopoulos, an official for the Democratic Left. “But this is a mistake by New Democracy and Mr. Samaras and must be corrected. With such actions they are testing the limits of democracy.”

Pasok called an emergency session of its political council for Wednesday afternoon and was expected to press Mr. Samaras for a meeting of coalition leaders.

On the streets of Athens, the reaction Wednesday was a mix of shock, anger and nostalgia.

“This is worse than the junta,” said Thomas Dedes, a 67-year-old retiree, referring to the military dictatorship that ruled Greece in the late 1960s and early 1970s. “What’s next? Tanks in front of Parliament?” he said.

“You can’t just shut down state television,” said Irini Milaki, a 50-year-old schoolteacher. “What kind of democracy are we? We don’t deserve to be European.”

Others expressed disbelief at the speed of the move on ERT. “It takes longer to shut down a taverna,” said Costas Tasopoulos, a 45-year-old restaurant manager. The government, he said, “might drag their feet on other things, but when it comes to cutting jobs and salaries they move like lightning.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/13/world/europe/closing-of-state-broadcaster-leaves-greece-in-turmoil.html?partner=rss&emc=rss