Greek protesters defied the pleading of their prime minister in a televised address to the nation to accept austerity measures to allow a massive loan and “debt swap” plan by the IMF and EU to stave off bankruptcy. The measures approved by parliament involve slashing the minimum wage by up to one-third, deregulating the labour market to make it easier to lay off workers, and cutting pensions.

In a scene worthy of “Battle of the Damned” gas-mask clad protesters left 40 buildings in Athens in flames as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, wounding hundreds. Greece’s 99 per cent have little or nothing to lose in a “structurally readjusted” country, leaving them at the forefront in the growing battle in the West to wrest the torch of democracy from politicians, both left and right, in thrall to their behind-the-scene corporate-banking masters.

Greeks can take some succour from the front-runner for the French presidency, Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, who called EU/IMF dictates to Greece a “purge” on Monday, saying that mandatory austerity measures were too severe and would never produce the desired results because “everyone knows that there is no rebound in growth in Europe and in Greece.” There was “a failure of European governance” and the Greek government would “have a short life”, he predicted, though he stopped short of exhorting the long-suffering Greeks (or French, for that matter) to move towards a people-oriented government.

It is not only the banks and corporations that plague the Greeks. The Greek government has long been unable to collect unpaid taxes. “The wealthiest people — there are plenty in Greece — have gotten on their escape boats, they’ve left. And the poorest people are in the underground economy,” explains Hollande, though again he failed to make the point that this goes for all Western countries, where the one per cent send their billions to tax-free offshore accounts.

IMF-Euro plaints that Greece should sell off more state assets and even its islands to those very rich (Greek or non-Greek, as offshore billions know no nationality) are sparks that can only ignite an even greater conflagration.

The Greek parliament passed the bill, after Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told them that otherwise Greece would be forced to default. Prime Minister Lucas Papademos warned that “we are a breath away from Ground Zero,” that “the social cost of this programme is limited in comparison with the economic and social catastrophe that would follow if we do not adopt it. The country would drift into the long spiral of recession, instability, unemployment and prolonged misery.”

True, unless Greece withdraws from the EU and forms a national unity government which puts the good of the people ahead of the corporations and banks. Ironically, in approving moves to recapitalise Greek banks, the deputies may have to resort to nationalisation if they cannot get sufficient private money.

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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