Robert Shortt blogs on his special report from Greece ahead of the country's elections this Sunday:
Voices were raised when we entered the smoke-filled hall. You didn’t have to understand Greek to know we were not welcome. Faces concentrated in worry rose up and began to gesticulate at our cameraman. But when the union official at the top of the table introduced us as “brothers from Ireland who know what you’re going through,” we got a round of applause.
Workers from the state-owned LARCO nickel mine on the island of Evia were gathered to hear their fate. The company is one of the state assets on the chopping block for privatisation as part of Greece’s EU-IMF Agreement. The plan calls for €50 billion to be raised to cut the country’s massive debts.
The story of LARCO could be read as a metaphor for much of the malaise which afflicts the country.
It was founded by the Greek industrial magnate Bodossakis Athanassiades in 1963. It was then nationalised in the 1980’s. The company has been attacked in the past for dumping nickel slag in the Mediterranean and its proposed privatisation has already hit a snag with question marks over state aid which made its way to the company over the years.
In the middle are the workers, who fear for their jobs. The day we attended the union meeting, it was announced that one of the company’s mines was to close. At the meeting, workers and union officials vented their frustration and anger. There were calls to march to the headquarters of Greece’s privatisation agency. Others even called for it to be burned down.
The atmosphere was typical of the confusion and fear for the future which pervades Greece.
Its people go to the polls for the second time on Sunday, prompted by an inconclusive result in May’s general election. The far-left coalition, SYRIZA, was topping opinion polls which have now entered a moratorium period. The party’s success was one of the surprises of the May vote. Its thirty-eight year old leader, Alex Tsipras, has described Greece’s EU-IMF deal as ‘dead’.
We followed the man who could be Greece’s next leader to the ancient city of Sparta in the southern Peloponnese where he addressed a rally.
Tsipras says he wants Greece to stay in the euro. Nobody really knows, if elected, how far SYRIZA can push the EU deal but its pre-election posturing is leading to a lot of uncertainty over Greece’s future participation in the single currency.
We’ve also spoken to the former Greek finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, who pressed the button on austerity in 2009. He warns that those who argue that a potential Greek exit from the eurozone is manageable are “playing with fire”.
It’s potentially the most significant election in Europe in years; its result will have profound implications for Greece, the future of the single currency and the European Union. Tune in tonight for a special Prime Time report on the Greek elections.
Prime Time, 21:35, RTÉ 1