Thursday, December 11, 2008

In Greece, Protests Echo European Students' Ire

A 15 year old student had been shot in the stomach by policeman on Saturday 6th of December at 9pm. This is the extreme expression of police brutality spreading in the last few years across mobilizations of any description, of students, workers, migrants, peasants, women, antifascist and ecological movements.


Source: The Wall Street Journal

Thousands of students were joined by striking workers in a fifth day of protests in Greece, an uprising that mirrors growing discontent among youths in many European countries over outdated education systems, lack of jobs and a general apprehension about the future.

From Rome to Berlin to Madrid, young people graduate from university much later than their peers in Northern Europe, the U.S. or U.K. When they do, they struggle to find long-term jobs with social-security benefits.

In Germany, many young people - including large numbers of university graduates - have struggled in recent years to find employment that pays a full wage. Instead, they have found themselves working as interns for no or low pay for long periods. German media have dubbed such economically insecure young people "Generation Intern."

In Spain, a generation of young people is entering the workplace with few benefits or protections, often moving between temporary contracts so that employers can avoid the country's onerous employment laws. The media have dubbed them "mileuristas" - loosely, those who scrape by on a thousand euros a month. In Greece, this same group has been dubbed "Generation 600" -- referring to the country's national minimum wage of €600 (about $776) a month.

French students are planning a nationwide protest against government plans aimed at giving state universities more autonomy in managing their budgets. Students fear this will create a two-tier system, with wealthy campuses attracting private funds and poorer colleges languishing. Three years ago, French students took to the streets to protest the "precarious" nature of a new temporary job contract the government was trying to introduce.

Last month, thousands of Italian students took to the streets to protest the government's attempt to change laws governing the entire school system, including cutting budgets for state universities.

The backdrop for Wednesday's demonstrations was a general strike - planned by unions before rioting started Saturday - to protest the conservative government's economic policies, including changes to pension laws and privatizations.

Thousands of high-school and university students walked out of class and joined the demonstrations to protest their discontent with the government's higher-education and employment policies.

"For decades, Greeks have been pursuing the American dream: plenty of money, nice cars," said Eleanna Horiti, 42, an Athens architect. "But for Greek teenagers, the American dream has now vanished."

The Greek economy has enjoyed a decade of rapid expansion and is expected to grow about 2% next year. But one lingering dark spot is unemployment among young people.

Some 25% of Greeks 15 to 24 years of age are unemployed, meaning the benefits of the country's economic expansion haven't been equally distributed, said Claude Giorno, an economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Meanwhile, many students can't get into Greece's highly selective state universities and are forced to go abroad or to local branches of foreign universities, said Achilles Kanellopoulos, dean and CEO of the American University of Athens. The problem, he said, is that in most instances the Greek state recognizes only state universities. "It's unfair," he said.

Alexander Kitroeff, associate professor in history at Haverford College, said the length of protests among high-school and college students is particularly striking because it is an age group that hasn't been politically active since the early 1980s. But now, he said, "they feel that they're not getting jobs and that they don't have the same opportunities" of earlier generations.

The clashes across Greece were set off over the weekend after the fatal shooting by police of a 15-year-old boy during an altercation. A Greek court Wednesday ordered that two policemen be held in jail pending trial for the shooting. One was charged with murder.

As the protests continued Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called for calm and announced a string of financial support measures for businesses damaged in the rioting.

"The government is determined not only to make citizens feel safe but to support businesses which suffered damage," Mr. Karamanlis said in a televised message, announcing a string of subsidies, soft loans and tax-relief measures for those whose property had been damaged.

Mr. Karamanlis's center-right government - which has a one-seat majority in parliament - was already trailing in public opinion polls before the riots. George Papandreou, the leader of the main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement, has called for early elections.

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