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'We’re Meeting a Man with a Fuck-Off Huge Projector': Meet the Europeans Standing in Solidarity with Greece

While Greece is under pressure from Europe's major institutions and major creditors, normal people across the continent are showing support for the their Greek counterparts. VICE News met some of them.

by Oscar Rickett
Jul 15 2015, 5:40pm

Imagen por Oscar Rickett

Greece remains in crisis. On Wednesday night its parliament votes on whether to agree to the bailout conditions put forward by its Eurozone partners. These proposals are tougher than the ones rejected by over 60 percent of the Greek population in the referendum held earlier this month. 

The Greek prime minister, Syriza's Alexis Tsipras, needs to make sure that no more than 40 of his party's members of parliament rebel in order to pass the vote. His deputy finance minister, Nadia Valavani, has just resigned, saying that Brussels was intent on crushing her nation and that she could not carry on given the austerity measures Tsipras had agreed to.

While Greece faces overwhelming pressure from Europe's major institutions and its creditors, across the continent solidarity with Greece is also growing. 

Last Thursday, a group of journalists sat in the garden of London's Caledonian Club talking about Greece's former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. Founded at the end of the 19th century for Scots living in the UK capital, the club is one of those places that won't let a chap in if he isn't wearing a tie. 

In the heart of this old-fashioned establishment, however, left-wing Varoufakis — who resigned on July 6 saying he would wear the "loathing" of Greece's creditors "with pride" — was receiving nothing but love. 

One Financial Times reporter wondered if Varoufakis had deliberately sacrificed himself for the cause and concluded that, whether he had or not, he was too good for Europe's fiscal henchmen. Everyone drank a toast to the Greek economist.

Across Central London's Belgrave Square, two left-wing activists were in a pub plotting their own, more substantial show of solidarity with the Greek people. "We're meeting a man with a van and a fuck-off huge projector," Jonathan Stevenson told VICE News. 

Stevenson works for the Jubilee Debt Campaign which found that at least 90 percent of the money lent to Greece by the IMF, European governments, and the European Central Bank had gone to pay off Greek banks and other "reckless lenders," rather than the Greek people.

The German embassy sits on a corner of the grand, leafy Belgrave Square. Stevenson and his comrade, Nick Dearden, the director of Global Justice Now organization, had decided that this was the perfect place to project an image of Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, Greece's largest European creditor. The picture was to be accompanied by the slogan: Cancel Greek Debt. 

The image projected onto the German Embassy in London's Belgrave Square.

"It takes two to make a debt: a lender and a borrower," added Dearden. "The Greek people who are suffering were not the ones borrowing".

A white van pulled up beside the embassy and two men from a company that specializes in public projections got out to greet us. Within 10 minutes, three images of Merkel engulfed one side of the German embassy and passers-by took pictures. 

Tony, a cab driver, stopped to say that while he wasn't a socialist like his dad, he thought that working people should stick together and that he agreed with the message. At least 15 minutes had gone by when a young woman in a hoodie and jeans came out to announce that she was the head of security at the embassy and she wasn't happy with the projection.

Two officers from London Metropolitan Police's Diplomatic Protection Group duly turned up. "You could understand why someone would think of the image as offensive to people who own the property," they told us. 

The van moved on to Europe House, the home of the European Commission and, in another leafy square full of multi-million pound properties, the same message of solidarity was projected. The police stayed away this time.

'Political control of the country is very important. That's why they are imposing their agenda. So it's a democratic issue.'

This year, these kinds of actions have become more and more common. Ever since Syriza came to power in Greece in January and throughout its negotiations with the Eurogroup (meeting of the Eurozone finance ministers), European collectives have been showing their solidarity with the Greek people. While most of the continent's politicians seem to want to enforce austerity on Greece, there are plenty of European people willing to stand up and show that they are part of a common cause.

When the four-page document listing the Eurogroup's demands of the Greek government was revealed over the weekend, sympathy for the Greek plight became more widespread and more mainstream. Responding in the New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote that, "this Eurogroup list of demands is madness. The trending hashtag ThisIsACoup is exactly right. This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief.. it's a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for."

Katerina Anastasiou, a co-ordinator for the campaign group Change4All, was one of the people behind #ThisIsACoup. She is based in Vienna and told VICE News that in Austria there is not as much solidarity for Greece as there could be because the media are against the Greek government. 

Anastasiou's group tries to disseminate soberly packaged information on the "humanitarian crisis in Greece," which she says has been silenced. "The first step was explaining to the people that all these measures and reforms were killing the Greek economy and badly affecting the Greek people."

Mario Franssen, of Intal, a Belgian organization for international solidarity, explained that the task of making Belgian people see how Greece's problems affect them has become easier in the last few months. 

Traditionally, Intal has focused on places like Congo, which has a toxic colonial legacy from Belgium. The organization is an anti-imperial group and Franssen sees what is happening to Greece as a imperial issue. 

"Political control of the country is very important. That's why they are imposing their agenda. So it's a democratic issue. The Greek people aren't in charge," he told VICE News. Franssen said that while 5,000 people came out onto the streets of Brussels on June 21 to show solidarity with Greece, it is hard to tell quite how much support there is in the country as a whole. 

This is something that Daniel Boese, a German media campaigner with Avaaz, also has to contend with. "German politicians haven't been strong on showing solidarity but our German members care most about campaigns that connect them with the rest of the world… We're all Europeans now. The Greeks' problems are ours. What's surprising is the denial of this from the politicians," he said. 

In March, Boese was part of the group that organized a mass, public kissing session between Germans and Greeks, in aid of getting the two governments to end their dispute. The aim was to show that, on an emotional level, Europeans understand that their project is a shared one and that it should be seen as such by political leaders.

'There are no tanks on the streets but the pressures imposed on the population are brutal.'

For Anastasiou, the new bailout agreed to Tsipras on Monday did not mark "the end of the war." European-wide solidarity showed, she said, that "it's a matter of democracy and you can't force people to forget about the social state in Europe… solidarity with Greece is also solidarity against austerity and the number one priority now is to establish a Europe-wide movement against austerity."

Spain's anti-austerity party, Podemos, which has a good chance of winning its country's general election later this year, sees what is happening to Syriza as a warning — what Europe has done to a radical left-wing party in Greece can be done to a radical left-wing party in Spain. 

"We are aware that what is happening in Greece is a new, 21st century European type or warfare," the party's Tina Caballero told VICE News. "There are no tanks on the streets but the pressures imposed on the population are brutal." 

Caballero added that Spain, like Greece, has a "whole section of society suffering because of austerity measures. We have similar unemployment and poverty figures. Plus, we share a Mediterranean culture." There have been big demonstrations and gatherings in support of Greece in Spain's biggest cities. "After the Greek elections, and after the referendum, we all celebrated very much," Caballero remembered wistfully.

With elections coming up in Portugal, Spain and Ireland in the coming year, the question of economic austerity in Europe will be taken to the ballot boxes of three countries in situations not entirely unlike Greece's. The question, for those showing solidarity with Greece, is whether democracy can do anything in the face of the blunt force of the European machine. 

Follow Oscar Rickett on Twitter: @oscarrickettnow

Watch the VICE News dispatch, Yes or No? Greece Again on the Brink: Greek Debt Crisis (Dispatch 1):