A former Greek diplomat is warning that the social unrest in his country could worsen as European administered austerity measures continue to take their toll. Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos points to recent instances of political violence, as well as pending tax bills that many people will struggle to pay, as the source of his concern. There is growing skepticism within Europe regarding the sustainability of austerity measures that Greece has endured for years. The Belgian Prime Minister has argued that European authorities should continue the austerity measures for six more months, and change course if no improvements are noticed. Interestingly, Chrysanthopoulos claims that the Greek government has purchased the services of private security firms because they are uncomfortable relying on police services that will also be impacted by austerity. One security firm, Academi, denies these claims.
By Leigh Phillips
February 24, 2013
It is always enlightening to hear the frank assessment of a diplomat upon leaving the service, once unshackled from "the patriotic art of lying for one's country", as 19th Century American journalist Ambrose Bierce described the craft.
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos was a career diplomat with the Greek foreign ministry. As a junior officer with the service in the 1970s, he helped assure the then freshly democratic nation's accession to the European Union (at the time the EEC). He was at different times Athens' ambassador to Poland, Albania and Canada, and finally the director general of EU Affairs in the ministry.
Last year, he finally resigned as secretary general of the Black Sea Cooperation organisation, and entered the private sector, and now feels free to speak openly about his fury at what he says Europe and international lenders are doing to his country.
“At a certain moment, quite soon, there will be an explosion of social unrest. It will be very unpleasant,” he says, referring to 15 armed incidents in the previous ten days. In the past few weeks, offices of the governing parties have been firebombed as well as the homes of pro-government journalists. The headquarters of the prime minister's conservative New Democracy party was machine-gunned, and days later a bomb exploded at a shopping mall belonging to the country's second wealthiest citizen, although no one has been badly injured by the attacks.
“It is an escalation of activities,” he worries, adding that he expects the "explosion" to occur sooner rather than later. He predicts the spark will be when new, retroactive and sizeable tax bills come due in the coming months that people simply cannot pay. “There will be further increases in armed actions. There will be bloody demonstrations.”
“These actions are condemnable, of course, but I feel that this sort of armed activity will increase as long as the government continues to impose oppressive measures against the Greek people.”
Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo in Davos said that Europe should change course from austerity within six months if there is no sign of recovery. These are hopeful words to Chrysanthopoulos, but he fears it would still be too late for his country.
“We do not have six months. If the EU is going to change something, they need to change it yesterday. We even have problems burying the dead because people cannot afford the funeral expenses.” Refrigerators in the morgue were filling up with bodies until the church said that it would offer free burial for some families.
“We are heading down the road of destruction.”
Last summer, the social-democrat-conservative coalition led by Antonis Samaras launched a major crackdown on irregular migrants, rounding up 60,000 individuals out of which just 4,200 were arrested for infractions – a move that has been criticised by Amnesty International and other human rights groups.
Chrysanthopoulos says that the government has hired Blackwater, the American private military firm infamous for its activities in Iraq, which now goes by the name "Academi", along with five other international for-profit security outfits. Explaining why this has happened, he says bluntly: “The Greek government does not trust the police whose salaries have also been cut.”
There is some good news however that he hears from the contacts he maintains amongst his former colleagues and politicians. He is confident that there will be no military coup, as there was in 1967.
“There are contacts by certain politicians with elements in the armed forces to guarantee that in the event of major social unrest, the army will not intervene.”
“I don't want to go into too much detail here though as it is a delicate issue,” he continues. “But as a result of these contacts, I think this is going to be successful.”
He laments what has happened to the EU in which he spent so much of his career: “I was part of the negotiating team as a junior diplomat that brought Greece into the EU. The EU that we joined in 1981 doesn't exist any more.”
“We need a change of plan.”
UPDATE: Academi have rejected Mr Chrysanthopoulos's claim. According to a spokesperson for Academi, the firm "does not now, nor have we ever, provided security services to any entity of the Greek government."