Farmers descend on Greek capital for protest against planned tax rises and pension reforms
Athens—Farmers wielding shepherds’ staffs have clashed with riot police in central Athens as thousands headed to the Greek capital for a two-day protest against the government’s plans to impose tax rises and pension system reforms.
About 800 farmers from the island of Crete rallied outside the ministry of agriculture, throwing tomatoes as tension escalated when police prevented them from staging a symbolic occupation of the building. Clashes soon broke out, with riot police using teargas to repel protesters, who were throwing rocks and setting bins on fire.
At one point, an outnumbered riot police unit was forced to flee up a street with Cretan farmers in pursuit.
Many of the ministry’s windows were broken, while rubble from rocks and broken paving stones lay strewn outside the building. Police said the farmers also threatened to spray riot police with a pesticide used for olive trees if officers used teargas. At least four farmers were detained.
The agriculture minister, Vangelis Apostolou, said: “These scenes were aimed at blackening the struggle of the farmers. For us, there is one path – that of dialogue to solve the problems of farmers. And this [path] has been opened by the prime minister.”
Farming associations have been blockading main roads with tractors for more than two weeks, forcing traffic into lengthy diversions, in protest against a planned overhaul of Greece’s troubled pension system.
Farmers in buses, pickup trucks and cars were heading to Athens for the start of the main rally, set for Friday afternoon outside parliament in Syntagma Square.
Tension also surfaced on the outskirts of the city, where one group of farmers was insisting that police allow them to continue to the city centre with their tractors.
Although the government initially banned the participation of tractors in the central Athens protest, Nikos Toskas, the deputy interior minister for public order, said a few would be allowed through.
“It was clear that we could not permit tractors to enter the city, but we have permitted a symbolic number to take part in the protest rally,” he said.
Bailout lenders are demanding that Greece scraps tax breaks for farmers and imposes pension reforms that will lead to higher monthly contributions from the self-employed and salaried employees.
The protests against the reforms have united a disparate group of professions, including lawyers, artists, accountants, engineers, doctors, dentists, seamen and casino workers.
Photo on front page: Teargas engulfs police and protesting farmers. Source: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images. Photo on this page: Fruit and vegetables are thrown at riot police. Source: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters
Since the Reform of Solon (581 B.C.), the various Greek codes testify to the emancipation of small land owners. The small and medium farmers could afford to arm themselves and carry out military functions. Farming work was generally honored. In ancient Greece, the independent farmer could assert his (collective) demands and even resist laws that threatened his property rights. The most-authoritative literary sources on Graeco-Roman farming history cite that:
“Agriculture was regarded from a social point of view, as superior to other occupations dependent on bodily labor…Agriculture was a profession worthy of the free citizen, and the ownership of a plot of land stamped the citizen as a loyal and responsible member of a free and self-conscious community…Greek philosophers were impressed with the virtues of farmerfolk, virtues social, moral and ultimately political.
William E. Heitland, Agricola. A Study of Agriculture and Rustic Life in the Greco-Roman World from the Point of View of Labor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1921 [reprint: Troy MO: Greenwood Pub Group, 1970]), p. 89.