Greece: Rift Over State Broadcaster Widens

By Anthee Carassava in Greece

Greece’s ruling coalition is in disarray as disagreement over the sudden shutdown of the country’s state broadcaster widens.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has accused his alliance partners of reneging on promises to press ahead with mass lay-offs.

Lenders from Europe and the International Monetary Fund have long pressed successive Greek governments to implement mass lay-offs.

In April, despite widespread opposition, Mr Samaras’ three-party coalition broke a century-old taboo, voting to sack some 15,000 civil servants as part of cost-cutting measures in exchange for added bailout funds.

“To now disagree with this is hypocrisy,” Mr Samaras told conservative supporters in the Peloponnese.

“We all signed up to this legislation. And we intend to continue with reforms.”

The prime minister’s remarks signalled a hardening stance after his two leftist coalition partners – the socialist PASOK and Democratic Left parties – rejected a concession to rehire a small number of staff to resume news broadcasts at ERT, the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, until a new entity is formed within the coming months.

All three political leaders are expected to meet in crisis talks on Monday to try to iron out the differences.

Protesters hold a banner in front of the parliament in Athens

Protesters hold a banner in front of parliament in Athens

Failure to produce an agreement on how to proceed with ERT’s shutdown and looming lay-offs in the public sector could force Mr Samaras to either resign or send Greeks on an early trip to the ballot box.

Public opinion seems to be split.

A fresh poll published Sunday shows that while 64.4% of Greeks spurned the government’s handling of the ERT shutdown, some 57% of them disagreed with the government resorting to elections as a way out of the political crisis.

Some 40.1%, however, said elections should be held in response to the ERT fiasco.

“I’m scared. Is this how the government plans to proceed with other layoffs in the public sector?” said Maria Grigoriadou, a 45-year-old high-school teacher.

“I look at these 2,900 people who were fired and I see myself in them. Has the government no sense of reality?”

Last week, as international inspectors kicked off their review, Mr Samaras ordered ERT’s closure, sparking massive protests and a news blackout that has all television stations running sit-coms and soap opera reruns for nearly a week.

Hundreds of ERT employees remain camped at the sprawling grounds of the network, north-east of Athens, as leftists union geared for a fresh protest gathering on Monday.

Defending its decision, the government says ERT’s three domestic television channels, national and international radios stations cost the cash-strapped state €300m (£255m) a year, by some accounts, between three and seven times the budget of commercial networks.

Many Greeks have long viewed the broadcaster as a wasteful den of political hires feeding off state coffers.

“No one kicked up a storm for the millions losing their jobs in the private sector,” said Vassilis Skrikas, a 53-year-old shop-keeper.

“Why should I care about these people at ERT? Why should they be treated like were a privileged lot and not like everyone else.”


Croatia hopes ‘EU label’ to boost tourism

Croatia’s azure Adriatic coastline dotted with over a thousand verdant islands has already won the nation a spot on the world tourist map and hopes are high that July’s EU entry will boost the sector and provide a much needed shot in the arm to the struggling economy.

“EU entry will certainly improve Croatia’s image as a tourist destination and might even bring an investment surge,” said Goran Hrnic, chief executive of the Gulliver Travel agency, a member of TUI Travel, Europe’s largest tour operator.

In 2012, Croatia hosted a record 11.8 million tourists — mostly Germans, Slovenians, Italians and Austrians — nearly triple its population of 4.2 million.

Tourism provides key support for Croatia’s economy, which has struggled in recession nearly continuously since 2009. Last year, tourism accounted for some 15 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) with income totalling some 6.8 billion euros ($8.8 billion).

After a peak in the 1980s, Croatia’s tourism was hard-hit by its 1991-1995 independence war.

The conflict even touched the so-called Pearl of the Adriatic, when Serb forces laid seige and shelled the medieval port of Dubrovnik in 1991, killing and wounding dozens and causing severe damage.

But since the end of the war, the industry has gradually recovered to surpass its pre-war levels.

The country’s main draw is its 1,777-kilometre (1,101-mile) long coast with some 1,100 islands and islets, of which only 66 are inhabited.

An alluring Mediterranean climate, budget airline connections, and affordable prices have proved a winning formula for tourists seeking sun and sand and young clubbers out for a good time.

But its luxurious night spots also draw international celebrities and its and lavish marinas serve the yachting set out to find Robinson Crusoe-style secluded bays.

“We definitely expect stronger demand for Croatia” after July 1 when the nation will wind up a decade-long process and join the European Union, Zeljko Miletic, head of the Dubrovnik hoteliers’ association, told AFP.

Hanke Reitz from Germany decided to visit Dubrovnik before the crowds move in at the peak of the season in July that coincides with the EU entry.

“Many in Europe will now notice Croatia and realise they do not have to go to Greece or Spain to have beautiful holidays,” said Reitz.

In Dubrovnik, the UNESCO world heritage-listed medieval town described by George Bernard Shaw as “paradise on Earth”, tourists often outnumber citizens.

Last year, almost 800,000 tourists visited its famous two-kilometre-long (1.2 mile-long) city walls, built over the 12th to the 17th century, and strolled along the polished stone blocks of the main promenade Stradun.

Apart from tourists, who arrive mainly by plane and stay an average five days, every year Dubrovnik hosts around one million cruise-ship visitors.

Even the owners of a cafe that has made itself an international reputation by doing things the traditional way sees some value in the change coming next month.

“For the past 50 years nothing has changed, neither quality nor service, that is why people like us,” said Dinka Popovic, the Skola owner.

The small cafe got its name — School — from students cutting classes and spending time there filling up on its typical Dalmatian cuisine, uses organic products from the same suppliers it has used from decades.

Popovic says it “will be better in EU” as she served home-made prosciutto and cheese sandwiches, sardine salad, and strudel to clients at her seven tables.

“There will be no borders, so people might decide on visiting even more,” added her husband Miljenko.

But EU membership might have some negative impact as Croatia has had to introduce visas for tourists from Russia, Ukraine and Turkey to comply with the bloc’s rules.

“Our bookings from Russia and Ukraine are some 15 percent lower than what we had planned,” Hrnic said.

Almost 200,000 Russians visited Croatia last year, less than two percent of the overall figure, but the authorities have already launched a procedure to help facilitate and speed up issuing visas.

The medieval port of Dubrovnik on Croatia’s Adriatic coast on Juen 6, 2013. Croatia’s azure coastline has already won the nation a spot on the world tourist map and hopes are high that July’s EU entry will boost the sector and provide a shot in the arm to the struggling economy.

Dinka Popovic, 60, serves a sandwich on June 6, 2013 at her small cafe, the Skola, in the medieval port of Dubrovnik on Croatia’s Adriatic coast. Croatia’s azure coastline has already won the nation a spot on the world tourist map and hopes are high that July’s EU entry will boost the sector and provide a shot in the arm to the struggling economy.

A cruiseship is docked on June 6, 2013 in the medieval port of Dubrovnik on Croatia’s Adriatic coast. Croatia’s azure coastline has already won the nation a spot on the world tourist map and hopes are high that July’s EU entry will boost the sector and provide a shot in the arm to the struggling economy.