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The language and symbols of the current demonstrations in Greece have historical resonance.
ATHENS, Greece — In Greece, political turmoil has a scent, the sweet, peppery smell of tear gas. As Greece's government raises taxes and implements painful cuts to public spending in order to stave off bankruptcy, the streets are again filled with the angry bellows of protesters and the pageantry of left-wing dissent.
Protest is political theater in Greece and even when the country's economy is not in crisis, it's a visible part of political debate. But the intensity of dissent — and the degree of violence — ebbs and flows depending on the current political climate.
With public servants being asked to take pay cuts and the population as a whole facing a host of tax increases that will raise the prices of everything from gas to clothing, Greece's culture of left-wing protest is on full display. There are the frequent mass demonstrations that bring the capital to a standstill, as well as scattered strikes and occupations of government buildings. Revolutionary graffiti is proliferating on building facades and the rhetoricians of the left are hard at work churning out the posters and banners that are as essential to any protest as the crowd.
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"The wealthy should pay!" "No to working to the grave!" "We must become their crisis!" According to the ideology of the left, Greece's massive state debt is the result of thievery and corruption by the country's wealthy elite — and it's the wealthy elite who should suffer now to pay it off.
The language and analysis of international class struggle is still a powerful force here. Increasingly too, the European Union is seen by the left as a tool of capitalism. "Their goal is to weaken the worker to increase the wealth of employers," said Nikos Theodorakis, a 27-year-old protester and communist.
Perhaps only in Greece, birthplace of democracy and origin of many English words describing forms of political organization, does everyday political rhetoric regularly refer to the "plutocracy" (government by the wealthy) and the "oligarchy" (government by a small group).
"The crisis should be paid by the oligarchy, not the democracy," shouted a man with a bullhorn at one recent protest. "War against the plutocracy," read a sign at another.
These days the streets of central Athens are adorned with political slogans in dueling black and red. In Greece, communists generally use red spray paint, while anarchists leave their messages in black. "Molotovs not loans," scrawled one anarchist on the wall of a bank. "Their wealth, our blood," remarked a communist.