A grassroots concert about water impacts politics in Greece

On the 2nd of April, a concert for the protection of the public ownership of water, held on the main square of Thessaloniki, Greece, had a major impact on Greek society. Musicians known for their political speech and activity, not conforming with a rather widespread apolitical view of a great part of the mass media, accepted the invitation of the worker’s syndicate of EYATH (the public water company of Thessaloniki) which organized the concert, and contributed – along with many volunteers workers of the company, collectivities and students – to one of the most massive music gatherings in the history of the city, with a clear and straightforward message;

Defend Water
Public goods above their profits.

There is a rather turbulent background preceding the concert. The conservative government of New Democracy has twice attempted to pass legislation leading to the privatization of the water, the second of which was a trick to overpass a clear command by the Council of the State that water should stay under public control. Roughly a quarter of EYATH’s shares are an asset of the Hellenic Fund (Superfund), an institution which, among other assets, possesses estates and shares conceded to it as a result of the memorandums Greek governments have signed during the period of economic and debt crisis. The Council of State has explicitly ordered that the aforementioned shares return under public control, reassuring, thus, the public ownership of water.

Despite political tension over the issue, the interest of the great audience maximized when the government proposed a law establishing a new Independent Regulatory Authority for Energy, Water and Waste, which would expand the competence of the current Independent Regulatory Authority for Energy. This attempt of the government triggered immediate and strong reaction by parties, organizations and citizens, for although New Democracy spokesman tried to convince that this had nothing to do with the ownership of water, many clauses in the new law were falsifying this claim.

Thus, the concert was a massive protest against the privatization of water, but also against massive attempts of privatizations, often against social welfare. The concert of 2nd April came a month after a very disastrous rail disaster resulting in 57 deaths, provoked, as the government itself under pressure admitted, due to the lack of competence in political decisions and on obscure privatization plans.

Under these circumstances, a massive, vibrant crowd attended the concert and manifested, along with famous Greek musicians, its opposition to policies that place economy beyond people.

During the 6 hours concert, a colorful crowd of citizens, collectivities and organizations joined its voice to those of people on stage and saluted actions, aspirations and attempts, often neglected by mainstream media.

The concert was too massive and lively to be neglected. Given that in Greece elections will be held on the 21st of May, the government tried to deal with this important event rather than just ignore it. At first, it tried to argue that it was just a successful music concert, hiding thus its political messages. Having failed to prove this, it confirmed, with the Prime Minister himself stating it, that they never had the intention to privatize water - although their previous actions show the contrary -and that the Hellenic Fund will return its part of shares of EYATH and EYDAP (the water company of Athens, which is on the same ownership state) under public control, just after elections. The opposition in Parliament has, of course, its doubts about the sincerity of these claims. The massive concert was a grassroots action, organized by the workers of EYATH, with the crucial help and assistance from university students, collectivities and individual and proved that these actions, based on peoples’ activities, may have a strong impact on the main political scene.