ATHENS — Greeks were in shock and their fragile coalition government was in disarray Wednesday, a day after Greece unexpectedly shut down the state broadcaster, the most drastic move to slash the country’s bloated public sector since Athens applied for a foreign bailout in 2010.
Thousands of protesters, including many of the 2,900 workers laid off from the Hellenic Broadcasting Corp., known as ERT, rallied outside its headquarters northeast of Athens early Wednesday as ERT’s symphony orchestra played for them.
The crowds dispersed and reassembled later in the morning.
Private television channels suspended their news coverage as of 6 a.m. Wednesday in solidarity with ERT employees, while newspaper headlines conveyed the shock felt by many Greeks at the closing of the 75-year-old institution.
The banners adorning street kiosks read, “War Over ERT,” “Fury Over Sudden Death,” and “An Execution to Please the Troika,” a reference to the trio of foreign lenders that administer the bailout money.
The country’s two main labor unions, Gsee and Adedy, called a 24-hour strike for Thursday to protest the government’s decision to close ERT. Staff members at daily newspapers also plan to walk out Thursday.
In defiance of the government’s decision, ERT employees continued to broadcast Wednesday from the defunct organization’s offices via digital television and the Internet.
The surprise decision Tuesday to shut down ERT came a day after representatives of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund returned to Athens for new talks on the progress of the country’s efforts to overhaul its economy. Greece’s pledge to lay off public workers was high on the agenda.
On the streets of Athens, the reaction Wednesday was a mix of shock, anger, and nostalgia.
“This is worse than the junta,” said Thomas Dedes, a 67-year-old retiree, referring to the military dictatorship that ruled Greece in the late 1960s and early 1970s. “What’s next? Tanks in front of Parliament?”
“You can’t just shut down state television,” said Irini Milaki, 50, a schoolteacher. “What kind of democracy are we? We don’t deserve to be European.”
Others expressed disbelief at the speed of the move on ERT.
“It takes longer to shut down a taverna,” said Costas Tasopoulos, 45, a restaurant manager. “The government might drag their feet on other things, but when it comes to cutting jobs and salaries, they move like lightning.”