German consul targeted in protest

Local authority staff throw water, coffee at visiting official after comments

An anti-austerity protest on Thursday by local authority workers in Thessaloniki turned ugly when a handful of demonstrators pelted German Consul Wolfgang Hoelsche-Obermaier with cups of coffee and bottles of water, but German officials played down the significance of the incident.

Municipal workers had planned a protest for Thursday in Thessaloniki, where a conference of Greek and German mayors was being organized, as the city’s local authorities had been asked to issue a list of employees to be made redundant. The planned redundancies form part of the government’s pledges to the troika to sack 80,000 civil servants by 2016, starting with 2,000 this year.

It appears, however, that the protesters’ anger was fanned by comments made on Wednesday in Thessaloniki by Germany’s federal Deputy Labor Minister Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, according to which 1,000 German municipal workers can do the work of 3,000 of their Greek counterparts.

Shortly after the assault on the consul, who was escorted away from the angry crowd by Greek police officers, Fuchtel made fresh comments that were aired on television, claiming to have been misunderstood and emphasizing that he had great respect for Greek workers. The consul too subsequently echoed Fuchtel, saying that there had been a misunderstanding and that the aim of German authorities was simply to help boost the efficiency of the Greek local administration.

In comments to Kathimerini, German Ambassador Wolfgang Dold, who witnessed the incident first-hand, said he “respected the right of Greek citizens to protest peacefully.”