This morning, a group of around 35 protesters showed up outside the Lyceum Theater in Edinburgh to object to the appearance at TEDGlobal of the former Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou. We went over to speak to the protesters, to find out why they were demonstrating and to ask them if they had a question we might put to Papandreou after he spoke in the first session of the conference. (That question, from Edinburgh local Willie Black, asked Papandreou to explain why anyone should listen to his ideas when they haven’t proven effective to date. See the wrapup of Papandreou’s talk to read his reply.)
The protest’s organizers included a group of young Greeks who now live in Edinburgh. One of them, 29-year-old Kanelina, explained why they were upset, and why they had gathered to try and draw attention to their beliefs. “Mr. Papandreou spent 30 years as part of the political system in Greece and had two years in the premiership,” she said. “During that time, 21% of the people live in poverty, the suicide rate has increased, there’s 62% unemployment among young people.” She was unconvinced that Papandreou had any lessons for her and her group. “His political party and followers keep on with the same politics,” she added. “What does he have to say, that he’s a victim of the system? No he’s not. The victims of the system are here, the people behind me, the people in Greece.”
Another Greek protester, who didn’t want to share her name, seemed unclear as to why TED had invited Papandreou to speak at all. “It’s not fair for him to give lessons about the economy,” she said quietly. “He’s not the one living with the consequences of his decisions.”
With signs in both English and Greek stretched aloft (the latter translating to mean, “we know the lessons from the crisis firsthand. We don’t need lectures from the bosses”), the protesters chanted, “Papandreou here we come! Thatcher’s heir. You are scum!” They left the Lyceum and marched across to convene near the conference center. Despite the antipathy of the slogan, the heartfelt passion of those assembled was clearly visible. As Papandreou acknowledged on stage, the policies of austerity have deeply impacted those people to whom politicians too often pay only lip service. Here’s hoping that TED can help to broaden the discussion. We’ll post George Papandreou’s TED Talk on the homepage of TED.com Wednesday morning at 9am GMT.