'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Economic Collapse of Greece 

For those of you who haven't followed the implementation of austerity in Greece since 2009, the Guardian reports that the EU and European Central Bank have determined that the Greek economy will contract by 15% between 2009 and 2012. Think about that for a moment. 15%. From July 2009 to August 2011, unemployment rose from just under 9% to 16.3%, with the IMF projecting 18.5% unemployment for 2012. Earlier in the year, in May, unemployment for people between the ages of 15 and 19 was 55%, and 37% for people between the ages of 20 and 24. One can therefore reasonably assume that unemployment among young people continues to increase and will continue to do so through 2012.

Accordingly, stories like this one are common:

I have worked since I was 16 and I have lived in Athens since I was 24. I remember that many times I had to struggle in order to survive with two jobs, but never have I stayed unemployed for too long. During the past eight years there were times when things were tight and difficult and other times when things were more or less ok. But not even in the most difficult period of my life, as a University student, did I find myself in the position I am today. For thirteen years I struggled, I fought, I stood on my feet. But now I can’t take it anymore. I’m giving up.

I’ve been unemployed for ten months. Knowing that I was going to lose my job, I started searching for a new one from as early as the Easter of 2010. By now I’ve send 155 CVs but I only got two replies back, both saying that they didn’t need employees. For the first time in my life I’m facing an eviction order by the end of this month. The landlord says that I have no dignity and that I live on her expense, forgetting the eight years that I have been meeting my obligations regularly or even the improvements I ‘ve made to her house on my own expenses. Still, she’s right. She’s no charity – she wants her money. The movers ask for 1200 euros to take my stuff back to my mother’s city or 150 per month in order to store them in a container. I cannot afford either of the two scenarios. I will probably have to throw away my household of ten years. The tax service is demanding 300 euro as an emergency levy with a 3% interest for every month I don’t pay. Another emergency tax is expected with the next electricity bill and that’s going to be 420 €. I have to pay 640€ every two months for social security, although the company I worked for explicitly told me that they have no job to offer and that even if they did, they would pay a monthly salary of no more than 420 euro. In short: the city in which I have lived for the past 13 years is spitting me off to the margins like if I’m some kind of trash. For the first time in my life, I have no place to stay and no one to hold on to. Any stock of patience and courage I had has now vanished.

And, then, there is this publicly known incident where a debtor set himself on fire in front of the Piraeus Bank in Thessaloniki. While this man was saved, reported suicides have doubled in Greece since the imposition of austerity:

A suicide help line at Klimaka, the charitable group, used to get four to 10 calls a day, but now there are days when we have up to 100, says a psychologist there, Aris Violatzis.

The caller often fits a certain profile: male, age 35 to 60 and financially ruined. He has also lost his core identity as a husband and provider, and he cannot be a man any more according to our cultural standards, Mr. Violatzis says.

Heraklion, commercial center of the island of Crete, has had a spate of such deaths.

Mr. Petrakis, the fruit and vegetable dealer, was just one of three recent suicides at a single wholesale food market on the edge of the city.

Victims once were typically adolescent males or old people facing severe illness, and in normal times suicide cases often involve a mixture of factors including mental illness, says local psychiatrist Eva Maria Tsapaki.

But the economic crash has created a new phenomenon of entrepreneurs with no prior history of mental illness who are found dead every other week, she says. It's very unusual.

With this context in mind, this sort of response starts to make sense:

The Greek government’s Minister of Interior affairs (Home Office) Harris Kastanidis was spotted in a cinema in Thessaloniki watching a movie. So a few hundred students stormed the cinema chanting slogans and threw him yoghurt. Several members of the audience joined the students booing Kastanidis and clapping when the yoghurt was thrown to him. Among other slogans one can hears: Let’s see who will jump first in the helicopter when this marvellous night like Argentina will come, In Greece, Turkey and Macedonia the enemy is in the ministries and in the banks, Terrorism is the waged slavery, no peace with the bosses.

If the United Kingdom, France and Germany, with the US conspiring in the background, try to hold the EU together with a new Greek junta, we can only hope that the workers of Europe come to the defense of the Greek people. Meanwhile, protests and riots in Athens have been ongoing throughout the day as the government secured approval of yet another round of austerity measures. For updates of what has been happening on the streets of Greece, go here and here and here and here.

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