J. D. Heyes
June 20, 2012
Greek citizens may have narrowly avoided an economic catastrophe following a vote this week to remain with the euro, the fact that their country is slipping further towards a financial abyss is becoming more ingrained in their psyche.
On Sunday voters narrowly elected a center-right New Democracy Party to take the reins of power in a country that, besieged by debt and teetering on the brink of insolvency, is literally in chaos. For months now, Greece has only managed to exist, not thrive, as successive bailouts of its government by the European Central Bank (led mostly by German efforts and money) have kept Athens from tumbling headlong over an economic cliff that, frankly, its leaders should have seen coming years ago.
Even now the bailouts – once gratefully considered a lifeline – are now being panned by vast numbers of Greek leaders and citizens who abhor the fact that the money is flowing with so many strings attached. Mindful of Greece’s expensive social benefits packages for government workers and citizens alike, those who are forking over euros by the billions have only done so by insisting Athens accept some of the most restrictive austerity measures ever imposed on a government.
Those measures, more than anything, have led to Greece’s current crisis. And that’s what Sunday’s vote was about: Forging ahead as best as possible while accepting the mandatory cuts to pay and benefits, no matter how painful they are, or reject them out of hand, ditch the euro and start printing drachmas again which, according to scores of economists, would have almost instantly created a situation of hyper-inflation in Greece or hyper-devaluation of the “new” currency or more likely, both.
‘Last days of Pompeii’
Sunday’s vote – for now – removes that contingency. But there is still plenty of angst in Greece to go around. And though much, much too late, ordinary Greeks are finally seeing the whole picture. And to most Greeks, that picture is grim.
“It’s the last days of Pompeii,” Aris Chatzistefanou, a co-director of “Debtocracy,” a provocative 2011 documentary about the Greek crisis, told CNBC last week.
Life in the capital has come virtually to a standstill. The streets are less congested, sure, but because few can afford to drive. And while less trash goes to the landfill, it’s because people are consuming less because they have to.
Giorgos, a 27-year-old economics major who did not want to reveal his last name, told CNBC the sense of uncertainty is palpable.
“There is a depression in the Greek people, in all my friends,” he said, adding he has even ditched plans to open a frozen yogurt shop. “They keep saying: ‘I can’t take it. There’s depression about our jobs, depression on the news, depression about the economic situation, depression in our family, depression and fighting among friends.’”
Nothing good in the cradle of modern democracy
Fighting is right. The Financial Times reports that violence, hate, polarization, fear, resignation and despair are rife across the country. It’s so bad, in fact, that the country is developing the same characteristics of the German republic in the early 1930s, before Adolph Hitler rose to power.
“Despite the narrow victory of a centrist party in Sunday’s vote, almost every day extremist violence breaks out in Athens and beyond,” FT reported. “Neo-nazis against immigrants, anarchists and leftists. Anarchists, ultra-leftists and other fringe groups of the nationalist-populist camp against riot police, mainstream politicians, journalists, liberal intellectuals, even artists. Add to this a surge in crime and rising tolerance of violence and you have a clearer picture of today’s Athens.”
A great many of Greek parliamentarians, in fact, seem to idolize some of the great butchers of the 20th century – Hitler, Mao, Stalin and, to a lesser extent, Castro.
But what to expect from a nation once patronized by the UK and then the U.S. after World War II, that used its economic success to create one of Europe’s biggest welfare states, dominated by special interests and corrupt cronyism and that epitomizes huge debts made possible by too many promises. Sound familiar?
No, the situation is not good in the cradle of modern democracy.
This article was posted: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 2:44 am