Monday, 10 September 2012

Forcing Greece to implement harsh austerity measures – a democide of the poor?

The French president, François Hollande, recently made it known that, oui, la Grèce simply must stay in l’Eurozone – a sentiment many high standing officials including the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, seem to share. Because of this, Greece has been offered a seemingly generous €130bn bailout from the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But nothing in life is free – and doubly so when dealing with politicians. The lenders stubbornly insist that Greece put into practice harsh austerity measures, which will reduce its budget deficit and supposedly help revive the Greek economy. These have climbed up to €11.5bn for 2013 and 2014, an amount which is about as easily imaginable as a colour outside of the visible spectrum.

Due to the difficulties Greece is facing at the moment, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called for a two-year extension, which would allow the country to extend the spending cuts until 2016 instead of the end of 2014, so that their impact would not be so harshly felt by the citizens. To this, however, both Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande chose not to respond. Why? Because the truth is, it seems, that the bit of European solidarity EU leaders seem to cherish is grounded in fear of the consequences a Greek default would have on their nations, rather than the population of Greece itself.

Politicians keep talking about Greece and its responsibilities – Volker Kauder, the chairman of CDU/CSU (a union of Germany’s two largest conservative parties), let it be known that they must “live up to [their] responsibilities [as] it makes no sense to continue to ask for a delay.” [1] Why it makes no sense to provide this delay he did not specify, likely feeling that the answer was blatantly obvious. Similarly, Mr Hollande proclaimed, that Greece “still has to demonstrate the credibility of its programme and the willingness of its leaders to go the whole way, while doing it in a way that is bearable for the population.” [2] But is that truly possible? How can €11.5bn cuts, which are expected to be based primarily on further pension and public sector pay reductions, be implemented in a way that is bearable for the general Greek populace? Sure, the Greek government has many responsibilities at the moment and deservedly so. But it also has the responsibility to provide bearable living standards to its citizens and it is wrong of the foreign lenders to effectively forbid that.

Some might allude to the no bail-out clause, Article 25 of the Lisbon Treaty, and say that Greece is lucky enough to have gotten any financial help at all. In fact, eight judges in the Federal Court of Justice of Germany in Karlsruhe, a city in southwest Germany, are debating whether the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) violates this principle[3] right now and will rule on September 12. But almost everyone including German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble believes this effort will fail. As such it is difficult to argue that the aid being given to Greece is in any way unwarranted. Hence the issue remains – is it acceptable for EU leaders to ignore that they are depriving innocent citizens of a chance at living with dignity through their insistence on overly harsh austerity measures? Why is it tolerable that those who never contributed to the financial hardships Greece is experiencing should bear the burden?

The world shuddered when reading about 77-year-old Dimitris Christoulas, a retired Greek pharmacist who killed himself on April 4, 2012. With a single bullet to the head, he ended his life in the middle of Athens’ Syntagma Square – in the midst of intense austerity measures, but a long time before the new €11.5bn cuts for the next two years were even announced. This is what he wrote in his suicide note:

“The Tsolakoglou government has annihilated all traces for my survival, which was based on a very dignified pension that I alone paid for 35 years with no help from the state. And since my advanced age does not allow me a way of dynamically reacting (although if a fellow Greek were to grab a Kalashnikov, I would be right behind him), I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don’t find myself fishing through garbage cans for my sustenance. I believe that young people with no future, will one day take up arms and hang the traitors of this country at Syntagma square, just like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945.”[4]

The tree where Mr Christoulas had stood on that fateful day has now become what some refer to as “a national memorial to shattered dreams”[5]. Since his suicide, things have only been going down the hill. As Mark Lowen reports from Athens, 84-year-old pensioner Ermioni struggles in a much similar way. “My son asked to borrow two euros (£1.50) from me he was so desperate”, she says. “It was like a dagger through my heart. I can't afford to live any more. All I want is to close my eyes and never wake up.” Another woman, Maria, who is now 82 years old adds: “I can no longer afford to buy chocolate for my grandchild. If they cut my monthly pension even more, I'll be left with 100 euros (£80) with which to live. Am I not human?” [6] And surely – are pensioners and working class citizens of Greece not human? It seems that national leaders who are supposedly helping the crisis-stricken country believe them to be dispensable. Mr Samaras declared that this would be “the last such package of spending cuts.”[7] But can this promise be trusted after scores of similar words which left previous Greek officials’ mouths during the past two and a half years turned out to be lies? His vow will be hard to keep and even more so if the likes of Merkel and Hollande do not realise, that such intense austerity measures are harming innocent civilians and reducing their lives to endless struggles for basic survival rather than helping them.

Do not get me wrong – it is kind of the EU and the IMF to provide fiscal assistance to the weakened nation. But the way they are doing it is not right and is, in fact, harmful to those whom these measures are intended to rescue. We can only speculate how much Greece would struggle without such aid – but somehow it is difficult to imagine, that the old and the poor would be in a much worse position than they are already with malnourishment and homelessness persistently rising within the country, creating a social class of the so-called “new homeless”.[8] This approach needs to change, because punishing the poor and underprivileged for the sins of those much higher up the social ladder is not the kind of help Greece, or any country, needs.

By Sabina Trojanova, via Backbench
(don't be all starstruck, that's just me ;))


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