Friday, December 30, 2011

Austerity: the Greek road to hell

A beggar in Syntagma square, Athens, 27.12.2011
As the Euro crisis unfolds, and the European social model remains under attack by the mindless political armies of orthodox neoliberalism, spread across the continent in positions of power, and the bankers they represent, all is hardly well in Greece. The Greeks, having served as lab-rats for extreme-austerity, have come to realize one thing: Austerity is not a fiscal programme. It is a political project: a project of societal and financial sabotage, aiming at a radical upwards redistribution of wealth in an already very unequal country - indeed a whole continent. This is how the austeritarian disaster zone looks like from the ground:

  • Back to the Caves: "Dozens of homeless people in Athens will spend the Christmas holidays in the sheltering caves of Philopappou Hill, away from the rain and the cold weather.
    According to two reports conducted by the Ministry of Health and the Municipality of Athens and published by Real News, there are many new age homeless, who once were businessmen and traders, and are now penniless, lying on the streets.
    The shocking truth is that among those people there are families as well."
  • Homeless in Athens
    Meet the new homeless: With an average age of 47, 11% of Greece’s homeless have a university degree (!) and 23.5% hold a high school diploma, while only 9.3% are illiterate. The new Greek homeless class members have laptops and iPhones, remnants of their “old” lives. “They come to us in suits with their laptops in hand. These citizens a couple of months ago had ordinary lives. They had a job, a home and car,” says Nikitas Kanakis, the head of Doctors Without Borders in Athens. Counselors from the Department of Homeless Services describe a similar situation. “We even have homeless from suburbs like Kifisia and Voula [upper class suburbs of Athens]! They come  here with their laptops and expensive smart phones they once used for their work, shocked and depressed”.
  • Hunger: Athens Mayor George Kaminis told the daily that the city's homeless had increased by around 20 per cent while queues at soup kitchens organised by municipal and church organisations were up 15 per cent."Care workers no longer meet typical homeless people, they meet a person who likely had a perfectly organised life weeks previously," said Kaminis, who has asked for additional state funding for city welfare services."We have noticed a dramatic increase in our mess halls over the recent period," added Chrysostomos Symeonidis, head of the Athens archdiocese poverty fund. "We distribute over 10,000 meals on a daily basis and 250,000 meals are given out nationwide on a weekly basis," Symeonidis said... [oh and Starvation Recipes are all the rage]
  • ...hunger in the schools:  “Our pupils faint due to starvation. We see our pupils coming to school with holes in their shoes. They don’t even have money to buy food from the school canteen”
  • Which then leads to abandoned children: 'Propelled by poverty, 500 families had recently asked to place children in homes run by the charity SOS Children's Villages, according to the Greek daily Kathimerini. One toddler was left at the nursery she attended with a note that read: "I will not return to get Anna. I don't have any money, I can't bring her up. Sorry. Her mother."'
  • The disabled are also victims of the policies pursued: "In August, a five-year-old program providing deaf people with interpreters was suspended after the government abruptly cut its funding to less than half. Overnight, 15,000 deaf people around Greece were left without help to report a crime to the police, rent a house or go to a job interview. Funding cuts have opened up gaps across welfare services, with slashed services and longer waiting times for vulnerable groups including the blind, recovering organ-transplant patients, autistic children, and paraplegics in need of physiotherapy"

  • At the same time the already decrepit health system is further eroded according to The Lancet: "Overall, the picture of health in Greece is concerning. It reminds us that, in an effort to finance debts, ordinary people are paying the ultimate price: losing access to care and preventive services, facing higher risks of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, and in the worst cases losing their lives. Greater attention to health and health-care access is needed to ensure that the Greek crisis does not undermine the ultimate source of the country's wealth—its people". Giving birth is now a luxury activity. I suppose women are expected to give birth at home by themselves - a great way to bring infant and maternal mortality to truly third world levels...
  • And, desperate, people kill themselves at an unprecedented rate:  "Greece's suicide rate has reached a pan-European record high, with experts attributing the rise to the country's economic crisis and painful austerity measures. Statistics from the Greek Ministry of Health show a 40 per cent rise in those taking their own lives between January and May this year compared with the same period in 2010"
And the economy? Surely all those wizards of austerity must have improved the flailing Greek economy, raising its productivity etc. No? Well... No:

  • Greece: heavy industry, desperate measures to survive: Heavy industry in Greece, particularly the sectors that produce steel, concrete, aluminium, copper and paper, are desperately trying to find ways to stem some of the negative effects of the economic crisis the country is going though. Some companies even sell up to 70% of their production abroad at cost price, just to be able to keep producing... Energy-intensive industries in Greece fight a daily battle for their survival on a domestic market that has been in recession for four years, with low liquidity, limited financial resources, rising interest rates and a series of austerity measures that seem to ignore their impact on the real economy, like the high taxes on energy
  • Unemployment is rocketing, reaching fearsome heights:

    The jobless rate rose to 17.7 per cent in the third quarter compared to 16.3 per cent in the previous quarter and 12.4 per cent in the corresponding quarter of 2010, the Hellenic statistical authority said... It added that there were over 878,000 people out of work during the three-month period, most of them women and young employees aged under 30

Things are, in other words, tough. Very tough. The kind of tough one associates with a war or a huge natural disaster. And do not think for a minute that all of this is irrelevant to you: if you live anywhere in Europe, periphery or center (but at this point probably anywhere in the Western world), this is in one form or another the future that has been prepared for you. Greece has been the canary in the coal-mine for social Europe in this crisis, a wretched and sorry bird, to begin with, admittedly, yet an indicator of the way things are going in Europe. Regardless of whether austerity is systemically viable in its own terms (it most probably isn't), the news is that the canary, is slowly yet steadily croaking. It is dying. Greek society is taking blows that will transform it for ever, in a path that no one knows where it takes and it is unraveling. So our suicides here, our untended ill, our abandoned children, our middle-class poor, our new homeless and hungry, they are an omen, a sign of things to come, across Europe. Or that seems to be the plan. The good news is that this society is taking it a lot better than some (I too) initially expected it would. Solidarity networks have cropped up all over Greece, while the support to the striking steel-workers (from Greece but not only), two months now in struggle for their livelihoods and lives, is going strong and their struggle is right now the rallying point of resistance to the destruction of all of our collective lives.
High school students, express solidarity with the steel-workers after having gathered a few Euros from pocket change to contribute to the strikers fund

An interesting thing is happening at the political level: the "unserious" Left is gaining. In a recent poll, the "electoral influence" of the three left of the mainstream parties adds up to 37% - 41 percent if one adds up the smaller parties and the Greens, a number that is unprecedented and apparently rising. Whether this will coalesce to a viable government is doubtful: The communists consider everybody else a capitalist stooge, not serious about systemic change, the Democratic Left, the right splinter group from SYRIZA, seems to be more comfortable discussing a collaboration with PASOK (assuming there will be a PASOK left by the time the elections arrive) than with everybody else. However, popular pressure can work wonders, and one still hopes that  Greece will be the first to throw a political wrench in the working of the austeritarian banksters and their political employees in Europe. That is assuming that the ruling Socialist - Conservative - Far Right coalition under a former ECB vice president, actually deigns to hold elections sometime in the near future as originally promised.

The future remains at this point very opaque. The issue is whether the rest of the European peoples will need to arrive at the point of despair that Greeks have reached, before they react.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, good informative article.

bosnian said...

Dear Greek friend,

I live in the country where there's more then 40% of unemployed people, with biggest corruption rate in Europe, where minimal pension is 150E for a years (even smaller in some parts of the country), where having finished studies doesn't mean anything for you or your future for last 20 years, where Greek Government donated lot of money to build a building for 'common institutions', not donating to one of dying villages or to the child who needs just fragment of that money to heal itself, etc.

So, sorry bro, but there's much worse cases around the EU. Much worse cases where you don't have even 12 salaries a year, not to mention Greek 14. Where you are not additionally payed to get to the office on time but you HAVE TO do that, because it's your duty. And where, unfortunately, most of budget, as in Greece, goes to government and self called 'public sector', which is just eating, but not producing.

And, sorry once again, bro, situation in Greece is not up to me or up to IMF - it's up to Greek people. You are choosing your politicians, they have chosen to live for years just borrowing to make 'public sector' more calmer, but now you are facing situation where you have to give back what you borrowed. And it's not a tragedy - at least you know where you are.

I know what I'm talking about, because my country faced the same thing even before the Greece, but that wasn't big news, as we are not part of all mighty EU, and not users of fancy euros. And, to be totally fair, I don't think it's your, EU's, US's, or Taliban's guilt - it's my guilt, it's guilt of people around me, as we are choosing our politicians, not anybody else.

And know what? I've spent 2/3 of my life in war and even worse times than war, even worse than what you are facing last three years and what you are calling crisis. It's democracy - majority is choosing. I'm not the part of majority, so I'm also going, unfortunately, to leave this country, and try to start my life somewhere else, as I'm not give two lives to fight against windmills. At least it wouldn't be fair, if me, or you, minorities, try to force our will to majority.

So, I wish you all possible good luck, but don't expect help somewhere else. Look around you. Look at people around you. Think about elections, see who will people elect. And, what's most important, try to fight for yourself, as nobody else will if you won't.

Best regards from capital of corruption, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

talos said...

First of all I agree that Bosnia is worse off than Greece. This happens to protectorates often. If nationalist bullshit could be set aside and the corruption-breeding occupation of the "peacemakers" was ousted that might help. If you don't fight for your rights, you don't have them. But I say that as an outsider, Bosnians decide for themselves...

Bangladesh is even worse. So? I'm sure that 150 Euros a month in purchasing power in Sarajevo is probably comparable to 450 in Athens a city even now more expensive than Berlin.

Apart from repeating stupid and incorrect sterotypes about Greece propagated by racist rags such as Bild (i.e. the salary is yearly. It is given in 14 installments. What's so hard to understand? As a yearly salary the average was about half the German one even before the crisis etc) what else is there you want to say?

You don't need to feel guilty. You need to drop this fatalism, stop accepting "politicians" as Gods and start participating, building a real economy. If you were in a war your whole life it was the wrong war. The only war worth fighting is a class war IMHO. You need to stop tolerating corruption as a given. The Egyptians (even poorer than you) toppled Mubarak. What's your excuse for accepting your fate without a fight? Excuse me if I don't go down the same way.

I'll be back. I have a bankster quisling government to try to topple now. And if I don't succeed I'll try again harder.. The enemy as the folks across the pond remind us, is primarily the 1%... I have no time for nationalist nonsense...

bosnian said...

I agree with you 99%, and I don't say it's OK what's happening to Greek people. The only thing I say is that Greek people ONLY can change that, nobody else. At least, Greece has the oldest democracy in the world, and, personally, Greece will make the recipe for the rest of the Europe, and maybe rest of the world.

It's not the secret what IMF is doing last 30 years, and Greece (and Bosnia) are not the first countries where they get to do what they do. Also, regarding prices, Sarajevo is one of the most expensive cities currently in Europe, and I can tell you from first hand - much more expensive then Berlin.

Regarding Egypt, yes, they took down Mubarak, and last time I check, they are still fighting. We were fighting for democracy, and 20 years after, believe me, it's just worse then it was before.

Revolution eats it's own children, don't forget that. But, after all, we all have chosen, including me and people around me, what we have now. That's my only point. And only we can change that.