Tag Archives: Greece austerity

Saving private wages: heroic act or con trick?

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

If you walk along Adrianou Street, which runs alongside the Acropolis, in Athens you can brighten up your stroll by taking in one of the games of three card monte that often takes place there. It’s entertaining to watch the dealers work with their shills to display wonderful sleight of hand and mesmerizing misdirection as they fool punters. But if confidence tricks are your thing, you might be better off walking a few hundred meters up the road and visiting Parliament because the street hustlers have nothing on Greece’s politicians

Within minutes of PASOK’s George Papandreou, New Democracy’s Antonis Samaras and Popular Orthodox Rally’s  (LAOS) Giorgos Karatzaferis completing their make-or-break talks with Prime Minister Lucas Papademos on Sunday night, statements about battles being fought and rights being salvaged were launched into the Athens night.

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Ghost dog

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

We all needed a moment or two to recover from Development Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis’s “the dog ate my memorandum” moment this week, but now the dust has settled it’s clear that regardless of whether it was a monumental gaffe or a misguided tactical move, the PASOK official’s plea of ignorance encapsulated the dilemma that’s been plaguing Greece throughout this crisis.

Hovering between confusion and collapse, Greece is suffering from the most extreme state of schizophrenia as it flits from all-out opposition to hands-down acceptance of the terms being attached to the emergency funding being provided by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

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Umbrella union: 10 myths about Greece and the crisis

Animated illustration by Manos Symeonakis

There is a wonderful short documentary doing the rounds on the Internet at the moment courtesy of The New York Times. Directed by Errol Morris, the film focuses on the presence of the so-called “Umbrella Man” at the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. With the help of private detective and former philosophy professor Josiah Thompson, Morris paints the picture of the apparently sinister presence of a man holding a black umbrella on a sunny day in Dallas exactly at the point where Kennedy was shot.

However, Thompson goes on to point out that the Umbrella Man eventually came forward and explained that he was holding the umbrella as a protest against the appeasement policy of JFK’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, when he was US ambassador to Britain before the Second World War. The umbrella was a visual reference to the British prime minister at the time, Neville Chamberlain, who also carried one.

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Namaste Greece

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

“Greece won’t become India,” Prime Minister George Papandreou apparently told members of his beleaguered PASOK party this week. Papandreou struck this note of defiance after the troika team monitoring Greece’s public finances caught the government off guard by asking for the minimum wage to be lowered or for collective contracts to be scrapped.

Papandreou’s comment prompted much mirth about him once claiming Greece should become the Denmark of the South and now having to fight to keep his country from becoming the India of the North. Others pointed out that, indeed, there was no chance of Greece becoming India because given the current deep recession, structural failures and stifling austerity measures, there is no way it could match the subcontinent’s dynamism — whereas the Greek economy is expected to shrink by 5.5 percent this year, India is growing at a rate of more than 7 percent.

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Cometh the hour, cometh the man

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

In times of crisis, you need politicians that are level-headed, make well-judged comments in public and have an ability to empathize with pressurized citizens. Greece has Theodoros Pangalos.

The outspoken deputy prime minister provoked a strong public and media reaction when he claimed last week that he would have trouble paying the emergency property tax. Pangalos explained in a live TV interview that his bill would be particularly large as he had the misfortune of inheriting several properties. The PASOK veteran said he was being forced to sell one of these properties to raise money to pay the tax. When asked what he would do if he couldn’t pull the deal off, Pangalos suggested that Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos might put him in jail.

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Blood, sweat, but mostly tears

Minus cigar and bulldog, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos declared on Sunday that, like Winston Churchill, the government had nothing to offer but “blood, sweat and tears.” It was a preface to his government again demanding from the Greek people that they offer all this plus one other vital factor: more of their cash.

When we come back to look at the time line of Greece’s crisis, there is little doubt that Venizelos unveiling a new emergency property tax in a bid to plug a hole in public finances to meet the targets set by the troika will be seen as the moment the silent majority’s grudging tolerance of the austerity program crumbled under the weight of unfairness and grim financial reality.

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Staring at defeat

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

Some had hoped for a dramatic and inspiring last throw of the dice to drag a confused, beleaguered and sometimes reluctant country forward, but Prime Minister George Papandreou’s speech in Thessaloniki last weekend felt distinctly like an admission of defeat.

Any address that begins by focusing on the failings of the previous government, as Papandreou’s did by rehashing the argument about New Democracy’s disastrous management of the Greek economy, is condemned to look back rather than forward.

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