Tag Archives: Greek debt crisis

For whom the drum rolls

Children around Greece are pacing up and down their schoolyards banging drums in preparation for the March 25 Independence Day parades. What could be more dramatic ahead of a day likely to be marked by vehement protest against the political system and the austerity measures it’s applying than a loud drumroll?

For some Greeks, March 25 is building up to be a moment to express disapproval of everything their politicians have come to represent. For others, it will be an opportunity to release their anger by hurling yogurt and abuse at their political representatives. Some will just be gripped by the fear that it could all get out of hand and rip the fragile fabric of Greek society.

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Will anyone be left standing at the end of Greece’s marathon?

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

Of all the European leaders, Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn is perhaps the last you would expect to have a finger on society’s pulse. Yet it was the Finnish technocrat who produced the most apt analogy at the end of an epic Eurogroup session that ended on Tuesday morning with eurozone finance ministers agreeing a new bailout for Greece.

“In the past two years and again this night, I’ve learned that ‘marathon’ is indeed a Greek word,” Rehn told reporters. There seemed to be an exquisite timing to the marathon reference, even though most journalists were too bleary-eyed at that point to appreciate it. Marathon can refer to one of two things: one of the most decisive battles in history, in which the ancient Greeks repelled the threat of the Persians and a disastrous future, or the long-distance race which marks the lung-busting effort of messenger Pheidippides to inform the Athenians of victory over the invading army.

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They all fall down

Collapsing buildings seem to be a good metaphor for Greece during these dark days. A number of edifices in Athens are likely to be demolished after being gutted by fire during rioting on Sunday night. The vandalism and violence destroyed what was a large and peaceful demonstration against the austerity measures in Greece’s latest loan agreement with the European Union and International Monetary Fund. The deal was approved by MPs but the turmoil this process caused within Greece’s parties emphasized that the country’s political structure is also crumbling.

While the expulsion of 43 MPs from PASOK and New Democracy for not approving the bailout was the most visible sign of a political system that is reaching the end of its days, the last week laid bare much greater inadequacies. No matter how many lawmakers are jettisoned from this hot air balloon, it won’t get off the ground again.

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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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Caution: Falling wages

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

So this is what it’s come down to. The negotiations over wages in Greece due to take place over the next few days will be a defining moment of this crisis, not because a reduction in the minimum wage or cuts to private sector salaries will make a huge difference to the economy but because it is a test of whether those involved in the process – labor unions, employers, the government and the troika – are prepared to face the truth. It is test of whether someone is willing or able to step forward with some kind of coherent plan.

It doesn’t take long to think of several good reasons why reducing private sector wages during a deep recession seems a suicidal idea. They include the fact that it would further undermine withering domestic demand and likely precipitate the closure of more businesses on top of the 38,000 that have shut down over the last two years. The more fiscally minded might point out that lower wages means lower tax revenues, which has a heightened relevance at the moment given that recent figures showed Greece raised 50 billion euros in revenues in 2011 compared to 50.8 in 2010 despite imposing a raft of new taxes.

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New Year, no time

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

There was little to learn from the marathon meeting of PASOK’s political council this week apart from the fact that if he can preside over 12 hours of non-stop debate, former Prime Minister George Papandreou would soon find work as a telethon host if he chooses not to run for party leader again.

The lengthy and apparently pointless talks among some 40 PASOK heavyweights did, however, sum up perfectly the complete dislocation that now exists between political Greece and real Greece. It is likely that 2011 will go down as a watershed year in terms of the country’s democratic evolution, as the time when Greek decision-makers of all political persuasions found themselves so far behind the public that there was no hope of catching up.

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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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