Politics Member States

Greece: A financial genocide

22 September 2011
Die Presse Vienna

Thessaloniki, September 16. A man tries to set himself on fire to protest against the government, banks and political parties.

Thessaloniki, September 16. A man tries to set himself on fire to protest against the government, banks and political parties.

Are the Greeks not sufficiently keen on saving? A Viennese lawyer living in Athens has observed the daily life of the Greeks and come to the conclusion: they save to death.

The loose talk coming from the highest politicians all across Europe about the “lazy” and “spendthrift” Greeks, some of which chatter can hardly be surpassed for stupidity, cannot go unchallenged. For the last 16 months I have had a second home in Athens and have witnessed the dramatic situation on the ground. A common complaint is that the austerity plan will never catch on because tax revenues are falling, and the willingness of the Greeks to cut back is being called into question. Surprise, surprise! Well, here are a few facts: • Pay cuts and pension cuts of up to 30 percent. • Minimum wage sinking to 600 euros per month. • Dramatic price hikes in the last 15 months (100 percent for fuel oil and petrol, 50 percent for electricity, heating, gas, public transport). • One third of the country’s 165,000 commercial firms shut down; a third can no longer pay wages. In Athens, thousands of yellow signs with "Enoikiazetai" – "For Rent” – in red letters. • In the midst of this calamity, consumption (the Greek economy was always strongly consumer-oriented) has caved in dramatically. Double-earners, those who used to bring home 4,000 euros to their families, have suddenly been reduced to 400 euros each in unemployment benefits, which are paid out only after a delay of several months. • State officials or officials in quasi-state enterprises, such as Olympic Airlines or hospitals, have been getting no salary for months and are being put off until October – or “next year”. The record is currently held by the Ministry of Culture, where many employees who worked on the Acropolis have not been paid a salary for 22 months. As they protested this (peacefully!) in a demonstration that closed off the Acropolis, they were promptly provided for in abundance – but only in tear gas. • The billions of euros in tranches from the EU actually flow back immediately into the EU – reportedly, 97 percent of it – as annual loan repayment instalments to the banks and as new interest charges. The burden will thus be gradually passed down to the European taxpayer. Until the crash the banks will continue to receive hefty interest payments, and they will write off the debts at the expense of the taxpayer. Money for structural reforms has not yet been found. • Thousands of independent truck and taxi drivers had to pay tens of thousands of euros for their licences, for which they took out loans, and now find themselves in the new climate of deregulation, in which new drivers need pay hardly any licence fees; the older drivers, however, are still saddled with their large loans and must pay them off. • New fees have been invented; to report an offence to the police, 150 euros are due immediately. The victim has to pay up before a complaint is even recorded. On the other hand, police have to pool their private money to buy petrol for the police cars. • A new property tax on dwellings will be introduced and will be levied via the electricity bill. Those who do not pay will have their power cut off. • There have been no textbooks in the public education system for months, since the state owes huge sums of money to the publishers and the publishers have stopped the deliveries. Now the students are getting CDs, and parents are to buy them laptops just to enable a class to be held. Where money for heating the schools is to be found, especially in the north, remains wholly unclear. • The university system everywhere has virtually broken down until the end of the year. Many students are unable to submit their dissertations or sit their exams. • A mass emigration of unimaginable proportions looms. Emigration consultancies are springing up. The young see no future in Greece: unemployment is up to 40 percent among young graduates and 30 percent among adolescents. The jobs that are out there are still partly in the underground economy –  no social security comes with them – and the wages are at starvation level: € 35 for a ten-hour shift in a restaurant; overtime is demanded regularly, but it’s unpaid. Consequence: the investment in the future though education and training is lost; no tax money will flow back to Greece from these people. • The mass layoffs being carried out among state officials is deliberately antisocial. The individuals being let go are mostly those who have only a few months or years ahead of them before normal retirement and are being fobbed off with 60 percent of their regular pension as “early retirees”. The burning question: Where has all money pumped in over the past decades gone? It’s certainly not gone to the population at large. The Greek people are not unwilling to save – they simply can’t any more. All the progress made in protecting workers’ rights the past few decades has been reduced to rubble. The gates to exploitation have been flung wide open; sadly, exploitation by small firms is often a necessity for survival. If it turns out that the EU troika are enjoying dinner with the Greek politicians at €300 per head, there remains only the question of when the Greek pressure cooker will have the lid blown off. What happens in and to Greece should serve as a deadly serious warning to all of Europe. A party that would have put “reasonable austerity” onto its election manifesto would never have been elected. Addressing debt reduction is necessary, so long as it remains bearable to a degree and is not bound up with financial genocide.

Translated from the German by Anton Baer