Monday, March 22, 2010

Going under - Greece and revival of Thatcherism

As with any story the numbers only make so much sense by themselves and often reveal little about what is happening to ordinary people. As you probably already know Greece owes 320 billion Euros and is fighting desperately with its EU partners for the right to borrow yet more. Prime minister Giorgos Papandreou has thrown down the gauntlet to Germany, France et al to come up with a loan guarantee plan before 25th March (Greek independence day, by the way and a fact not lost on the public here) saying that otherwise Athens will go to the IMF for the money.

Whatever happens one thing is certain; the country is entering a preiod of economic depression unprecedented in its post war history with a society deeply divided and a welfare system that was struggling to cope even when Greece was being compared to Ireland in terms of its growth rates. Official figures for unemployment are about 10%, a number which is no more reliable than any other wonky statistic the government cares to publish. In reality nobody knows though local newspaper state that 20% is closer to the truth.

What we have is a return to the 80's and a re-run of Margaret Thatcher's first term as UK prime minister. Massive cuts in public services, clashes with trade unions and a promise to slash public debt are all part of the PASOK government's emergency program. In its wake we are already seeing a sharp rise in unemployment, and swathes of the country decimated as the ailing economy goes under.

Like Thatcher, Papandreou will be aclaimed abroad for being "decisive" and "brave", for taking "difficult, but necessary decisions". All the while letting others suffer for something he and his party should have stopped whilst in opposition. Where were PASOK and the shadow cabinet when the previous New Democracy government was selling the country down river?

The last time I saw the sharp end of Thatcherism was in Liverpool as a student and I still remember the damage wrought by such policies in terms of despair and hopelessness. Entire neighbourhoods wrenched apart by economists, politicians and civil servants who saw not people but graphs and pie charts. Grand theories which could be easily turned into into sound bites and question hour speeches.

I am now seeing the same financial tsunami rippling through the neighbourhoods where I live and work here in Thessaloniki. Walking through one yesterday I couldn't help but notice how many small businesses had closed down over the last few months, the number of older people riffling through rubbish bins and child beggers at the traffic lights, some barely able to see over the car bonnets.

On the other hand the political parties seem to think that it is business as usual and that they can continue putting on the same old puppet show to dazzle the public. However, no number of ads or sound bites can find you or your kids a job, nor replace the dreams you had for the future.

The levels of frustration especially among the young have reached new heights. As 24 year old Konstantinos told me, "If there's ever a war I'm out of here. I don't know anyone who'd fight, not for this government. They don't give a damn about us".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great shot!