Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How much salvation can one country take?

Greece - Where they make a desert, they call it salvation

For a moment I thought that I'd that the last three years had all been a nasty dream. The presenter on the news was speaking in glowing terms about how Greece had been saved by its EU partners and that now that the bailout deal had been agreed the country could look forward to avoiding bankruptcy.

The problem is that we have all heard this before. In 2009 the local and foreign news organisations were both peddling the same media narrative when the first tranche of bailout cash was approved in return for implementation of tough austerity measures. I still remember the first question I was asked then during an interview with the BBC World Service; "But why are Greeks so upset about being saved?"

The inability of the foreign media to comprehend the angry reaction of Greek popular opinion to the cuts in salaries and services is once again being repeated despite three years in which the country's economy has declined so drastically that the drop in economic indicators is now on par with the United States during the early 30's at the height of the Great Depression. Unemployment now affects 1 in 4 (though that figure may be as high as 30% according to research carried out by Greece's trade union congress) and shows no sign of improving any time soon. Economic output has declined year on year since 2009 and will continue to so for the forseeable future unless present austerity policies are not abandoned.

Greece's mainstream media, owned and controlled by the country's corrupt oligarchs today is celebrating the decision by the Eurogroup to authorize the release of the next installment of bailout cash, not least because of the bulk of the money will be used to recapitalise the banks they own.On the state run news journalist speak  of the skill with which the government has avoided disaster, knowing full well that criticism or real or implied invites instant dismissal.

A much smaller proportion of the cash will go to pay wages and salaries for the immediate future. On the other hand the terms of the deal mean that thousands of public sector workers will be laid off, a decision which has seen local government grind to a halt as workers strike and occupy town halls across the country.

Here in Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city and home to over a million residents the decision by KTEL (Greece's answer to Greyhound Buses) to suspend operation means that for many the city is effectively cut off from surrounding towns. The dispute over money owed by Athens is set to spread to Thessaloniki's urban transport network as the local bus company has also threatened to stop running from the first of December unless it is paid money owed by central government.

With winter setting in, money getting ever scarcer and the cost of heating sky rocketing ordinary Greeks might be forgiven once again for hoping that EU and the IMF would not insist on saving them again

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