This Will Not Be Another Greek Tragedy
We know the faces of poverty. They are recognizable in every urban landscape throughout the United States. The human instinct is to experience an immediate rush of compassion, and if generosity prevails, to act. As a Greek-American, the images of the poor lining the streets of democracy’s birthplace in Athens evokes even greater despair.
Familiarity runs rampant. Faces are discernible. The same sense of hope that we all share — our common faith and lineage — is made all the more palpable.
AUSTERITY IN GREECE
Since 2009, Greece has teetered on the edge of destruction. Poverty has skyrocketed and suicide among males has increased by 50 percent. The past 7 years have proven to be a stark reality for the Greeks — a people who, despite unfounded stereotypes, work tirelessly and courageously.
The economic catastrophe has meant dire consequences for the Greeks — severe austerity measures have translated to 25 percent wage deductions in five years, an economy that has shrunk by 25 percent, 300,000 families who can’t afford electricity, and nearly 15 percent of people on the edge of losing their healthcare. The situation is self-evident.
On January 26th, 2015, Greeks said no to the continuation of austerity measures, voting in the first far left government — led by Alex Tsipras of the Syriza party — in Europe since the 1920s or ’30s. The British journalist Paul Mason, who is filming the documentary “Greece: Dreams Take Revenge,” describes the election as a “social and psychological revolution.”
Working with young Greek filmmakers, Mason explains how looking at their “rushes” is like “they’re shooting a dream.” The youth are performing demonstrations, which typically ended in riot charges, “tear gas, baton charges, dogs and the lot,” and now they are surrounded by unarmed police. The barricades around Parliament have been removed, which Mason asserts has resulted in the elimination of “barricades in people’s minds.”
Less than a month after the pivotal elections that ousted Antonis Samaras of the New Democracy party, a dispute between Greece’s leaders and European finance ministers erupted. Discussions between Greece and European creditors fell through amidst a conflict over the future of German-backed austerity.
During discussions in Brussels, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis rejected Germany’s offer to stick to the terms of its current bailout scheme. 20,000 people made their support of Syriza’s stance against austerity known in Athens, rallying against ‘German bullying’ that will only further hinder Greece’s growth.
Mason describes Germany in its unwavering position as “eating itself over Greece. It is eroding its moral authority, and seems prepared to destroy the eurozone’s integrity just to make a point.” The German political class, Mason states, is baffled by Greece’s elections — electing a party that “wants to do something so radically different.”
What is so radical about wanting to achieve a modicum of prosperity for its citizens — to regain optimism in a country that has been overridden by economic devastation? Greece is asking for the clear-cut solution: debt relief.
The Greeks are seeking to achieve, what Mason describes, as a radical debt relief, similar to that of poor countries under the Millennium Development Goals. The current outlook estimates that emergency lending could be pulled from the European Central Bank, if Greece says goodbye to its four major banks. While German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble continues to spew derogatory claims against the Greek people, perhaps he would instead do well to embody the Greek principle of Philotimo — or love of brother.