Austerity takes toll on cradle of democracy
Greece Letter: Extremism is fast becoming a political default in this humiliated country
But it is not only domestic affairs that are infuriating the Greeks. In June, the International Monetary Fund, which has led the EU-IMF troika in imposing austerity measures on Greece in exchange for massive bailouts, admitted that errors had been made in the original package of loans and payback. They got it wrong.
They miscalculated the effects of austerity measures and did not realise that many of the conditions imposed (such as privatisations and reduction in the number of public servants) were incapable of being implemented. And the result? A much deeper and longer recession than expected, with 27 per cent unemployed overall and, among young people, a whopping 60-65 per cent.
Meanwhile, two other developments have either encouraged or disheartened Greeks. At the end of July, vice-president of the European Commission Viviane Reding from Luxembourg (itself no great admirer of the EU), suggested that it might be time for the troika to pull out of Greece. “European citizens do not trust the troika, and they are right,” she said, calling for public service dismissals to be debated openly in the European Parliament. Concerning young people she said: “We cannot afford to lose this generation.” And she wasn’t talking just about Greece.
But almost at the same time leaks from Germany indicated that a third bailout for Greece will be necessary in the new year, a fact that German chancellor Angela Merkel is trying desperately to sweep under the carpet in the run-up to this month’s elections. German opposition to another bailout is trenchant and could lose her the election.
So what are Greeks to do? Shout “Hurrah!” because an EU commissioner says Greece has suffered enough, or shoot themselves because it looks as if more austerity is on the way?
If the existing measures are “unbearable” – to use the IMF’s word – and more taxes and pay cuts are on the way to pay for the third bailout, it is unsurprising that young people – many of whom are highly qualified, but unable to find jobs of any kind – are being recruited into anarchist groups who state baldly that they are “very angry and don’t have anything to hope for”.