Waves of protest against proposed austerity measures are culminating in a multi-day general strike that has been marred by violence.
“Clouds of tear gas choked central Athens as rival demonstrators fought with stones and firebombs outside parliament Thursday, leaving one man dead and dozens injured,” ABC News reports. “Inside, the Socialist government grappled with dissent over the deeply unpopular new cutbacks demanded by creditors to keep the country afloat.”
The Greek government is caught between a rock and a hard place, torn between the demands of its creditors (and the international financial institutions that back them) on the one hand, and its population, on the other. The slash-and-burn measures that the creditors are asking for will bring about immense suffering for the Greek people. They’re not willing to take that pain, and therein lies the rub.
“Although many Greeks were willing to accept the necessity of addressing the national debt, they reject the IMF approach of socializing the losses and privatizing the gains, which puts the burden of unsustainable debt repayment squarely on the people,” writes Kia Mistilis for Foreign Policy in Focus.
The social toll that the economic crisis has taken is enormous.
“Parts of Athens look like New York City circa 1980, with shut-up shops, derelict buildings and graffitied walls,” writes Maria Margaronis for The Nation. “Depression is endemic; suicide rates have soared. For Greeks, this is much more than an economic crisis. It is a social and political convulsion unlike anything seen here at least since the fall of the colonels’ dictatorship in 1974.”
Most frighteningly, Margaronis details the rise of a neofascist movement in response to the convulsions, in the form of Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn), which has a seat on the Athens City Council. The preferred modus operandi of party members is to go around beating up immigrants and storming mosques.
Angry Greeks point out that all the German complaints about them iving high off the hog on the eurol are absurd, since Germany immensely benefits from a single currency providing it almost a full continent to easily export its goods to. (Plus, those Greeks with a longer memory recall the immense human and economic cost of the Nazi occupation of their country.)
A better way for Greece to go would instead be for the country to exit the euro and go back to its own currency. Some progressive economists are advising it to take this course.
“A threat by Greece to jettison the euro is long overdue, and it should be prepared to carry it out,” Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research writes in the New York Times, contrasting the recent experience of Greece with that of Argentina, which resumed high growth rates after removing the peso’s attachment to the dollar and defaulting on its foreign debt. “As much as the move might cost Greece in the short term, it is very unlikely that such costs would be greater than the many years of recession, stagnation and high unemployment that the European authorities are offering.”
Like Alexander, one of its most famous sons, the solution for Greece is to cut the Gordian Knot.