By Reginald Johnson
It’s a crime what’s happening to Greece.
A country is slowly being destroyed while the rest of the world --- principally the richest countries like the United States --- do nothing. In fact, it’s those prosperous nations --- dominated by corporate elites and their political puppets--- that are the problem.
Greece has been under a brutal austerity regime for the past five years. It’s bled the country dry. The austerity has been ordered by the International Monetary Fund and European Union leaders in return for financial aid packages to keep the Greek government afloat, as the nation still tries to recover from the disastrous economic downturn of 2008-09.
That crash was not caused by Greece; it was in fact caused by the reckless investment practices of banks in the U.S. and the countries of western Europe, such as England, France and Germany.
For years, the Greeks have had to endure all the ill effects of austerity: wage cuts, pension reductions, cuts in services, and an economy made worse by the lack of government spending. Unemployment is widespread, and so is despair. Suicides are on the rise.
A new left-wing government in Greece this year has tried to work out more favorable terms for Greece’s financial aid. But after months of negotiations, European officials are not budging, and still demanding austerity by the Greek people in return for aid. They’re also not offering any real proposals for debt relief.
Finally, it appears, many Greeks and certainly the Syriza government now leading the country, are saying “Enough.” They’re tired of suffering and tired of the harsh demands by creditors.
Syriza leaders have set up a referendum on Sunday, in which the Greek people will be asked to vote “yes” or :”no” on whether to accept the EU’s latest austerity-aid package.
If the people vote no, it could mean the end of any bailouts for Greece, and it could also mean the nation will be forced out of the Eurozone. A yes vote means more aid, but more austerity for years to come.
Some top economists like Joseph Stiglitz, a nobel laureate, are saying the Greeks should vote no. If they leave the Eurozone, he suggests, it will be difficult, but the country may be able to start over, free of the dictates from the European Union. The nation might be able to rebound, sort of like Argentina did some years ago after it defaulted on debt obligations.
As Stiglitz wrote in The Guardian recently, “Greeks might gain the opportunity to shape a future that, though perhaps not as prosperous as the past, is far more hopeful than the unconscionable torture of the present.”
But polls are showing a real split among the Greeks on which way to vote. While everyone wants an end to austerity, many people in Greece are worried they will lose everything if the nation rebuffs the IMF/creditor demands, and then is pushed out of the Eurozone. Pensioners, for instance, worry that if the nation leaves the Eurozone and outside aid stops, Greek banks might collapse entirely, and they will be wiped out.
Others though, want to tell European leaders that Greece is not a slave, and they’ve had enough of taking orders. Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras told a huge rally in Athens Friday that Greece will not accept “ultimatums” anymore.
No matter what happens in the election, Greece is going to keep suffering, at least in the short-term.
My wife and I know a Greek couple, George and Eva Hatzikostas who operate a restaurant on Bridgeport’s north Main Street, called “Eva’s Deli --- All Things Greek.”
Both Eva and George are very sad over the turn of events in Greece. They still have family there.
I asked Eva about which way the referendum would go. She said she didn’t know for sure. But she believed many people would vote “yes,” because they’re terrified about the future if Greece no longer has a lifeline to the Eurozone.
“Either way, Greece is bleeding,” said Eva, as tears came to her eyes. “It makes me cry to say that.”