A country unraveling

With new austerity measures announced against a backdrop of persistent rumours of debt restructuring and national bankruptcy, a Greek columnist worries that the choices being offered to Greece are being accompanied by the degeneration of the state.

Published on 18 April 2011 at 14:05

For the average citizen, the pullover is unravelling. In Corinth, where 20 drivers, unimpeded, ransacked a police station to burn their fines. In Perama, where trade-unionists overturned a patrol car with personnel inside. In Keratea, where locals opposed to a landfill project have been involved in ongoing battles with police while the state has been unable to assert its authority. At toll booths and in Constitution Square, where the "Can’t pay, won’t pay" movement has unrestricted freedom to intimidate citizens who do not want to break the law. In Patras, where a group of masked individuals attacked an 80-year-old Nobel laureate [James D. Watson who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1962].

And this is not just a matter of violence and anarchy. Unions at the national power corporation DEI have been outraged by the discovery of the donation of millions of euros to one of the company’s subsidiaries. In higher education, professors responded with a threat to close universities to news that an "experts committee" had found that we spend more per student than other European countries.

In health care, where we spend as much as the United States, doctors claiming that there is a shortage of beds and equipment are denying patients access to hospital care. However, in this case, the Health Minister quickly responded by launching disciplinary procedures. In the public sector, where the highest paid workers have embarked on a succession of strikes to the point where it must now be obvious to the members of the IMF-ECB-EU troika that our tax system is worse off than it was before it was overhauled in 2009!

There is no turning back

And all of this is taking place in an incredible climate of confusion which has been compounded by the ambiguous behaviour of government ministers. For example, the Minister for Citizen Protection who, in the wake of a few successes that included the arrest of a number of terrorists, has now decided to adopt the same method as his predecessor and is refusing to assume responsibility for his position. Ditto for the Minister for the Environment who, to date, has had nothing to say about the Keratea landfill.

Confusion also prevails in the economy, with members of PASOK [the ruling socialist party] flirting with the idea of debt restructuring, and in so doing demonstrating their ignorance of the difficult realities of our position in Europe and on financial markets. It goes without saying that the troika technocrats are now threatening to withhold payment of the fourth installment of the 110 billion euro loan — and if that happens, there will be no point in talking about restructuring.

This was the dilemma addressed by Prime Minister George Papandreou in his 15 April speech to parliamentary members of his party, in which he announced further austerity measures. In recent days, we have been warned of the scenarios for the near future if we accept restructuring for the good of the people: public services will have no money to pay their staff, and a shortage of doctors and equipment will result in the closure of our hospitals.

Today’s To Vima poll shows that in spite of disappointment with the government, a majority of the public continues to share its concerns, and it is high time that the ministers and MPs of PASOK recognised this fact. There is no turning back, from now on we will have to go forward.

Rumours

Denials of debt restructuring

Eleftherotypia claims that the Greek government "has issued a request to the IMF and the EU to restructure all of Greece’s public debt." According to the Athens daily, "procedures for restructuring are on the agenda for discussion in June and will be applied in 2012." The request was made by Finance Minister Georges Papaconstantinou at an informal meeting of Europe’s finance ministers at the beginning of April, and on the occasion of a visit by experts representing the IMF-ECB-EU troika. "Denials of debt restructuring are justified,” remarks the daily, “because this type of news is never announced in advance.” A high official at the IMF contacted by Eleftherotypia “affirmed that the denials will continue until the last moment.”

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