Merkel in Greece

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The Greek police estimate that some 50, 000 people defied a ban on demonstrations to protest against Angela Merkel’s first visit since the 2009 debt crisis and anti-German sentiment was clearly evident on the banners: “Merkel out, Greece is not your colony” and “This is not a European Union, it’s slavery”. Some protestors were more measured. Kostas Tsikrikas the leader of Adedy, one of Greece’s biggest trade unions, said “We are not against the German people but we are against the hard-line policies put together by the strong EU members, led by Germany’’. Certainly, there seems to be a sense of unity amongst the left: “We came here to show our solidarity with the Greek people,” said Bernd Rixinger of Die Linke party.

As the European leader pushing hardest for austerity, Angela Merkel bears the brunt of anger. Some investors, notably Professor Paul De Grauwe who visited Saint Andrews University last month, are blaming Germany for the economic problems since investors transferring money from Greece to ‘‘safe’’ countries like Germany has left the Greek economy increasingly cash-starved. But does the European Union’s role go back further than 2009? When Greece joined the EU, families were told getting on the property ladder guaranteed them financial security, and now many Greeks have multiple mortgages. However, the homes they bought were over-valued, the valuations themselves made by ‘professionals’, with a financial interest in over-pricing those assets and deriving further commissions from the sale of unrealistic mortgages. It is no exaggeration to suggest the current generation will spend their lifetime trying to pay off the mortgages on properties whose values will never keep pace with those same payments.

One of the popular Greek daily papers, Ta Nea, recently ran the headline “Greece is committing suicide”. While this was a metaphor for the government’s acceptance of austerity measures, it also rings true socially, in a country which in just four years has jumped from having the lowest to the highest suicide rates in the EU. This comes largely as a result of unemployment, which has sky-rocketed to 54.2% amongst the young. Birth rates have dropped massively while the young and educated flee what is now the economic wasteland of Europe, leaving an impoverished and ageing population. In the words of Dominique Vitzileou, an Athenian civil servant who quoted Gramsci, ‘‘Our crisis is this: the old is dying, but the new cannot be born.’’

Photo credit: Michael Panse

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