Why are Greeks mad? Vol. 2. By Spyros Kouvoussis
In the previous article, I analyzed why Greeks were mad when the first Memorandum was signed. Now I will continue with what happened since then and also give some hints about police violence.
When the first Memorandum was signed in 2010, the government said that it would only affect the public sector workers. Before the signing, a Media campaign orchestrated by the government and their fellow oligarchs took place, making the public sector workers seem guilty for the economic crisis. False data on their number and populist articles on the press claiming that they are the most corrupted of the world, created a public sense that they were the sole responsible for the crisis. So, in May 2010 the general public was split in half between those who agreed to cuts but only for state employees and those who understood that the state employees were just the scapegoat.
The Memorandum in general terms asked for cuts in various aspects of the state budget, out of which education, health and welfare have suffered the most. The result was recession and lower collected taxes for the state. Every three to four months the government did not manage to collect enough taxes due to recession and they imposed even more taxes which only made the recession worst. This unending cycle of recession went for two years and it still does. In numbers, the result of the Memorandum was a 30% cut in living standards, a 100% rise of homeless people and a 177% rise in unemployment. At the same time the debt/GDP ratio rose from 120% to 175%, deficit was reduced from 12,5% to 9,1% and GDP loss is estimated at 20%. The goal for the Memorandum was to put debt/GDP at 120% and reduce deficit under 3%. Since that was not the case two years later, a second bail out was necessary followed by the second Memorandum. Only this time the new Memorandum wants a 40-5% cut in wages in the private sector. As the Troikans have underlined the goal is to reach the wages of Bulgaria (118e net monthly).
The mix of policies was simple; cutting wages, raising indirect taxes, raising prices in public goods, such as electricity and water, cutting welfare benefits, restricting political rights (the head of the judicial has declared that all laws against protests should be used in order to guarantee the implementation of the Memorandum) and deregulation of the labor market. Up to present, there hasn’t been even one measure that targets the rich. Even in cases of direct taxes, such as the household tax, the rich have been in the same category with average earners and they have managed not to pay their own share. At the same moment, the luxury taxes (those implemented in extremely expensive cars, houses, diamonds, cigars and some foods) have been recalled as “damaging to the economy”. News from international Medias speak about at least 600bn Euros being deposited in banks in Switzerland from 60,000 Greeks. In contrast, 11,000,000 Greeks have 175bn deposited in banks in Greece. This shocking difference has created the sense that an extremely wealthy elite leaves in the expense of the general public. Scandals that come to light very often support that view; most of the pro-Memorandum politicians declared as income millions of Euros last year, luxury houses in the posh northern suburbs of Athens and pools while they accuse the “luxurious Greek workers” for the lost competitiveness of the economy.
The symptoms of the ruling class are evident in the police and the judicial as well. Their salaries and benefits are a special category, way better than other state employees and they are highly politicized. The Greek police was politicized since the 1930’s, in an anti-leftwing way. The military dictatorship (1967-1974) only made things worst with giving them excessive rights and high wages which were partly taken back by later democratic governments. The combination of a far right police and protests mainly being called by the left or unions is explosive. Medias and government praise the police for their role in implementing the Memorandum, which is why they only faced minor cuts while they are protected from being sacked. Incidents of police violence have never made it to the Media while this has been officially called a car accident, just like that. The day after the Parliament voted in favor of the second Memorandum, with hundred citizens getting beat outside, the government gave a week-off to every officer who was in duty. Violence on behalf of the police, while hundreds incidents go unnoticed have created the image of a police which acts in favor of the government and against the people. This image is not far from true; it is not the whole picture though. Many officers are disgusted with their colleagues’ attitudes and there have even been cases where riot police officers let down their armory but were severely punished from their superiors, both physically and legally. They are still a minority though, while the majority enjoys the sense of impunity and the relatively high wages.
To summarize, the main reason for the rage seen in the streets of Athens is the Memorandum and its failure to secure a stable financial climate although sacrifices have been huge. Most people do not see a light in the end of the tunnel while government officials insist that austerity must be the case at least until 2020 with the goal of debt/GDP being 120%, the same ratio that was seen as devastating in 2010. Would you be angry if you were in their shoes?