News / Europe

Rough Road Ahead for Greece Despite Austerity Measures

Riot police detain a demonstrator during a protest in Athens' Syntagma (Constitution) square, June 29, 2011.
Riot police detain a demonstrator during a protest in Athens' Syntagma (Constitution) square, June 29, 2011.

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Greek politicians have voted in favor of $40 billion worth of austerity measures that were a precondition for Greece to receive international loans and stave off financial disaster. But as strikes take place across the nation and thousands gather in the capital Athens for a second day of protest.

Root problem

Democracy was born in Greece and many still consider it the cradle of Western civilization.  
But in 2011 the bedrock of democracy in Greece, its parliament, has been defended by armed police against battalions of citizens who say their voice has been forgotten.

The root of this crisis is money.

After years of borrowing, Greece is in debt. Faced with a massive deficit and under pressure from the international community, the government has revved up taxes and put the brakes on spending.

That's been bad news for most Greeks. Business profits are low and poverty rates are high.

Video footage of protests in Athens


Austerity, many in Greece say, is destroying lives.

Babis Papadimitriou, a journalist with the daily paper Kathimerini, says some Greeks conclude that the country would be better to default on its debt and leave the eurozone.

"The same people who think the austerity measures are too harsh and too difficult to implement, the same people think that if we go out of the eurozone, we will not need such austerity measures," Papadimitriou said.

Government protection

 

A policeman sprays tear gas as a protester walks away during an anti-austerity rally in Athens June 29, 2011.
A policeman sprays tear gas as a protester walks away during an anti-austerity rally in Athens June 29, 2011.

Many protestors say the rights and well-being of Greek citizens are not at the heart of government policy.

They say their government is making decisions that serve the interests of global economic powers and wealthy nations, while Greek people suffer the costs.

"This is a game of the global financial government. They want people to be down, not any resistance, absolutely nothing. So we have to fight for this," one protester said.

"I don't need them," added another protester. "I want to feel Greek again. But I'm not Greek. I'm German, I'm American. I don't know what I am."

Many though still believe that Greece is made stronger by its partners in the EU.

"I think the policies are a good step towards finding common ground with the European Union, which is I think a vision that all Greeks should aspire to," a bystander told reporters. "I don't think any country can operate in isolation these days, especially a country the size of Greece."

Hennessy video report


European 'dictatorship'

Speaking to VOA in London, analyst Vanessa Rossi says it's up to Greek politicians to avert the appearance of a "European dictatorship."

"Most of this problem actually pertains to the internal situation - that is the lack of engagement between the population and its own political class and the lack of engagement with solutions to go forward," Rossi explained.

Rossi says the fate of Greece and its place in the eurozone is in Greek hands, but its grip is weak.  She says politicians must balance the needs of its people with the demands of its global partners.

"I really don't think that there is a desire with the eurozone to see member states leave," Rossi added.  "But there are conditions under which it's quite difficult to offer further assistance. We have to look at both sides of that equation and we have to make a fair deal that's agreeable to all of them."

And with street battles raging in the Greek capital, without a compromise it's unclear if the government can maintain its authority.  If it fails to do so, Greece may be forced to bid farewell to its membership of the eurozone, whether it wants to or not.

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