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2010-05-04

Protests in Greece in Response to Severe Austerity Measures in EU, IMF Bailout

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The European Union and International Monetary Fund have agreed to a $146 billion bailout after Athens committed itself to years of austerity measures. Greek government workers plan to disrupt flights and shut down hospitals and schools as protests escalate after 30 billion euros of additional wage cuts and tax increases were unveiled. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We turn now to the economic crisis sweeping Greece. The European Union and International Monetary Fund have agreed to a $146 billion bailout after Athens committed itself to years of austerity measures. On Monday, Germany’s cabinet approved a multi-billion-dollar loan to Greece, and Greek lawmakers are expected to debate the new austerity measures and the bailout agreement today. Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou urged Greeks to bear with the sacrifices they’ll have to make, but added that the Greek government had no other choice.

    GEORGE PAPACONSTANTINOU: [translated] There’s no doubt that this program we decided on is a very difficult program. It causes reactions, because it hurts everybody. It hurts people that are not even responsible for what happened. It hurts civil servants — they see their wages being cut — pensioners who see their bonuses cut. It hurts everybody, actually. But it is the only plan that can exist at this moment. The choice is simple: it’s this program or a dead end.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Greek government workers plan to disrupt flights and shut down hospitals and schools as protests escalate after 30 billion euros of additional wage cuts and tax increases were unveiled this week. Earlier today, demonstrators unveiled banners across Greece’s best-known monument, the Acropolis, to protest the austerity measures.

    PROTESTER: [translated] We want to protest with today’s symbolic move our opposition to the government’s plans announced on Sunday. We believe that this is a time of responsibility for workers and young people. We have to be united, workers and young people, to fight so that these measures do not pass. We have the ability to fight the measures and make changes that suit us.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the bailout in Greece and the impact of austerity measures, we’re joined now by Costas Panayotakis. He’s been closely following developments in Greece and is associate professor of sociology at the New York City College of Technology at CUNY.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Lay out what’s happening.

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Yeah, basically, you have a new government. It’s imposing the austerity policies that it ran against. And this is an attempt to solve the crisis on the backs of ordinary Greeks. And as is usually the case with the International Monetary Fund, it’s also an attempt to indirectly bail out the German banks, French banks and European banks that hold most of the Greek debt. So it’s a very brutal, unprecedented program, and it will reduce wages. It will reduce pensions. It will make it easier to fire people. As people get fired, they will find their severance pay be reduced. Part of the package will actually be used to support banks and private businesses.

And there is some resistance going on. This resistance has to escalate. There are strikes, a general strike planned for tomorrow. And I think there is also the possibility that — of social explosions like the big revolt in December 2008 that you reported on. And at the time, people were saying that this was the revolt of the generation of 700 euros, which was the monthly salary for — the minimum monthly salary for many of the young workers. Well, with the new measures, the generation of 700 euros is becoming the generation of 550 euros.

So, basically, it’s a very difficult situation, and it’s an attempt to solve the crisis that has been produced by neoliberal free market policies by policies that have the same conservative philosophy, but are much more brutal and much more draconian than the policies that caused the crisis.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And the mainstream press reporting on this, I mean, The New York Times has called — used the word many times, the "profligate" Greeks, the irresponsible Greeks. Talk about that coverage and also about the response. These austerity measures are more — you say, are more brutal than the response to the crisis here in the US.

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Yeah. First of all, there is a lot of misinformation about what is going on in Greece. The wages and the pensions in Greece are anything but generous. And what you have also, it’s not that ordinary Greeks are profligate. Ordinary Greeks are basically struggling to survive. I mean, there is a problem with the government not being willing to tax people who are wealthy, people who own businesses, and so on and so forth. So, always, whenever there is a crisis, you know, salaried and wage workers are the easy mark, and this is what’s happening with this package.

And I think there is also a problem that there is a certain parallel, I think, in the United States of people being angry at bailouts and the crisis. And instead of blaming the system and the policies that cause the crisis, they look for scapegoats. So you have the rise of the right-wing populism. This is a problem in Greece. This is a problem in Europe. And oftentimes, Greeks are — you know, the way they are portrayed is basically, Greeks are being racialized within Europe. And the same is likely to happen in southern Europe, as well. So there is a new rift that is coming up, and it is feeding this kind of scapegoating that we see in the United States, if you think of the Arizona law and how supporters of the Arizona law — I saw a debate just a few days ago. The supporter of the Arizona law started by the fact that there are millions of Americans who are unemployed, and then he said there are millions of illegal immigrants who are employed in the US. So they capitalize on the understandable anger of ordinary people in face of this crisis and —-

AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of how the socialist prime minister, George Papandreou, has dealt with this?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Well, I think, you know, from what I’ve read, from what he had said, including in your program, he came in with this idea that basically political democracy can tame capitalist markets, and that’s what socialism is about, in his view. But what he’s proving, basically, is that under capitalism, the market usually ends up overpowering and making a mockery of political democracy. So I think -— and he wants to present the situation like he means well, he didn’t know what was going on, but, you know, that’s what every Greek government has said.

The conservative government, when the socialists — when they succeeded the socialists, they started out by saying the socialists were cooking the books. And the socialists were cooking the books, with the help of the Goldman Sachs. And then now they’re trying to play it innocent and say, well, you know, we want to help people, but we are forced because of, you know, the sort of misleading information we were getting. So, you know, Papandreou is not a new idealistic politician. I mean, he was part of the Greek government for a long time, including the neoliberal socialist government that ruled Greece in the 1990s and placed, you know, entrance into the eurozone as a top priority. So you’ve had a generation of neoliberal policies implemented both by both socialists and conservatives.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us, Costas Panayotakis, associate professor of sociology at New York City College of Technology at the City University of New York.

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