Eco­nomic ‘war’ in Greece

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - An­dre Maia

ICAME to live in Greece in 2009, on Feb. 12, the day of my birth­day. On my first night in Athens, I had a fan­tas­tic, wel­com­ing din­ner with my Greek friends. It was nor­mal for one per­son to buy ev­ery­one din­ner at the time and it was a plea­sure to share with friends. Money was enough then and trips, gifts… ev­ery­thing was pos­si­ble! A few months later things started chang­ing. Many stores closed. It was the first sign of an eco­nomic "war" that con­tin­ues to­day.Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced the same sit­u­a­tion in Por­tu­gal a few years back, I felt heart­bro­ken! The cri­sis started in Por­tu­gal in early 2000. Work­ing as an ac­tor it be­came ev­i­dent that my pro­ceeds were de­creas­ing, I started pay­ing more taxes, fuel prices in­creased, lead­ing to trans­porta­tion, food and first aid goods be­com­ing more ex­pen­sive. It was the first sign of the cri­sis. The Por­tuguese gov­ern­ments - So­cial­ists or So­cial Democrats - opened the door to the Euro­pean Union, with­out set­ting any lim­its. I never had the il­lu­sion of a United Europe of com­mon cul­tural in­ter­ests and re­spect to­ward na­tion­al­i­ties but the So­cial­ist govern­ment that signed Por­tu­gal's com­mit­ment to the EU, re­ally marked the be­gin­ning of the end.

Bank­ing prob­lems arose, cor­rupted mem­bers of gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions were un­veiled. A pri­va­ti­za­tion scheme was put for­ward, while the govern­ment started to re­duce the money al­lo­cated to Education and Health and un­em­ploy­ment rose. The sit­u­a­tion soon de­te­ri­o­rated but the Por­tuguese have gone through 49 years of dic­ta­tor­ship; they are used to suf­fer and they stand still! When Univer­sity stu­dents ap­proached ex-prime min­is­ter, Pedro Pas­sos Coelho, ask­ing him to talk about the poor state of univer­si­ties, he sim­ply showed them the door; "Go abroad!", he said and he did ab­so­lutely noth­ing. Many stu­dents mi­grated to Eng­land and the United States. It is es­ti­mated that half a mil­lion stu­dents have gone abroad dur­ing the last few years. And amid a dif­fi­cult eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment Pas­sos Coelho an­nounced he had man­aged to re­duce un­em­ploy­ment! It seems that Greece and Por­tu­gal have been shar­ing the same his­tor­i­cal events; sim­i­lar political de­vel­op­ments, the same kinds of prob­lems (eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity, cor­rup­tion) and fi­nally the cri­sis. Also iden­ti­cal mea­sures ap­plied by the TROIKA have de­stroyed fun­da­men­tal in­sti­tu­tions, such as the pub­lic education, the health sys­tem and the la­bor mar­ket. But with no education and health, a coun­try is as good as dead. Just over a year ago, the Greeks voted for SYRIZA, say­ing "no" to the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments of PA­SOK and New Democ­racy. It seems that SYRIZA started chang­ing things but it's been a dif­fi­cult fight against a Con­ser­va­tive Europe.

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