Finally, the Greek people will be able to say a dignified ‘NO!’ to austerity. We owe it to those who suffered, those who migrated — and those who died.
Image: Anti-austerity protest at Syntagma Square in June 2011.
First Scene: Kastelorizo island, April 2010.
The then-Prime Minister Giorgakis Papandreou (son of Andreas and grandson of Giorgos) appeared on state television to send his televised message to the Greek people from the harbor of Kastelorizo: “Our ship is sinking,” he said, “and we have to turn to our partners, the IMF and the EU, who will provide us with a safe harbor where we can rebuild it.”
As the saying has it: “a ship is safe in harbor — but that’s not what ships are for.” However, this is how Greece’s self-destructive dance with the Troika began. At the time, the country’s public debt was at 120% of GDP, the unemployment rate at 12%, the youth unemployment rate at around 30%, and suicide rates were an unfamiliar concept.
Second Scene: Syntagma Square, June 29, 2011.
All I can remember is my friends’ faces covered in Maalox, teargas grenades and Molotov cocktails all over the place, even inside the Metro, the riot police going on a frenzy and beating up people, and — above all — the repetition of those “Yes to all!” statements on the radio, expressed by the majority of deputies inside the Greek Parliament.
It was the day Parliament would vote on the so-called mid-term agreement, a new round of austerity measures that included the shrinking of the Greek public sector and welfare state and the privatization of key state assets. It was also during the heyday of the Movement of the Squares, whose activists had called for a 48-hour general strike starting on June 28.
For the day after — the day of the vote — the plan was to “besiege” the Parliament so deputies wouldn’t be able to enter and vote, or if they did so at least they would feel the pressure from outside and vote no. Ambitious plan, you may say, Quixotic even, but that was what the Syntagma Assembly had decided.
It didn’t work.
“Yes to all,” the deputies said… gas grenades were falling… Maalox for those affected… chemicals… “Say no, for god’s sake!” … people fainting in the metro… beatings… arrests… the cops in the square destroying the camp… and yet again: “Yes to all…” I think those “Yeses to all” hurt us more than any of the chemicals or the beatings of the cops.
Third Scene: Florence, June 2015.
Like many of my friends, a generation of well-educated young people (owing to the fact that education in Greece is free), I don’t live in the country anymore. Still, I follow the political and economic developments and I try to spread the word of the economic and social destruction Greece is going through as much as I can.
You know, when we were finishing our university studies we were known as the “Generation of 700 euros”: a generation of well-educated young people who were obliged to live on 700 euros per month, the lowest salary in Greece at the time, which was considered far too little for anyone to survive in dignity in Athens, Thessaloniki, or any other of the big cities in the country.
Little did we know back then that, five years later, under the austerity measures dictated by the economists of the Troika and imposed by a series of slavish Greek governments, the lowest salary would have fallen to 500 euros, our parents’ salaries and grandparents’ pensions (which were not that generous either) would have been slashed by 30-40%, that the unemployment rate would reach 28%, the youth unemployment rate 50%, that suicide rates would quadruple, and that a neo-Nazi party would be in Parliament.
At the same time, the public debt skyrocketed to 180% of GDP, the rich (who would obviously benefit from the 40% reduction in worker salaries) kept becoming richer, and many of us (200.000, to be more specific, or roughly 2% of the population) would be forced to emigrate as a result of the crisis. The world’s biggest brain drain, as The Guardian called it.
None of the above is a coincidence. All of this is the direct result of the social and economic policies imposed by the Troika with the help of Greece’s “Yes to all” governments. Exactly the same policies that they are trying to blackmail Greece into continuing today.
However, this time we are being asked by the government — that of Alexis Tsipras — what we really want it to do. And for once, we will be able to say a proud and dignified ‘NO!’, as we had always wanted the deputies who were supposed to be representing us to say! We owe it to our friends who migrated, our parents and grandparents who saw their salaries and pensions being slashed, our comrades who were beaten up and arrested by the cops, and to our dead: to Pavlos and Shehzad Luqman, who were assassinated by Golden Dawn, and to the thousands who committed suicide over the course of the past five years.
It is a matter of dignity — something that can not be measured and cannot fit into the Troika’s economic statistics, but that can give strength to the humiliated to rise up against those who have humiliated them for so long.