Saturday, 25 August 2012

A spiral of despair

Scenes of violence errupted on Thursday in Corinth between the fascist party, local residents and municipal forces (including local MP Efstathios Boukouras) on the one hand, and the riot police and anti-racist campaigners on the other, after police tried to use an old army barracks as a detention centre for 400 immigrants who had been transported there as part of the Xenios Zeus operation. Members of the fascist group blocked the entrance to the army barracks which resulted in the immigrants having to be kept in prison buses, the so-called klouves, for hours with temperatures reaching 40oC.

(These two klouves are permanently stationed near Syntagma)

The local Anti-Racist Initiative made the following statement: 'We denounce the racist Xenios Zeus program that began in our city today. We want to make ourselves clear. No prison camp, anywhere, ever. We refuse to relive the horrors of fascism.  Fight poverty, not the destitute'.

Fascism is rearing its ugly head in Greece, a country that fought a long and sustained campaign against fascism during WWII. As always in times of economic hardship, the desperation of people allows such dangerous groups to start spreading their message of hatred and destruction.

The signs of economic, political and social collapse are everywhere.

On Wednesday another man jumped to his death from the fourth floor of an apartment building. The cause of death was cited as 'dire economic problems'.  Greece has had one of the lowest suicide rates in Europe but this has dramatically changed in the last few months: there were 350 attempts and 50 deaths in June alone. Most of these suicides are acted out in public, in an almost ritualistic fashion, the last desperate message of people who cannot take it anymore.

There has been a considerable rise in the numbers of homeless people, particularly in Athens. The Klimaka shelter in Gazi was originally set up to help drug addicts, immmigrants and the mentally ill that the non-existent social security system would not help. Recently however the shelter has been inundated with what they call the 'new homeless', predominantly men in their 30s and 40s, who have lost their homes because they were unable to pay the rent or the mortgage. Their numbers have risen to 13,000 in a city of 4 million, a rise of 25%.

'They don't have the traditional profile of homeless people. They are well dressed and well educated. Until last year they had a good flat or a nice car. Now they have nothing. So it's another kind of misery - another kind of poverty. We were not prepared for this poverty, but it exists' , says Ms Nousi one of the workers in one of the many municipal soup kitchens that have been set up.

The situation in hospitals is dire. There is a shortage of drugs, equipment and basic first aid. There are stories of patients being asked to bring their own syringes and gauzes when entering hospital. The shortage of doctors is resulting in extremely long queues and in a cut to the doctor/patient time allocation.

The government is thinking of proposing a new 15,000 euro ceiling on per capita, per annum spending. The breakdown of the sum was presented as follows: it covers 12 monthly visits to a doctor to collect repeat prescriptions (this may seem absurd, but it is a necessary process under the bureaucratic yoke that Greece is under), two check ups a year and one hospital stay of  four days per year. If a patient requires more than this, s/he will have to pay 10 euros per additional doctor visit and 15% of hospital fees for every day beyond the four provided. This sounds o.k. if you are healthy but what about people who suffer from chronic illnesses, or have a serious accident and who might not be able to afford to pay the extra expenses?

What these new measures will do is effectively abolish the meagre welfare state that exists in Greece and will knock down the right to medical care and any concept of equality.  What these measures are not going to do is address the huge corruption and waste that exists in hospitals and which bleeds the public sector dry.

Doctors who work for the National Organisation for National Health Provision (EOPYY) are about to go on strike because some of them have not been paid for two years. Pharmacies in 14 counties are refusing to provide medicines on credit to customers insured with the EOPYY because they have not been paid. EOPYY owes pharmacists 177 million euros for prescriptions in May and another 145 million for drugs provided in June. Customers will have to pay for those drugs themselves until the matter is settled.

Unfortunately austerity only hits the poor, the vulnerable, welfare provision, wages, pensions, the minimum wage, and jobs. It does not extend to the rich, to corruption or to arms expenditure.

So, here are some facts about where a huge chunk of the GDP is going:
  • In 2006, just as the economic crisis was looming, Greece was the 3rd biggest arms importer after China and India.
  • In the past 10 years its arms budget has been 4% of its GDP, more than 900 euros per person
  • Had Greece spent the EU average of 1.7% on military expenditure over the last 20 years, it would have saved a total of 57% of its GDP and would have been among the typical EU countries struggling with recession, rather than being completely bankrupt
  • Germany and France have been profiting greatly from this overspend, in fact Greece bought more of Germany's weapons than any other country, buying 15% of its weapons. During that time Greece was also France's 3rd best customer.
  • In 2007, 1bn was spent on French and German weapons while social spending was cut by 1.8bn.

Meanwhile, the government, a coalition including ND and PASOK (I really don't know what the third member of the coalition, the so-called Democratic Left is playing at), the two parties that got us in this mess in the first place, are in the process of finalising the next round of cuts that will hit pensions, wages, employment and benefits.

The pressures from the Troika, the guarding of their economic interests by the major players of the EU, the incompetence and corruption of the Greek state which shows no care for its people, are all contributing to the impoverishment of the Greek people, all leading to a major polarisation in a society that is weighed down by all these pressures - where is all this leading? History has taught us a lot of lessons that no one in government seems concerned about. I despair for the future.

Sources: 'Greece's austerity does not extend to its arms budget', Paul Haydon, 21 March 2012,
                        The Guardian

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