Protests in Greece: Response to Severe Austerity Measures in EU/IMF Bailout

8 May 2010

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The European Union and International Monetary Fund agreed to a $146 billion bailout for Greece after Athens committed itself to years of austerity measures. Greek government workers, who are among those bearing the brunt of the measures, 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.

Amy Goodman and Sharif Abdel Kouddous of Democracy Now speak with Costas Panayotakis, associate professor of sociology at the New York City College of Technology at the City University of New York about the events unfolding in Greece.

Watch the interview in the clip above and find its transcript below.


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 Papaconstantiou, urged Greeks to bear with the sacrifices they’ll have to make, but added that the Greek government had no other choice.

GEORGE PAPACONSTANTIOU: [TRANSLATED] …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.

PROTESTOR: [TRANSLATION] 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: Basically, you have a new government, it’s imposing the austerity policies that it run 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 bailout the German banks, French banks, and European banks that hold most of the Greek debt. So it is a very brutal, unprecedented program. 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 the strikes, general strike planned for tomorrow. I think there’s also the possibility of social explosions like the big revolt in December 2008 that you reported on. At the time, people were saying that this was the revolt of the generation of 700 euros, which was 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: The mainstream press reporting on this, I mean, The New York Times has used the word many times, ‘the profligate Greeks,’ the irresponsible Greeks. Talk about that coverage and also about the response- these austerity measures you say are more brutal than the response to the crisis here in the U.S.

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. 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’s a crisis, 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. Instead of blaming the system and the policies that cause the crisis, they look for scapegoats, so you have the rise of a right-wing populism. This is a problem in Greece. This is a problem in Europe. Oftentimes, Greeks, the way they’re 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. 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 are employed in the U.S. So, they capitalize on the understandable anger of ordinary people in the face of these crises.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of how the Socialist Prime Minister, George Papandreou, has dealt with this?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Well, I think from what I have 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- 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 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, we want to help people, but we are forced because of, you know, this 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 interest into the euro zone as a top priority. You have 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. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, it is the fortieth anniversary of the shootings at Kent state. We’ll speak with the sister of one of those killed, stay with us.

This interview was originally published by Democracy Now.

This transcript is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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