Greece: What Lies Ahead?

In 2014 Greece will enter its seventh year of recession, with unemployment having reached a historical high of 27.5 percent and youth unemployment surpassing 65 percent.

While the Greek government has for months insisted that economic retraction and consequently prolonged austerity are coming to an end, the latest news from independent sources has played down any optimistic scenario for the years ahead. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) prediction of 0.4 percent contraction contrasts with the Greek government's forecast of 0.6 percent growth in 2014.

The OECD also pointed out that the recession in Greece had been “much deeper than expected,” and that debt would not fall below 160 percent of GDP before 2020, which was the level of debt in 2010 when Greece started implementing a harsh austerity program in exchange for rescue money.

More Austerity for Now

The last arranged bailout portion for Greece is due in mid 2014, and another political and economic arrangement will be necessary afterwards. Meanwhile criticism about the failure of the implemented structural adjustment program is rising in and outside the country.

Still the Troika (the body responsible for overseeing implementation of austerity in Greece made up of the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, and European Commission) expects the Greek government to push ahead with additional property taxes, home repossessions due to unpaid loans, and a painful reform of its civil sector.

This includes firing 15,000 employees by the end of 2014 and suspending about 12,500 civil sector jobs by the end of this year. Suspension means being out of work a year with 75 percent of your full salary, and then if no alternative employment positions are found, losing your work. Many believe that more jobs will eventually be lost.

It is the first time in a century that Greece has attempted to unravel its ineffective civil sector, and this has not happened without widespread reaction from workers. Technical schools providing career opportunities to children from low-income families will be abolished, and another 2,000 teacher jobs suspended. In all 2,200 school guards and 3,500 municipal police have also been suspended. Six small hospitals in the broader Athens area have been shut down. About 1,250 medical staff have been suspended or transferred to other facilities.

Welfare State Unravels

The Ministry of Education has planned for the suspension of administrative staff from the country’s universities, causing a long term strike at the country’s two biggest institutions since the end of September. Academics accuse the Ministry of horizontal and unjust measures that will immobilize the administrative function of universities and devalue degrees.

Hospitals drivers jobs, responsible for internal documents and moving patients, have been abolished. The biggest insurance fund, EOPYY, has also been abolished, putting 8,500 administrative staff and 1,200 doctors on temporary suspension. Most of them will return to work in a new structure that will not function as a health services provider anymore but only as a purchaser of services on the private market. Doctors will either have to move to public hospitals or enter the private market.

These health sector reforms are generally denounced by doctors who express worry about the capability of the system to keep supporting the population. About 27.7 percent of Greeks are estimated to have no access to any kind of medical insurance. The only place they can seek help is the public hospital, but come January 2014 a general ticket of €25 for hospitalization in these structures will restrict access further.

Independent groups of people have organized parallel structures to care for those who fall out of the protection net. Volunteer medical clinics or other solidarity centers have mushroomed around the country, acquiring increasing importance while the state withdraws from offering welfare services. The Metropolitan Medical Clinic of Elliniko and the Social Solidarity Clinic in Thessaloniki have been two of the most characteristic cases that grew from small neighborhood structures to organizations that treat hundred of patients every week.

Freedom of Press Under Pressure

The sudden closure of public broadcaster ERT last June was a shocking experience for the wider public. It was also the first obvious step in the direction of shrinking the public sector, with indiscriminate horizontal cuts. About 2,000 workers were fired; some of them have been re-employed by the new “Public Television” created to replace ERT, but not accepted as a lawful alternative even by the European Broadcasting Union. The closure of ERT has become a symbol of austerity’s negative impact on social and democratic rights throughout the country.

On a different and more positive note, reporter Kostas Vaxevanis, who was indicted for publishing a hidden list of possible tax evaders known as the “Lagarde List,” was acquitted after a series of trials. His case has attracted attention about the pressure on journalists who report corruption and politics in Greece, and has provoked serious criticism from abroad.

According to the 2013 Press Freedom Index, issued by the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, Greece dropped 14 places—down to 84—on a list of 179 countries, which the organization termed “a disturbingly dramatic fall.”

Cracking Down on Immigrants and Refugees

At the beginning of last summer Greece put in place a new asylum service and began serious efforts to create a system of first reception centers in order to improve the quality of control of population influxes and asylum seekers management. The effort to put in place a functional migration policy was combined with a long-term operation locking up large numbers of undocumented immigrants throughout the country for up to 18 months, as a deterrent for new arrivals and a push factor for those residing in the country informally.

Detentions not only in camps around the country, but also in inappropriate spaces at local police departments, have been characterized as inhuman. Conditions are often inappropriate, and the long-term period of detention is in contravention of European regulations. In the last few months human rights violations have included push backs of those in need of international protection, most notably Syrians.

Cracking Down on Right-Wing Extremists

The murder of 34-year-old Pavlos Fyssas on September 17 has forced the Greek government to step in and dismantle some of the structures of the neo-Nazi organization Golden Dawn. Since then a lot of information has surfaced regarding the ties of extremists with the economic and clerical establishment as well as security structures most notably the police.

The leader of Golden Dawn and many prominent members of the organization have been indicted for forming a criminal organization, and their aim to organize a motion against constitutional structures is under investigation by authorities. Still the problem of the radicalization of a big bulk of the population seems far from resolved. Following a small drop in the polls after the crackdown on its leadership and evidence came to light of right wing extremist acts, Golden Dawn’s popularity is rising again in the polls.

Civil Society

A big part of support services provision to vulnerable population groups has directly or indirectly been left increasingly to civil society and community structures. In the past NGOs played a complementary role that concerned mostly the immigrant population but through the crisis and with the disappearance of state support structures, this is changing.

NGO clinics such as Praksis and Doctors of the World have provided health services to immigrants for many years but now the Greek population is increasingly turning to them for support as well. New organizations have entered domains previously unknown to Greek civil society. A good example is the grassroots group Boroume, which provided a successful platform for reducing food waste.

Still, most provisions of services by NGOs remain largely dependent on European Union or other funds available under programs with limited duration affecting the sustainability of the structures. As a result of the crisis many of these organizations have evolved a much more upfront and politically oriented discourse in their criticism towards government policy and political choices in their field of expertise.

In the field of human rights and rule of law, some advocacy organizations, like the Hellenic League for Human Rights have become strong advocates in explaining how austerity is today the main threat to social solidarity and respect for human rights.

Another Year of Crisis Ahead

The year ahead is going to be another year of crisis for Greek society, with many who worry that Greece’s social fabric has reached breaking point. The danger of implosion and radical backlash remains, particularly while the country assumes the European Presidency for the first six months of 2014. The current government has shown austerity implementation fatigue, and the combination of local and municipal elections with the European elections in May 2014 provides an opportunity for frustrated voters to take revenge at the ballot box.

18 Comments

support democratic values in Greece!

Sobering.....

Thanks for posting this video and text, your initiative is very important and well-portayed

Political elites, the ruling class and business sectors, contributed to a large extent to what is happening in Greece and other parts of the world; they should now come together with sound strategies to remedy same.

So the solution for creating a welfare state that couldn't possibly sustain itself is "solidarity" so all of Europe can slip into a welfare state? The EU is causing these problems and then saying the solution is to go along with them? No thanks. Next they will begin to round up these "dissidents" who don't go along and cause trouble for the "solidarity". Solidarity is NOT Democracy. And democracy is never an equitable form of government for anyone. No matter what you do you must transform society with good morals and love for one another. Until you do that forget anything else. Pitting solidarity against those who see it as the inprisonment that it is is nothing but being a control freak!

There is nothing more painful than having the proverbial punch bowl removed after a nice party. Ian Treynor in the video clip got it right when he said a number of Eurozone countries had not earned the right to borrow easy money at German interest rates, and Greece's resistance to structural reforms, which it must make to guarantee sustainable growth, demonstrates the problem here. Having seen OSI's good work in Central Europe, I hope there can be focused support to the institutions that will take Greece forward, not just those picking up the pieces of a crumbling structure.

I believe that Mr. Soros is a saint. It's sick that some conspiracy theory believers in some areas of Greece shun Soros' money. He is a Billionaire and does many great thing to help society with his money that he has won due to smart bets. Bravo George Soros and I hope one day Greeks wake up and stop being paranoid about donors and their suspicios nature.

The above text reflects the situation of the country i live in.
Well done.
The only hope for Greece is to kick off the current regime of Greece and an exit of the eurozone. The sooner the better for the country.

What about the rights of non-Greek population such as Macedonians or Turks?

What about unraveling the Nazi movements and Golden Dawn?

you are right Bobby,,,,,,but this means anarchy and
no realistic solution....severe austerity is the problem
its Europe that should reconsider how the dette should
be repaid in a more humain progressive repayment
or just make a very long term arrangement to allow
Greece the time and means to face this catastrophic
situation....as i always say its negociation just and
fair negociations that could allow Greece survival and
progress and for Europe a long term sacrifice....
for the sake of this wonderful culture which gave so much
to humanity....and can continue to do so with the wealth
of its intellectual capabilities....
but of course there are other poor countries that also
do not have the capability to respond to the demands
of our so severe Merkel??
a constructive generous gesture would be the very
hard decision to"FORGIVE THE DEBT"
in any case if nothing is done i predict a general
collapse....which is on its way anyway.

European politicians still did't aware on the consequences their failure to implementing wrong measures and policies.

Greek bailout, as well as in Portugal, was unfair and unrestraint.

Thanks a lot to Open Society Foundations and, over all, to its philantrophist and wiser founder Mr. Soros!

well done,not everybody has the foresight of the future,but what is happening in nigeria is worst,in our country the president is preparing to for war against the people that voted him in ,cause of next election,we have 60-75% unemployment ,high corruption,the president appoint his lady friend to post,no rule of law.injustices is high

The microcosm of Greece reflects a GLOBAL set of problems. Our economic model is based on a neo-feudal heirarchical pyramid of wealth grounded in the imperial pillaging of the ages. It is not fit for purpose in the 21st century, with its multiple global challenges; but the forces of conservative possession will prefer to gamble on fascistic wars than to admit that the system is broken. These reactionary forces own our media and will block any open debate that challenges their hegemony. Brace yourselves for our Orwellian dystopia.

Volunteerism and community-based initiatives are important values in any season, but I would be interested in a second round in this series that identifies what alternative strategies the EU and the Troika should be considering to help ease the social crisis while the structural reforms take hold.

Sobering..............

Please, sign the petition!!

Youth unemployment now exceeds 25% in most of the EU member states, while in Spain and Greece it hits record high of 60+%. Distinguished politicians, economists, academics, authors and artists warn that unless a way is found to resolve the problem, we are a lost generation (if we haven't become lost already).

We need to influence European leaders to reflect on our future!
We need to influence the media to deliberate on our prospects!!
We need to be able to make use of our legal rights as stipulated in the Treaty of Lisbon, i.e. to sign petitions with at least one million signatures to be sent to the European Commission inviting it to take legislative initiatives on us!!!

For all these reasons I am asking you to sign this petition-initiative of DIKTIO-NETWORK for REFORM in Greece (Cyprus) and Europe, supported by the European Youth Movement !!

Bobby is correct in his assessment of the fundamental problem here: Greece entered the eurozone without adequate preparation. High on the euro, the Greek economy went into a bubble that completely undermined whatever scant potential previously existed for industrial development and encouraged unwarranted growth in both high-import-content private consumption and ostentatious, unproductive public spending. Accelerated by long-standing traditions of tax-evasion and a political culture of kleprocracy, the bubble was finally burst by the concurrence of the global banking crisis and domestic policies such as neo-liberal tax cuts and extortionate international debt-refinancing. It certainly makes sense to think of exiting the eorozone--but that alone would not suffice unless accompanied by wholesale purging of political corruption, redistributive tax-reform, and policies favoring the trend toward import-substitution that is already under way at the grass-roots level. True, such measures would entail prolonged deprivation for the Greek people--but the Greek people are already in the throes of dire deprivation without much hope of relief from the forces that brought them to this state, to begin with.

I wish more people would understand what you say.
The picture described in the article is indeed true but it's only half of the entire story.
Thanks for turning on the light on the other half.
The only good point of this entire development is the fact that public solidarity has picked up where the government has failed and this proves that there is hope for the future.

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