Wake up call?
The second bailout of 130bn Euros agreed by the EU last week to help Greece stand on its feet revived the debate on whether Greece will eventually remain or pushed out of the Eurozone. It is a debate that has split the European politicians as well as their electorate which have not made up their minds yet.
The decision of the Eurogroup to eventually give Greece another helping hand to prevent it from “imminent bankruptcy” was not taken without another package of painful concessions on behalf of the Papadimos government. This time the money will not be paid before Greece implements a 3 bn euros program of spending cuts which will push the income of the Greek citizens further down. Yesterday’s Greek press was detailing how 4 million workers in the private sector will see their salaries being slashed after the government under the instructions of the “troika” decided to reduce the minimum wages by 22%.
With economists all over the world debating whether the whole project is sustainable and whether it should be better for Greece to stay or leave the Eurozone and return to its own currency, the agreement for the second bailout generated an interesting shift on the way Western media –with exceptions, of course-, covered the problem of Greece. Where a purely economic approach to the problem and a stereotypical approach for the “laziness and rebellious character of the Greeks and the inherent corruption of the Greek politicians” was the dominant analysis until now, arguments based on the analysis that the “Greek problem” is not Greek at all but a systemic problem of the Eurozone, have now surfaced. Not that they are new. But the world media seem to wake up to the realization that the crisis in Greece cannot be covered purely as a “debt crisis”. They started to realize that it is fast developing into a severe “social explosion” which may spill over to the rest of the European countries.
The small in numbers but interesting in essence, protest movement “We are all Greeks” which sprang last week in several European and American cities gave such a sign. And it was not surprising that TV organizations such as BBC, CNN, France 24, Al Jazeera, Russia Today as well as several major international papers have decided recently to dedicate much of their space to the sufferings of the Greeks. For example, the BBC yesterday chose to prepare a special graph for the state of the Greek society: 20.9% unemployment of which 48% are young people, 25% increase in homelessness over the past three years, 27.7% of Greeks at risk of poverty or social exclusion and 5000 calls to Athens suicide hotline in 2011-double the 2010 figure. A special open TV debate that the BBC held in Athens with famous participants discussed whether Greece should stay or leave the Eurozone But the BBC went one step further with a special program in its domestic Radio 4, accompanied with a magazine column entitled “Are the Greeks the hardest workers in Europe?” where the reporter discovers that “according to the figures from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the average Greek worker toils away for 2,017 hours per year which is more than any other European country (with the Dutch at the bottom working just 1,377 hours with Germans one up the scale)”.
These figures were known for some time but it is only now that they are placed for the sake of some journalistic balance next to the well known by now “Greek statistics”. Even in the prosperous land of Germany, the paymaster of the Eurozone, the society and its media started having second thoughts over the “Greek problem”. When the German government announced that it is probably going to send tax collectors to help Greece reform its system, 160 volunteers expressed their willingness to take up the assignment. It seems that the period of the front page of Bild magazine with the rude pointed middle finger against the “lazy Greeks” is now being replaced with “a growing awareness in Germany, Europe’s leading economy, that its own prosperity is at risk as the debt crisis sucks in other countries and stifles demand within the currency bloc for German exports,” according to Reuters.