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Greek Debt Crisis

Greek austerity deal stirs anger and protests

Stephen Beard Feb 13, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: Without the $170 billion bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund that the austerity budget’s supposed to guarantee, Greece will face an almost certain default next month. But as the violent protests you might have seen pictures of over the weekend do kind of indicate, the Greek people are in no mood.

From the European Desk, Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.

Stephen Beard: Athens has just seen the most violent protest since the crisis began. More than 45 buildings were burned, 150 stores attacked and many looted. Athenians like Nakopoulos Efthymios blamed Greece’s European creditors for the trouble.

Nakopoulos Efthymios: European leaders must understand that if you push the people this is the final consequence.

Many Greeks say they can’t take any more austerity. The economy is shrinking for the fifth year in a row. Unemployment has hit 21 percent. And yet now Greece faces the further loss of 150,000 government jobs. The minimum wage and some pensions will be cut. Student Anna Maria Piskopani:

Anna Maria Piskopani: We’re not consuming. The market is not improving. By reducing our income even more it’s very, very difficult to understand how we will get out of this problem.

And author and blogger John Psarapolous says this economic misery is compounded by a sense of national humiliation.

John Psarapolous: We no longer are masters of our own social policy and labor policy. We have to take orders from those who are bankrolling the country. And that is the feeling among many people.

Many now resent the European Union, the IMF and the Germans. And yet the Greeks are torn — 70 percent want to stick with the euro. But many realize that if they don’t toe the creditors’ line to get the bailout money, Greece will default and likely be blown out of the eurozone. Journalist Elena Karanatsis:

Elena Karanatsis: We don’t want to be humiliated, but we want the money too. We have to decide: OK, which is the way that we are going to follow? It’s not very easy.

The Greek parliament has just decided to swallow the humiliation and the austerity, but says economist Nick Skrekas, that may not be the end of the matter.

Nick Skrekas: While you can vote all the lovely laws you want, in Greece sometimes these laws are not implemented very well at all.

The country faces a general election in April. John Psarapoulos says there’s no guarantee the latest Greek promises will be delivered after that election.

Psarapoulos: Will a new governing coalition religiously stick to the spirit and the letter of what will be signed with the creditors? It remains to be seen.

Greece’s creditors are now demanding that the two main party leaders sign a solemn pledge to carry out what they’ve agreed. And they’re proposing that any bailout funds be put in an escrow account — and only paid out when the Greeks make good on their promises.

At the European Desk in London, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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