Obama Urges Greece to Continue Failed Policies
There is no ending to the suffering of Greeks under the austerity regimen, and yet President Obama doesn’t seem to get it.
“The unemployment rate in Greece was 27.6 percent in May, marking yet another record high for the country,” ThinkProgress reported on Thursday. “The country’s rate is more than double the average rate across the Eurozone.”
Yet, the very same day Obama was meeting with the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, at the White House to urge him not to flinch from applying more of the same poison that has caused his countrymen so much misery.
“The Obama Administration is hoping Mr. Samaras can hold his government together long enough to undertake economic reforms required as a condition for receiving millions of dollars in aid from the International Monetary Fund and Eurozone countries,” Bloomberg News reported.
Obama advised Samaras to stay the course.
“The prime minister has taken some very bold and difficult measures,” he said. And he applauded Samaras’s commitment to “taking tough actions.” But Obama also called for a focus on job creation, trying to have it both ways.
No wonder the Greeks don’t have too high an opinion of the United States.
“Just 39 percent in Greece expressed positive views of the U.S., among the lowest measured in the spring thirty-nine-nation survey,” says the Pew Research Group. “Only publics in Turkey, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan thought worse of America.”
The sullenness is not surprising, since the economic meltdown in Greece is affecting all segments of society.
“If I didn’t come here I wouldn’t have the means to feed my children,” a recently widowed father of three told The Guardian recently. “Three years ago, when I was the boss and had two employees, the idea of going anywhere to collect food would have been inconceivable. Back then, I was earning €3,000 a month and the fridge was always full.”
“It used to be that one in ten went to soup kitchens,” an unemployed civil engineer told the paper. “Today it’s more like nine out of ten.”
And hunger is not all that the Greeks are being faced with. The economic implosion has lead to a surge in support for the far right. The extreme rightwing Golden dawn secured roughly 7 percent of the vote in the last election, garnering eighteen seats in the Greek Parliament. Neofascist thugs stalk the people of Athens, especially immigrants.
“The worse the financial crisis gets and the harsher the budget cuts imposed by European creditors are, the worse the terror gets on the streets,” reports Der Spiegel. “Some victims have been beaten to death. There are parts of Athens in which refugees and minorities no longer dare to go out alone at night, and streets that are echoingly empty.”
The Golden Dawn plays on the poverty and hunger that are so prevalent in Greece today.
“A common practice for the Golden Dawn is to announce emergency soup kitchens and food distribution and then to insist that these are ‘for Greeks only,’ scapegoating immigrants,” Alexandra Politaki reports in the August issue of The Progressive.
The suffering is bound to continue because the conventional diagnosis is off the mark. The major problem in Greece is that the rich engage in massive tax avoidance, with the proportion of state revenue derived from income tax half the European average, as Mark Mazower points out in The Nation. The consequence is a perennially underfunded and broke state.
Obama's praise for Samara is no help at all in this crisis.
Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of The Progressive and co-editor of the Progressive Media Project, is the author of “ ‘Islam’ Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today” (Praeger).
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