Greece: Why it all came down to this

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May 11 2011

2 May 2010. This date does not mean anything to many people. But to Greeks, it’s the day the government agreed for a multibillion euro bailout with the IMF and the EU, six months after the elections. The reason for this agreement was pretty simple. There wasn’t enough money. What wasn’t so simple was the reason it all came down to this. The government was on the verge of defaulting when this deal took place. How did that happen? Could the people and the state have done anything to prevent this catastrophe?

The roots of this sad story go deep down, back to the days after WWII. When the allied forces were dividing the world in two, communist and capitalist, Americans and Soviets, Greece was put under the American’s “care”. The problem was that many people in Greece, especially those who took part in the Resistance against the Germans, were communists and socialists. These people didn’t agree with the fact that Greece should be put under the USA’s influence. They refused to concede and the result was civil war. This war was even more catastrophic, since the country had just gotten out of WWII. When it ended in 1949, with the defeat of the communists, the country was in ruins. The countryside was completely destroyed and there was a massive wave of people who moved into the cities. Then took place the "Greece Economic Miracle". The annual GDP grew at least 8% each year from the 60s to the 70s, boosting the Greek economy. However, behind that economic growth lay social instability. There was a lot of hate between left party people and right party people. After the fall of the dictatorship in 1974, Mr. Andreas Papandreou took power and tried to bring back social stability. However, the way in which he achieved that radically changed the morality of the Greek people. People, politicians, everyone started thinking they were above the law, and think so even today. Everyone tried to steal and preserve money from everywhere they could. Tax evasion in our days is calculated to account for 25-37 % of GDP. Fraud and corruption are just another day at the office for most of the politicians. On top of that, the fact that Greece became a member of the EU and later, of the Euro made it much easier for the country to borrow money. Over the years, Greece developed a massive debt, followed by a large deficit (17% at the end of 2009). The only possible and logical result that could occur from that would be exactly what took place the 2nd May of 2010. Either bailout, or default.
By looking at the preceding events one realizes that this economic crisis is just a consequence of a much deeper social one. Children are often pressed by their parents to get a safe job in the public sector, or become a doctor. Most Greek girls I know want to become teachers. The school system relies more on private after-school lessons that on the actual schools. I hear my grandmother telling me those things and I just wonder: do these children even get the opportunity to have a dream? To have an ambition? Is that taken away from them as soon as they are born? This is one of the reasons the public sector has no money, almost 10% of the population is working there. Other stories you might hear when you're going to Greece are ones involving people retiring at the age of 50 or even 40. All those things and many more have contributed to this social and, in the end, to this economical crisis. The money that the IMF and EU have lent to Greece is part of a broader programme which involves the rehabilitation of the country's public sector, which is in ruins.
So what cause this mess? The people. Society, the economy, governments, residents, all of those things are shaped by the people. I'm not saying that all Greeks are crooks; I'm just saying that there are a lot more crooks than there should be.
I guess my conclusion is (believe me, it's hard to have one in matters like this one) that Greece can have all the money, and restructuring of the public sector it wants. If there isn't a radical change in the mentality of the people, all those efforts are just slowing down a time bomb waiting to explode, like it did one year ago.





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