Greeks bay for blood but get committees

February 23, 2010

GREECEGreeks hit by a financial crisis threatening their salaries and pensions are baying for blood.

As Prime Minister George Papandreou prepares a third wave of EU-prescribed austerity measures to cut a double-digit deficit, in the streets of Athens people want someone to pay for ending their golden years and bringing their country to the brink of collapse.

“Why should we pay for a crisis we didn’t create? Those who stole our money should pay. We all know who they are. When their villas and yachts are confiscated and they are in jail, then I’ll happily give up part of my salary to help,” a friend who makes a paltry 1,400 euros a month as a professor at Athens University told me recently, echoing people from all walks of life.

Many Greeks blame their debt crisis, which has shaken the euro zone, on bad policies, corruption and cronyism. They say politicians and their cronies got rich while the economy slipped from 4 percent annual growth into its first recession in 16 years.

Polls show more than 60 percent of Greeks are willing to suffer harsh economic measures to overcome the crisis provided sacrifices are evenly distributed and those responsible for the crisis pay.

Analysts say the government must use the small window of opportunity to impose tough policies while it still enjoys people’s support.

Keenly aware of the need to keep the public on its side as it struggles with labour unions at home and a sceptical bond market abroad, the government has announce parliamentary investigations into previous scandals and dodgy statistics, blamed for shattering the country’s credibility.

But many doubt this will lead to real punishment. Parliament committees rarely issue a common conclusion, with each party usually announcing its own findings. When the governing Socialist PASOK party announced in parliament last week it would create an investigating committee on the economy, even some of its own deputies opposed it.

A Marc agency opinion poll published on Sunday showed nearly 42 percent of Greeks blame the previous conservative government for the crisis but almost 50 percent said they didn’t think parliamentary investigations were a good idea because that would only harm the country’s already tarnished image.

Commentator Yannis Pretenderis wrote in Ta Nea daily that although mid-level government officials may end up in courts for falsifying statistics, politicians are unlikely to face similar punishment.
“The economic policies, the measures and the choices that lead a country to bankruptcy are only up to the judgment of Greek voters. And they already voted (the previous government) out in October,” he wrote.

For many Greeks, this does not appear to be enough. As shops and tavernas empty, the taxman takes a bigger slice and the sting of the crisis is felt more acutely, people will be less willing to carry the burden unless those they consider responsible pay.

“I voted for this government and it should do what it promised,” said Spyros Fortis, 46, an Athens lawyer. “We would accept the measures if they are just and if the culprits are punished.”

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So typical of social-welfare states. Somebody else has gotta pay and it’s somebody else’s fault! How pathetic.

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