Crisis, its aftermaths and the student’s movement. (6,2011)

αρχείο λήψης[1] “THE AFTERMATHS OF THE 2010-2011 GREEK DEBT CRISIS AND THE REACTION OF THE STUDENTS MOVEMENT”

sSince May 2010, Greece is undergoing one of its worst financial crisis’s. The previous crash of the Athenian Stoke Market in 1999 had left the Greek economy with a leakage of 100 billion Euros. The 2010-2011 debt crisis, an aftermath of what has started as a global financial crisis 3 years ago with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers financial services firm, led Greece to owe more than 300 billion Euros to foreign creditors. In order to avoid a possible bankruptcy. Prime Minister Mr. Papandreou’s Government signed a loan package of 110 billion Euros, while in the meantime he took a series of austerity measures which included spending cuts (mostly through salaries), tax increases and mass dismissals which failed to improve the situation. On 13 June 2011, standard and poor’s lowered the Greek sovereign debt to a CCC rating, the lowest in the world, following the findings of a bilateral EU-IMF audit which called for further austerity measures. After the major political parties failed to reach consensus on the necessary measures to qualify for a further bailout package, Mr. Papandreou proposed a re-shuffled cabinet and asked for a vote of confidence in the parliament. The new loan package was voted and more drastic cutting measures are about to be put into force.

In reaction to the memorandum signed between Greece and the European Union, major protests, demonstrations and general strikes are taking place since last year across Greece, with a huge deterioration during the last months. Three people were killed on the May 5th 2010 protests which were of the largest since the fall of dictatorship in 1973. With some polls showing that 62% of the people asked to believe signing the memorandum were a bad decision, protest activity has escalated, leading to widespread social unrest and anti-governmental sentiment. On 25 May 2011, anti-austerity protestors, students in their majority, organized by the Direct Democracy Now! Movement (known as Indignant Citizens Movement), starting demonstrating in major cities across Greece. This second wave of demonstrations proved different from the years before in that they are not partisan and began through peaceful means. This – since the time this article is written – continuous citizens’ movement (numbering more than 300,000 people gathered in front of the parliament on June 5 -the second day of pan-European demonstrations), has the support of 70% of the population (according to research published by the Statistics Department of the Economic University in Athens) and has turned out to be one of the most significant peoples’ movements, as Greeks from different social castes ‘with no expression of affiliation to any political party, are forming a strong bond, demanding more social orientated policies to handle the debt. Demonstrations are taking place daily, and people’s assemblies are organized afterwards, in early evenings at Syntagma square (what is believed to be the epitome of Democracy), to propose opinions and solutions. The majority of people participating are students and youths. Sparked by the 2011 Spanish protests, these demonstrations were organized entirely using social networking sites (Facebook), which earned it the nickname “May of Facebook”.The demands of the demonstrations are various and are expressed mostly by students and youngsters. Slogans such as “Neither left wing, nor right wing political party-the only solution is humanity”, “Recall the brutal measures”, “Without us there’s nothing. Let’s take our lives back”, “No more unskilled inside ambulances”, “We had enough of being apathetic. It’s time for democracy”, “ Quite square (reference to the purpose of the peaceful demonstrations), “Continuous strikes until victory”, “ Fascism – never again” , “ Be the change you seek”, “ Citizens are here and fight for the democracy that you betrayed”, “ Public opinion demands all the thieves to jail, and all traitors to Goudi” ,  “Dissolution of the parliament. Public constituent Assembly”, “You’ve’ got the disease, we’ve got the solution – revolution”, with Spanish , French , Irish and Portuguese banners can be seen in Syntagma Square in front of the parliament, the main place were the uprising is taking place. The results of the Indignant Citizens Movement and how this can affect the recent political and social reality of Greece are not yet obvious. However, this movement has turned out to be a bargaining chip, which has the power to accomplish what the Greek government fails to do; terrify the creditors. The massive demonstrations of June 15th in front of the parliament and the fear of the Members to leave the building, clearly affected Mr. Papandreou, creditors and EU. The day after that, European creditors started changing their policy on Greece’s debt, with Ms. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozi underlining the necessity of a new loan package for Greece, a policy which they since then avoided. Brussels also changed their conservative policy according the 5th loan package for Greece, stating that this would be given normally. Finally Mr. Sarkozi appealed to European leaders to be responsible and compromise in order Greece to be abutted.

Greek students and youth, react in different ways to the difficult situation. According to a research published by the University of Piraeus[2], students seem very troubled about the current economical and socio-political situation of the country. In order to seek a better future, which in Greece seem to be a priori uncertain, choose to immigrate to find a job. More than ½ Greek students (55%) estimates that the extensive corruption of decades, not only of political parties but of lots of citizens themselves, is the main cause of the problem. 29% of them believe that the political inability plays a crucial role to what Greece is undergoing today. Greek students are deeply influenced by the problems of Greece, which affects their psychological situation. According to the results of the poll ,  ½ students (51%) has been psychologically affected by the crisis, with only 5% not to have been. 77% of them have already reduced the monthly costs for entertainment. Despite the fact that they are deeply affected by the crisis, students in Greece fight for a wind of change in the economical and political scene. They demand direct re-determination in several fields. They seek fair and un-bribable politicians, but they, at the same time, don’t forget the need of social ethics and responsibility, which relies on repositioning values and the energetic deal of social issues. The primary issue that troubles Greek students is future employments, who according to the research are ready to leave their country. 37% of them choose Europe, 24% USA, 34% Asia with only 4% choosing to stay in Greece. As far as the future job placement, the majority of them (67%) prefer the private market, while only 7% seeks placement in the public sector. Meanwhile ¼ wants to be self-employed. In this troubled situation it is evident that their creativity has been downsized. Not few, believe that the Greek debt is a result of international interests and well organized moves against Greek economy. When asked to predict the future situation, the majority (62%) thinks that the situation will change but more than 7 years will be needed to happen so (48%). None of the students asked, believe that things will change between the next two years. However, Greek students’ movement is trying to keep a positive view on the future to come, despite the serious problems that the country faces the last 1-2 years. They are determined to continuous efforts, as such indoor and outdoor factors confine the prospects of Greece, an unquestioned world heritage. There is no doubt that through crises, new opportunities can appear which can lead to national and international recovery. It is crucial that Greece can keep its rich human resource, as further development will be needed the days to come, which can happen through conscious students and wide knowledge.

Greek students, and lots of academics, express their concern on the future of EU as a result of the economic crisis and focus their – not falsely to many- judgmental opinion towards the economic superpowers of Europe, Germany, France and Finland. With the majority of the population expressing their anger for the ways the German Chancellor Ms. Merkel is treating Greece, her recent statements for people in the North being lazy, enjoying early and rich retirements, little work and lots of day – offs and national newspapers such as Der Spiegel and Bild being biased towards Greece, fear for a wider schism between the two nations is expressed. This fear is also expressed by the Die Welt newspaper, which included a headline about Greece, in one of its recent issues, under the title “Barrel without bottom”. The article was expressing a sense of bitterness for the total lack of understanding for the situation in Greece. “Rescuing Greece is an expression of European solidarity. However, the “saviors” seek the opposite. The European spirit is disappearing increasingly, the hostility between saviors and extents grows, and the schism between Greeks and Germans is enlarging. This is a European drama. The anger of the Greek protesters is targeted more against Berlin than the memorandum itself.” The same opinion seems to exist in the students circles, which support the opinion that the German government takes economic advantage of the current situation, without being honest to historical facts. But not only Greek students think so. In June, German citizens of Greece (between them many German lawyers), Germans from the organization “Action group for Distomo-Hamburg” and Greek students demonstrated in front of the German embassy in Athens, demanding the immediate reparations for massacres in Greece during the WWII. (With most famous the massacres in Distomo on June 10th 1944, in Kommeno Artas on August 16th 1943[3] and in Kalavryta on December 13th 1943). Banners in German and Greek demanded immediate reparations, a timeless pending in the Modern Greek History, claiming translational reparations for the massive damage caused to the country by the occupying tropes and the return of the occupation loan, granted under force from the country during the Third Reich in 1942, the return of multiple archeological treasures and the refund of about 60 million Euros, on behalf of the relatives of the victims murdered in Distomo, which were recognized recently by the Italian court in Firenze. The general President of the Lawyers Association in Germany, during the demonstration, stated that “German officials are negative. They refuse to pay these reparations, despite the fact that as far as Greece is concerned legal court decisions have been made.” adding that “Greece is the only country in Europe which hasn’t been refunded despite the fact that almost 89 holocausts took place during the German occupation.”

Students in Greece seem uncertain about the future of EU. Many think that the fact that Europe is based on a same coin, with a huge gap between the high developed and the other members, does not seem to pay off any more. Poor countries cannot compete with the stronger, based on the euro. The same opinion, for the weakness of economic integration in Europe through euro, is not new. 14 years before, on the Summit held in Amsterdam on June 12th 1997, 300 academics and economists from different countries had sent out an open letter to the European leaders, predicting the vicious circle of austerity which the euro would lead to. Now, inside students’ circles, many solutions are being proposed. The possibility of poorer economies to return to their previous ethnic coins, downsizing but retaining in standard levels and without debt and loans their economy, ensuring at the same time salaries and retirement packages through indoor development. This alternative is being discussed widely in Greece, without, though, the political will to put it into action. They are others, who express the possibility of EU to be divided into Southern and Northern economic zones with poorer economies – Portugal, Spain, Greece- being excluded from several economic privileges they now have as being a part of Euro zone as a whole, with risky and dangerous results. Others demand the refusal of public debt – even if this result in being excluded from Euro zone, nationalization of the banks, regeneration of the Social State, retribution of public wealth, and a new foreign policy not targeted to the idea of belonging to EU but more to belonging to our own country and a planet of justice. But more and more understand the need of EU to protect Greece from a possible bankruptcy, as this could lead to an economic “tsunami” which would drift many poor economies in the Euro zone and further beyond.

Greek students are mainly affected by this situation, as lots of them are economically dependent. They are constantly cutting expenses and try to live with less. Due to this fact, they discover new alternatives of entertaining, independent travelling and spend more time in indoor parties than going out. Coffee shop owners, restaurants, travel agencies, bars and many more, understand this difficulty and have created a series of sales in order to adjust to the economic situation. With a job market which takes advantage of them through very low salaries (300-350 Euros in most cases), students live with lots of difficulties. Rent and monthly expenses can hardly be paid and many are forced in finding a second job in order to adjust, resulting in few time left for studying and even rarer, free time. Considering these facts, it would be easy to say that Greece is “killing” its children. However, Greek students seem determined for revolution. In advancing their abilities, enlarging their CV’s, hardly working, rediscovering their primary goals and growing positive spirit for the future , they do not seem to give up. The positive and revolutionary spirit can be seen inside university classrooms where participation is constantly enlarging, on squares and parks, where hundreds of students come together, talk, play music, perform street arts, and give a message of hope around the world for the days to come. Their revolutionary spirit is expressed daily, by καταρρίπτουν the political κατεστημένο, demonstrating, fighting against brutal and unfair austerity measures and creating their own “state” inside the existing one, with new rules, responsibilities and development , as the Government doesn’t seem to care for the daily problems. They, by their own means, fight illegal immigration and crime on the streets of Athens, repairing damages, help their fellow citizens and forming action groups to keep balance in major cities.

Students’ reaction to the economic and sociopolitical crisis is being recognized around the world, with many sources speaking for a uprising citizens’ movement. The only thing the writer would like to add, is wishing good luck to them. They are the future of Greece and hold it in their hands.


[1] Paper presented in Ottfried student newspaper, Bamberg, Bavaria July 2011.

[2] Insurancedaily.gr, “The “Crisis” and the students view on it. A research that says it all!” (Translation from the original text), http://www.insurancedaily.gr/blog/?p=29887, accessed 10/7/2011.

[3] Facebook notes , “ The intervention of the Greek Government to the International Court of Human Rights in the Hague for the massacre in Distomo”, http://www.facebook.com/kontogiannis.panos , accessed 11/7/2011

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