By Alex Vavoulis
Syntagma (Constitution) Square is located across the street from the Parliament Building in Athens. It is the place where many protest demonstrations have occurred because of the economic crisis. The protesters chose this site because they want to speak to the politicians who have been held responsible for much of the anguish suffered by the people of Greece.
On April 4, 2012, the square became the scene of a suicide tied to the crisis. A retired pharmacist on a fixed income had his pension “decreased to almost nothing” because of an austerity package accepted by the Greek government for a loan to keep Greece from declaring bankruptcy. The pensioner shot himself in the head so that “my family will not have the financial burden of me being alive.” Other protesters quickly constructed a shrine on the square to honor their comrade for his sacrifice to the cause.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, the police announced that they were aware of five other attempts at suicide. Italy has reported an increase in suicides due to the austerity programs imposed by outside forces as in Greece. It has become clear that the European Union at its inception should have made financial arrangements to respond to the economic crises these nations now face. Only recently has the European Union announced a 1 trillion euro firewall for this purpose. Meanwhile, Greece goes into its fifth year of recession with no predictable end in sight.
In my second article on the Greek crisis, I used a poem by the Alexandrian poet C.P. Cafavy (1863–1933), “The Barbarians are Coming,” to develop the thesis that the politicians, the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other
assorted financiers are forcing a humiliating austerity program on the Greek people. This has produced and will continue to force the middle class of Greece to protest on the streets and to show their anger to the legislators by striking.
Recently, the dock workers went on strike and brought all shipping in the country to a stop. The strike was timed with the celebration of Easter, the most important religious holiday in Greece. Ferryboats and cruise ships stopped operating in a country with more than 700 islands, causing the destruction of many agricultural products and interrupting the tourist trade—the lifeblood of Greece.
Unfortunately, the scheduled election on May 6 for a new prime minister of Greece will not help the country emerge from its economic recession. The “Troika,” which constitutes elements of the “Barbarians,” imposed the austerity program and created today’s socially toxic environment.
The two main political parties will come to the elections with serious liabilities. The Socialist Party, which has been in power for the last two years, has taken the leadership role in negotiating the austerity package with the Troika and has thus incensed the Greek electorate. The other big party is the so-called New Democracy and has all the elements of a right-wing agenda. Its leader and prime minister designate has been in Greek politics for many years and his main objective seems to be to win the election for his ego-satisfaction.
The “Barbarians” have not stopped coming to Greece, and this is wreaking havoc with the political and social life of the country. Leadership must emerge that can unite the people at this critical crossroad.
The people, though, must make a clean break with some bad habits of the last 20 years. They must have respect for the law, and they must put petty corruption aside. An ethos of ethics and morality must be reestablished; that is the way to save the country’s rich culture—not only the vast successes of ancient ancestors but also contemporary accomplishments.
What other country the size of Greece could produce two Nobel Laureates in literature or a poet and prose writer such as Nikos Kazantzakis to be acclaimed as one of the greatest authors of the 20th century, or another Cretan who became one of the world’s great artists under the name El Greco. But such outstanding people in the arts, in theater, scholars, dance and cinema are also matched in areas of diplomacy and warfare when necessary. To highlight these kinds of accomplishments, it is noteworthy to be familiar with The Sword of Zeus Project that is investigating and illuminating the key role Greece played in World War II that brought an end to the destructive forces of Nazi fascism.
Alex Vavoulis is professor emeritus in chemistry at California State University, Fresno. Contact him at email@example.com.