Theo has two degrees. “Last year I had a job in commerce and a salary. Now I am selling my possessions on the street and living day-to-day after my wage was reduced to €3 an hour due to cuts. I quit my job due to the degradation of such a low wage but many of my colleagues are still working under those conditions.”
Most of his friends have left Greece for Italy and Switzerland. The government is now calling for a further 22% cut to the minimum wage.
The austerity measures being imposed on Greece are hard to argue for, from a social, political or financial point of view.
[picture of Theo, above]
Hundreds of parents do not have money or food for their children. Four children, including a newborn baby, were recently abandoned on the doorstep of the youth centre, Ark of the World in Athens.
Anna, aged four, was left at her school holding a note that read: “I will not be coming to pick up Anna today because I cannot afford to look after her. Please take good care of her. Sorry.”
Judging by the latest protests and riots, it is clear that if these are imposed on the Greek public, a social explosion is inevitable. Not to mention the possibility of the military, who have been in check since the fall of the dictatorship in 1974, making an unwelcome comeback.
Violent crime is increasing. Recently a girl’s house was robbed during the day and her 17-year old sister’s face was slashed. This is by no means an isolated incident.
The government even switch off the traffic lights at night in an effort to save money and Zoe, a waitress, said they have also stopped all food testing.
Marlena, a store owner, in downtown Athens told me that she is experiencing significantly lower sales, an increase in theft and a lot of drug use outside her shop. I myself saw dozens of people injecting heroin in broad daylight. Ella, an estate agent, paid more in taxes than she earned in the period between December 2011 and February 2012.
[a common sentiment in Greece]
The Communist Party and the extreme-right wing party are experiencing big surges in support, primarily from the youth, over 50% of whom are unemployed.
On top of that, the asylum situation in Greece has now been declared a humanitarian crisis by the UN: a first for Europe. This short documentary outlines just how abhorrent life is for the immigrants.
Ultimately, it remains that huge wage cuts, slashed pensions and multiple tax hikes are not ways to save a failing economy. By defaulting and reverting to the Drachma, Greece would be able to shrink its existing debt to half and increase the competitiveness of its exports.
There would also be a renaissance in Greek industries meaning desperately needed job creation and a boost to public morale.
The transition will not be easy, but for Theo, Marlena, Anna and millions more Greeks – this may be the only option if they are to survive this crisis.
The average taxi driver now makes between €15 and €20 a day – one told me that he has three children and high expenses. With the constant tax hikes soon he won’t be able to cover his families basic needs: “Forget university, I am worried that I won’t be able to keep a roof over my children’s heads in the coming months.”
Names have been changed to protect people’s identities
The overwhelming response to this article was: “I had no idea things were so bad.”
My question is, as campaigners, what can we do to highlight these issues in the media, provide support to the Greek people and shift the debate away from a solely economic and political viewpoint?
Any thoughts on this are very welcome.