The radical-left Syriza party’s meteoric rise in Grecian politics (it trailed the conservatives by just 2 percentage points in recent elections) has placed Greece on the verge of default. Here’s John Psarapoulos, writing for the Daily Beast, on the fast unfolding events from yesterday:
The political impasse came late Friday, when the radical-left Syriza refused to join socialists and conservatives in a government of national unity. The two traditional political powerhouses are self-proclaimed Europeanists, sworn to keeping Greece in the euro. They have ruled as a coalition since November, but were crippled with the loss of more than half their combined strength in this month’s election.
Across the aisle is a swelling contingent of communists and radical leftists who have seen their combined showing rise from 34 seats in the 300-seat Parliament to 97. However, even with other anti-austerity forces they cannot command a majority either.
Chief among them is Syriza, which considers Greece’s bailout usurious, and wants the country to default on its external payments in favor of internal ones to pensioners and salaried employees. It disputes the €355 billion debt figure and wants this audited by a firm of international standing. It would reverse pension and salary cuts, and even extend health and unemployment benefits the economy cannot pay for. Its plan involves taxing the rich at 75 percent and nationalizing banks.
This uncompromising platform catapulted Syriza from obscurity to second place in last Sunday’s election, just 2 points behind the conservatives. Two polls this week suggest that it would make further massive gains in a repeat election.
If Greece heads for default, how can this plausibly be contained? As Europe goes, so will go the global economy.
In America, Mitt Romney must be smiling. He’s the guy in the grandstands about to see a home run ball slowly arch and descend into his lap.
But the human toll for Greek citizens is appalling:
It is here [in Athens] that George Koumbouros, in his mid-70s, now regularly avails himself of food and medical aid handed out by Doctors of the World. The outreach center was originally set up for immigrants, but 90 percent of its beneficiaries are now Greeks, doctors there say.
George is the father of seven and grandfather of 14. He says neither he nor any of his children have been able to find work for two years.
“My son set out the other day in his car to pick up recyclable goods from dumpsters. He couldn’t find any. Even that has been claimed before we can get to it,” he said fighting back tears. “What are we supposed to do? Our only options are to become criminals or kill ourselves.”
Malamo Voulgaropoulou, a former singer now in her 80s, is one of many pensioners who rummage through dumpsters for food. “I find eggplants, tomatoes, zucchinis, and greens,” she says. “I wash them very thoroughly and boil them for a long time.” She and her husband avoid gleaning after farmers’ street markets, she says, because the competition is intense.
Dramatic changes in peoples’ way of life are taking place even among the middle class. Haralambos Lambropoulos, a retired Air Force commander, lives in the central neighbourhood of Neos Kosmos. His pension has been cut in half over two years, to €1,200 a month.
Talk about the collapse of a welfare state! In terms of the global economy, the second half of this year appears to be headed in the direction of one word: atrocious.
And it’s not just that a large segment of the Greek electorate is moving to the left. There are other segments moving to the right. The center is simply not holding.
The below recent half-hour (in English) on French television is deeply sobering, and it brings to mind some famous words from John Donne’s Meditation XVII:
No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.