GreeceWatch: Crisis deepens, worries abound


The disaster that is Greece continues to spiral into new depths of misery as the grip of austerity tightens on the Cradle of Democracy.

The latest news brings word of a deepening health crisis, a threat to the nation’s archaeological legacy, the transformation of police into corporate rent-a-cops, more labor actions, and much, much more.

Explosion rocks jobs-cutting agency

First, a video from China’s CCTV:

Details from Rob Cooper of the London Daily Mail:

A bomb exploded outside a Greek ministry responsible for axing 150,000 public sector jobs last night – apparently in protest at government spending cuts.

Windows were smashed and desks were damaged in the blast outside the Public Sector Reform Ministry in Athens.

The department are axeing 150,000 government posts by 2015 in an austerity drive.

The explosion happened just a day after protesters marching in memory of a man who killed himself over financial woes that he blamed on the government.

Demonstrators marched after a memorial service for Dimitris Christoulas, 77, a retired pharmacist who shot himself in the Greek capital’s Syntagma Square.

Read the rest.

Greek ferry workers stage holiday walkout

Hit hard by mandatory pay cuts and reductions in their pensions, Greek ferry workers — the folks who run the ships for those tourist-popular island trips — are staging a walkout today and Wednesday.

From Athens News:

Ferry workers began a 48-hour strike on Tuesday, leaving travellers stranded during one of the country’s most important holidays and ignoring calls from the government not disrupt the key tourism sector.

Tens of thousands travel to the islands every year to celebrate Orthodox Easter with their families. This marks the start of the high season for the tourism sector, an industry that provides one in five jobs in the country.

“None of the ferries scheduled to depart from Piraeus this morning has left,” a coastguard official said, adding at least five ferries had been cancelled so far.

Read the rest.

Downsized hospitals hit by patient influx

With large numbers of Greeks facing near-starvation and rising levels of stress, more people need health care.

There’s only one problem: Greece’s public health system has been ravaged by the bankster-imposed austerity mandate, and it’s finding itself ill-equipped to treast the rising tide of health problems caused by that same austerian regime.

From Ekathemerini:

As Greece struggles to cut its spending on public healthcare, demand for the services of state hospital and doctors is rising consistently, according the latest data from the National Health System (ESY).

In January and February, an average of some 536,500 people per month sought treatment at public hospital’s outpatient departments. This is a hike of about 8,500 people per month compared to the same period last year.

The number of people hospitalized also continues to increase. Some 197,000 people were treated per month in January and February this year, compared to about 191,000 per month in 2011. About 2,600 more surgeries are also being conducted each month.

This year is set to be the third in the row to see the number of people using public health services rising, as the economic crisis has led to more people ditching their private health insurance policies. There have also been suggestions that the crisis is having a negative impact on Greeks’ health. Former government spokesman and health policy professor Ilias Mossialos told Skai radio on Saturday that Greeks will see their life expectancy drop as a result of the current economic difficulties. He added that Greece was ranked sixth on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) list for health spending as a percentage of gross domestic product, which reached 9.5 percent.

Read the rest.

Greece’s ancient heritage in peril

While the ancient sites of the Middle East are imperiled by hordes of looters who have capitalized on crisis to loot ancient sites, the class war in Greece is creating a similar crisis, as that nation’s archaeologists try to cope with austerity.

From Agence France-Presse:

Faced with massive public debt, Greece is finding that its fabled antiquity heritage is proving a growing burden with licensed digs postponed, illegal ones proliferating, museum staff trimmed and valuable pieces stolen.

“Greece’s historic remains have become our curse,” whispered an archaeologist at a recent media event organized to protest spending cuts imposed on the country for the past two years as a condition for European Union and International Monetary Fund loans.

With Greece moving into a fifth year of recession, licensed archaeology digs are finding it ever harder to obtain public funds while antiquity smuggling is on the rise, archaeologists warned at the meeting.

“There are an increasing number of illegal digs near archaeological sites,” said Despina Koutsoumba, head of the association of Greek archaeologists.

Some senior archaeologists have argued that given the lack of funds for archaeological research, it would be wiser to rebury valuable discoveries to better protect them.

Read the rest.

Greek athletes also hit by austerity

Greece, the nation that gave the world its most famous athletic competition, has been slashing funds to support the nation’s amateur athletic programs, leaving coaches unpaid and facilities imperiled.

One result: Greece can’t send a full complement of athletes to compete in this year’s reincarnation of the competition born in their land.

From Andy Bull of The Guardian:

The Greek Athletics Federation has been forced to indefinitely suspend all domestic competitions because severe funding cuts have made life impossible for athletes, coaches and support staff. In just over a month’s time Greece will host the Olympic flame lighting ceremony ahead of London 2012 but, as the suspension highlights, the country’s own Olympic preparations are a shambles.

Tradition dictates that the Greek team always lead the procession of athletes during the Olympic opening ceremony, but the government’s cuts mean that this summer the country will be sending its smallest squad since the 1992 Games in Barcelona. Only 75 athletes will travel to London, less than half the number who attended the Games in Beijing and only a sixth of the number who competed at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

The head of the athletics federation, Vassilis Sevastis, said: “The cuts in funding for the federation, last year and this year, are so extensive that they do not allow us to cover our basic needs. We can’t do our job properly. We’re at a dead-end financially.” The federation’s budget was cut by a third in 2011 and by a third again in 2012. It has €6.5m (£5.4m) to spend this year. It is not enough to cover basic operating costs and leaves coaches and other support staff unpaid for their previous year’s work.

Read the rest.

Universities endangered

Strapped for cash, Greece’s universities are contemplating the unthinkable: Closing.

The irony is obvious: Education is hailed as the way out of poverty, yet the demands of the austerians threaten the very institutions offering that hope.

From Areti Kotseli of Greek Reporter

Universities’ function is at stake as a result of the extensive cuts to University assets in the Bank of Greece at the beginning of March (PSI).

During [last week’s] urgent Hellenic Universities Rectors’ Synod it was established that several Greek universities are on the brink of economic collapse as their bank accounts are almost empty.

Turning universities’ assets to state bonds – as imposed by the PSI – deprived them of millions of Euros, Rector of the University of Ioannina and member of the Presiding Board of the Synod, Tr. Albanis stressed.

The amount of 120 million Euros from 17 universities’ accounts in Bank of Greece – covering functional needs – is barely 33 million Euros today, while six schools have zero accounts.

Read the rest.

Angry Greek attacks pawnbroker shops

One group that always does well in crisis is the collection of folks who make their livings by buying cheap.

So it should come as no surprise that attacks on pawnbroker shops are on the rise, convenient symbols of the profiteering that always accompanies economic crisis.

From the Greek Streets reports:

Under this condition of crisis and poverty, pawnbrokers are opening in huge numbers all around the country, offering some very much needed cash in exchange for valuables like golden jewellery etc. Yesterday night, 7 such shops got their windows broken and paint-bombs thrown on their façades in the Pagrati and Vyronas neighbourhoods of Athens. A communiqué titled “For a Tin of Oil they take your house – Break the shop of every black-marketer” was issued claiming responsibility for these attacks, ending: “Let’s crush those who become richer through others’ poverty and misery.”

Read the rest.

But pawnshops have a solution!

In Greece, rent-a-cops are really rented cops, as in real police — plus their motorcycles, cars, and even helicopters — rented out by the hour.

And really cheap.

From Keep Talking Greece:

Feel unsafe when you go to pick up money from your local bank? You could rent a trained guard from squads of  Greek Police EL.AS. For just 30 euro per hour. For additional 20 euro you could also be escorted by a policeman on a motorcycle or accompanied by a police dog. A police helicopter is available to 1,500 euro. For regular customers, Greek Police offers price reductions.

In a bill prepared by the Ministries of Citizens’ Protection and Finance, all personnel, all vehicles, motorcycles, car and helicopters of the Greek Police EL.AS. can be rented by private companies and individuals. The full rental price list was published in the Official Gazette a couple of days ago. However the police officers will have no extra benefits for the services outside their normal duties, they will just be used as cheap labour forces specialized in security issues.

The Rent-A-Greek-Cop plan aiming to increase state revenues was revealed by Sunday edition of Proto Thema. Thus the newspaper claims that the current Minister of Citizens’ Protection Chryssochoides had no idea about the plan. The decision that was taken by his predecessor Papoutsis, deputy CP minister Othonas and Finance minister Sachinidis.

Read the rest.

But wait! More austerity ahead?

But of course.

From Andy Dabilis of Greek Reporter:

With elections approaching, the PASOK Socialist party’s new leader Evangelos Venizelos, who just stepped down for now as Finance Minister in a shaky hybrid government-ruling Greece, said despite two bailouts from international lenders, including a second for $175 billion that he helped engineer, Greece may still need more of the austerity measures that have sunk the country into a deep recession. In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, Venizelos, whose party has fallen from 44 percent support in 2009 when it won the elections to about 15 percent now, also said he believes those harsh conditions could be altered if needed, although he vowed previously to support them.

>snip<

In an interview in which he gave evasive answers to hard questions, Venizelos insisted that only he could rule Greece, and he couldn’t rule out more of the pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and firing of 150,000 workers the Troika demanded. “Had we applied certain elements earlier of the second bailout package, such as the reduction of the debt and the smaller cost of interest rates, we would have progressed much more by now,” he said. He also imposed 74 percent losses on investors to help Greece write down $134 billion in debt, which has locked the country out of the markets and left them reliant on continued aid from public entities.

Read the rest.

Two Greeks file suit over lost wealth

Inevitably, the destruction of retirement wealth saved by Greeks in their investments in the nation’s bonds is headed toward the courtroom, thanks to lawsuits filed by two Greeks, one rich and one a pensioner.

From Ekathemerini:

Two Greeks, a wealthy widow and a male pensioner, are suing the state for the money they have lost because of the country’s multi-billion euro debt restructuring, a court official said on Friday.

The 76-year-old widow says she has lost about 200,000 euros – roughly half her investment in Greek bonds, considered by many a safe asset before the debt crisis exploded, while the man has lost some 4,000 euros, the official said.

”It’s the first time Greek bondholders have filed a lawsuit against the state demanding that the court rule the cabinet’s decree implementing the PSI (debt swap) unconstitutional and illegal,” said the court official, who declined to be named.

Pensioners have been hard hit by Greece’s worst economic crisis since World War Two, suffering cuts of about 25 percent on average in their old-age benefits over the past two years.

Read the rest.

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