Greece: A Social Explosion Is Inevitable
Anna FILIMONOVA | 18.08.2013 | OPINION

Greece: A Social Explosion Is Inevitable

Recently Greece took the «honor» of first place in Europe for reducing budget expenditures on health services. In particular, expenditures on medications were reduced from 5.6 billion euros (2010) to 3.8 billion euros in 2011 and to 2.88 billion euros in 2012. As a direct result of this, over 50 world pharmaceutical companies have discontinued shipments of medications to Greece. It has become common for relatives of hospital patients to have to run exhausting marathons from pharmacy to pharmacy in search of needed medications. There is an acute shortage of medical equipment. State hospitals are short around 6,500 doctors and 20,000 nurses and orderlies; massive numbers of medical professionals are leaving the country.

Even those who are employed have difficulty paying for medical services, whose prices have abruptly shot up. More and more often people don't have the money to obtain quality medical assistance, especially in rural regions and on the islands. In a UN expert report published in May 2013, it was noted that over 10% of the total population of the country live in conditions of extreme poverty. Greece remains the only country in the Eurozone with no complex social assistance scheme, healthcare services are almost inaccessible to poor and low-income citizens, and almost a third of the population does not have state medical insurance. 

Despite the forced liquidation of the social state in Greece, the crisis which has swept over the country is only getting worse, and payment of debts to international creditors is becoming more difficult. When in March 2012 private investors were forced to forgive Greece over 50% of its debt, Goldman Sachs, for example, refused to restructure Greece's debt. The country's 5 billion dollar borrowings will be paid back to the bank in full. As Wall Street trader A. Rastani stated not long before Lucas Papademos was appointed prime minister of Greece, «we don't really care that much how they're going to fix the economy, how they're going to fix the whole situation; our job is to make money from it and personally I've been dreaming of this moment for three years. I go to bed every night and I dream of another recession...When the market crashes...if you know what to do, if you have the right plan to set up you can make a lot of money from this.» Apparently that «right plan» has been set into motion. On the one hand, the goal of reducing the amount of the Greek debt to 124% of the GDP was set; on the other, in 2012 the debt had already reached 156%, in 2013 it will be at least 175%, and by 2014 it will be at least 190% of the country's GDP.

The full-scale offensive against state property continues. In 2010 the government of G. Papandreou guaranteed international creditors that it would be able to realize at least 50 billion euros from the privatization of Greek state property; however, according to subsequent expert estimates, by 2016 no more than 9.5 billion will have been made from privatization. And that is despite the fact that literally everything is being privatized - the energy sector, transportation, and the coast. Even the tax service is being privatized. Even universities are 49% private property, which directly contradicts the country's constitution. But in Greece they have all kinds of ways of getting around the law; in order to expand privatization, for example, 69 laws which would have complicated things were abolished. In the sphere of privatization, there is a rule that returning a privatized object to the state is not allowed. 

Greece has rich natural resources, a developed shipping industry, and huge potential for developing its industrial and agricultural production and tourism. The leader of the Spitha People's Independent Movement, Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, suggests the following plan to save the Greek economy: «We propose negotiating a loan from Russia or China at a lower interest rate. Furthermore, we propose reducing the amount by creating a joint venture with Russian companies, like the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline, in order to jointly exploit the riches of our country. Our subsoil assets include valuable extractable resources, and on our shelf are proven oil and gas fields. We have many ports which could be used for various needs, including military maintenance bases, like, for example on Syros, where in the past Soviet ships would stop for repairs. And most importantly, we believe that closer relations between the Russian and Greek peoples will let our country breathe freely, since today we are forced to bow our heads before the interests and whims of the rich countries of the West.» However, such propositions are ignored.

At one time Gazprom displayed an interest in buying the state-owned part (65%) of the DEPA Corporation, which deals with gas distribution in Greece, but the deal fell through, as indicated by Gazprom representatives, due to the absence of proper guarantees on the part of the Greek government and the possibility that the deal would be vetoed by Brussels. 

Greece, with its enormous external state debt, is being driven between Scylla and Charybdis: on the one hand, the European Union is threatening Athens with harsh measures if the plan for privatizing large objects of Greek property breaks down; on the other hand, it is hindering privatization deals with the «wrong» partners, first and foremost with Russia, sabotaging possibilities for the recovery of the Greek economy… The aims of the Euroatlantic structures with regard to Greece were partly revealed by former Foreign Minister of Germany Joschka Fischer, who stated in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that if Greece leaves the Eurozone it could disrupt the integration of the Balkan states into the European Union. According to Fischer, such an outcome is highly undesirable, as it would open the way for Russia to dominate in the Balkans. That is why, for example, the July report of the IMF emphasizes the special significance of Greece's participation in the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project for exporting natural gas from Azerbaijan to Europe via Greece, Albania and Northern Italy (1). 

The program for privatizing the DEPA gas company is planned to be launched again by the middle of 2014. Preparations for the sale are being made at a fast pace. On August 3, 2013 the Greek oil and gas company Hellenic Petroleum approved the acquisition of the majority of stock in the Greek gas transport system operator DESFA by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR). 

In all, over the period of 2008-2012 the volume of the Greek economy decreased by almost 25%. That is worse than the figures for the American Great Depression of 1929. This year the Greek government is expecting the country's GDP to decrease by another 4.5%. 

And naturally, the austerity measures have not affected bankers or shipowners (Greece is the third-largest shipowners' tax haven in the world). The brunt of the «reform», in the form of rising prices, taxes and unemployment, has fallen on the poorest segments of the population. In April 2013 unemployment in Greece reached 27.2%. The fate of 4.65 million people lies behind this figure. In 450,000 Greek families there is not a single employed person. Out of 2.6 million people working in the public sector, 900,000 were laid off in 2009 alone. Among young people from 15 to 24, the unemployment rate is 60%, although according to specialists this figure does not reflect the real state of affairs. Unemployment benefits have been cut, and now only 225,000 unemployed people are receiving them. By 2015 the Eurotroika is demanding the layoff of another 150,000 workers in the public sector.

Since 2009 there have been 8,000 strikes in Greece, including general strikes. And today the situation in the country is such that it is on the brink of armed conflicts; cases of demonstrators using weapons have been noted more and more often. «A social explosion is inevitable,» says former Greek diplomat Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos, «it's just a question of when it will happen.»

(1) IMF Country Report No. 13/241 // International Monetary Fund. Attachment. Statement by Thanos Catsambas, Alternate Executive Director for Greece. July 29, 2013. P. 5. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2013/cr13241.pdf

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