a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Elend, Wut wachsen in Südeuropa (Misery, rage grow in Southern Europe)

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 15th, 2012

Debt kills.  Well, ruthless debt punishment kills:

As the head of Greece’s largest oncology department, Dr. Kostas Syrigos thought he had seen everything. But nothing prepared him for Elena, an unemployed woman whose breast cancer had been diagnosed a year before she came to him.  By that time, her cancer had grown to the size of an orange and broken through the skin, leaving a wound that she was draining with paper napkins. “When we saw her we were speechless,” said Dr. Syrigos, the chief of oncology at Sotiria General Hospital in central Athens. “Everyone was crying. Things like that are described in textbooks, but you never see them because until now, anybody who got sick in this country could always get help.

Elena’s still alive, no thanks to the Troika of course.  Dimitris Christoulas isn’t:

A picture of the man who has come to embody the inequities of Greece‘s financial crisis has begun to emerge, with friends and neighbours shedding light on the life of the elderly pensioner who killed himself in Athens on Wednesday.

Named as Dimitris Christoulas by the Greek media, the retired pharmacist was described as decent, law-abiding, meticulous and dignified.

The 77-year-old had written in his one-page, three-paragraph suicide note that it would be better to have a “decent end” than be forced to scavenge in the “rubbish to feed myself”.

Neither is this man, left anonymous in this account by Greek political economist Yanis Varoufakis:

The man had been missing since August. His last sighting was at the Social Security Offices (IKA) in a small town called Siatista, where he was told that his small monthly disability allowance of 280 euros was suspended, as a result of the latest austerity measures. Eyewitnesses said, according  to Athens daily ‘Ta Nea’, that they saw him leave upset and speechless. Soon after he placed a call to his family telling them that “he feels useless” and adding that he “has nothing to offer them anymore”. Naturally, they were alarmed, and soon after called the police. It was only the other day that the Police located his hanging body in a remote wooded area, suspended by the neck from the cliff which was to be his last resort.

These aren’t isolated cases, reports the Guardian’s Helena Smith:

Police data show a 20% increase in suicide rates in the two years since the outbreak of Europe‘s debt crisis in Greece in late 2009, although the health ministry estimated the figure was almost double that in the first five months of 2011 compared to the first five months of 2010. Suicide hotlines have been deluged with appeals for help.

The European “Union” appears to be more concerned about its banks than its people — its lesser peoples south of the Alps and the Pyrenees, at any rate.  Right now, in practical terms, that involves the powers that be pretending Greece isn’t bankrupt when it is, Varoufakis explains:

The truth of the matter is that Greece has been insolvent for 3 years now. Since then, the Eurozone has been lending huge amounts to the Greek government to keep up the pretense that a (second[1]) default is preventable. Europe shifts money from one of its pockets to another and, while doing so, it claims to have averted Greece’s bankruptcy. Alas, they are now in danger of running out of pockets as the three parties making up the troika of Greece’s lenders (the IMF, the EU and the ECB) have fallen out with one another over what to do with Greece:

  • The IMF is saying to Europe: “Enough is enough! Come clean! Time to admit that Greece must default and a large part of its debt be written down.”
  • The ECB is telling Europe’s politicians (particularly in Berlin): “Give Greece its taxpayer-backed loan tranches because we, the ECB, are not prepared to print more money on its behalf – through the ELA.”
  • Europe’s politicians, in the meantime, resist the IMF’s proposal (clinging on to their denial of the bankruptcy of their plans for Greece) but cannot grant Greece more loans without the fig leaf of respectability that the IMF is providing.

Popular misery plus government lies equals politics by other means: coordinated demonstrations were held yesterday in Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, and Athens, many of which led to pitched battles with police. Spain and Portugal also witnessed 24 hour general strikes.

There was a smidgeon of solidarity in the creditor states; the German union umbrella organization DGB called for joining the November 14 day of action (“For Work and Solidarity: No to the social division of Europe!”) but to little avail.  Indeed, German chancellor Angela Merkel suggested life could get worse yet for European labor:

“We must nevertheless do what is necessary: break open encrusted labor markets, give more people a chance to work, become more flexible in many areas,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. “We will of course make this clear, again and again, in talks with the unions.”

There was a time when many Americans looked to Europe as an example for a better social contract.  It appears European elites were looking back, and seeing a lot to like in the United States’s threadbare safety net, miserable labor market and policies, and punitive austerity.  Maybe someday those coordinated demonstrations will also take place in New York City and Los Angeles.

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