a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

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

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 15th November 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.

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Congratulations to the EU on the Nobel Peace Prize! You guys *rock*!

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th October 2012

Now please consider earning it.

I don’t have much of a problem with the European Union getting a Nobel Peace Prize — I just have a problem with it getting one right now.*   Europe’s elites are using a a cause that once seemed noble — to make Europe too busy, too integrated, and too prosperous to conceive of another war — as a blunt instrument to exacerbate hardship, create conflict, exploit natural resources, and unravel the social contract:

  • Greek health system crumbles under weight of crisis (Tagaris, Reuters, 6/14/12): “Greece’s rundown state hospitals are cutting off vital drugs, limiting non-urgent operations and rationing even basic medical materials for exhausted doctors as a combination of economic crisis and political stalemate strangle health funding.”
  • Hunger on the rise in Spain (Daley, NYTimes, 9/24/12):  “[Dumpster diving] tactics are becoming increasingly commonplace here, with an unemployment rate over 50 percent among young people and more and more households having adults without jobs. So pervasive is the problem of scavenging that one Spanish city has resorted to installing locks on supermarket trash bins as a public health precaution. “
  • Greek anti-fascist protesters ‘tortured by police’ after Golden Dawn clash (Margaronis, Guardian, 10/9/12): ““This is not just a case of police brutality of the kind you hear about now and then in every European country. This is happening daily. We have the pictures, we have the evidence of what happens to people getting arrested protesting against the rise of the neo-Nazi party in Greece. This is the new face of the police, with the collaboration of the justice system.””
  • Greece to become Europe’s biggest gold producer (Zacharikis, Die Zeit, 10/11/12): “The Greek government has been working on administrative reforms since the beginning of the debt crisis. The “Fast Track” accelerated licensing process developed last year is apparently attracting international gold mining companies. […] But there’s popular opposition to the mining projects. People fear serious environmental damage, for instance from clearing about 26,000 hectares of forestland. […] there were violent encounters with police during September protests against the gold mines in the northern Greece region of Chalkdiki.”  (transl. by the author)
  • Eurozone demands six-day week for Greece (Traynor, Guardian, 9/4/12): “In the letter, the officials policing Greece’s compliance with the austerity package imposed in return for the bailout insist on radical labour market reforms, from minimum wages to overtime limits to flexible working hours, that are likely to worsen the standoff between the government and organised labour in Greece.”

Stack these things up next to each other, and it seems reasonably clear that the European Union, led by German right-wing chancellor Angela Merkel, is basically executing a bald “Shock Doctrine”-style economic takeover of the region’s southern tier, with the help of conservative and sometimes fairly fascist political groups in the region.

Opposition is loud, angry, sometimes violent, but as yet apparently quite ineffectual in countries like Greece and Spain. But it appears to be timid-to-nonexistent within Germany, where the middle and working classes are coming off a prolonged period of income stagnation and “Hartz IV” semi-austerity of their own.  A recent report (by Josh Rosner for Graham LLC, via “naked capitalism”) suggests that

Unfortunately for the German population, while German business profited handsomely, and German Banks exported capital to the rest of the world, the costs were borne by German workers who faced wage pressure. German households never reaped the fruits of their labor. The imbalances … were being built into the very structure of the Eurozone by the German government’s sole focus on protecting domestic business interests at the expense of their own population.  […]

The German population has been led to believe, over the past decade, that they are frugal and that frugal is good. [Germans] are indeed frugal, but not entirely by choice. This is a perverse spin on the real situation, the German people have been deprived of wage increases and therefore of consumption of goods.

Rosner warns that “the German government will be forced to choose either a large share of the costs of supporting a further integration of the European Monetary Union or, alternately, the larger economic and social costs of its failure, including the massive costs of recapitalizing German banks and financial support for German industry.”

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