Euros Not Austerity: Can Greece Have It Both Ways? | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Euros Not Austerity: Can Greece Have It Both Ways?

Play associated audio

At the G-8 summit Saturday, French President Francois Hollande said he wanted Greece to stay in the eurozone and expected the country to meet its commitments. In saying so, Hollande identified the difficult debate which has gripped Greece for months now.

Most Greeks want to keep the euro as their currency. Most also want to cancel the eurozone-imposed austerity measures that come with the billions in international bailout loans keeping the country solvent.

This dilemma has paralyzed the country's politics and its people. Katerina Papamichail and Eirini Stefanakou, are friends in their 50s. Papamichail says if Greeks kick out corrupt politicians, then the country will be able to pay its bills without wage and pension cuts and tax hikes.

"I believe it can happen," she says. "If those who have been mismanaging taxpayers' money stop doing it, then we can make it."

Stefanakou says austerity has made it impossible for the country to pay off its debts.

"We are the ones who got ourselves in debt, and we have to pay it off," she says. "But it can't happen the way austerity is designed now, in this asphyxiating way."

Austerity has strangled the Greek economy, which is now in its fifth year of recession. The unemployment rate is 21 percent — more than double what it was in 2009. Tens of thousands of businesses have closed.

"Greeks have gone through all these austerity measures without having the opportunity to recognize a way out," economist Yiannis Tsarmougelis says. "This is a dead-end situation. Of course you have social unrest. Of course you have social instability. Of course you have populist politicians coming and saying different things."

More than half of Greeks voted for anti-bailout parties in elections two weeks ago. No party won enough parliamentary seats to form a government, so there's a new vote planned for June 17.

A leftist party, Syriza, came in a surprise second on May 6 and is leading in pre-election polls. Its leader, Alexis Tsipras, said he would stand up to European superpowers like Germany so Greece could have both the euro and a life without austerity.

Nick Malkoutzis, deputy editor of the Greek daily Kathimerini, says this message resonated deeply — despite continued warnings from European leaders that Greece must stick to the bailout terms to continue getting the loans that are keeping the country solvent.

"Greeks have been through two and a half years or so of constant threats, constant speculation, constant fear about what's going to happen and at some point, the effect of that wears off," Malkoutzis says. "People become immune to it."

George Davitidis says he's not scared anymore that the eurozone is going to let Greece default and revert to its old currency, the drachma. It's too expensive, says the 25-year-old investment adviser.

"If the eurozone lets us go, then they will also have to let Spain, Portugal and Italy go," he says. "There will no longer be a eurozone."

Davitidis also says Greeks have sacrificed enough.

"They sacrificed their own lives," he says. "They sacrificed their way of living. But Europe has not sacrificed — at all."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Math Is Everywhere, But Especially On National Mall This Weekend

The first National Math Festival of its kind comes to the District Saturday, taking over the National Mall and Smithsonian museums.
NPR

How The Food Industry Relies On Scientists With Big Tobacco Ties

Critics of the system that ushers food products to market say it is rife with conflicts of interest. When scientists depend on food companies for work, they may be less likely to contest food safety.
NPR

On Links As In Life, D.C. Bipartisan Relations Are Deep In The Rough

Golf is a sport that's been enjoyed by both Democrats and Republicans through the decades, but bipartisan golf outings may be disappearing like a shanked tee shot into a water hazard.
NPR

What Does It Take To Feel Secure?

Computer security expert Bruce Schneier says there's a big difference between feeling secure and being secure. He explains why we worry about unlikely dangers while ignoring more probable risks.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.