By Selah Hennessy
The Greek parliament has until the end of this month to decide on a fresh wave of austerity measures that are a precondition for international loans. Those loans are to prevent Greece from defaulting on its debts. Greek citizens already are feeling the pain, however, from a year of heavy spending cuts and tax increases.
The financial hardships are evident in the capital, Athens. The streets are littered with deserted storefronts, even in the wealthiest shopping districts. Homeless people sleep on pavements and one in six across the country are unemployed.
One of those is 29 year-old Areti. She was in a car crash two years ago that killed her fiancé and almost took her life. Since then she hasn’t been able to work.
“Having the car accident, losing your fiancé, losing your health, you need something to get out of the home and get out of the Internet, make new friends, have something to make your mind work again,” said Areti. “If you don’t have a job, this is very difficult because your life is only the hospital, the sadness… it’s very difficult.”
She said many of her friends also are without work. She said all their energy and ideas for the future of Greece are wasted.
“It’s like you’re sleeping for a very big period and you are dreaming and every day you feel less strong and less happy.”
It’s a dream that Greece seems unlikely to wake up from anytime soon.
The country is in major debt and is relying on its partners in the European Union and on the International Monetary Fund to keep its economy afloat. An aid package worth over $100 billion is designed to keep Greek creditors at bay.
But that won’t solve Greece’s long-term problems, and despite the pain inflicted by tax hikes and spending cuts over the past year, they’ve failed to put a dent in the deficit.
Now, the EU and the IMF say before additional money is handed over, more cuts will have to be made. Lawmakers have until the end of the month to decide on around $40 billion worth of new spending cuts and economic reforms.
Many Greek citizens say austerity is bringing the country to its knees. Stefanos Manos is a Greek politician and a former government minister.
“When is it going to be over, no one has given an answer. And the government says this is it, many times,” he said. “And every time they change their mind. That was not it, let’s have some more measures. So people are now very unsure of the future.”
But Manos said that despite the pain, more cuts are necessary. He said the Greek public sector is too large and inefficient, and in order for the country to get its economy in shape, public sector costs have to be downsized.
He said if that doesn’t happen, Greece may be forced to default on its debt and risk losing its place in the European Union.
“I hope it doesn’t happen. I think it would be a disaster for Greece,” said Manos. “Therefore, I would go all out to cut the spending so that we are never forced to either default or be pushed out of the European Union.”
Manos isn’t the only one hoping to avoid that outcome. European politicians are struggling to find a way forward that will prevent the union from unraveling. But for now, Greek citizens are the ones taking the hit from their remedy.