Fury grows at Germany as Greece faces abyss
D-Day for nation as MPs vote on €130bn EU austerity package
Published 12/02/2012 | 05:00
If they vote against it, Greece faces national bankruptcy, a disorderly exit from the euro and, according to Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, "economic chaos and a social explosion" as the country is swept into a "vortex of recession, instability, unemployment, and penury".
But if the package is approved it will mean deep and unpopular cuts in pensions, the minimum wage, health and defence spending and public sector jobs.
Greeks are increasingly angry with Germany, seen as the EU's paymaster, for insisting on such tough conditions., and for some it is stirring up painful memories.
For instance, Eleftherios Basdekis has lived his entire life under a dark German cloud.
As a boy he escaped a Nazi massacre in his village, running barefoot through the Greek countryside for three days. As a businessman, he bought German-made Mercedes trucks, becoming heavily indebted in the process.
And, as an elderly man looking back on 83 years spent in this mountainous pocket of central Greece, he finds himself scarcely able to survive on his meagre pension -- with German-led European Union politicians demanding yet more austerity.
"Once again, Germany is controlling everything for us," said Mr Basdekis.
"They are pushing us around, and I just don't trust them. They change what they say all the time.
"Greece will pay its debts back, if you let us. But not with a German knife held to our throats."
Riots erupted in Athens on Friday, with furious Greeks hurling petrol bombs at the police as the harsh austerity package was unveiled. Unions also began a 48-hour strike, with politicians expected today to vote on the cuts and reforms.
Eurozone ministers say MPs must approve it before Greece receives €130bn in bailout funds. They are also demanding further budget cuts of €325m before Wednesday's meeting of the Eurogroup, when Brussels is due to decide whether to give Greece the money it desperately needs.
The politicians in Athens had little choice. Unemployment figures released last week showed that the number out of work had risen to 20.9 per cent, while Greece's manufacturing output fell by 15.5 per cent in the year leading up December.
Behind closed doors, EU officials were debating suggestions that Greece should exit the eurozone and were drawing up plans for an "orderly default".
The government, desperate to starve off bankruptcy and guarantee the next tranche of rescue funds, agreed after much wringing of hands to a cut in the minimum wage of 20 per cent; the sacking of 15,000 public sector workers within the year; and the slashing of the health and defence budgets.
Pensioners were spared, but the squeeze is still being felt. And Mr Basdekis, with his pension of €400 a month, does not know how he will survive.
Meanwhile, the 4,000 inhabitants of Distomo, 100 miles north-west of Athens, are more aware than most of the legacy of German demands -- albeit in a horrific context far beyond the suffering of any economic policies.
The town was the site of one of the worst atrocities committed by the Nazis against civilians in Greece, with 218 people of its then 500 residents killed on one day in June 1944, in savage reprisal for partisan guerrilla attacks on German forces. Survivors and their families are still battling for compensation, although only two weeks ago the UN's highest court ruled that Germany was not liable, given the present-day state's legal immunity for actions committed by Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.
"What upsets me most is that everything we fought for is all being torn apart again," Mr Basdekis said.
"We should be working with our European brothers, and supporting each other. I don't have anything against German people, but I dislike what their government is still doing to us. Younger Greeks are beginning to share his anger. Last week in Athens the German flag was burnt as anger boiled over at yet more austerity measures were enforced, in their eyes, by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.
"I hate Germany," said Efi Sfountouri, 42, who had travelled from Athens to visit her hometown of Distomo.