Scarce Jobs, Slashed Salaries, and Schools Without Books: The Ugly Consequences of Austerity in Athens
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Many observers in Athens even blame the austerity measures, at least in part, for the electoral success of the far-right party Chrysi Avgi ("Golden Dawn"). They are akin to neo-Nazis, but won nearly seven per cent of the vote in the parliamentary elections in May and June 2012. The reason? There is a sharp increase in crime, caused by unemployment and poverty. The police are helpless. They were underpaid and understaffed even before the crisis, and have since been affected by cutbacks themselves. One commentator told me: "Nowadays, in rich neighbourhoods they hire private security to prevent break-ins. In working class areas, the neo-Nazis of Chrysi Avgi provide law and order as some kind of ultra-right Samaritans."
Xenophobia fanned by the crisis
In Athens, there is an urban legend trying to make sense of the rise of Chrysi Avgi. Nina, a young filmmaker, with not a grain of sympathy for the far right, tells me one variant. Her grandmother had rented a small apartment to a gentleman (who in most versions of the story is of course an immigrant). The tenant first brought seven other people into the apartment and then stopped paying rent. When the old lady turned to the police seeking help, they told her nothing could be done. In her desperation, a representative of ‘Golden Dawn’, with a few party members, offered his services; they kicked the tenants out, and promptly returned the flat cleaned and repainted to its rightful owner.
Despair makes people receptive to help they would have never accepted before the crisis. It prepares the fertile ground on which xenophobia flourishes, and eats away strength and dignity.
Cristina Patzou has been, for decades, editor of the prestigious newspaperEleftherotypia, which a year ago slid into bankruptcy. The staff tried, and are still trying today to guarantee the survival of the newspaper. Cristina has fought with all her strength and warmth, but how long can one go on like this? "The government tells us that we should tighten the belt, cut some fat, but for many of us, to have less means we have nothing left at all. I'm ashamed to talk about how many things we can no longer afford. This is not a 'change' or a 'reform' anymore, it's a collapse! "
"We have to re-invent our life "
At the markets in the neighbourhoods of Athens, people now wait to do their shopping until the evening, when the prices are discounted. Parents with their children ask for vegetables or fruits that are rotten or would otherwise be thrown away.
Is there anything that helps us against all the difficulties and despair? "Family ties, solidarity and inventiveness. We have to reinvent our lives to preserve our dignity, "Cristina is not giving up, even if her prognosis is grim: "We haven’t reached the bottom yet. And we see how the new government submits itself, with destructive devotion, to the same neoliberal prescriptions that brought the country to the abyss and pushed the people into poverty. "