Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Les Miserables of Greece

 Justine Frangouli-Argyris

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Les Miserables of Greece

Posted: 02/20/2013 5:32 pm

Who would have thought that Greece, a country basking in the limelight of the triumph of the 2004 Olympic Games, would find itself, a mere few years later, a country mired in poverty and despair? Who could imagine that this state that dedicated 0.7 percent of its share of budget to international aid and humanitarian assistance prior to the financial crisis of 2008 would now find itself in need of global charity? And, yet, this western European country lives in misery today with its proud people fighting for survival and its youth abandoning it en masse to seek their place in the sun abroad.
According to government statistics, the unemployment rate hit 27 percent this past November and registered a staggering 61 percent among those aged under 24 years of age with 1,350,181 Greeks officially registered as being unable to find work. Unbelievably, however, according to calculations by labor specialist George Romanias, the unemployment rate will soon surpass the 30 percent threshold, rising to some 2.3 million by the end of 2013. According to a report by the European Union's statistics agency, Eurostat, one-third of Greece's citizens are considered to be below the poverty level with another 27.7 percent on the brink of poverty or social exclusion. The Greek economy has already contracted by more than 20 percent and predictions are that GDP will have shrunk by more than a quarter by 2014.
As if this were not startling enough, there are presently at least 1.5 million economic migrants, most of whom are undocumented residents, roaming the country. Their squalid living conditions, the meager wages they are willing to accept and the all but nonexistent immigration policies of the government have created an explosive atmosphere, especially in the capital, Athens, where the majority reside. This has fomented a deep hatred between the Greeks and the "Xenoi," as the foreigners are called, and has boosted the popularity of the extreme right-wing "Golden Dawn" political party, whose members take it upon themselves to harass and terrorize the newcomers at each and every opportunity.
Alarmingly, the phenomenon of malnutrition has begun to surface with more and more organizations and individuals, in lieu of government, waging a daily battle to provide food and resources to destitute families. In many of the suburbs around the major cities, in the provinces as well as in various parts of Crete, the incidents of starving students are stunning. Teachers and parents continue to report growing numbers of children fainting as a result of being undernourished.
Every day, approximately 250,000 people visit the myriad of soup kitchens that have begun to dot the landscape while countless others subside on food packages provided by the services of the Archdiocese of Athens and its sister Metropolises.
The homeless, foraging in the trash and sleeping in front of abandoned buildings in downtown Athens, number about 20,000 and represent a cross-section of Greece's once proud middle class, counting among themselves yesterday's entrepreneurs, educated former employees and skilled tradesmen.
Hospitals, too, are in dire need, lacking basic medicines as a result of the government having instituted drastic health care cuts, leaving the poor and the elderly without sufficient means to fill their prescriptions. Significant numbers of the aged have been forced from the care of their nursing homes, dragged back to their children's residences so they can contribute their slashed pensions to the household monthly expenses.
Unfortunately, however, both the Greek government, as well as the European Union as a whole, feign ignorance of the situation and continue to adhere to a policy of economic austerity that has led the country to complete destitution in such a short period of time.
Recently, the National Council of Greek TV and Radio took the unprecedented measure of forbidding any broadcasting of images of Greece's "Miserables."
On this side of the Atlantic, Greek-American organizations have taken much too long to react to the crisis. Apart from the Greek-Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Metropolis of Canada who periodically send their offerings, traditional Greek-American organizations continue to channel their significant donations to their usual local focal points.
Unbeknownst to the world, the "Miserables of Greece," yesterday's prosperous citizens, require international humanitarian assistance and a strong support from the Greek-American community at large. The Greek government and its European allies cannot pretend that nothing is amiss anymore.
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