JANE BURGERMEISTER REPORT: ‘Greece is descending into lawlessness due to austerity cuts, reports Express’
EUROZONE CRISIS: THE GREEK TRAGEDY
Greece is descending into lawlessness as EU finance ministers try to rein in spending
Sunday May 22,2011
By Helena Smith, Express.co.uk
TEETERING on the brink of bankruptcy, Greece is descending into lawlessness as EU finance ministers try to find ways to rein in Athens’ colossal public debt.
Even dirt-poor immigrants are saying they want to leave the nation at the centre of Europe’s worsening economic crisis.
“I am afraid, very afraid, of what tomorrow might bring,” said award-winning Athenian film director Theo Angelopoulos on the nightly news last week. “This is a very critical moment for our country… and I am appealing to our politicians.
“What happened to Argentina [when it collapsed economically] could happen to us, and it will be worse than an ancient tragedy.”
In Europe’s capitals, fears are growing that the Greek drama may already have entered its endgame.
A year after receiving 110billion euros in international emergency loans, the biggest bailout in western history, the country is becoming increasingly explosive.
By last week, the epic battle with the country’s 340billion euros debt, the largest of any debt load on the Continent, had turned into a battle for public order in the heart of Europe’s oldest capital.
Amid rising violence and runaway crime, crisis-hit Athens resembled a “boiling cauldron”, a far cry from the orderly city that held the 2004 Olympics.
With many citizens too scared to leave their homes, and even its mayor saying he felt unsafe walking its drug-infested streets at night, the socialist government announced a series of emergency measures.
It has dispatched thousands of armed police to guard neighbourhoods below the majestic ancient Acropolis.
“We will not allow Greece to become trapped in a vicious cycle of lawlessness,” said citizen protection minister Christos Papoutsis. “The message is zero tolerance for violence wherever this may come from.”
The authorities put police on round-the-clock patrols and have pledged a massive sweep of illegal immigrants, sending them to detention centres at unused military bases.
As the country tackles its worst economic crisis in modern times, it has also found itself at the receiving end of a huge influx of third-world refugees exploiting its porous sea and land borders.
Their arrival in Athens has exacerbated the toxic mix of deepening poverty, prostitution and drug peddling that has turned entire areas within walking distance of prime tourist sites into no-go zones.
“The flow has become uncontrollable,” added Mr Papoutsis. “Last year some 128,000 migrants tried to enter. We are in crisis. We cannot cope. Greece has to stop being seen as the dumping ground for all these people in Europe.”
Greek officials increasingly liken the country to a “sinking ship”, the image evoked by Prime Minister George Papandreou a year ago when he announced that the debt-choked nation had no option but to turn to the EU and IMF for aid.
The fatal stabbing in Athens of a 44-year-old Greek man, targeted for his video camera as he was about to take his wife to hospital to give birth, has unleashed a climate of fear, with far-Right vigilantes taking over neighbourhoods and staging reprisal attacks.
Ten days ago, a 21-year-old Bangladeshi was found stabbed to death in a squalid Athens apartment as self-styled neo-Nazis grabbed immigrants from buses and beat them up. “What we are seeing are Ku Klux Klan tactics, I can’t believe Greeks are doing this,” said Anna Dalara, minister responsible for immigration.
The breakdown of law and order is such that an unprecedented 15,000 migrants last week announced that they would return home. Officials say the voluntary repatriations, mostly to Asia and Africa, will be overseen and funded by the state.
“I’d rather be in Afghanistan,” said Jamal, 21, who made the long trek to Greece last year. “There are no jobs here, even the Greeks don’t have work. This place is not Europe. It is about to explode.”
Mayor Yiorgos Kaminis admits “the image of Athens is deplorable”. Since he took office in January, he says, draconian belt-tightening measures have had a brutal effect and organised crime has assumed a greater hold.
“Not since the German occupation during the Second World War, has Athens been in such a dreadful state,” he added. “It is a reflection not only of the economic crisis but of years and years of inadequate policing and other policies.”
The Greeks know that things are likely to get a lot worse before they get better. The outcry prompted by the rise in violent crime comes against a backdrop of anger towards the EU and international creditors. Instead of rescuing their economy from bankruptcy, the bailout has all but failed, with a second financial lifeline looking increasingly likely in the weeks ahead.
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