A desperate letter from Crete: “Greece deserves freedom from European overseers”

by Lisa Radinovsky (*)

Growing up in Lancaster County, attending Penn Manor High School and Millersville University, I never dreamed of living on a Greek island. But here I am with my Greek husband and our two children in Crete, where wildflowers are blooming, and the Mediterranean Sea spreads out to meet the sky beyond the olive groves.

Don’t get me wrong: Life in Greece is no vacation. Especially not during the past six years, which have been compared to America’s Great Depression, with 26 percent unemployment, the country’s gross domestic product down by a quarter since 2008, health care spending reduced about 25 percent per capita, and thousands of businesses closed.

Enough numbers.

They fail to convey the difficulties endured by many Greeks, such as the mother who used to work in a shoe store but now begs for food for her children outside our local supermarket. Or the family of four with only one son employed, too tired for his college studies after work, lacking enough money to fix the family car so his mother can visit his housebound grandmother. Or the elderly Greek women and men I see rooting in garbage dumpsters in middle-class neighborhoods. These are only a few of the struggling human beings I have encountered. Then there are the newspaper articles about the increased demand for soup kitchens, the lack of cancer treatment for the uninsured, and the rising rates of xenophobic crime, drug addiction, depression and suicide.

Most Greeks blame these problems on the drastic budget cuts and tax increases imposed at the urging of the detested troika — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — in exchange for huge loans. The loans were intended to prevent damage to foreign lenders from the default that could have occurred due to the corruption, misjudgment, and/or mismanagement of various Greek leaders, European officials, and Greek and European bankers. It was not only Greeks who were at fault, and not all Greeks were to blame.

On Jan. 25, enough Greeks were tired of excessive austerity to provide the new Coalition of the Radical Left (known by the acronym of SYRIZA) with more votes than any other party. Lacking an absolute majority, SYRIZA formed a surprising governing coalition with the small right-wing nationalist party Independent Greeks (called ANEL in Greece) in one of several actions that left SYRIZA looking far from radically leftist.

Now, nearly two months into this new government’s tenure, most people agree that there’s been little concrete change. Many believe things will remain about the same, but no one is sure what will happen. Conservatives and pessimists argue that things are worse: There’s no more economic growth, a government with too little experience, and a new danger that Greece could run out of money within weeks, default on its debts, and exit the Eurozone. This “Grexit” could replace the euro with the drachma in Greece, which would create additional problems — banking restrictions, a currency devaluation, higher inflation, shortages of imported goods including medicines and petroleum, and even more social unrest, brain drain, and reduction in the standard of living.

Since we haven’t left the Eurozone so far, life goes on: Students go to school; adults who still have jobs head to work; parents find ways to take care of families, housework, shopping, and errands. As the Greek say, “hope dies last.” Our mail carrier remembers a teacher telling him, “If I try to teach you 10 things, and you learn two of them, I’ll be happy.” So he figures that if SYRIZA can manage to accomplish even a fraction of what they promised to do for ordinary people, that will be an improvement.

SYRIZA remains popular for giving back some of the country’s hope and pride by standing up — part way — to the troika officials. How would you feel if officials from other countries came into Washington and started telling the president and Congress what laws to pass and what economic policy to follow, as they have in Greece? The cradle of democracy and homeland of Aristotle and Plato, where intelligent, talented, hospitable, generous people still reside today, doesn’t like foreigners pushing many of its citizens into impoverished suffering any more than you would.

The people of Greece should not be condemned to suffer for the sins or misjudgments of some of their compatriots and fellow Europeans. The new government must undertake numerous necessary reforms, including combating tax evasion and corruption, which it has agreed to do. And it should be allowed to pass laws to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis of unemployment, inadequate health care, hunger and poverty, at least to ensure that the most impoverished have adequate food, electricity, health care and housing.

Give Greece a chance. Support the people of Greece by encouraging world leaders to allow the Greek government some leeway to aid the children, women and men who need more hope and help.

(*) Lisa Radinovsky, a graduate of Penn Manor High School and Princeton University, lives with her husband and two children in Crete, Greece. Her blog: momingreecetoday.blogspot.gr/

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