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A Greek Tragedy Unfolds

Aharon Granevich-Granot, Athens

Greece is awash in protests over economic austerity measures being imposed upon it from within and without, and the resulting shakeout also has members of the Jewish community in a spin.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

As spring turns to summer, a blazing-hot sun is unsheathed on the heads of the sweaty masses in Syntagma Square in Athens, just in front of the parliament building, where demonstrations began a month ago in the pouring rain.

The heat does not prevent anti-government demonstrators from streaming towards the square, which until recently was a major attraction for locals and tourists alike, with a maze of paths crisscrossing a picturesque park filled with trees, grassy lawns, and beds of flowers.

The wealth of flora and fauna has been replaced with the stricken masses. Greece has been tottering on the brink of bankruptcy for the past year following a decade of government overspending. Syntagma Square has turned into a tent city of sorts. Protest tents sprout where flowers formerly bloomed, and are populated by individuals or even families who all wear the same grim expressions. Street peddlers are smiling, though, as they profit from the popular uprising, through the sales of popcorn, ice cream, corn, and drinks.

The protestors’ placards relate the plight of the citizens of this ancient land that has now become a beggar nation, after receiving $159 billion in bailout funds last summer. The worst may be far from over. The Greek parliament just last week had to bend to European Union and International Monetary Fund dictates to receive a new influx of $75 billion that is only expected to keep it afloat until April 2012. Even then, there are no assurances that the financial bleeding will stop. Rumors continue to haunt the financial markets that major insurers who have guaranteed Greek debt may go under themselves.

One placard relates that its holder was once a respected factory manager and is now unemployed. The second sign is held by a former property developer. He says rising taxes due to austerity measures did him in and left him without resources to pay his own mortgage. He sold his home and his tent is his new abode. Each person has a story. The common denominator is their disgust for a government whose unrestrained spending and failure to enact serious financial reforms is coming back to haunt it.


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