The Corner

The Cost of EUtopia

Helen Szamuely:

The Greek economy has functioned as the EU dictated it ever since that country joined the project and there were no riots, demos, burnings or lootings. Not even the odd protest. That is not what brought the mobs out – it was the thought that maybe now things will have to be paid for.

More or less, although it’s a bit of a stretch to say that the Greek economy has functioned as the EU dictated. Not quite I’d say, but still…

Nevertheless, the mobs are real and so is the misery. Der Spiegel paints a grim picture:

Athens has always had a problem with homelessness, like any other major city. But the financial and debt crises have led poverty to slowly but surely grow out of control here. In 2011, there were 20 percent more registered homeless people than the year before. Depending on the season, that number can be as high as 25,000. The soup kitchens in Athens are complaining of record demand, with 15 percent more people in need of free meals.

It’s no longer just the “regulars” who are brought blankets and hot meals at night, says Effie Stamatogiannopoulou. She sits in the main offices of Klimaka, brooding over budgets and duty rosters. It was a long day, and like most of those in the over-heated room, the 46-year-old is keeping herself awake with coffee and cigarettes. She shows the day’s balance sheet: 102 homeless reported to Klimaka today.

Many of those belong to what is called the “new poor” here. “It really started about two years ago,” Stamatogiannopoulou says. Suddenly, it wasn’t just people with psychological problems or drug addictions who were knocking on the organization’s red wooden door. “The middle class is increasingly becoming our target group,” she says…

[I]n 2010, almost 28 percent of Greeks, or 3.03 million people, lived at risk of poverty or social exclusion, according to numbers released last week by the EU statistical agency Eurostat. With the recession only having deepened since, it seems likely that the number of poor Greeks rose in 2011…

The psychologist Eleni Bekiari knows what dark thoughts the crisis and its consequences have brought to Athenians. She staffs Klimaka’s telephone number “1018.” It is a 24-hour suicide hotline, and its statistics are clear. In 2010, there were about 2,500 calls made to the number. In 2011, there were twice as many. “Most of those who call us are women,” she says. “On the other hand, it’s usually the men who end up taking their lives.”

Greece traditionally has one of the lowest suicide rates in Europe, but the increase has been dramatic. Since the beginning of the crisis, the suicide rate has almost doubled. In 2011, there were almost six suicides per 100,000 citizens. When the callers to the suicide hotline are asked for their reasons for suicidal thoughts, Bekiari says, they often answer with two words: the crisis.

Utopian schemes have a way of ending in  desperation, tragedy  and, all too often, hatred, don’t they?

Over at EU Referendum Richard North has a good summary of the situation, including more evidence that the Eurozone’s bosses may be looking to force Greece out. But, above all, scroll down, and check out the picture North has included of the front page of the newspaper Democracy. He describes it thus:

“It depicts Angela Merkel in a Nazi uniform above the headline “Memorandum macht frei” – “an allusion to the memorandum in which Greece’s foreign creditors demand more austerity measures and to the Auschwitz slogan”.

The idea of the EU, some may recall, was to bring Europeans closer.


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