Greece’s Crisis Through a Grinnellian’s Perspective

Column by Mineta Suzuki
Mineta Suzuki - Minh Tran

This week, I interviewed Zafeiro Chiliada ’17 to discuss Greece’s financial crisis, media propaganda and the national election. When I read about this issue, I discovered that the crisis is not just a financial one, but also a much more complex, international problem.

Where are you from?
I’m from Thessaloniki, which is the second largest city in Greece.
What do you miss most about home?
The pace of life—things are much more laid back sometimes.
McDonald’s or Burger King?
McDonald’s, their fries are just so good.

After the Wall Street implosion, Greece was shut out from borrowing in the international market. Nearly 200 billion euros in bailouts did not help the country steer itself out of the crisis. Migrants fleeing Syria and Iraq continue to arrive on Greek islands, as European nations struggle to cope with the high numbers of refugees. Meanwhile, the citizens make their ways to the polls for the fourth time in three years. So what now?
“The degree of attack and smear campaign that this government went through is unprecedented,” Chiliada said.
As a Political Science and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies double major, Chiliada offered her own assessment of the situation. The Greek government experienced undue opposition from the European political establishments. Even though the citizens seem to be fed up with the upheaval, according to Chiliada, there is a general consensus that the government tried.
“In the end, I am not disappointed,” Chiliada said. This attitude is evident from the result of the referendum in July, when the bailout conditions proposed by several financial organizations like the International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank were rejected by Greek citizens by over 61 percent.
The government did not only face political headwind from outside of the country, but also within the country. “Do you know Fox News? Double it. That’s what was happening,” Chiliada said.
Since she was following media reports back home, Chiliada explained the extent to which the media kept the government from doing its job. With some shows broadcasted for up to 24 hours, the local news excessively emphasized the chaos, showing lines in front of banks and people fainting from the exhausting wait.
“It was just a campaign of terror on the part of the media. It went beyond criticism,” Chiliada said.
What is often reported is the dramatic tax raise on various items and services in Greece. I still remember seeing in the news that the tax on heating oil was being raised by 450 percent, a number high enough to ring in my ears.
“The truth is that while our wages might be higher than other countries, our products and markets are very expensive,” Chiliada said.
As soon as the crisis began in about 2010, the wages have been cut sometimes by 40 percent, but there has been no depreciation of prices.
Also, like in any other developed country, there is a shadow of environmental concern in Greece.
“There is a huge problem in Athens, for example, and in Thessaloniki, my city, because people are burning woods by thousands and there’s, like, a toxic cloud,” Chiliada said. For this reason, the tax raise on petroleum was also an effort on behalf of the new government to contain the air pollution.
Last week, Grinnell students packed a classroom for a panel discussion on the refugee crisis in Europe, which has also been a key issue in Greece.
“The biggest change is that major squares in Athens and on islands, where the immigrants come … all the public space is just filled with people,” Chiliada said.
Contrary to popular discourse, however, Chiliada points out that it may have little impact on employment.
“You have to have jobs for [immigrants] to steal [them], and we don’t,” Chiliada said with a critical laugh.
The unemployment rate in Greece is currently at 25 percent, the highest among the European Union, followed by Spain at 23 percent and Cyprus with a rate of 16 percent.
The next national election will be a determining factor for the future of these economic and political issues.
“If Syriza wins, which is the ruling party right now, it’s going to show that a lot of people bought into the story that we [Greece] did our best. But if the other, new democracy wins, which is the opposition party, … it’s going to be an indicator that the smear campaign that capitalist forces and establishments in Europe and Greece had against the government worked,” Chiliada said. “I think it’s very interesting and people should tune in, because it’s a very good example of destructive forces of capitalism … as it destroys economies in its path. And you can make your own assessment of whether you want that to happen or not.”

— Photo by Minh Tran