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Is There a Light at the End of the Tunnel? Continued Struggles in Greece

In light of an almost bewildering array of developments in the Middle East, it is perhaps understandable that the Greek economic crisis is no longer captivating the public consciousness. The political upheavals, international controversies, and civil wars now unfolding are rightly receiving the attention they deserve. But circumstances do not cease to exist because they have faded from the public eye. The economic crisis in Greece may have subsided slightly, but its consequences are manifold and severe, not only for the Greek population, but for European society at large. Austerity, though necessary, has not only created widespread popular unrest. It may have undermined the foundations of the very society whose economic system it sought to repair.

The problem of joblessness remains particularly pervasive. The unemployment rate currently stands at 27.1%, ever so slightly below it’s apex of 27.4%, which it reached last quarter. In August, the youth unemployment rate hit a staggering 65%, and has also fallen only slightly. Neither rate has fallen enough to indicate conclusively that a true recovery is under way.

As the job market continues to shrink, especially for young people, analysts fear the effects of brain drain on the nation’s social and economic infrastructure. The 2013 Index of Economic Freedom ranks Greece 117th in the world in economic freedom, between Senegal and Malawi, and cites substantial declines in property rights and financial freedoms among the various reasons for the low ranking. Under conditions such as these, it is small wonder that Greece’s young people are seeking their livelihoods elsewhere. In 2010, 62,000 Greeks emigrated to find work. Last year, emigration from Greece to Germany alone rose 40%, as industrious young graduates were again snubbed by the Greek market, and academics caved under the pressure of budget cuts. Worryingly, as the number of emigrants continues to rise, fewer skilled workers will remain to assist with the country’s eventual recovery. Moreover, the flight of workers will generate less tax revenue, and risks leaving behind an aging society and a social security crisis (Bloomberg).

Ever the partner of economic strife, the specter of European Fascism has risen again. This time it comes the form of the Golden Dawn party. In a fractured party system that has begun resorting to coalition politics, the prospect of even a weak fascist party is a terrifying one, and Golden Dawn is by no means weak. The party recently captured 7% of the Greek vote and was accordingly awarded 21 of the 300 seats in the legislature, and its approval rating hovers around 10 – 15%. The party, whose flag bears a striking resemblance to the one once flown by the Third Reich, has been associated with various unsavory political activities. These range from vitriolic hate speech against immigrants, non-whites, Jews, and women, to mob violence, talk-show brawls, and most recently, the murder of a left-wing musician.

The issues of brain drain and radical politics are all the more concerning because they may not be entirely disparate phenomena. As more of the best educated Greeks leave the country, and the less privileged, less wealthy, and more disillusioned remain behind, they may be more likely to channel their frustrations into radical politics, seeing no other avenue for recourse. Moreover, the continuing job cuts will only worsen the disillusionment that disadvantaged Greeks already feel, making the public more vulnerable to the appeals of extremist parties.  Some analysts have even voiced their concern about a possible reopening of old wounds between the far right and the far left, an outcome that the European community must avoid at all costs.

There is, nevertheless, speculation that Greece has begun to claw its way out of the economic abyss. The Greek economy is expected to shrink by approximately 3.8% this year, a marked improvement from the 4.2% expected by the EU and the IMF. However, these numbers are a far cry from positive growth, and have been bolstered by a successful tourist season and the temporary employment associated with it. But there remain 12,500 jobs to be cut before the end of the year, and the problems of capital flight and political radicalization persist. While some may believe the end is in sight, it remains to be seen whether these new developments will obscure the light at the end of the tunnel.

Constantine Valettas

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