A Bloomberg report that appeared earlier this week provides another look into the gloomy scene that is Greece today. This view is from the vantage point of higher eduction.
The report opens with the observation that ‘[i]n the universities of Athens, the city where Plato taught and Cicero studied, campuses are covered in anarchist graffiti, stray dogs run through buildings and students take lessons in Swedish with the aim of emigrating.”
Greek higher education still suffers from “reforms” initiated following the student-led socialist revolt against the 1970s military dictatorship. “As a result, Greek students have a significant role in the governance and administration of the universities, including a say in the hiring of the rectors in charge…. That power is often exploited by political parties, which have large and active youth branches, to fight reform”.
Under the country’s constitution, Greeks pay no tuition to attend university, so “there’s no incentive to leave college.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, 43 percent of the college-aged population were enrolled in 2007, according to OECD statistics. ”Yet only 18 percent graduate, one of the lowest rates in Europe.”
The party is over. With government funding cut by 23 percent since 2009, university buildings have no heat in the winter, faculty salaries have been cut, and hiring of new academics is delayed. Students report an atmosphere of pessimism, with unemployment among “active job seekers from 15 to 24 years old” at an astonishing 51% in December. The rate across all age groups is 21%.
Many students have essentially given up on finding employment in Greece and look for greener pastures abroad. For example, “Nancy Athanasopoulou, 20, a law student, is taking Swedish lessons with the hope of living and working in Sweden. In her language class of 20, only three plan to stay in Greece, she said.” And she quipped, “The whole class is planning on leaving for Sweden. . . . We hear it has a good economy, good salary, good working conditions.”
I seem to recall when Sweden was the socialist role model for folks who favor that sort of thing. Now Sweden has cut government spending, reigned in excessive benefits, and by comparison to Greece is an economic powerhouse. Greece is now seeking the same path, although under duress, having lived large for far too long.
Apparently it was another swell weekend in Athens. Once again there was an anti-austerity “rally,” and once again it was accompanied by arson and looting.
According to an eKathimerini report, an investigation has been ordered by Athens prosecutor Eleni Raikou, and will focus on the role played by a “sit-in” at the Athens Law School. Specifically, the probe will seek to determine whether protestors used the law school premises to “re-load” with “homemade firebombs and chunks of rock” in between destructive forays launched from the campus. It is unclear whether the activities at the school were organized by “students” or by “anti-establishment protestors, or both.”
In the past Greece had a law that prohibited police from entering onto school grounds to quell violence and arrest those engaged in lawless activity. That ill-considered ban was lifted last summer, no doubt for compelling reasons, but nonetheless the police — consistent with their approach throughout the disgraceful trashing of Athens — refrained from taking any action against the protestors.
A spokesman for the conservative New Democracy party “blasted” the “Citizens’ Protection Minister” for having failed ”to break up the sit-in.” Calls were made for judicial officials ”to determine why the new law permitting police access to university grounds was not enforced.” This is an especially pertinent question since the rector of the university said that he had advised the Minister of the “sit-ins.”
Police, helpful as ever, claimed to have “guarded the faculty” but took no further action because they did not receive “a prosecutor’s order to enter the university premises.”
Prosecutor Raikou has launched this and other investigations. One will explore “claims by business owners that they were asked to pay a fee to protect their premises from vandalism.” Another inquiry will focus on ”the buildings that were vandalized.”
One can surmise that police not only did nothing to prevent the arson, looting, and wanton property destruction, but also in effect demanded “protection money” from merchants whose commercial premises were threatened.
This is shameful.
This is a brief follow up to my earlier articles on developments in Greece. The first, in December, described in some detail the impact of the country’s unsustainable spending on the lives of its citizens. The second, published today, provided an update that put more focus on parallels between the long economic descent of Greece and the downward spiral that continues in the United States under the current administration’s policies.
In the space of a few days, two more news reports underscore my respective points.
First, a report on Friday (February 17) in ekathimerini.com, the online version of the Greek English language daily, tells how Constantinos Polychronopolous “saw two children fighting over a few rotten pieces of fruit at his local farmers market.” Inspired by the sight, Polychronopolous joined with some friends to form a group that prepares meals for the indigent. Echoing the reference I made to desperate times during the German occupation, the article quotes an elderly man saying he had hoped never again to “experience the kind of hunger we knew in the 40s.” But, as with the elderly woman I mentioned in my second article, conditions in Athens are evocative of the city’s very worst experiences.
Second, on Saturday the ekathimerini reported: “Thousands of European citizens marched in several cities of the continent on Saturday afternoon in solidarity to the Greek people demanding an end to the austerity measures imposed on Greece.” The short article contains a long list of European cities, and concludes by noting that two rallies are planned for New York City on Saturday afternoon.
Reading the last report, I am constrained to wonder, by “demanding an end to the austerity measures,” do these marching “citizens” have some other rational solution in mind? Or, more likely, do they simply rail against reality, grieving at the stark fact that no government can go on indefinitely spending money it does not have?