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Yet even as the package was approved by Parliament, there was much dissent. The socialists and rival conservatives, who comprise the majority of Greece’s interim coalition government, expelled 22 and 21 rebellious lawmakers, respectively. Furthermore, conservative New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, the current frontrunner to be Greece’s next Prime Minister and a man who believes the country should focus more on stimulating growth with tax cuts and privatization, still believes some additional wiggle room is possible. “I am calling on you to vote for the new loan agreement because I want to avoid falling into the abyss, to restore stability,” he said during Sunday’s parliamentary debate, “so that we can have the possibility tomorrow to negotiate and change the policy that is being imposed upon us today.” Vassilis Korkidis, head of Greece’s Commerce Confederation, was far more pessimistic. “Yesterday’s vote in the parliament may have saved the country temporarily from default, but the Greek economy is going bankrupt and the country’s political system is failing,” he contended.
Meanwhile, the people seethe. The country is in its fifth year of recession, unemployment is over 20 percent (rising to 50 percent for younger Greeks), and many of the country’s citizens are inclined to believe that the unknown factors of national bankruptcy might be no worse than the assurance of several years of painful austerity. “We need these protests,” said Babis Xerikos, who runs a stationery shop. “We have filthy politicians who steal from Greece so we need to protest against them.” “Greece will become a protectorate,” said Natalia Stefanou, 45, a shoe store employee. “It’s not me I’m worried about, though,” she added. “I’ve got two children, aged 14 and 15. What kind of country are we going to leave them?”
Much of that anger is focused on Germany. “Greece will pay its debts back, if you let us. But not with a German knife held to our throats,” said Eleftherios Basdekis, who spent part of his life living under the specter of Nazism. “This is worse than the ’40s,” said Stella Papafagou, 82. “This time the government is following the Germans’ orders. I would prefer to die with dignity than with my head bent down.”
Lost in much of the violence and anger is the daunting reality that this deal, even if all parties manage to get to the finish line as currently envisioned, does nothing more than buy time. “It’s a pause, it’s a relief,” said Milton Ezrati, senior economist and market strategist at Lord Abbett & Company. “But it’s short-lived and everyone knows that. We’re buying a few more months before the next round of trouble.” Jerry A. Webman, the senior investment officer and chief economist for Oppenheimer Funds, echoed that sentiment. “It doesn’t solve the problem,” he said, “but it gives everybody the political cover to look for ways to solve the real Greek problem, which is how to get the country and its economy back on more stable footing.”
At this point, it may take a miracle. Without some method of promoting economic growth factored into the austerity equation, all this deal does is temporarily slow down an apparently unavoidable death spiral. Greece is the first European nation that will inevitably “run out of other people’s money to spend.” It will likely not be the last. As for the road ahead, perhaps Spiros Papachelas, a 22-year-old student, expressed it best. “We’re finished. There’s no future here. As soon as I can, I’m going abroad.”
If the European Union continues to embrace the destructive socialist policies that have brought, not just Greece, but Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and possibly France to the brink of insolvency, Mr. Papachelas and others may discover yet another daunting reality: they’re running out of places to go.
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