Just back from three weeks in his native Greece, Southern Oregon University physics Professor Panos Photinos got to join the 61 percent of voters who rejected the Eurozone bailout terms — and says Northern European banks continue to offer impossible debt deals that will drain all the nation’s assets.
“This is not a viable loan, because the interest is so high,” said Photinos, an SOU teacher since 1989. “It’s 180 percent of our GNP (gross national product). We can’t pay the interest.”
Photinos and his fellow Greeks rejected the bailout in a July 5 referendum, he says, because the money will not go to development and job creation in Greece, but will cost jobs and send all payments to “this unofficial group of European bankers” who seek to privatize all state assets and “sell them off at ridiculously low prices to rich bankers.”
Visiting in Ashland, Maria Stavrou, resident of Athens and sister of Photinos, notes that since Greece shifted to the Euro from its age-old drachma in 2001, inflation took off, housing prices dropped radically and the younger generation faces 60 percent unemployment, low wages and no hope.
“People are moving back in with their parents,” she says, “and are selling and moving to smaller homes. It’s ugly. It’s worse for the younger generation. They cannot see a future. Their basic salary, with education, is around 550 Euro. Rent is 300 to 400 Euro. You cannot live on that. What do we do? We help each other.”
The impact of debt and forced austerity, says Photinos, is that a house someone bought with an $800,000 mortgage a decade ago is now worth $100,000 but won’t sell because no one has the money for it.
“That’s why we’re poor” adds Stavrou. “We’ve got nothing. You can buy a house, a small one, in Athens now for $20,000.”
During the referendum campaign, the mass media, mostly owned by non-Greek corporations, “demonized” Greeks as folk who “live like kings,” with good health care and pensions, but are lazy and “just sit there” and don’t work.
In addition, Greece is receiving a large number of immigrants from impoverished Africa, while prosperous Northern Europe strives to exclude them, said Ashlander Shelley Lotz, wife of Photinos.
Greece in January voted out its right-wing New Democracy Party, handing power to a coalition led by the left-wing Syriza Party, which, says Photinos, is less open to further austerity and cutting government programs and assets.
“I feel it’s a sad situation, especially for the young, who were promised a better future and a better life when we joined the EU in 1981,” he says.
The more prosperous nations of the EU, he adds, wants the liberal government to fail and are adamant about wringing out Greece’s wealth, because, if they relent, it will give other struggling members — Spain, Portugal, Italy — the nerve to follow suit.
“If we stand up to EU leaders," Photinos said, "they will follow the same path and (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel will be looking for a new job. ... The German government is very arrogant, greedy and aggressive in taking over Greek asset.”
The EU so far has reduced Greek pensions by 40 percent and increased the retirement age, he says, throwing many into chaos in the ends of their lives.
“It’s like the old days, when they would go into Africa with armies and take a colony,” says Photinos, “but now they take it through the banks, with bailouts. It’s making Greece very close to a third-world country.”
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.