Τρίτη, 17 Μαΐου 2011

WELCOME TO MISERY....LIVE YOURS MYTHOS IN GREECE



ATHENS — His face contorted with anguish, Anargyros D. recounted how he had lost everything in the aftermath of the Greek economic collapse — the food-processing factory founded by his father 30 years ago, his house, his car, his Rolex, his pride and now, he said, his will to live.
Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Times
At the main food assistance center in Athens, 3,500 people a day come seeking aid, up from about 100 a day when it opened 10 years ago.  More Photos »

“Many times I have thought of taking my father’s car and driving it into a wall,” he said, declining to give his last name because he was reluctant to draw attention to himself under these circumstances.
Hunched over and shaking, he sat last week in the spartan office of Klimaka, a social services organization here that provides help to the swelling numbers of homeless and depressed Greek professionals who have lost their jobs and their dignity.
“We were the people in Greece who helped others,” he said. “Now we are asking for help.”
It has been one year since Greece avoided bankruptcy when Europe and the International Monetary Fundprovided a 110 billion euro ($155 billion) bailout. While no one expected the country to reverse its sagging fortunes quickly, the despair of Greeks like Anargyros D. reflects a level of suffering deeper than anyone here had anticipated.
Economists are predicting a 4 percent contraction in gross domestic product this year, and the data support the pessimism. Cement production is down 60 percent since 2006. Steel production has fallen, in some cases more than 80 percent in the last two years. Analysts say that close to 250,000 private sector jobs will have been lost by the end of the year, pushing the unemployment rate above 15 percent.
With headlines shouting of credit rating downgrades, panicky Greeks are taking their money from banks. Greece lost 40 billion euros of deposits last year, and bankers say withdrawals have increased recently.
These struggles have again made Greece an urgent matter for the 17-nation euro zone, whose finance ministers are to meet on Monday to discuss Greece and the debt crisis that has defied Europe’s yearlong efforts to contain it. On the table will be whether Greece, which is now projected to miss its deficit target by as much as two percentage points of G.D.P. this year, will be granted another round of loans totaling as much as 60 billion euros, and what further budget cuts would be required in return.
But there is serious debate about whether this kind of prescription — subjecting Greece to more cuts and sacrifice in order to justify a second installment of funds from a reluctant Europe — is the right one.
This form of remedy violates two basic economic principles, according to Yanis Varoufakis, an economics professor and blogger at the University of Athens. “You do not lend money at high interest rates to the insolvent and you do not introduce austerity into a recession,” he said. “It’s pretty simple: the debt is going up and G.D.P. is going down. Have we not learned the lesson of 1929?”
The arrest on Saturday of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the I.M.F., on charges related to sexual assault could create new uncertainty about a push for more severe austerity. Mr. Strauss-Kahn generally favored a less onerous approach, and if he is forced to resign it is possible that tougher conditions preferred by Germany will be imposed.
But while the debate over how to fix the Greek economy has played out in public, the ways in which this slump is tearing at the country’s social fabric are less well known. The transformation has been jarring to a citizenry long accustomed to a generous welfare state.
Social workers and municipal officials in Athens report that there has been a 25 percent increase in homelessness. At the main food kitchen in Athens, 3,500 people a day come seeking food and clothing, up from about 100 people a day when it first opened 10 years ago.
The average age of those who show up is now 47, down from 60 two years ago, adding to evidence that those who are suffering now are former professionals. The unemployment rate for men 30 to 60 years old has spiked to 10 percent from 4 percent since the crisis began in 2008.
Aris Violatzis, Anargyros D.’s counselor, says that calls to the Klimaka charity’s suicide help line have risen to 30 a day, twice the number two years ago.
“We cannot imagine this,” Mr. Violatzis said. “We were once the 29th-richest country in the world. This is a nation in deep emotional shock.”

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