As an elementary school principal, Leonidas Nikas is used to seeing children play, laugh and dream about the future. But recently he has seen something altogether different, something he thought was impossible in Greece: children picking through school trash cans for food; needy youngsters asking playmates for leftovers; and an 11-year-old boy, Pantelis Petrakis, bent over with hunger pains.
“He had eaten almost nothing at home,” Mr. Nikas said, sitting in his cramped school office near the port of Piraeus, a working-class suburb of Athens, as the sound of a jump rope skittered across the playground. He confronted Pantelis’s parents, who were ashamed and embarrassed but admitted that they had not been able to find work for months. Their savings were gone, and they were living on rations of pasta and ketchup.
“Not in my wildest dreams would I expect to see the situation we are in,” Mr. Nikas said. “We have reached a point where children in Greece are coming to school hungry. Today, families have difficulties not only of employment, but of survival.”
The Greek economy is in free fall, having shrunk by 20 percent in the past five years. The unemployment rate is more than 27 percent, the highest in Europe, and 6 of 10 job seekers say they have not worked in more than a year. Those dry statistics are reshaping the lives of Greek families with children, more of whom are arriving at schools hungry or underfed, even malnourished, according to private groups and the government itself.
The Municipal Theater in Piraeus, Greece, was bathed in an eerie light, with yellow floodlights and red torches combining to illuminate the theater’s neoclassical façade, which now served as the backdrop for a macabre spectacle: At least 1,000 neo-Nazis and their supporters had turned out for a march, and red flags bearing a large, black swastika-like symbol flew from the building’s front steps.
The right-wing extremist party Chrysi Avgi, or Golden Dawn, convened this demonstration on a Thursday in February to protest an arson attack on its local party office — and to make another display of its strength.
Ringed by a group of brawny toughs, party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, 55, bellowed: “No one can stop us — not the bombs, not all your filth. We will triumph!” His listeners, many of them hidden beneath black hoods, replied with a thunderous “Zito! Zito!” The phrase literally means something like “Long live!” but the affect is more like “Heil!” — and deliberately so. Many also raised their right arms, while the police remained in the background. The right-wing extremists then took their burning torches and marched through the downtown of this port city. Foreigners and any young people dressed in alternative-looking clothing made sure to clear out of the streets before they arrived. The scent of danger hung in the air.
Right-wing thugs have been spreading fear and terror in Greece for months. The worse the financial crisis gets and the harsher the budget cuts imposed by European creditors are, the worse the terror gets on the streets. Foreigners have been attacked, homosexuals chased and leftists assaulted. Some were beaten to death. There are parts of Athens in which refugees and minorities no longer dare to go out alone at night, and streets that are echoingly empty. Foreign merchants have had to close their doors, while journalists and politicians who criticize these developments receive threats or beatings.
Ta Nea, a leading Greek daily, has described conditions here as similar to those of Weimar Germany. Vassiliki Georgiadou, a political science professor in Athens, likewise calls it “an atmosphere like in the 1930s in Germany against the Jews and their businesses.”
Greece, Germany bicker over war reparations issue
By ELENA BECATOROS | Associated Press – 19 hrs ago
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A long-standing debate over whether Germany still owes Greece war reparations stemming from the Nazi occupation erupted anew Thursday in a spat between Greece’s foreign minister and Germany’s finance minister.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted by German media as suggesting that Greece should focus on reforming its economy and that the issue of war reparations was definitively closed years ago.
“I consider such comments irresponsible. Much more important than misleading people with such stories would be to explain and spell out the reform path,” the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung quoted him as saying in its Thursday edition. “Greece has already accomplished a lot but also still has a longer way ahead of it. One should not divert attention from that.”
In a riposte, Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos said the reparations issue was one for international law to determine, stressing it was completely unrelated to Greece’s international financial bailout.
The issue of war reparations has been a contentious and legally complicated one for decades. Nazi Germany, which occupied Greece from 1941-44, forced Athens to extend it loans and give up gold reserves. There was also the question of the destruction of infrastructure and compensation claims filed by individuals who survived Nazi atrocities.
In 1960, Germany paid Greece 115 million German marks (about $330 million at today’s value) and soundly rejects any further calls for reparations, insisting that payment definitively settled all claims.
Greece suffered some of the highest casualty figures in WW2 as a % of her population. France lost 1.35% of her population to the war and the UK less than 1% while Greece lost 4.5% of her population.
I think the Cold War and the need to have a unified western front against the USSR had the western powers force Greece to accept such little compensation from Germany for her losses.
Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is to resume on Tuesday tough negotiations with troika envoys on several contentious issues, including a delayed overhaul of the civil service, in a bid to reach a consensus before Friday’s informal Eurogroup summit in Dublin.
Government and troika officials on Monday took a day off negotiations to prepare their arguments and to allow the dust to settle following the unexpected news of the suspension of a merger between National Bank of Greece and Eurobank. They are to resume talks at 4 p.m. on Tuesday and have a lot of ground to cover if they are to reach an agreement by Friday’s summit. Greece’s economic reform progress will be on the agenda of talks at the summit but a decision on the release of a 2.8-billion-euro loan installment that had been due last month is not expected until later in April while a decision on a subsequent tranche of 6 billion euros is likely in May. Unless the disbursement of the tranches is delayed until after May 20, when Greece must cover 5.6 billion euros in bonds that are set to expire, government officials say there will be no cash-flow problem.
A top-secret report compiled at the behest of the Finance Ministry in Athens has come to the conclusion that Germany owes Greece billions in World War II reparations. The total could be enough to solve the country’s debt problems, but the Greek government is wary of picking a fight with its paymaster.
The headline on Sunday’s issue of the Greek newspaper To Vima made it clear what is at stake: “What Germany Owes Us,” it read. The article below outlined possible reparations payments Athens might demand from Germany resulting from World War II. A panel of experts, commissioned by the Greek Finance Ministry, spent months working on the report — an 80-page file classified as “top secret.”
Now, though, the first details of the report have been leaked to the public. According to To Vima, the commission arrived at a clear conclusion: “Greece never received any compensation, either for the loans it was forced to provide to Germany or for the damages it suffered during the war.”
The research is based on 761 volumes of archival material, including documents, agreements, court decisions and legal texts. Panagiotis Karakousis, who heads the group of experts, told To Vima that the researchers examined 190,000 pages of documents, which had been scattered across public archives, often stored in sacks thrown in the basements of public buildings.
Emerging extremist organisations in the Balkans are operating alongside existing extremist groups and may try to change the political and legal framework to fit their agendas, analysts warned.
Analysts agree that the “new extremism” in the Balkans embodies religion, ethnicity and neo-Nazism, best exemplified by Greece’s Golden Dawn.
Whether new or traditional, extremist organisations are proactive in promoting their agendas, but also are reactive in seeking political opportunities, said Abit Hoxha, researcher for the Centre for Security Studies in Pristina.
“Lately, organisations representing extremist ideologies have been increasing their activities globally and in the Balkans as well. The means by which they conduct their activities have changed by the use of modern communications channels,” Hoxha told SETimes.
New Islamic movements in Kosovo such as Bashkohu, Forumi and Paqja Studentore are not a direct threat to Kosovo’s stability, but could be if they become more politically active, Hoxha said.
A Greek criminal prosecutor has launched an investigation after a report on Channel 4 News showed a member of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party threatening to turn immigrants into soap.
The investigation was opened after the Greek anti-racist crime unit referred the news report to the criminal prosecutor.
The film - which was broadcast on Channel 4 News on 5 March - was shot by Konstantinos Georgousis, with the full knowledge of the members, after spending a month filming far-right Golden Dawn party on the streets of Athens.
In the film, Alexandros Plomaritis, a 44-year-old who ran for parliament for the party in last year’s election, said: “We are ready to open the ovens. We will turn them into soap … to wash cars and pavements. We will make lamps from their skin.”
Continue reading at Channel 4.
Full video including commentary below.
From The Economist, some less than happy news about the ultra-right-wing Golden Dawn group.
Golden Dawn’s “national awakening” sessions
Mar 4th 2013, 16:26 by K.H. | ATHENS
GOLDEN DAWN, Greece’s extreme right-wing party, already has a growing presence in public high schools around the country. Teenage supporters have been spreading its racist message despite complaints by the Greek teachers’ union and left-of-centre political parties.
Now Golden Dawn is targeting pupils at primary schools. Its official website recently hosted pictures of neatly-dressed 6 to ten-year-olds, accompanied by parents, at a “national awakening” session held at a Golden Dawn branch office outside Athens. The session included a discussion on “the Olympian gods, the ancient Greek pantheon and the Christian faith”. More such lessons are planned, says the party.
Shocked educators and commentators drew comparisons with propaganda methods used in Nazi-era Germany and by the military junta that ruled Greece in the 1970s. Golden Dawn was defiant. “You’re bothered by us teaching Greek history? …We’re going to write it, too”, shouted Dimitris Koukoutsis, one of 18 Golden Dawn lawmakers, during a rowdy exchange with left-wingers in parliament.
Beware the political party that swears it will write history.
Greece outside of the USSR and maybe after Poland suffered the most civilian deaths at the hands of the Nazis in proportion to their population and her wealth was stolen en mass as was here agricultural production (many Greeks starved to death from a Nazi imposed famine). We can say many things about how Greece can be blamed for her economic problems but Greece had a longer road to recover from WW2 than most European countries (including a brutal Cold War fueled post WW2 civil war). I won’t make any excuses for Spain because they were run by a fascist Hitler sympathizing dictatorship.
So here we have Greece, which shed blood fighting the fascists for Europe (and helped win the Battle of the Atlantic with her considerable merchant marine fleet and was present at D-Day) and helped defeat communism in a brutal civil war and the western capitalist economies could care less. No good deed ever goes unpunished it seems.
Greece and Spain helped postwar Germany recover. Spot the difference
Sixty years ago, half of German war debts were cancelled to build its economy. Yet today, debt is destroying those creditors
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 27 February 2013 07.24 EST
Seventeen years ago, Bernard Connolly foretold the misery that awaited the European Union. Given that he was an instrumental figure in the EU bureaucracy and publicly expressed his doubts in a book called “The Rotten Heart of Europe,” he was promptly fired. Mr. Connolly takes no pleasure now in having seen his prediction come true. And he takes no comfort in the view, prevalent in many quarters, that the EU has passed through the worst of its crisis and is on the cusp of revival.
As far as Mr. Connolly is concerned, Europe’s heart is still rotting away.
The European political class, he says, believes that the crisis “hit its high point” last summer, “because that was when there was an imminent danger, from their point of view, that their wonderful dream would disappear.” But from the perspective “of real live people, and families and firms and economies,” he says, the situation “is just getting worse and worse.” Last week, the EU reported that the euro-zone economy shrank by 0.9% in the fourth quarter of 2012. For the full year, gross domestic product fell 0.5% in the euro zone.
Two immediate solutions present themselves, Mr. Connolly says, neither appetizing. Either Germany pays “something like 10% of German GDP a year, every year, forever” to the crisis-hit countries to keep them in the euro. Or the economy gets so bad in Greece or Spain or elsewhere that voters finally say, ” ‘Well, we’ll chuck the whole lot of you out.’ Now, that’s not a very pleasant prospect.” He’s thinking specifically, in the chuck-‘em-out scenario, about the rise of neo-fascists like the Golden Dawn faction in Greece.