Economy

Euro Crisis Redux: Greek Austerity And Collective Depression

Panepistimio, Athens
Panepistimio, Athens
Fabien Perrier

ELEFSINA — Greece must repay 7 billion euros of debt by July. But, as has been the case since 2011, the country will not be able to honor its debt without first receiving the credit promised by the International Monetary Fund and the members of the eurozone in July 2015 (86 billion euros). Athens' creditors are demanding new austerity measures, even though the economy and the population are both exhausted.

Dimitris Panogiotakopoulos' face gets longer as soon as he starts talking about the primary school he heads in Elefsina, 12 miles from Athens, where since 2009 the budget has decreased by 70%. "Every year, the situation gets worse. I've lost all hope that things might improve," he says. "We can't even afford chalk. We've had to organize fundraisers just to buy school supplies."

Kostas Vamvakas, a physical education teacher in the local high school, paints a similar picture. Faced with the urgency of the situation, the two have built a solidarity network. "Some of the kids don't even have a coat on their backs this winter," the teacher says. In the headmaster's office, everybody is wearing their warmest clothes. The heating works, but it's kept at the minimum temperature.

For Panogiotakopoulos, only exiting the euro will put an end to Greece's troubles. He recalls what this coastal working-class suburb used to look like, the refinery chimneys used to churn their black smoke day and night. The shipyards ran at full capacity. There used to be two companies in the metallurgical industry and two cement plants along a highway packed with traffic. Local shops were flourishing.

But with the crisis, drastic reforms were demanded of Greece. The three memoranda of understanding signed by the successive Greek governments with creditors, in exchange for loans to avoid the country defaulting on its debt, dictated a ruthless program: wage and pension cuts, abolition of labor agreements replaced by individual contracts, tax hikes, privatizations, cuts in public spending.

Now, "industry is ruined" says Panogiotakopoulos, who's also an elected representative for the Elefsina-Aspropyrgos district. Along the highway, all companies have closed down. Numerous shops have put up "for sale" or "for rent" signs. In this city, due to be the 2021 European Capital of Culture, one-third of the 30,000 inhabitants are unemployed.

Tanking sales and salaries

"My sales have gone down 60% since 2009," says Giorgia Fratzeskaki, a hairdresser who fears being forced to close soon. She lives off her husband's pension, although that too has gone down by half. At 58, she's "hoping to last another two years ... but that's a long shot! Taxes are going up and now we even have to pay some taxes in advance. That encourages us not to declare all of our earnings."

Maria Papada, 50, goes further. "My annual income is half of what it used to be: 830 euros a month ($880) but I have to work 14 hours a day. Extra hours aren't paid anymore. Our Christmas and Easter bonuses are gone."

The discussion livens up. "My son works in cancer research," Giorgia's aunt says. "At the university in Athens, they didn't even have toilet paper. He left for Saudi Arabia in November 2015." And they all say,"with the euro and the memoranda, Greece cannot survive."

Christos Triandafilou, a researcher for the Work Institute, points out that more than one third of Greeks are now at risk of poverty or social exclusion, with 21.4% already living below the poverty line. And he stresses that with the successive wage cuts, the poverty line itself has gone down. "It has gone down from 6,120 euros for a single person in 2007 to 4,512 euros," he says.

Photo: FOYPOYNIA

Christos Koutsaftis, a psychologist in Glyfada, a posh coastal suburb south of Athens, says Greeks increasingly don't want to make plans for the future."Instability and insecurity are the two words that best describe the current psychological state. "It's impossible to build a future when you don't even know if you'll still have your job in six months."

After seven years of crisis and three memoranda of understanding, a fourth pact (and more austerity) may soon arrive. In the meantime, everywhere we turn, Greek society looks to be in a state of collective depression.

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Society

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.


The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.

Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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