Germany Gauges Latest Wave Of Grim News To Hit Euro Zone's Weakest Links

The Fitch ratings agency offers the latest vote of no-confidence on Italy's finances, as the situation only grows worse in Greece. Germans try to measure whether the vicious cycle of bailouts will ever end.

Athens keeps on crumbling (christine zenino)
Athens keeps on crumbling (christine zenino)
Florian Hassel

BERLIN - Looking southward, we see more bad news out there in Euroland.

To start with, Italy is expected to lose its top AAA credit rating from Fitch later this month, which could set off further financing difficulties for the government in Rome. Because of its soaring public debt levels, high borrowing rates, and insufficient euro zone crisis planning, Italy stands to lose the top rating it has thus far enjoyed, said David Riley, head of sovereign ratings at Fitch, who spoke this week at a conference on European credit policy.

Italy, the euro zone's third-largest economy is, along with Spain, Ireland, Belgium and France, due for reevaluation by Fitch by the end of January. "When we've completed this, there's a significant chance that Italy will be downgraded," Riley stated. The analyst stressed that the interest of financial markets was focused on Italy. "Rome will be the door to future decisions' about the euro, he said, adding that in 2012 alone, Italy had to re-finance government debt of 440 billion euros. Rome would have to pay more than 7% interest on that – 5% more than the German interest rate.

In addition to Italy, ratings could expect to be downgraded in Spain, Ireland, and Belgium by one or two notches, the Fitch analyst said. That could mean increased financing costs due as interest rates rise. The one sigh of relief was for France, which would retain its Triple A rating.

The euro zone's second-largest economy after Germany wouldn't be looking at a Fitch downgrade within the year, although Fitch is not the only agency conducting reevaluations. In early December 2011, Standard & Poor's said the outlook for evaluation of the 15 euro countries was "negative" and that possible downgrades could be announced within three months.

More Greek debt to forgive?

The situation in Greece remains dismal. Worsening conditions there make a comprehensive haircut seem ever more likely, although euro countries led by German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy are pressuring Athens to come to a quick agreement with banks and other private lenders, based on the EU crisis summit decisions at the end of October 2011. At that summit, along with a new credit program of 130 billion euros, Athens was granted debt forgiveness of 50% on some 210 billion euros of privately held Greek government bonds. The decision was based on a debt sustainability analysis by the E. U. Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or the "Troika" as they are known.

Since then however, the economic situation in Athens has gotten dramatically worse, with the Economist Intelligence Unit forecasting a further 7% shrinkage of the Greek economy in 2012, although Troika experts are predicting a loss of only 3%. Nor will tax revenues meet the amount owed.

"The numbers are not good. It is clear that there will have to be significant debt forgiveness," said the IMF's chief economist Olivier Blanchard in a TV interview, adding that the reduction that had been planned would no longer be sufficient. "We still have to crunch the numbers, as soon as the economy figures are in. These keep getting worse, so that may well mean a bigger haircut."

From the IMF standpoint, the only alternative to more comprehensive debt forgiveness for Athens would be for euro countries to shore up aid to Greece. IMF director Christine Lagarde held talks about Greece on Tuesday evening with Chancellor Merkel. The Troika starts its next inspection in Greece on Monday.

According to E.U. economy commissioner Ollie Rehn, Greece's talks with its private creditors including French banker Baudoin Prot and a number of Greek bankers listed in the Kathemerini newspaper, are nearing their end – possibly as soon as a week away. Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy have made Athens' agreement with its private creditors a condition for receiving the next credit.

Even if the Greek Finance Ministry and the negotiating committee of private lenders agree on time frame, interest rate, and laws applicable for the restructuring, it still remains to be seen how many of the private creditors accept the agreement.

Meanwhile, according to Reuters, many hedge funds have been selling Greek bonds and credit default swaps based on speculation that the country is headed for bankruptcy -- and thus have no interest in bailing Greece out. "At the end of the day, we can be glad if more than 50% of the private lenders go along with the agreement," said a banker familiar with the content of the talks on Tuesday.

That would however mean that the 100 billion euro debt relief planned in October 2011 would fall by the wayside. But, in light of the worsening economic data from Athens and the IMF's increasing skepticism, even 100% agreement might not save the day.

If the IMF declares Greece's debts no longer sustainable, then neither it nor the other euro countries would be allowed to make any more loans to Greece, according to an agreement made in May 2010 between the euro zone and the IMF.

Read the original article in German

Photo - christine zenino

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Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."

Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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