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Greece: The number of malnourished Greek children is rising for the first time since the Second World War
by Katerina Kitidi , Aris Chatzistefanou
2 November 2011

It was a few days before New Year’s Eve 2011 that a well-groomed mother and her child appeared at a polyclinic in Perama, a working-class suburb of the Greek capital. Restive in festive spirit, a doctor asked the little girl: “Sweetie, what do you want from Santa Claus this year?” Her answer came out timidly. “A glass of milk” she said, staring at him with her big brown eyes.

Since then, almost a year has passed and the little girl’s voice is echoed by thousands of kids at the debt-ridden country. According to the same doctor, the president of the local Medecins du Monde Nikitas Kanakis, the number of malnourished Greek children is rising for the first time since the Second World War. At the same time, less and less children get vaccinated, since social services are falling apart. And these are not their only plights. At school, the government didn’t manage to distribute their schoolbooks on time. At home, they live in fear of a permanent power cut, since the government has imposed yet another tax, payable through electricity bills.

The children, together with the women and the elderly, are the first victims of the unbearable austerity measures that the government under troika has imposed, in order to face the deficit and debt. The same goes for the underclasses –despite the fact that media’s attention is solely focused on the (true) woes of the middle class. One should not forget that one out of five Greeks already lives under the poverty line. This number is about to rise, judging by the amount of pay cuts, lay-offs, taxes and price hikes. These are the same people that the members of the government are publicly calling collectively “thieves”. But these are not the same people that keep 600 bn euros in their Swiss bank accounts in order to avoid taxation.

Greeks’ reactions to the austerity measures vary. Some are thinking about escaping from this “doomed” country and migrating abroad –with Australia being the latest favored destination. Others are still gathering at the squares of the Greek cities, keeping alive the spirit of the mass demonstrations that rocked the country in May and the early summer months. Many feel muffled by the huge extend of police repression that every time meets their demands with more and more tear gas. Many more are quietly joining the movement of civil disobedience which urges “Not to pay”, either because they don’t want or because they simply can’t afford it.

All of them, however, are trying to understand. To find out how their country arrived at this point and if there are any alternatives to the dead-end road presented by the government as the only way out. This partly explains the appeal of Debtocracy –the crowd-funded documentary on the financial crisis that since April is distributed freely online and has been viewed by more than 1,5 million people. Debtocracy puts the financial crisis in its global and European framework, explaining for example how the structure of the Eurozone creates surpluses for the core countries and deficits in the periphery. It doesn’t shy away from the responsibilities of the Greek political class, while deconstructing the myth that the majority of people devoured with it the spoils. It promotes knowledge as the first step of an alternative way out: the opening of the books on debt through the creation of a totally independent, supported by the grassroots Audit Commission. But it also clearly upholds the position that, if the measures imposed in order to pay the debt are going to completely tear apart the social fabric, then the Greek people are not obliged to pay for it.

Debtocracy was embraced by the public, in ways that exceeded even our wildest expectations. It was mostly supported by people at their peak productive years. People who don’t relate themselves to the traditional power system; who feel that their future is unjustly taken away from them; who are reluctant even to start a family due to their precarious situation. These are people who, like the majority of Greeks, deeply resent the policies of the government and see their fruitless nature. Besides, as the numbers confirm, while the Greek debt amounted to 115% of the GDP in October 2009, when the government decided to put use the “support” mechanism of the EU, the IMF and ECB, in 2012 it will to amount to 189% of GDP.

Debtocracy resonates the feeling of the public at a time where the country finds itself at the crossroads. It can either turn back, reproducing the same system that already brought it to its knees, or it can turn towards an alternative future, where the balance of power will favor the citizens, rather than the financial and political elites.

Published the 19/10/2011 in the section « Culturas » of the Spanish daily La Vanguardia as part of a dossier on Greece in times of the great crisis.

Katerina Kitidi
Aris Chatzistefanou