12:03pm

Thu October 27, 2011
Europe

Greeks Fear They Are Losing Their Sovereignty

Originally published on Thu November 3, 2011 5:24 pm

World markets rallied Thursday after European leaders agreed on a plan to deal with the eurozone debt crisis. But in Greece, the most imperiled country, there was skepticism that the deal will do much to help the country out of recession.

In addition, many Greeks also fear that they are losing their sovereignty, and are uncomfortable about the role Germany will be playing in the country's financial future.

The Nuntius stock brokerage firm is, unlike similar offices in New York or London, deathly quiet. So many people have been laid off that the offices are nearly empty.

The firm's president, Alexandros Moraitakis, sits behind a big desk, his cell phone ringing with calls from clients eager to know about the EU deal that was reached at dawn Thursday.

His own profession is in critical condition. In the past two years, the Greek stock market has lost 75 percent of its volume. Personally, he doesn't like the EU deal. He says the EU, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank — known as the troika — have his country's fate in their hands.

"Greece does not decide, now the troika people decide, and they make experiments in the Greek market," he says. "Up to now they were unsuccessful. Without growth, nothing will be done."

All Pain, No Gain

Moriatakis lists some other troika results: Unemployment has doubled, and despite two years of draconian austerity measures, Greece is in recession and spiraling downwards. Many commentators echo this negative view.

And there's widespread criticism that the troika is going to have a permanent office in Athens for the rest of the decade.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made clear that over-indebted eurozone countries must be closely overseen by international inspectors.

Many Greeks see this as the first step of a loss of national sovereignty.

Newspaper publisher and journalist George Kirtsos says it's one thing to yield sovereignty in the name of a more united and integrated Europe.

"And it is another thing yielding sovereignty because you have failed in your economic management and now have to face the reality of German domination," he says. "No government can sell this to its people, to its own electorate."

Kirtsos points out that statements by German politicians disparaging the Greek people have revived old memories of the brutality of the German occupation during World War II.

Anger With Germany

There have even been suggestions in the media that the German-driven austerity measures are part of a plan to reshape the Greek nation. But Kirtsos says this in no way resembles what the Americans offered with the Marshall Plan, which pumped lots of money into the Greek economy, devastated by World War II.

"So you can do nation-building provided you pay the bill," he said. "But if you want to do nation-building and force the Greeks to pay the price for the German nation-building in Greece, this is something that cannot be done in political terms."

Anti-German sentiment is boiling. A slew of cartoons have depicted Greek government officials as Nazi collaborators. There are growing fears that Germans are plotting to buy Greek monuments and islands on the cheap, and there's a revival of anger over Greek demands for compensation for Nazi atrocities.

A local EU office run by a German is referred to as the Gestapo.

Even world-famous composer Mikis Theodorakis — of Zorba the Greek fame — joined the anti-German crusade in a call to a radio talk show.

"They are pressing the knife deeper and deeper, they insult us more every day, driving us toward violence and to an explosion that could also be destructive for them," Theodorakis says.

But at a press conference Thursday, Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos tried to reassure Greeks that their national sovereignty is intact. He justified the troika's permanent presence in Athens, saying it's needed to avoid what he called communication problems.

And he insists that responsibility for and implementation of the EU bailout program lies with the Greek government alone.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

As we just heard, there's a great deal of skepticism that this new plan can do much to help Greece out of recession. Perhaps nowhere is that skepticism and frustration stronger than inside Greece. And Greeks aren't just fretting over their economic prospects. As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Athens, they're increasingly worried that their very sovereignty is at stake.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR CREAKING)

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: This is the office of the Nuntius stock brokerage firm. Unlike similar offices in New York or in London, it's deathly quiet. So many people have been laid off that the offices are nearly empty, except for the president's. Alexandros Moraitakis sits behind a big desk, his cellphone ringing with calls from clients eager to know about the EU deal reached at dawn. His own profession is dying. In just two years, the stock market has lost 75 percent in volume, $110 billion. He doesn't like the EU deal. He says, the EU, IMF and ECB, known as the troika, have his country's fate in their hands.

ALEXANDROS MORAITAKIS: Greece does not decide. Now, the troika people decides. They make experiments in the Greek market. Up to now they were unsuccessful. Without growth, nothing will be done.

POGGIOLI: Moraitakis lists some other troika results: unemployment has doubled and, despite two years of Draconian austerity measures, Greece is in recession and spiraling downwards. Many commentators echo this negative view. And there's widespread criticism that the troika is going to have a permanent office in Athens. It will stay open until 2020. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made clear that over-indebted eurozone countries must be closely overseen by international inspectors. Many Greeks see this as the first step of a loss of national sovereignty. Newspaper publisher and journalist George Kirtsos says it's one thing to yield sovereignty in the name of a more united and integrated Europe...

GEORGE KIRTSOS: ...and another thing yielding sovereignty because you have failed in your economic management, and now you have to face the reality of German domination. No government can sell this to its people, to its own electorate.

POGGIOLI: Kirtsos points out that statements by German politicians disparaging the Greek people have revived old memories of the brutality of the German occupation during World War II. There have even been suggestions in the media that the German-driven austerity measures are part of a plan to reshape the Greek nation. But Kirtsos say this in no way resembles what the Americans offered with the Marshall Plan, which pumped lots of money into the Greek economy devastated by World War II.

KIRTSOS: So you can do nation-building provided you pay the bill. But if you want to do nation-building and force the Greeks to pay the price for the German nation-building in Greece, this is something that cannot be done in political terms.

POGGIOLI: Anti-German sentiment is boiling. A slew of cartoons have depicted Greek government officials as Nazi collaborators. There are growing fears that Germans are plotting to buy Greek monuments and islands on the cheap. There's a revival of anger over Greek demands for compensation for Nazi atrocities. And a local EU office run by a German is referred to as the Gestapo. Even world-famous composer Mikis Theodorakis, of "Zorba the Greek" fame, joined the anti-German crusade in a call to a radio talk show.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO TALK SHOW)

MIKIS THEODORAKIS: (Through translator) They are pressing the knife deeper and deeper. They insult us more every day, driving us towards violence and to an explosion that could also be destructive for them.

POGGIOLI: But at a press conference today, Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos tried to reassure Greeks that their national sovereignty is intact. He justified the troika's permanent presence in Athens, saying it's needed to avoid what he called communication problems. And he insists that responsibility for and implementation of the EU bailout program lies with the Greek government alone. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.