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14 Dec, 2008 04:24

Greek unrest exposes downside of EU membership

Greece has seen a week of major protests sparked by the shooting of a teenage boy. There's widespread discontent in the country blamed on rising poverty, corruption and unemployment. Other problems linked to Greece's membership of the EU have also played

Seventeen years after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the red flag is in fashion again on the streets of Europe. This time it's the streets of Athens and Thessalonika that are aflame with the rage of young people.

“It was not only the murder of Alexis that makes us come out on the streets. It's poverty and unemployment,” one of the protesters said.

These people are called the 700 euro generation because that is all they can hope to earn after finishing university. 

But membership of the EU and its single currency has led to soaring living costs in Greece, and many in the younger generation fear their future is among the poor.

Celebrated Greek writer Mimis Androvlakis predicts “a conflict between generations” in the future.   

“There is a very deep dissatisfaction among young people today against the structure of Europe,” Androvlakis said.

In his writings, Androvlakis has explained why the European Union has failed Greece.

“We have a common currency, but we don't have common policies and traditions. We can't reduce the price of the euro to give us an advantage in exports,” he says.

And this may be the heart of the problem. Greeks are different from Western Europeans in every way.

Greece is a Balkan nation in Europe wanting to be a European nation in the Balkans. Its spirit and soul is closer to Eastern Europe, so it's not surprising the first cracks in the European Union are appearing here.

Opposition member of the Greek parliament, Gionnis Magriotis, says it’s time Europe learned to accommodate difference.

“The EU must change its social policy and deal not only with countries' economies, but see that each nation has its own tradition and way of living,” he said.

Member of the European parliament, Margaritis Shinas, points to the problem of globalization.

“We are in a globalised economy. Money moves beyond frontiers, the crisis moves beyond frontiers, but the structures for control, accountability and democratic accountability are still national,” she said. 

Meanwhile, demonstrators are threatening to continue their street protests until officials in Brussels understand that the economy is more than numbers; it's geography, history, tradition and soul.