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30 Apr, 2010 09:37

Debt-ridden Greeks angry at defense deal

Greece faces years of painful cuts to salaries in return for a multi-billion-dollar bailout from the International Monetary Fund and the EU. The Greek finance minister called it a “choice between collapse or salvation.”

"We were called upon to make a basic choice: leave the country to collapse, or save it. We chose the second," George Papaconstantinou said.

The finance minister warned of tough times ahead, preparing the country for “great sacrifices,” which will include savage pay cuts for public workers and changes to labor laws.

There have already been deep cuts to pay and pensions to try to stop the country from going bankrupt.

But Greeks don't just feel they're being held for ransom by the EU and the IMF. They're also furious about their government's reluctance to touch its massive defense budget.

“This is a no-quote situation here. Greece works as a test tube for worldwide economics and especially politics,” believes Nikos Karalampopolus from the Internationalist Anti-War Movement, “What will happen here will affect the course of [the next few years] worldwide. People here are mostly frightened than angry.”

Nick Vassilopoulos, 27, hasn’t been able to find a job in Athens for a year. Most of his friends are in the same boat: drowning in the big fat Greek debt crisis.

“My generation is skeptical about it, we now face a future with no pension, with lower salaries than ever, and no light in the end of the tunnel,” he said.

In the face of collapse, Greece began to cut its public spending starting with salaries, schools, and other social programs.

In the last few days, the government has said it will touch the country's enormous defense budget. Greece, with over $400 billion of debt, spends more of its GDP on the military than any other EU country.

Despina Koutsoumba is a member of the Greek Civil Servants Trade Union, and a mother and activist. She is fighting to make rent, and wants answers from her government.

“From the salary cuts in the entire public sector including the pensions, they will gain 1 billion euros,” Koutsoumba said. “And they will spend 2.5 billion to buy six warships from France. Why?”

Some say it’s the only way to stay afloat. Implications are flying that these deals helped secure an EU-IMF Bailout.

“It’s a very extraordinary situation: the same governments, the same leaders, who are pushing Greece to cut expenses to cut our deficit are pushing us to buy more military equipment from their governments or military enterprises,” stated Dimitrius Papadimoulis, an MP from the Radical coalition.

“Greece has been always paying a great amount of the national GNP for military expenses not only for geopolitical reasons but also in order to pay a tax to the ‘king’,” says George Pavlopoulos from the Union of Employees in the Banking Sector, adding, “We mean a tax to the Western countries, as they play a role of protector of Greece – these countries are the US, Germany and France, and they push Greece to buy weapons.”

Protesters claim Greece isn’t fighting for its own national interest but for third parties.

“We have NATO here, Frontex and other global organizations that cost us a lot of money and make us spend a lot of money,” said Koutsoumba. “It’s not only the defense budget for buying weapons for Greece, it’s money we spend to send soldiers elsewhere… why do we need Greek soldiers in Afghanistan?”

Despina wants answers because she wants a future.

“Now, we know that next year will be worse and worse and worse,” she said. “We don’t have control of our lives… you know I have a child and I wanted – I’m 36 years old – to have a second child and now I’m thinking, can I afford to have second child… can I afford to keep my house?"

The European Union is to make an announcement concerning financial aid to Greece on May 2, according to a source from the EU, Itar-Tass news agency reports.

Moreover, an official representative of the Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker, said on Friday that a special session of the European Group (the group of finance ministers of EU member states) will take place at the forthcoming weekend.

“If, as it is expected, at the end of [Friday], the agreement on a Stabilization Program is achieved between the IMF and Greece, the meeting of European Group will take place at the weekend in order to launch the plan of financial aid to Athens,” he claimed.

Leaders of the European Commission and the European Central Bank are also expected to take part in this session.

As such, observers expect that Athens will get in three days all credits necessary for the government budget in order to escape default.