Greek crisis 'soon worse than Argentina's'

A walk through Athens amid signs of recession

16 February, 14:03

(ANSAmed) - ATHENS - The record is one that the birthplace of the Olympics would have been glad to see pass it by: the Greek crisis will soon surpass that of Argentina in terms of severity, with a GDP down by 16% since 2008, when the international crisis exploded. Greece is about to become an unprecedented case in modern history. However, going around Athens and speaking to people there brings home the realization that behind all the percentages and talks with the troika there are the lives of people in the balance, struggling like never before. People - when asked ''How is the crisis going?'' - unleash on you all their rage and fears about the future. Some state employees say they have seen their salaries cut in half, while the minimum monthly wages for the private sector will soon drop to 600 euros. Retirement age continues to slide farther and farther away. Some medicines have begun to become scarce, and many young couples with children have been forced to go back to living with their parents. In Argentina at the height of the crisis, there were clashes and the 'protest of the pots-and-pans': the 'cacerolazo'. In Greece on Sunday there was instead what many see as ''only a taste'' of things to come: street battles between protestors and police, dozens of buildings and banks set on fire.

There is also the visual aspect of the crisis. Until a few years ago the zone going from Omonia Square towards Psirri was one of the most well-known districts for Athens' lively nightlife with its restaurants, bars and clubs and their live music, and now is emblematic as little else of what the crisis means for Athens.

Dozens of places have been shuttered - such as the Guru Bar, which once enjoyed large-scale success on the local scene - and Psirri has rapidly been invaded by a growing number of very low-level shops, small groceries run by Sri Lankans and Chinese import-export businesses. Historical residents are racing to go elsewhere. Small and large hotels close one after another. Many buildings are empty, covered in graffiti or falling into ruin.

There is rubble everywhere and very few of the older, traditional businesses remain open. Christina, a Greek journalist, looks around and says that ''a few years ago I was thinking about buying a place here. I thought it was a lively place where you can easily go out in the evening without worrying about potential problems. Luckily I didn't do it. Look at the desolation here.'' Of a different tone but suffering similar effects is the elegant area around Kolonaki. A large number of shops have closed, with the writing 'Enoikiazetai' (for rent) or 'Polietai' (for sale) on them. Discounts listed in the shop front windows of those still open go from 50 to 70% but very few people can be seen inside in any case. Large cars and bejeweled woman are still to be seen, but at almost every step forward on the centrally-located Patriarkou Ioakim street there is another person begging for money, between a bank and a boutique.

The experts seem in agreement: if the recession continues, already in its fifth year, the Greek crisis could even surpass the gravity of Argentina's. Greek GDP dropped by 6.8% in 2011, with a 16% decline compared to before the beginning of the international crisis in 2008. Unemployment is over 20%, from the 7.7% in 2008. The Argentinean default of 2001 caused Buenos Aires's GDP to plunge by 20%, and in Latvia, the crisis in 2008 cut GDP by 24%. However, with the latest austerity measures launched in exchange for the 130 billion euros in aid to prevent an economic collapse, according to many analysts Greece is on its way to reaching those levels or worse, with analysts saying GDP may fall by as much as 30%. The latter figure is an unbearable one, whether talking about Psirri or about Kolonaki.


© Copyright ANSA - All rights reserved

Business opportunities

The information system of business
opportunities abroad

News from Mediterranean