My girlfriend and I turned up for a romantic break in Athens last Wednesday evening, only to discover that Dimitris Christoulas had shot himself in front of parliament hours before. The 77-year-old pharmacist couldn't cope with the austerity imposed upon him by Greece's technocratic government. His suicide note confessed he couldn't bear to look his children in the eye any more. Massive demonstrations in the central Syntagma Square over the next four nights were his fellow citizens' response.
A terrible suffering has been unleashed upon the Greek people as a result of the Euro crisis, and the fiscal incompetence and corruption of the previous Greek government. The leaders of the richer, more powerful European nations, especially France and Germany, have imposed a bureaucrat called Lucas Papademos on the broken country, and demanded cuts to public spending, whose human toll Christoulas has now come to symbolise. Pay and pensions have been debauched; taxes have risen very sharply.
Greece is entering its fifth consecutive year of recession. As the journalist Peter Oborne has noted, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Britain's national output dropped around 10 per cent in total.
Since 2008, Greece's output has dropped 13 per cent. Some forecasters think it could drop 10 per cent further this year alone. Perhaps 100,000 businesses have ceased to exist. Parties of the far right and far left are now polling a terrifying 50 per cent or more between them.
The suffering is visible everywhere. You can't eat lunch in a cafe without beggars swarming around you; the homeless crouch on almost every street corner; drug dealing takes place in broad daylight; and students and anarchists have declared their violent, vengeful intentions in graffiti across the city. That all this should happen in the shadow of the Acropolis, that eroded temple of an eroding civilisation, is ironic.
What do we owe the Greek people? Sympathy, solidarity, and support – and an apology too, if you campaigned in favour of the euro. Right on our doorstep in Europe, the country that gave birth to the continent is paying the price of the most idiotic economic experiment in modern history.
It is true that the restoration of the drachma could cause an economic catastrophe, as other countries also leave the single currency – and that prospect is what stops Eurosceptics from gloating, for now.
But a reckoning is coming, in the form of Greek elections next month. Whatever their result, the Greek people want their economic sovereignty returned from Berlin and Paris to their own capital. I would avoid booking romantic holidays to Athens for the time being.Reuse content