Life and Debt: A Greek Tragedy Panorama

Life and Debt: A Greek Tragedy

John Humphrys investigates the economic crisis in Greece, meeting ordinary Greeks and exploring how the outcome of the upcoming election may signpost the future of Europe.

Similar Content

Browse content similar to Life and Debt: A Greek Tragedy. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!



Tonight on Panorama, the human face of a European tragedy. Where


austerity means pharmacists run out of medicine.


I cannot sleep. I don't know if it is my fault and how I can solve the


problem. Where middle-class families rely on


charity to feed their children. Where fear of immigration is being


stoked by the far - right. I'm scared. They hate me.


Who are they? The Pakistan... week's election result, may have


saved the Euro for now. This is a victory for all of Europe.


But can the Greeks trust their leaders to get it right this time?


Those who have brought us to where we are today cannot be the vision


Aries tomorrow. If not, how much longer with the


people's patience hold out? We have nothing. No jobs no work. We have


-- rise up and fight. In the run-up to the June election


I went to Greece to find out how the people are coping with a crisis


that threatens to destroy their once comfortable existence.


I had been coming here for the past 20 years, ever since my son


Christopher moved here. Hi dad.


Back in the days when life was good. We have seen this country change


almost beyond recognition. That is for rent. That is for rent.


Kotstopholous has gone out of business. Half of them are empty or


for rent. Rethis? Are they.


Since joining the Euro, Greece has enjoyed a most spectacular boom


since joining the Euro. Now it is suffering from an even more


spectacular bust. It is just decimated.


Some of the fruits of the wild and unchecked optimism are still


unchecked, because the rich have held on to their wealth and some


are very rich indeed. It's the rest who have suffered.


Especially in the past four years. Their political leaders had


delivered the message that they could have it all, without too much


effort. They believed them. It was William Beveridge who


identified the five giant evils that threaten a nation, want,


disease, squallior, idleness, ignorance. That was 70 years ago.


That nation was Great Britain. Those same giant evils threaten


this nation today. When Christopher came here to work


in a brand new Orchestra in the early nineties, it seemed that the


giants had been slain. How much more enticing for a young man was


the prospect of a good life in the sun with a guaranteed job, than


dowdy old Britain, still recovering from a recession? Now he and his


wife, Peppy, fear for the future of his young family. His salary has


been slashed and the Orchestra is fighting to survive. She works as a


lawyer but never knows which clients will pay and which will not.


Things were still good when we all ziegted eight years ago to build a


house here, but now when I return and catch up with old friends...


Hello! The mood has changed. My neighbours know what it to blame.


Here in Greece in the last 30 years, the half of the people go to live


in Athens. An easy life with easy money.


So, we stroped to produce and to export -- so we stopped production.


We stopped thinking like Greeks. We want to do holidays all of the year


like the tourists. We want easy work. Like this. What has to be


done to get Greece out of trouble? The problem in Greece is that we


need jobs. We need to work. We have to pay taxes.


We have very, very big problems. Are you worried? I work too much.


Very worried. Definitely. It is a big problem.


Before Greece joined the European Union, 17% of its people worked in


farming and fishing. Now it is 3%. Exports have fallen, imports have


risen. The population of Athens doubled in two generations and the


country has forgotten how to earn its keep. My neighbour, Nikos has


to support two grown up children in Athens as they are unemployed. For


most of his life he was a ship's engineer, with a good pension. He


was enjoying his retire whment I first met him. Now he is struggling.


Once he fished for the pleasure of it, now it is for need.


A good pension... I was on the ships for 3 years to earn a pension


that I could live on. I had about 1,000 Euros a month. He a good life.


Now they have cut my pension by 300 Euros. I have two children in


Athens, don't they need to eat? They are now unemployed.


How are you managing to find the money? I couldn't manage. I bought


that little boat to catch the fish to eat. How will I live? Nikos is


not alone. On average pensions have been cut 30%. It is estimated that


40% of Greeks could soon be living in poverty. Imagine that in


Britain? 24 million people on the breadline? Greek culture, classic


literature is suffused with morality tales, the most famous of


them all, of course, King Midas, whose one great wish was that


everything he touched would turn to gold. As every other school child


know it is worked brilliantly for a while, then he came to grief.


In many ways, the story of Greece is a modern morality tale. This


small country could have have had a modest economy, but Greece cooked


the books in its desperation to join the Euro and the E U-turned a


blind eye. When all of that cheap borrowing


was thrust at them, the Greeks grabbed it and spent it but when


the bills started to come in, they Greece is a country that knows


about suffering. The Nazi occupation was perhaps the


most brutal in Europe. At least 200,000 people starved to death,


many more were murdered. With the allied victory there came not peace,


but savage Civil War. Nationalist forces supported by the allies


defeated the communist, but then... After two decades, the army took


over. A ruthless military dictatorship ruled until 1974, when


the people overthrew the generals and opted for democracy.


And now there is a new enemy, austerity does not pick and choose


its victims. You sense that some people are beginning to lose the


will to fight. But not all.


Something extraordinary is happening here. All over the


country volunteer organisations are springing up to help the people in


the most desperate need. Stepping in where the state has


failed. This may look like any other small


coner -- corner shop, but it is not. The goods are given to families who


cannot afford the basic necessities. Melina was 14 when she told her


mother, Roubini Terzaki to set up a charity for the most needy. That


was four years ago. Today, there are 4,500 people.


Every day there are about 60 or 70 families in need.


New families? Yes. They are asking for your help?


That is a bad surprise. In a sense, I suppose, that there


is a citizens' army being formed of volunteers who are saying that the


state has let us down so we will get together and do it oufs? When


your house is -- and do it ourselves? When your house is on


fire you don't stay desperate, you do something. That is what we do.


The operation is expanding by the day, it has to. Unemployment in


Greece is now at 20 percent, benefits now stop after a year.


More and more once middle-class families are falling into poverty.


This apartment is home to a book- keeper who has been unemployed


since her firm went bust. Her husband is a builder who has had


hardly any work in the past two years.


They are thousands of Euros in debt. Were it not for the charity their


three children would go hungry. Moments of fun like this are rare,


but the hep is not just welcomed, it is essential.


You have small children, how important is all of this to you?


How would you manage without all of this?


TRANSLATION: I don't know. We are going through a tough time. My


husband is out of work, I'm out of work. We only have my mother's


pension of 400 Euros a month. It is not enough.


Today I had no food to cook. I didn't know how I was going to feed


the children. It's very hard.


What is the worst thing about being as poor as you are now?


TRANSLATION: It's put a strain on the relationship with my husband.


We are like two strangers. TRANSLATION: I remember life under


the generals. This is worse. These are not good times to live in.


Before there was work, times were different.


Sometimes Maria has to send her children to school without food and


Greece does not do free school dinners. In the poorest areas the


teachers talk of children fainting in the classroom as they are not


getting enough to eat, but it is when the children get sick that the


real horror of the spending cuts kicks in. Opposite this children's


hospital, Konstantina Gavrou runs a pharmacy, but the national fund


that supplies the pharmacists is failing. They are losing the battle


to buy the drugs that the patients desperately need.


It really is the case that children's hospital on the other


side of the square from here, there are parents who are being given


drugs for their children with cancer and they have to share them


with other parents whose children have cancer?


TRANSLATION: The parents of these children across the street open a


packet of medication and hand them out. This is not candy, this is


medicine. Now I blame myself. I don't actually serve the people, I


just add to their misery. How will this problem be resolved?


The Greek government cannot allow many people to die because they


don't get the drugs? Surely? TRANSLATION: We are paying large


interest payments while children at school don't have books, now they


have no medicines, something is not right.


What Foreign Secretary does this have on you as somebody who has


been a pharmacist for some years now, made your life as a


pharmacist? Actually this I can say in English... I cannot sleep.


During the night I'm feeling terrible.


I don't know if it is my fault and how I can solve this problem, but


when I wake up in the morning I realise that this is not from me


but I have to find a solution as a Dina Kriara works in the pharmacy


dispensing medicines. But there's a vicious irony here. She herself has


a potentially fatal heart problem and despite being surrounded by


drugs, she struggles to obtain the ones she needs. TRANSLATION: Even


as we speak, I haven't had my medications for this month. I can't


live without them. I need them. you frightened? Yes, I am very


Pharmacies without medicines, schools without books and families


without food. Greece is failing against these fundamental measures


of civilisation. Will this really be the country in which my


grandchildren will grow up? Where some say it's even worse than it


was under the generals? How can The public coffers are empty, yet


vast private wealth remains evident here. But just try getting the rich


If the myth of Midas serves as one useful metaphor for what's happened


to Greece, the myth of Sisyphus might serve as another. He's the


bloke, you'll remember, who was given the job of rolling the


boulder up the hill and every time he got anywhere near the top, it


rolled right back down again. Diomidis Spinellis can relate to


that. He's a professor of software engineering and he was asked by the


Greek government to help get people to pay their taxes. He designed a


system to identify potential evaders, particularly among the


very rich. When I started in 2009, I was extremely optimistic. I saw a


number of low-hanging fruit I thought I can just grab them and


it's a done deal. Because you see people, for instance, having flashy


cars. Why shouldn't they have a flashy tax return, indicating that


they are doing their bit to help the state? But when Spinellis told


the government and the tax offices what was going on, nothing happened.


Exasperated, he designed a second programme to monitor the tax


collectors themselves. They didn't like that. Some wanted to guard the


corrupt culture of kickbacks with which they feathered their own


nests. Spinellis was sued by the tax collectors' union. If the tax


collectors themselves don't accept that things are so badly wrong and


must be changed, how will it ever be changed? By the end of my term I


was considering that the exisiting system cannot be changed gradually


in such a way. It would have been better to create a new tax


collection authority. So you wanted an earthquake in effect. You wanted


to blow the whole thing up and start again and what we've seen is


a tremor. I think an earthquake is needed in order to bring the system


under control. It would bring a great amount of revenue, in the


order of 10 billion euros. In other words, it would make a significant


contribution to ending the crisis that Greece is in now. Yes, it


would. But it's not happening. Seeing the way Greece has been


governed by the two main parties over the years reminds me of the


way some of the worst local councils in Britain were run when I


was a young reporter. But this is a country with an ancient history,


strategically important, whose future matters to all of us. Can it


One man who benefitted from the Greek boom is Konstantine Michalos.


He's an influential businessmen and now President of the Chambers of


Commerce. Where is the evidence that the Greek people are prepared


to say, "OK, we will do things differently from now on?" First of


all, let's get one thing right. This is not a Greek crisis and I


think that this has been proved very clearly over the last few


months when we've seen economic powers such as Italy or Spain...


It's not exclusively a Greek crisis, I will grant you that, but you are


in an enormous mess. Yes, I will agree that Greece is responsible


for its own internal affairs. We didn't use the European funds in


the correct way. It was squandered and there was corruption and all


the rest of it, so my question remains. How do you change that


mentality, what is the evidence that it's changing? By changing the


political system in Greece. You cannot possibly convince the Greek


people with politicians that are the main reason, the cause that has


brought us where we are today. who are totally discredited.


Precisely, because those who have brought us to where we are today


cannot possibly be expected to be But after last weekend's general


election, it's the old guard running the show once again. New


Democracy and Pasok in coalition, the very parties who got Greece


into this mess over the past four decades. This is a victory for all


Europe. I will make sure that the sacrifices of the Greek people will


bring the country back to But how much more sacrifice will


Greece tolerate? Of those who voted, most were against the austerity


package. There's now a powerful opposition in parliament. The left-


wing grouping called SYRIZA swore to rip up the bail out plan. They


came a close second. And on the extreme right, Golden Dawn cemented


the gains they made last time with a worrying 7% of the popular vote.


At this rally, Afghan immigrants are protesting against what they


They feel they've been made a political scapegoat for the


country's troubles. But when Golden Dawn invited us to film them before


the election, they tried to sell us Things had got so bad, they said,


that little old ladies asked to be I'm scared. They hit me, they pinch.


Who are they? Pakistan. Not Greek people. No, no, never. It's not a


Greek. And this people, it's all right, when I want to go to the


bank they come with me. I don't worry. The Golden Dawn MP, Giani


Vouldis, boasted to me that it took his men to rid this neighbourhood


TRANSLATION: They asked for Golden Dawn's help so we helped.


Eventually there were fewer immigrants and with police


assisting in the end, we cleared the square out. What about


Pakistanis or Indians or Africans who have come to live in Greece


legally? TRANSLATION: There aren't any legal ones, or very few. They


pretend they come from countries with internal problems like war,


persecution and they stay here creating ghettos. Do you regard


fascism as an evil doctrine? things that Hitler did, if we're


talking about here in Greece, of course they were bad. On the other


hand, history's always written by the winners. You don't believe that


Hitler created the ultimate crime against the Jewish people, the


crime of genocide? I don't know. You don't know? I don't know, but


everyone has the right to Golden Dawn's emergence, in this of


all countries, where Nazi occupation survives in living


memory, is alarming, but for every choreographed PR stunt like the one


I saw, there's been a high-profile media blunder. Like when one of


their MPs assaulted a woman on national television and went on the


This party now hold 18 seats in the It's not only the far right that's


benefitted from this crisis. People distrust conventional politics and


the danger is that violence like these street scenes from last


The people of Athens are well used to the sight of riot police on


their streets. These are a pretty permanent fixture on the border of


Athens' Exarcheia neighbourhood, where ordinary police officers no


longer patrol because they're nervous of stirring up trouble. I


met with a group of young activists here last week. What happened at


the election is precisely what they told me they would not tolerate.


With half of all under 25s out of work, what they want is revolution.


All revolutions are almost always preceded by violence. At what point


are young people in Greece going to take to the streets? TRANSLATION:


400 euro salaries and unemployment are acts of violence. Under these


terms, we advocate an uprising. This is a crisis of capitalism


itself. It's a crisis of that system of producing and consuming


and I believe that most young people, they try to think of


Anger at measures that young people feel have robbed them of their


future may well fuel more unrest. And things are not going to get


better. A fifth of all public sector workers are set to be laid


off - the equivalent of a million So are you saying that this in a


way is the lost generation in Greece? For sure. Of course our


generation is a generation that have nothing. There are no futures,


no jobs, no work, no universities, no public health, nothing. You have


just to rise up and fight for some things that we need for living. For


The spirit of resistance has never died in Greece. If one man embodies


that spirit, it is Manolis Glezos, a national hero who can't walk the


He's the man who risked his life tearing down the swastika from the


Acropolis in 1943, who fought in the civil war, who was locked up by


the military junta, who was elected to the European parliament, and who


is still fighting, still And still in tune with the people


of Greece in his loathing of what everyone here calls the troika, the


EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF. They are seen as the


oppressors. And at the heart of the troika is, of course, the old enemy,


Germany. I met Mr Glezos before the TRANSLATION: Of course today


there's no occupation. Are German soldiers here? No. But the German


mentality prevails. The Greek people are not responsible for the


crisis. It was caused by the financial system. The Greeks didn't


fuel it, yet they were forced by the troika and its agents to stump


up, to cut pensions, benefits and salaries, all that they've gained


so far. But many people on the outside, in Germany, in Britain and


many other countries, look at Greece and say it is at least


partly the fault of the Greek people because they haven't paid


their taxes. They wanted the good life without paying the bills.


Greek people pay their taxes. It's big capital that doesn't pay tax,


the bankers don't pay tax, the financial institutions don't pay


This country has suffered three great crises just in my life time.


Nazi occupation, civil war, military dictatorship. It overcame


all that, embraced democracy and for the last generation, it's


enjoyed a period of unprecedented stability and prosperity. The


danger of this present crisis is Greece has a new government


committed to austerity. It believes there is no alternative. As the


cuts bite ever deeper, the people of Greece may take a different view


and if they do, it will have Next week, Panorama goes undercover


Veteran reporter John Humphrys has enjoyed a 20-year love affair with Greece, which is home to his son and grandchildren. With the debt-laden country voting in a new election which could signpost the future of Europe, Humphrys meets ordinary Greeks to investigate the harsh truth about the austerity measures which have helped bring the country to its current crisis.

Download Subtitles