INTERN INSIGHT: For Greece, the economic crisis has done more than just provide the world with an illustration as to how severe a global financial crisis can be. In recent months, it has also illustrated how severe underlying social issues linked to economic welfare can further plague an economically challenged state.
The current economic malaise reflects the hardships felt during the Great Depression; so too do the social responses to the resultant financial pressures. The Great Depression provided a stark illustration of how publics can react to fierce economic conditions through protests, strikes and violence and we have seen, and continue to see, similar today.
Events in Spain are possibly the most publicised examples of protest, violent uprising and social upheaval of the countries affected by the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). With 50 per cent of under 21 year olds unemployed, Spain is a cinder box ready to ignite. In that country, we have seen citizens take to the streets to demonstrate against what they perceive to be government inaction. Similarly, in England, we have seen the youth, en mass, take to the streets to “take back their taxes”.
But in Greece, we are seeing something different, something quite chilling: the uprising of neo-Nazis agitating for political and economic change. Members and supporters of the Golden Dawn party – a radical right wing group, who have elected representatives in parliament – have taken to the streets in recent weeks, ransacking shops, attacking bystanders and committing racially motivated crimes against foreigners and Greek nationals with dual citizenship.
The Golden Dawn party, have 18 members in the Greek parliament, and were elected on the back of widespread economic desperation regarding the current economic climate. The party represents, and has become a beacon for, those financially frustrated and desperate, who want to take action, to force change, to bring their plight to the attention of those who have the power to bring the change so hungrily sought.
Additionally challenging, the policies of the Golden Dawn party and the actions of the Golden Dawn supporters seem to have struck a chord with the police in Greece, who have demonstrated a reluctance to step in and protect the public from these attacks. According to some sources, there is widespread support for the Golden Dawn’s policies, not necessarily its methods, within the police force.
The GFC has provided testing economic times, revealing vexatious underlying social issues and socially-rooted discrimination. The GFC has stoked nationalist sentiment in many countries, on issues such as immigration policy and also the dolling out of social welfare dollars. In Greece, these tensions are certainly arising and Athens would be well-advised to address these issues promptly through both sound political policies and economic reform measures.
But more broadly, policy makers more widely would do well to heed Spain’s lessons in identifying their own domestic challenges and economic divisions.
Simon Asfour is an intern at the AIIA (NSW).