For the first time in half a decade, Greece is back to stealing international headlines — for a good reason, though. On Sunday, the country established the left-wing Syriza party’s control of Parliament — with a staggering 149 out of 300 seats — and elected Alexis Tsipras as Prime Minister. The open atheist and youngest person to hold PM position in modern Greek history is making waves in more places than his local Mediterranean.
Upon Tsipras’s election, the Euro market floundered to a daily ending at an 11-year low. Apparently, outside investors are concerned that the profit they’ll be able to harvest from the cash-strapped country is finally running out after seven years. Pity. It looks as though Tsipras has something that scares the powers that be. His election will no doubt mark a radical economic and political departure for the nation which has been subjected to a half-dozen austerity packages in half as many years by the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank (or “Troika”).
Syriza’s ascent has been driven by a hardline anti-austerity position and Tsipras’ cabinet choices indicate that he is going to follow through on his campaign promises to end the austerity measures with a “just, viable and mutually beneficial solution.” Tsipras’ new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has called the bailouts and subsequent austerity measures “fiscal waterboarding” with reference to how they have permanently degraded Greece’s economy in exchange for soon-to-be-due bonds.
The evidence is laid bare for Varoufakis’ claim, however. Both GDP and wages have fallen 25 percent since 2008. Each Greek owes the Troika $25,000 from the most recent bailout. Unemployment in Greece is hovering above one-quarter. Now double that last stat for young Greeks; we can begin to picture just how pervasive the economic situation in Greece has become. These are Great Depression-era numbers, and they have not been recovering under austerity programs.
The Greek people have done their part by electing Syriza to power and giving them the opportunity to reform Greece’s broken economy. Now it lies in Tsipras and his government to do their share and actually reform the negotiations that have kept Greece down since the crisis. But change, cliché as it seems, must come (largely) from within.
It is imperative that the Tsipras government first repair the damage the previous government and past policies have wrought on the Greek infrastructure. Renegotiating the loans won’t do any good if there’s nothing to come home to. Fields such as education, where money invested brings back large, stable returns, will prove best for early investment. Under six years of austerity, the Ministry of Education lost 35 percent of its funding and state-sponsored schools suffered under even worse conditions during that time.
These cuts in education coupled with the unemployment statistics from earlier are what led to 37 percent of Syriza’s votes being cast by those aged 18-24. That sort of youth turnout is unheard of here, but that extraordinary number played a huge role in Tsipras’ and Syriza’s victory, as well. The Greek constituency of all ages has decided that living under austerity and paying exorbitant interest to the rest of Europe for that privilege is not something they want anymore. They want something new, something exciting and different. They want change.
For better or for worse, they will have it.
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