Greeks’ crisis is personal as well as political
By DEREK GATOPOULOS
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Like many Greeks left unemployed by their country’s economic tailspin, Dimitris Spachos finds it easier to talk about his nation’s problems than his own.
Enormous debt accumulated over decades sent the country into a recession so deep it kills 200 businesses and 900 jobs every day. Elections this month failed to produce a government, and Greeks will vote again in June. Meanwhile, life for most Greeks continues to get worse.
“Every day I see more people sleeping rough on the street,” said Spachos, 72. “They can’t even wash their clothes or themselves. … It worries me.”
Spachos, who has been staying with different friends in recent months, may soon join them. A former doctor, he could not afford to retire and found work as a hospital orderly. But as Greece’s woes mounted so did his own, and he lost his job, then two more: one as a gardener and one as a groundskeeper.
Now, he is unemployed and homeless, and spoke this week at a municipal soup kitchen, where he ate a plastic bowl of bean soup, a thick slice of bread and a banana.
“I am ashamed to be here,” Spachos said, his eyes filling with tears. “My heart is broken.”
“Greeks have fight in them, so maybe things will improve in a couple of years,” he said, opening his shirt to reveal a scar from surgery to implant a pacemaker. “But I won’t be around to see it.”
Here is a look at some of Greece’s problems as it struggles to pay its debts:
Over the past three years unemployment has roughly doubled, and Greece has lost more than 10 percent of its output.
Nearly 320,000 people lost their jobs in the 12-month period ending in February, pushing the unemployment rate to 22 percent. Greece’s 3.8 million employed people are supporting the 4.5 million who don’t work — 1.1 million officially unemployed and 3.4 million considered financially inactive.
Some 80,000 businesses were shuttered last year, and 136,000 more are expected to fail in 2012, according to estimates from the Athens Chamber of Commerce.
“Out of 900,000 businesses currently operating, that would be a major blow,” said Constantine Michalos, the chamber’s president. “I fear the (next) government may be called upon to administer the ruins of the Greek economy.”
The Public Order Ministry has reported an increase in nearly all categories of crime between 2010 and 2011, with murder up 5 percent and armed robberies in occupied homes up 110 percent.
Homelessness, the most visible sign of Greece’s financial despair, has risen by around 25 percent, according to estimates by a state-funded relief agency. That number includes more people from traditionally stable background such as high school and university graduates.
Greece’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 954 new HIV infections in 2011, a 57 percent increase from the previous year. It attributes most of the rise to drug use.
All these problems have led to a general rise in depression. According to several state-funded health and relief agencies, rates of suicide, drug dependency and depression have all broadly risen by 20 to 25 percent since the financial crisis hit in late 2009.
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