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But youth see debt crisis as evidence that the capitalist system is broken.
Kolla, like many young Greeks, questions the official story that the bank fire was set by Molotov cocktail-hurling anarchists, despite eyewitness accounts that say the crowd taunted workers with anti-capitalist chants even as the building burned.
The current crisis has turned Greece’s political world topsy-turvy, and is scrambling old political alliances. Elected on a platform of stimulus spending, the country’s socialist government has been thrust into the arms of the IMF and forced to implement the harshest austerity plan in the country’s history.
As they pushed the painful package of pay cuts, tax increases and liberalization measures through parliament on May 6, the governing Socialists found support only from the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) and a single member of the country’s main opposition, New Democracy. The center-right New Democracy — which billed itself in last October’s elections as the more fiscally prudent party, but was swept from power by public anger over corruption scandals — joined the Greek Communists and other far-left parties in opposition to the measures.
Europe, and the euro, has long been seen as a stabilizing force that helped usher in an era of prosperity and growth after decades of war, turmoil and poverty. But although Greeks are proud of their historical place at the heart of European civilization, they’re often uncertain about their role in the modern club. And there’s disappointment that Europe didn’t come more swiftly to their rescue.
“By the end Greeks didn’t have an option [about going to the IMF],” said Thanos Contragyis, who helped organize a peaceful protest this weekend against the austerity measures and IMF involvement in Greece. “I think Europe had other options, but did not take its responsibility.”
Although the city of Athens is awash with anti-IMF and anti-EU graffiti, most Greeks reserve their most furious criticism for their own government. “Thieves!” has become one of rallying cries of protesters, who feel ordinary people are now paying for decades of graft by their leaders.
“Over the last 20 years, the people in government have stolen our money,” said Tasos Kefallonitis, an unemployed 28-year-old who said he participated in the protests on May 5. “In previous times we may have taught people about democracy, but now we don’t know how it works.”
“This is not democracy,” he added, gesturing at Parliament.