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Demonstration in Athens

Posted May. 03, 2010 05:39,   


Civil unrest has rocked the streets of nearly bankrupt Greece seeking outside help. Tens of thousands gathered outside parliament for a May Day rally in Athens to criticize the Greek government’s austerity measures. The Civil Servants’ Confederation and Greek General Confederation of Labour, the two major labor groups in the nation, will go on a full-fledged strike from Wednesday. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have demanded that Athens cut spending and reduce pension in return for a bailout. This has invited a huge backlash from Greeks, and especially unions.

Few of Greece’s European neighbors sympathize with the protesters. Many of them consider the country a bankrupt nation that spent more than it could afford. Greece’s extravagance was too much to take for many Europeans, who save money while even postponing retirement. The Associated Press says per capita savings in Greece is below the EU average because of a culture of celebrating consumption and spending money to enjoy life like the character in the film “Zorba the Greek.” The BBC likened Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to a “strayed Homeros” and his nation’s situation to “a Greek tragedy.” The British broadcaster says even Greeks will find it hard to make out the complicated fiscal numbers, which would be incomprehensible even to the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras.

Greece’s entry into the EU was rejected several times due to lack of qualifications. It barely made it in 2000 by making a commitment to reduce its fiscal deficit. German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Greece last month, however, saying, “It was a mistake to let Greece into the union in 2000.” After just 10 years of EU membership, Greece is the nuisance of the continent as the epicenter of the economic crisis in the region.

Democracy in Athens once represented the ideals of all democratic politics. City residents chose direct democracy over representative democracy because they placed verbal communication over written communication. Unfortunately, only a minority of citizens could participate in the system and Plato despised direct democracy because of the severe populism that resulted. Populism made a mockery of Athens, the supposed birthplace of democracy. Korean politicians must learn from Athens’ example and prevent populism from hampering democracy ahead of the June 2 local elections.

Editorial Writer Park Yeong-kyun (parkyk@donga.com)