Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou shocked the world and sent a tremor through global markets last week when he called for a national referendum on the just-agreed upon deal to give his country a new euro zone bailout package of 130 billion euros. After he and his†Finance Minister, Evangelos Venizelos, met in Cannes with European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Papendreou called off the referendum.
The uproar has caused Greece to be closer than ever to leaving the euro zone, in the “depth of the abyss.” Papandreou very narrowly won a no-confidence vote by 153 – 145 on Friday, but it has become all too clear that he must step aside. On Saturday he met with head of state President Karolos Papoulias; Papandreou has called for the formation of a government of “national salvation,” a coalition administration that would be most likely headed by Venizelos. The Finance Minister has won “considerable respect” from European leaders for his negotiating on behalf of Greece in the financial crisis; Venizelos was actually the one who forced Papandreou to abandon the idea of a referendum.
But in†Greece’s “bitterly divided political scene,” the formation of a consensus government presents deep challenges as the “battle lines between left and right, shaped historically by a brutal civil war and military dictatorship, remain deep.”†The leader of the opposition New Democracy party, Antonis Samaras, is demanding that Papandreou simply resign, and the sooner the better. After a brief meeting today with Papoulias, Samaras has simply said that Papandreou has become “dangerous” for the country and that, until the Prime Minister resigns, “he is impeding any solution.” These words ring all the more harshly in light of the fact that Papandreou’s grandfather and father were both former prime ministers of Greece and that Samaras and Papandreou were roommates while attending Amherst College.
Samaras is calling for snap elections and the formation of a new government. †Papandreou has said that such will only lead to more chaos and †has called for an emergency cabinet meeting Sunday afternoon. Foreign media outlets including the British network Sky News and the US’s CNN are already reporting that Papandreou intends to resign.
Greeks themselves are not putting too much faith in whatever sort of government the country has.
“A new coalition government would be good because if we have more parties on board we’ll have fewer strikes and protests,” said Petros Paleologus, an unemployed engineer. “But in Greece we’ve seen it all. None of us have faith in the political system. We are choosing to vote with our feet and leave.”
“Please write that all Greeks also know we are bankrupt, whatever anyone else says,” interjected his 25-year-old friend Ioannis. “If it goes on like this with no work and no prospect of work, there will be real trouble here. Things will get nasty. Maybe people will die.”…
“We are not at the edge of the cliff, we are about to fall,” said former socialist MP Giorgos Florides. “At no other time over the past century has the country suffered such denigration and humiliation as this past week and the biggest humiliation was Europe changing its attitude towards us, openly questioning whether our place should be in the EU.”
This video is in Greek, but you can still get a sense of what it is saying about the frustration (an understatement) Greeks are feeling. The yellow bird represents the taxi drivers and other unionists who have been striking; the green bird with the hat and the blue bird with the mohawk can be seen as older and younger voices in Greek society, as does the little red bird. The green pig with the crown has the same mustache as Papandreou and he and the other pigs are in the ΒΟΥΛΗ (VOULI), the Greek parliament building.
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