DAVID GREENE, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. It took years for European nations to work up to their financial crisis, and few people think it will end very quickly, though events are intensifying.
GREENE: International inspectors are deciding if Greece qualifies for another round of bailout money. Their work comes against the backdrop of violent protests last night and another mass transport strike that's scheduled for today. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has the latest from Athens on this spiraling crisis.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Several thousand people gathered in front of the Greek parliament last night. It was the first protest against the government's austerity policy after the summer lull. They shouted angry slogans, accusing the government of dictatorial methods.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
POGGIOLI: It wasn't long before a phalanx of riot police attacked the demonstrators with bats and teargas. The protest included a new initiative, a group gathering signatures calling for an independent review of Greece's debts. Anna Anastasea(ph) is convinced the government and international lenders cooked the books to make Greece the scapegoat of the global financial crisis.
ANNA ANASTASEA: We are hoping that lots of big people will ask for this audit. We don't have hope that this party will ever do the audit.
POGGIOLI: Later, a group of students occupied the state-run TV studios to protest against brutal cuts in education. After a year-and-a-half of austerity measures and spiraling recession, the government has been issuing new measures by the week, slashing pensions and public sector wages, furloughing 30,000 civil servants, and creating new income and property taxes. The Greek media, left to right, says the government policy is ineffective, impoverishing the population without offering a way out.
Economist Yanis Varoufakis, who teaches at the University of Athens, says the austerity program is increasingly irrational.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: If we know anything since 1929, it is that once you are caught in a triple crisis of public debt, of a recession in the private sector, and of a cessation of investment, both public and private, then you can cut to your heart's content, but you're not going to cut the deficit and you're not - certainly not going to make any inroads into the debt.
POGGIOLI: Unemployment could soon exceed one million in a population of 11 million, and Greek GNP has plummeted for three years in a row. Nevertheless, the so-called troika - the EU, IMF and European Central Bank - wants even more drastic measures.
Economist Jens Bastian, a fellow at the ELIAMEP think tank in Athens says Greece has little choice, having given up much of its sovereignty.
JENS BASTIAN: When you sign up to a program with the troika that includes such an ambitious, unprecedented reform agenda, including very harsh austerity measures, and that you are dependent on a quarterly basis on evaluations and monitoring reports, then you do not hold your destiny anymore in your own hands.
POGGIOLI: But financial experts and bankers are becoming convinced that Greece can't pay its huge debt - some $475 billion - and are preparing for default. Economist Costas Lapavitsas, who teaches at the University of London, says default is inevitable, but he insists the process be led by Greece. If led by the lenders, he says, it would be a disaster for the country.
COSTAS LAPAVITSAS: No one is going to make a gift to Greece for that, absolutely no one. So if that happens, the payoff would be very severe in terms of national independence, in terms of control over national resources, in terms of control over national banks. That is not the path for Greece to follow.
POGGIOLI: Many Greek commentators lament that the austerity measures target the middle class, which is most of the country's population. More than 100,000 small businesses have closed over the last year, youth unemployment is over 40 percent, and the poverty line is now one of Europe's highest.
An editorial in the conservative daily Kathimerini asks: How will the newly impoverished middle class pick up the pieces and move on? Economist Lapavitsas says the Western financial community has put an unacceptable burden on the ordinary Greek family.
LAPAVITSAS: To say that the Greek people have to go through this incredible austerity, to face basically the destruction of social life as this country has known it for decades, in order to rescue the financial system, is nonsense. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Athens.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.