Protesters march against government austerity measures in Madrid, March 10, 2013. (Reuters/Sergio Perez)
Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Spain and Greece this week in response to ongoing budget cuts and high unemployment. In Spain, unemployment has passed the 5 million mark for the first time since records began—attracting widespread criticism over the conservative government’s austerity plans. Similarly, Greece, which has served as a laboratory for austerity enthusiasts, has suffered mass poverty, unemployment and suicide since severe budget cuts were implemented by the government.
“Poverty, unemployment, suicides. Enough is enough,” was the slogan chanted on Syntagma square by some 1,500 Greek demonstrators non-affiliated with political parties who were mobilized through social media. The demonstration ended when police shot tear gas at protesters—a police tactic also used during the anti-austerity demonstrations in Athens when the debt crisis began in late 2009.
Earlier this month, three people in central Greece killed themselves on the same day, and analysts said there is a correlation between the rising rates and three years of pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions that have pushed many people into poverty. According to the Greek Reporter:
There has been a sharp rise in the number of suicides in Greece since the beginning of the crisis in 2009, with official sources putting the figure at over 3,100 from the start of 2009 to August 2012, though experts say that deaths by suicide are often not documented as such because of the social stigma attached to them.
On Saturday, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras promised that there would be “no more austerity measures” as international creditors prolonged an audit of crisis reforms.
“There will be no more austerity measures,” Samaras said in a televised speech to his conservative party’s political committee.
“And as soon as growth sets in, relief measures will slowly begin,” Samaras said.
But he noted that Greece’s ailing economy was “out of intensive care, not out of the hospital.”
However, it seems unlikely Samaras will have the last word on budget cuts, and auditors have made it clear they expect to see an increase in privatization plans. Under the bailout conditions adopted last year, Greece needs to cut public sector workers by 25,000 in 2013 and a total of 150,000 by the end of 2015.