Saturday, 18 February 2012

A dark, dramatic picture of Greece… but is it true?

Above is Paul Mason’s report for the BBC’s Newsnight, shown last night, on the social and political fallout of the economic crisis currently afflicting Greece. Newsnight is the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme and Mason is its economics editor.

Mason paints a dark and dramatic picture. He has to, otherwise there’d be no justification in him going all that way to Greece, with a producer, camera crew and so on in tow. But it’s hard to know the level of reality he’s reflecting. He uses a Roma woman to indicate how an increasing number of Greeks are in need of charity medical care previously reserved for illegal immigrants. He speaks to illegal immigrants – desperate to get to the promised land of London – to discern the depth of the crisis; he wants to know of anarchists whether Greece is on the brink of violent strife; and he takes seriously the dire warnings of a PASOK MP and her rationale for postponing elections, elections in which PASOK will be wiped out.

More generally, I am not convinced by all these images of the hopelessly poor and destitute in Greece, as if this was an indication of an explosion of third world-type poverty in the country. (In Cyprus this week, there was a drive organised by the church and RIK to collect food and clothing for Greece, as if Greeks in Greece were now starving and naked). Even in better economic times, Greece had poverty and people who, for whatever reason, had fallen through the safety net. And this applies not only to Greece, but to every country in the world and every society that has ever existed. We need more information and facts before we can decide the extent of Greece’s social decline and how well – or badly – Greeks are coping in the current circumstances.

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