Avoiding the Harsh Reality Many Greeks Blame Foreigners for Their Crisis

If it is to avoid sliding into the abyss, Greece must implement brutal austerity measures and increase its tax revenues. Yet many Greeks, including the political opposition, are in denial about the economic reality of the current crisis. Many ordinary people believe that foreign influences are to blame for the country's predicament.


Georgios Trangas is one of Greece's best-known journalists. His two-hour morning radio show "In Athens," which is broadcast nationwide by a private radio station, has a cult following. Day after day, the 60-year-old utters his views and discusses virtually every issue that is important to Greeks, often generating controversy in the process. It's something he's been doing for many, many years.

Trangas is a polarizing figure. Earlier this year, he called for a boycott of German products as a response to the media attacks against Greece coming from newspapers and magazines in Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. He also attacked his own government over its austerity program, demanding unity and warning against a "division of society." With his positions, he has attracted an audience and market share for his radio program that is virtually unrivaled in Greece.

"Two journalists from SPIEGEL are waiting for me outside," Trangas says to his listeners as he ends his show. "What should I tell them?" He raises his voice imploringly and, as an answer to his own question, pronounces two slogans: "Hold your heads up high, everybody" and "stay calm."

Tragic Images

The tragic images of last week's violent protests are still fresh in people's minds: firebombed banks and three dead, including a young woman who was four months pregnant. But Trangas doesn't appear particularly glum or moved by the events. He may be a little quieter than usual, but he is just as sure of himself as normal. "We were expecting his," he says, after turning off the microphone, referring to the tragic consequences of the arson attack. "The people are like a volcano."

Trangas is no leftist. He's more inclined towards the right wing of the conservative New Democracy (Nea Dimokratia) party, whose former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis cooked the deficit figures and fudged statistics that were then bequeathed to his successor, current Prime Minister George Papandreou.

Now the radio personality is sitting at a conference table in the radio station's offices. He's wearing a rugby shirt from a luxury brand and a heavy gold watch on his arm as he discusses corruption in his country. "So much corruption," he moans. Emphasizing the serious moral burden, he theatrically lowers his gaze. "But German companies have profited from this too," he says. "There has been no government contract given to Germany or other EU countries that wasn't highly overpriced because of bribe payments." In other words: It's not just the Greeks who have been the bad guys -- everyone played along and profited from the system. That thinking, at least, makes it easier for people to live with a guilty conscience.

Trangas is an opinion maker, or at least he helps set the tone in his country. As well as his morning radio show, he appears as a commentator on a popular TV news show during prime time in the evening. He also writes newspaper columns and publishes a small Sunday newspaper.

Denying Reality

People like Trangas, of whom there are several in the Greek media scene, will be important in the coming weeks. They will to a large degree help determine whether the Socialists under Papendreou get the popular support they need for their radical program to restructure Greece and avert a national bankruptcy. But they are also capable of driving the people into the streets to resist the painful austerity measures. It's the kind of sentiment that created at least one political victim last week, in the form of Dora Bakoyannis, the popular former mayor of Athens.

Bakoyannis, 56, is the daughter of former Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis, whose family, together with the Karamanlis and Papandreou clans, have formed the three dynasties of power in democratic Greece. She last served as foreign minister under Karamanlis. But when it came time for Karamanlis to choose his successor as head of the New Democracy party, the liberal Bakoyannis lost out to the right-leaning candidate Antonis Samaras in what is now being perceived as a shift in the party's direction.

During the vote last Thursday on the second savings package ordered by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, Bakoyannis was the only member of parliament for the opposition New Democracy party to vote in support of the government. Afterwards she was expelled first from the party's parliamentary group and later from the entire party. She is now expected to create a new political party in a bid to shake up the country's traditional party system.

But like the political opposition, radio star Georgios Trangas also seems oblivious to the country's economic reality. In searching for people to blame, Trangas, like many of his fellow Greeks, likes to look beyond the country's borders. "What did European governments really know about Greece's indebtedness, and why did they allow it?" he asks. He says that is a "very important question" for him. It's a question that many ordinary Greeks are also discussing heatedly at the moment.


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