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It is a small country, but its problems have reverberated around the world. For almost three years, Greece has been at the centre of a global financial crisis – sinking under huge debts and threatening to bring the entire eurozone down with it.
European countries and the IMF have leant Athens billions and billions of euros – but in return for these bailouts, they have demanded severe austerity measures.
Wages and pensions have been cut, unemployment has soared, and the Greek economy is predicted to shrink by about one quarter by the end of 2013.
On the Greek streets there has been anger, with many strikes and protests.
But this past week, the S&P credit rating agency upgraded Greece. It remains clear, however, that the crisis continues and not everyone shares the government’s view that things are improving.
One of the primary voices with no confidence in the current government is Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the left-wing main opposition Syriza Party.
“The debt will just keep growing and we will find ourselves in a vicious circle: new austerity measures will be taken, then our deficit will grow again, we will need more cuts, and so forth,” Tsipras says.
His party says Greece has become “a debt colony”, forced to follow the wrong economic policies.
“We have to have a haircut because the debt is not sustainable, and this haircut will be radical and substantial so here the IMF is right …,” he says. “But we have a model that offers a solution. It is the same model that was applied to Germany after World War II. In 1953, 28 countries – and Germany – decided that they would write off 60 percent of the German debt. And they imposed a five-year moratorium on interest payments and they added a clause that Germany would only pay the remaining interest if the German economy was growing again. I think this is a sustainable solution not only for Greece but for all the countries in southern Europe.”
Many believe the young and charismatic politician is going to be the next Greek prime minister, but what, Al Jazeera asks him, would Greece look like under a Prime Minister Tsipras?
“Let’s be honest,” Tsipras says, “Greece has a dysfunctional public sector, nobody denies that. Greece is a country with no fair system of taxation. The rich don’t pay taxes in Greece, all the burden is put on the soldiers or the poor. The rich people are protected by ministers. I am talking about the people who have sent their money to Switzerland and have evaded taxes. We will promote these reforms and I think we are the only ones that can do that, because we have no interconnections with the strong financial players in Greece.”
“But,” he adds, “there are some reforms we will not promote. For example, we will not ask for lay-offs in the public sector, we will transfer them …. What we want is to restructure the public sector on the basis of European standards.”
On this episode of Talk to Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips talks to the Greek politician who calls the current policy in Greece “criminal” and promises to change it.
“The only way for the euro to survive is to keep Greece in the eurozone, because if one country leaves the whole puzzle will collapse. And the only way for Greece to remain in the eurozone is for Greeks to survive,” Tsipras says. “As we speak there is an issue of survival. Greece is a country in humanitarian crisis. A few days ago, Greece resorted to the World Bank. The World Bank takes care of Third World countries. Greece is not a Third World country. No, that’s wrong, Greece is a country of the eurozone, it was one of the 28 most developed countries of the world and suddenly a global experiment took place in Greece. The experiment failed. We cannot keep trying it.”