“I’m wondering how much this society can endure before it explodes,” said Georg Pieper, a German psychotherapist who specializes in treating post-traumatic stress disorders following catastrophes, large accidents (including the deadliest train wreck ever in Germany), acts of violence, freed hostages…. But now he was talking about Greece.
He’d spent several days in Athens to give continuing education courses in trauma therapy for psychologist, psychiatrists, and doctors—for free, this being a country in crisis. He was accompanied by Melanie Mühl, an editor at the daily paper Frankfurter Allgemeine. And in her report, she decries how “news consumers” in Germany were fed the crisis in Greece.
It was “no more than a distant threat somewhere on the horizon,” defined by barely understood terms, such as bank bailout, haircut, billion-euro holes, mismanagement, Troika, debt buyback…. “Instead of understanding the global context, we see a serious-faced Angela Merkel getting out of dark limos in Berlin, Brussels or elsewhere, on the way to the next summit where the bailout of Greece, and thus of Europe, is to be moved forward another step.”
But what is really happening in Greece is silenced to death in the media. Pieper calls this phenomenon a “giant feat of repression.”
And so they report their findings that cannot be dressed up in the by now normal euro bailout jargon and acronyms. There were pregnant women rushing from hospital to hospital, begging to be admitted to give birth. They had no health insurance and no money, and no one wanted to help them. People who used to be middle class were picking through discarded fruit and vegetables off the street as the stands from a farmers’ market were being taken down.[I have seen that dreary activity even in Paris; if Mühl spent some time looking, she could see it in Germany as well. It’s not just in Greece where people, demolished by joblessness or falling real wages, are deploying desperate measures to put food on the table. And the largest consumer products companies are already reacting to it: The “Pauperization of Europe”.]
Heartbreaking, the plight of the Greeks. There was an old man who’d worked over 40 years, but now his pension had been cut in half, and he couldn’t afford his heart medication any longer. To check into the hospital, he had to bring his own sheets and food. Since the cleaning staff had been let go, doctors and nurses, who hadn’t been paid in months, were cleaning the toilets themselves. The hospital was running short on basic medical supplies, such as latex gloves and catheters. And the suicide rate doubled over the last three years—two-thirds of them, men.
“Collective trauma” is how Pieper described the society whose bottom had been pulled out from under it. “Men are particularly hard hit by the crisis,” Pieper said, as their pay had been decimated, or their jobs eliminated. They’re seething with anger at the utterly corrupt system and a kleptocratic government that have done so much damage to the country; and they’re furious at the international bailout politics whose money only benefits big banks, not the people.
These men take their anger to their families, and their sons take that anger to the street. Hence the growing number of violent gangs that attack minorities. The will to survive in humans is enormous, Pieper points out, and so humans are able to overcome even incredibly difficult situations. To do that, they need a functioning society with real structures and safety nets. But in Greece, society has been hollowed out for years to the point where it is collapsing.
“In such a dramatic situation as can be observed in Greece, the human being becomes a sort of predator, only seeing himself and his own survival,” Pieper said. “Sheer necessity pushes him into irrationality, and in the worst case, this irrationality transcends into criminality.” At that stage in society, he said, “solidarity is replaced by selfishness.”
And so he wondered, “how much this society can endure before it explodes.” Greece is on the brink of civil war, he went on, and it seems only a question of time before the collective desperation of the people erupts into violence and spreads across the country. A ricocheting indictment of the euro bailout policies.