'Payback Time': IMF's Lagarde Uses 'Poor Children of Africa' as Cudgel Against Anti-Austerity Greeks
'It's payback time,' says managing director as Greece faces threats
Asked by The Guardian newspaper how she blocks out of her mind mothers in Greece unable to get access to midwives or patients unable to obtain life-saving drugs, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde replied: "I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens."
Asked by the interviewers if she was, in essence, saying to the Greeks and others in Europe that 'they have had a nice time' and it is now 'payback time', she responded: "That's right."
As predicted by many following the most recent round of parliamentary elections in Greece in which anti-bailout parties, namely the ascendent left Syriza party, made large strides against pro-bailout forces, the Greek now face an onslaught of outside pressure to ease their growing opposition to austerity and accept the conditions imposed by the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the EU.
"If the idea is to put the frighteners on Greeks ahead of next month's election," wrote Guardian economics editor this week, "the strategy appears to be working. Support for Syriza, the party led by Alexis Tsipras, is dwindling as Europe's policy elite sends out the message that there is no middle way between sticking to tough austerity on the one hand and leaving the euro on the other."
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The International Monetary Fund has ratcheted up the pressure on crisis-hit Greece after its managing director, Christine Lagarde, said she has more sympathy for children deprived of decent schooling in sub-Saharan Africa than for many of those facing poverty in Athens.
In an uncompromising interview with the Guardian, Lagarde insists it is payback time for Greece and makes it clear that the IMF has no intention of softening the terms of the country's austerity package.
Using some of the bluntest language of the two-and-a-half-year debt crisis, she says Greek parents have to take responsibility if their children are being affected by spending cuts. "Parents have to pay their tax," she says.
Greece, which has seen its economy shrink by a fifth since the recession began, has been told to cut wages, pensions and public spending in return for financial help from the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank.
Asked whether she is able to block out of her mind the mothers unable to get access to midwives or patients unable to obtain life-saving drugs, Lagarde replies: "I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens."
Lagarde, predicting that the debt crisis has yet to run its course, adds: "Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax." She says she thinks "equally" about Greeks deprived of public services and Greek citizens not paying their tax.
"I think they should also help themselves collectively." Asked how, she replies: "By all paying their tax."
Asked if she is essentially saying to the Greeks and others in Europe that they have had a nice time and it is now payback time, she responds: "That's right."
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Common Dreams (5/16/12): Greek Voters to Face Month of Eurozone 'Fear-Mongering' to Swallow Austerity
Greek voters are in for several tumultuous weeks ahead of next month's parliamentary elections as the country's "troika" of creditors – the European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF – are sure to ratchet up pressure in hopes they can dissuade Greece from further rejecting austerity policies.
Fears of a Greek exit from the Eurozone rose after Tuesday's announcement that a working government coalition could not be formed and new elections would take place in June. Greeks have been withdrawing hundreds of millions of euros from banks in recent days as the prospect has taken on real possibility. Though the possibility still exists, there has so far been no sign of a run on bank branches in Greece cities.
Despite clamors from the financial markets, The Guardian's Simon Jenkins argues that the real 'calamity' of a Greek exit is only that it is taking much longer than necessary to realize. An exit from the Eurozone - which Simon calls a 'state without a government' - will not be painless for Greece, but will mark the beginning to the end of its current nightmare.
"Only with the decks cleared of debt can Greece, like Iceland and Argentina before it, start rebuilding its economy at a realistic rate of exchange," he writes. "One thing only is certain. A year on, Greece will be on the mend and everyone will wonder why exit took so long, and why anyone believed the fools who said it would be an inconceivable calamity."
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