Athens: Rocking the Cradle of Democracy

Letter-from-AthensJohn Psaropoulos at The American Scholar:

In seven years of nearly continuous protests, this one was the most articulate. Some 400 speech therapists, occupational therapists, and child psychologists stood outside the Greek parliament in late January, calling on the government not to cut subsidies they receive from the national health system. The protesters—well dressed, middle class, and highly educated, many of them at universities in the United Kingdom and the United States—were not the sort who generally take to the streets. And yet, so angry were they with the government that they marched out into traffic, led by a stray dog that had instinctively placed itself at the head of the column, and paraded their banners and slogans across the center of town, from Syntagma Square to the doors of the Ministry of Health. Given the makeup of the crowd, the elocution on display was unusually refined that day. “For no reason, for no cause do we demean speech therapy,” the protesters chanted in rhyming, scanning Greek. “There is no therapy for austerity,” read one banner. Ever since 2010, when the first of three austerity packages aimed at reducing the debt crisis was approved, Athenians have grown accustomed to routine disruptions. At least at this protest the entire street wasn’t cordoned off, as happens every few days for larger demonstrations. Motorists simply weaved their way around.

The Greek government pays for less than half of a child’s therapy costs, but that subsidy still means treatment for thousands of families. The health budget has been in free fall for years; this year alone, it has plummeted by €129 million, and since 2009, the reduction has amounted to 35 percent.

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