Michael Nevradakis

Protesters gather outside Greece’s parliament building in Athens to express their disapproval of the austerity measures that cut salaries and impose higher taxes. The most recent measures are the latest in a series of increasingly unpopular moves by Greece’s government.

Photo Credit: Michael Nevadakis | Daily Texan Staff

As Greece comes closer to defaulting on their growing national debt, violent demonstrations and protests have become headline news throughout the world, said a UT student researching social media in the Mediterranean nation.

Last week Greece’s Parliament passed two austerity measures to secure emergency funding from the European Union, but radio-television-film graduate student Michael Nevradakis said it is doubtful the plan will solve the country’s national debt crisis. Greece’s debt is more than two-and-a-half times the country’s gross domestic product, according to Global Finance magazine.

Nevradakis is currently in Athens researching social media’s impact on the protests surrounding the economic crisis. He said the country is safe, but the protests near Parliament became more violent last week after violent protesters showed up, disrupting the peaceful protesters. As with Twitter’s impact during the Egyptian revolution in January, blogs have played a critical role in sharing information and making plans during Greek protests this summer.

“The Greek blogosphere has taken a very dynamic role in terms of spreading news and information to a large percentage of people in Greece and reporting on things the mainstream media are reluctant to report upon,” he said, adding that a Greek blogspot.com website became the most read page in the world in June.

Nevradakis said major news organizations are refusing to investigate the presence of more violent protesters in recent days, so the role of citizen journalism online becomes even more important. Some bloggers suggest the “hooligans” were an excuse for the police to start firing tear gas outside of Parliament to disperse the peaceful protesters. Blogs also provide networking to encourage continued participation in the face of police brutality and corruption, he said.

“The peaceful protesters are planning to continue congregating into the indefinite future,” Nevradakis said.

The unpopular austerity measures are a continuation of initiatives that began in May 2010, which lowered salaries and raised taxes for Greeks. Politicians originally said the laws would be temporary, but because the economy has continued to worsen, the new austerity measures again cut salaries and raised taxes across the board.

“Most Greeks think they should go back to their country’s original currency and leave the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, so they can create their own financial laws,” he said.

Government professor James Galbraith said the austerity measures have been vastly unpopular and unsuccessful because they directly cut into peoples’ jobs and income. National assets that employ many citizens had to be sold, including power companies, airports and harbors, Galbraith said.

“The Greek government is selling off assets which belong to the Greek republic, causing more layoffs and higher prices,” Galbraith said. “It is no longer a simple private economy.”

Galbraith compared the Greek economic crisis to the one currently under way in the U.S. and said they are both facing problems, but are very different at the same time.

“The U.S. Constitution prohibits the government to default, which is one reason why our situation in the states is much different than in Greece,” Galbraith said. “The U.S. government cannot run out of dollars and the market will not dry up, so the worst case would be a technical failure to pay on the debt ceiling.”

In a news conference last week, President Barack Obama said if the debt ceiling is not raised by the official drop-dead date of Aug. 2, 2011, the United States Treasury Department will not be able to pay its debts, which could result in
a default.

Obama said if Congress fails to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, there will be a “significant and unpredictable” impact on the U.S. economy.

In both the U.S. and Greece, cyclical economic structures mean the financial situations will eventually recover, but anything could happen between now and then, Nevradakis said.

“It is hard to see light at the end of the tunnel,” Nevradakis said. “Even though the austerity measure passed and allowed the market to breathe a sigh of relief, there’s really nothing that’s guaranteeing that it won’t get worse in Greece.”