As the Greek debt crisis unfolds, a U of S professor worries about the fate of the small European nation.
Jason Zorbas teaches political science, with a specialization in global politics and Canadian foreign policy, at the University of Saskatchewan. He said as an academic, it can be easy to get caught up the raw numbers.
“Twenty-five per cent unemployment in Greece right now. And 50 per cent unemployment for people under 30,” he explained.
As he’s hearing from friends and family in Greece, Zorbas said he’s all too aware of the hard reality behind those numbers.
“They’re telling me the stories of little old ladies who are literally starving and they don’t have much food. People actually taking their money out of banks and burying it in the backyard,” he said.
Zorbas acknowledged that it’s hard to imagine these types of scenes in a Western European country.
“Doctors in Greece are now treating people for malnutrition because they can’t eat. They’re not getting enough food. This is becoming a major health issue in Greece,” he said.
With Greeks set to vote Sunday in a referendum on whether or not to accept budget cutbacks demanded by the country’s creditors, Zorbas said there is tremendous uncertainty.
On the one hand, he said most people seem to want to stick with the euro currency and the European Union (EU). But as the price to do so continues to mount in pension cuts and other spending reductions, Zorbas said there may be a limit on how much more people are willing to take.
“We have no idea, and I think this is what scares people more than anything else. No one’s ever left the euro before. No one’s ever defaulted in the EU before. Nobody knows what this will do to the EU,” he said.
Zorbas said Europe has taken steps over the last five years to limit the damage a Greek collapse could do. As long as the broader EU holds up, Zorbas said the impact of a potential Greek exit from the euro would be negligible in Canada.
“We have some trade with Europe but it’s not that big a deal. If Europe really get’s hurt by the Greek exit, that hurts the world economy and then Canada get’s hurt,” he said.
Even if Canada is safe, Zorbas said it’s little comfort for about 300,000 Greek Canadians who are anxiously waiting for some good news to come out of the crisis.
“It’s a really horrible situation and you feel very powerless because there’s no way to help it,” he said.
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