In 2010, amid fears of an imminent default on the country's bond payments and the potential for this contagion to spread to other European countries, Greece's fellow eurozone members agreed to an unprecedented 110-billion euro rescue package. In the following year, an even larger bailout of 130 billion euros was arranged in order to stave off financial Armageddon. However, these two lifelines combined, amounting to a total of 240 billion euros, were not sufficient to completely close the gap in the country's finances and, by this year, it was clear that a further 10 billion euros would be required.
All this, while the Greek economy continues to contract, its GDP having lost an astounding 23 percent in the last 5 years. At the prompting of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the country has been striving to reduce its debt ratio from an untenable 160 percent of GDP to a targeted figure of 120 percent and to recapitalize its banks in order to put them on sounder footing.
The conditions attached to the various rescue packages that Greece has received have included drastic cuts to public spending which have resulted in dramatically lower wages, slashed pensions and an astronomical unemployment rate 26.8 percent.
Following the events one can point to three distinct periods of negative press surrounding the Greek debt crisis...
The first period is the one immediately following the outbreak of the crisis in 2010 and can be characterized as being the worst and most negative. At the time, Greece was immediately placed under the spotlight of the world's media.
Initial reaction, especially in Germany, Belgium and Holland, was to characterize the problem as purely Greek in nature and to present it as resulting from the chronic structural problems in the Greek economy, the ineptness of the country's governments to resolve them and their unwillingness to tackle the issues of tax evasion and corruption. Often, the commentary was stereotypical, deriding the Greeks for being lazy and reckless and personifying them as liars who falsified official state financial statistics for years.
Everyone remembers the provocative cover of the German magazine, Focus, entitled "Traitor to the Family of Europe," showing the statue of Aphrodite of Milos giving Europe the finger and asserting that Greece cheated its way into the eurozone.
What is most insulting is not that the Northern European press was abusing sacred symbols of ancient Greek civilization to condemn modern Greek society, but, rather, the hatred that was emanating from a slew of articles that were not criticizing actual current events but, rather, negatively interpreting the evolution of post-war Greek political and social life.
Soon afterwards, however, the media could no longer frame the problem as purely Greek in nature as the crisis began to spread to other eurozone nations with two of its founding members, Ireland and Portugal, also forced to seek support and being placed under the Troika's supervision.
The derogatory statements in the press would take on an expanded target, the PIIGS, and lead to the stigmatization of the countries of south. This separation of Europe into a "good north" and a "bad south" by the traditional European press has been instrumental in undermining feelings of solidarity on the continent and have torn at the very heart of the "European ideal."
After the second bailout was decided in October 2011, the vitriol in the international press was directed at the Greek government and its inability to impose structural changes, reform the public sector and improve tax collection. The referendum proposed by Prime Minister George Papandreou late that same month sent waves of disbelief through the world's financial community and the headlines that appeared would describe the announcement as "the final bell before Greece defaults and quits the euro." The scenario of a Greek eurozone exit would quickly spread and dominate the world's newspapers' bylines.
After much consternation, a second bailout was ratified in February of 2012 and implemented one month later after all conditions regarding a successful restructuring of Greek government bonds was met.
Regardless, a mere three months later, the continuing crisis along with an inconclusive election that led to the impossibility of the formation of a new coalition government, would lead to strong speculation that Greece would have to leave the eurozone.
The potential exit that came to be known in the European and American media as the "Grexit" would become an ongoing drag on the world's markets and be instrumental in destroying any final shred of credibility that remained in the Greek economy. Terrified by the nightmare exit scenario and the persistent rumors that their savings would vanish into thin air, Greeks would send billions in deposits abroad, adding to an already critical situation. Those in the diaspora would be forced to explain, excuse and apologize for their country that was spiraling out of control and bearing the brunt of worldwide media ridicule.
Meanwhile, the harsh austerity measures imposed on Greece continue to wreak havoc on the country's economy with GDP being shrunk 3.8 percent in the second quarter of 2013, a fifth consecutive year of decline. The dire consequences are reflected in the everyday lives of the population with the phenomenon of malnutrition having reared its ugly head and many organizations waging a daily battle to provide food and resources to destitute families in the face of an absentee government presence.
This latest phase of the decline in the economic and social life of Greece has seen the worldwide media taking on a more sympathetic stance and focusing more and more on how gravely this devastated society is suffering under the incredibly harsh austerity measures.
Another element that has drummed up some positive worldwide publicity for Greece has to do with the government's recent raid against the extremist Golden Dawn party.
Regardless, Greece continues to wilt under the imposed austerity with its economy continuing to shrink and the negative publicity surrounding every new fault that the Troika finds in its investigations of government finances. It is an ongoing situation that will keep feeding the European and American press and keep harming the climate for recovery in the country.