International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde's description of Greeks as rampant tax dodgers has provoked a furious reaction in Athens
Less than a month before the crisis-hit country heads to the polls.
Greece is mired in an ever-worsening recession featuring cutbacks and tax rises and almost the entire political establishment rounded on the IMF managing director.
In an interview with the Guardian, Lagarde said she had more sympathy for victims of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa than for Greeks hit by the economic crisis.
“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.”
Greek socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, who met Lagarde several times as finance minister, accused her of “insulting” Greeks. “Nobody has the right to humiliate the Greek people during the crisis and I say this today specifically addressing Ms Lagarde … who, with her stance, insulted the Greek people.”
After a barrage of criticism posted on her Facebook page, Lagarde was forced to issue a statement to say she was “very sympathetic to the Greek people and the challenges they are facing”. “That’s why the IMF is supporting Greece in its endeavour to overcome the current crisis.”
But Lagarde’s back-pedalling did little to assuage politicians hitting the campaign trail ahead of the June 17 elections.
Alexis Tsipras, the radical left leader whose Syriza party has consistently led polls on a platform of anti-austerity rhetoric, said Greeks did not need Lagarde’s sympathy. “The last thing we seek in Greece is her sympathy,” he said. “Greek workers pay their taxes, which are unbearable,” he said in an indirect reference to the extra levies, ranging from steep property taxes to a “solidarity” tax and increased value-added tax, that have been imposed since the outbreak of the crisis. “For tax evaders she should turn to Pasok and New Democracy to explain to her why they haven’t touched the big money and have been chasing the simple worker for two years.”
These two parties saw their ratings drop dramatically in inconclusive elections on May 6 for supporting the onerous conditions on which Athens has received rescue loans from the European Union and IMF. – © Guardian News & Media 2012