(Vatican Radio) France’s president, Francois Hollande, arrived in Athens today on
a brief visit designed to support Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras in his effort
to find a way out of the Greek crisis. For the past few months Samaras has been
canvassing high-level European support for what, here in Athens, seems like endless
severe austerity. Not finding much sympathy in Germany, Samaras is now turning to
the socialist Hollande for some advice on how to ease the burden on the average Greek.
At least, that’s how the Greek media are playing the Hollande visit. Samaras remains
hungry for international recognition of his efforts, both to stave off declining popularity
at home and draw in much-needed foreign investment. Unemployment continues to soar
to previously unheard-of levels, hitting 60 percent in the 16-to-24 age group and
26 percent nationally. But not even encouragement by the likes of Hollande could
erase the grim reality of last weekend, when a well-armed group of urban guerrillas
destroyed the surface installations of a gold mine in northern Greece. What’s more,
they poured petrol over a couple of security guards and threatened to burn them alive.
The gold mine represented a significant foreign investment, even if local groups opposed
it on environmental grounds. So as Samaras continues to wrestle with intractable
economic problems and lingering domestic terrorism, the visit of Francois Hollande
is seen as no more than a pat on the back, a public relations exercise. True, there
was some talk of possible French investment in Greece to help kick-start the economy,
but after the attack on the gold mine, few here in Athens believe the French are particularly
eager to do it.