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In Greece, Merkel embraces former Eurosceptics | Greece News





German Chancellor Angela Merkel left Greece on Friday after an unusual show of support for the left-wing government of Alexis Tsipras and disdain for her fellow conservative, opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

What caused this reverse-polarity was the agreement between his government – led by his Syriza coalition – and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) last year to change that country’s name to North Macedonia.

That agreement has led to a series of constitutional revisions by Greece’s neighbour, expected to be finalised this week. The onus will then be on Greece to ratify the agreement.

The country’s veto on North Macedonia joining NATO and the European Union would then be lifted.

“I am especially grateful to Alexis Tsipras for taking the initiative on a very difficult problem,” Merkel said on Thursday, praising his “great courage”.

Merkel had less kind words for Mitsotakis, leader of the New Democracy party, which vows to vote against the agreement.

New Democracy’s opposition has been compounded by the refusal of Syriza’s junior coalition partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks, to ratify the agreement.

That leaves Tsipras six votes short of the 151 he needs in the 300-seat legislature.

“On matters of great national importance, there must be an effort to find a common position. That is what I support. But I am under no illusion as far as [party] positions are concerned. I am sure a German chancellor’s visit won’t change them.”

Syriza insists that it will muster the votes by stealing sympathetic MPs from Independent Greeks and Potami, a centre-right reformist party. Merkel’s visit was a reminder to those MPs that Europe is watching what Greek lawmakers do.

Merkel’s three previous visits to Greece – in October 2012, November 2013 and April 2014 – were designed to support then-conservative economic reforms, which balanced the budget. Syriza controlled the streets, and helped orchestrate massive protests in which Tsipras called New Democracy “collaborators” and “Merkelists”. 

On Thursday, however, Tsipras warmed to Merkel’s presence remarkably well. Asked about his shift, Tsipras appeared to try to justify his about-turn from austerity opponent to austerity enforcer when he came to power in 2015.

“When you’re prime minister, you have to represent everybody… those who protest and those who fear protests… the unemployed and those who work and are afraid of losing their jobs… those who have nothing to lose and those who have life savings.”

Athens University history professor Thanos Veremis said: “Those who were protesting then are now in power.”

“They are running the country, and they have been on very good terms with Merkel since they took over in 2015. Tsipras has been like her long lost nephew from the Balkans,” said Veremis.

Tsipras’ great U-turn has become a politically useful image for Merkel, who is beset by a Eurosceptic far-right opposition at home and in her central European neighbourhood.

Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has announced a “new European spring” as he prepares a Eurosceptic alliance ahead of European Parliament elections in May. The alliance is to include France’s “gilets jaunes (yellow vests)”, Germany’s Alternativ fur Deutschland, and Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party, among others.

These anti-establishment forces arose as a result of post-2008 economic crises and the post-2015 immigration crisis in Europe. Greece arguably suffered the worst of both and produced the left-wing Syriza government, which ultimately compromised its anti-establishment principles to keep Greece in the Eurozone and the European Union.

Holding up this example of a once-rebellious party that was tamed by common sense, as Merkel would have it, is now a powerful political tool.

Although Greece was cleared to borrow from markets last August, officially graduating from eight years of Eurozone oversight, it still hasn’t sold any multi-year government bonds. Markets are evidently spooked by its still-high taxes and unemployment, low growth and high loan repayment costs.

“They haven’t really gotten out in the sense that the economy isn’t really doing that well yet, and we can’t go to the open markets,” says Veremis. “Nevertheless we are out of it, and [Merkel] might very well use that as a reason for rejoicing over the EU’s policy vis-a-vis Greece.”

The street is still angry

This realpolitik, however, remains far from sentiment on the Greek street, which feels the pain of spending 2.2 percent of GDP repaying emergency loans to European institutions for the next 40 years.

Germany was instrumental in enforcing austerity measures in return for those loans throughout Europe, but nowhere was more money spent and more austerity enforced than in Greece.

While Tsipras has warmed to Merkel, many Greeks protested her visit [Alkis Konstantinidi/Reuters]

“Germany wants this situation with all the austerity measures to continue. It doesn’t want any upheaval or complications,” said lawyer Paris Papadakis, explaining the reason behind Merkel’s visit.

“It wants to secure German interests. That means paying off our loans, it means promoting German industrial interests. Greece no longer depends on its own strengths, but on external powers.”

Restauranteur Ioannis Meraklidis agrees.

“[Merkel] hasn’t helped Greece… We’re under Germany right now. Our children and grandchildren cannot be condemned to paying off loans until 2060. Something has to happen. We need to free ourselves from the German establishment.”

Merkel’s visits have inevitably awoken memories of the last time Germany held direct power over Greece –  the Nazi occupation of WWII, which bankrupted the economy as taxes were raised, agricultural produce was siphoned off to Germany and a $230m loan (according to exchange rates in 1945) was forcibly extracted from the Bank of Greece.

These sentiments are aggravated by the fact that Germany refuses to discuss reparations or repayment of the wartime loan.


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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling





So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister





Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa





OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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