Despite overwhelming odds, Greek Prime Minister Papandreou has managed to win his confidence vote, the EU and IMF have a bailout offer and all that’s needed is to pass the “austerity” measures, which seem to be on track to parliamentary approval, though only by one vote. The final obstacle between Greece and a financial rescue for the Eurozone? The Greeks. Today unions begin the first 48-hour General Strike in decades, and battles have already raged with tear-gas and rocks as protesters converge on Syntagma Square and surround the parliament buildings.

The austerity measures being debated right now in Greek parliament would involve a massive (~$40 billion) sell-off of state assets (like the electrical company), large cuts to wages and workers rights and tax increases. Facing at least 70-80% public opposition, the Greek government is stuck between a rock and a hard place. A default could have nightmarish consequences for the European Union’s entire financial system, but many feel it’s probably unavoidable in the long term.

Protesters have occupied central squares for the last month in many cities including Athens, holding assemblies and speaking out against the government’s cuts. Add to that the last few years of riotous unrest, and the backing of large unions, and these protesters become a force to be reckoned with. Feeling that the debt crisis is a product of the bailouts, which mostly went towards bankers and other powerful interests at public expense, they’re not willing to give up their wages and rights to pay the bill with interest.

This reflects a growing unease, both politically and economically, across the region. With “contagion” fears that lending between European banks would cause other economies in similar situations (like Spain and Portugal) to crash and default as well. Whether you’re an enraged citizen of one of these nations or a financial analyst, it isn’t hard to see the obvious looming problem here: taking loans to bail out debtors who can’t pay their loans only makes the underlying problem worse. So far the world’s economic “recovery” has been very shaky and we can’t just keep bailing out failing economies without putting the entire system at risk. These measures will buy time, but little else.

All eyes will be on Athens for the next few days, and many will be holding their breath. The growing global wave of strikes and protests is no longer simply a curiosity for the world media – it’s now a powerful and prominent player in world affairs.

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