Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has earned the ire of Greek politicians after she made comments that they say brand the Greek people as tax-dodgers in comments to a British newspaper.
In an interview published on Friday, Largarde told Britain’s Guardian newspaper she has to tell poor countries with per capita incomes of three to five thousand dollars per year to cut their budgets, poor countries who have no or inadequate health care or education, while at the same time Greeks have been evading taxes for years.
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“I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens,” said Lagarde according to the Guardian.
Evangelos Venizelos, president of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, accused Lagarde of trying to “humiliate” the debt-stricken country, which is facing its second election in six weeks.
Alexis Tsipras, Coalition of the Radical Left leader, whose Syriza party is one of the two top contenders for the June 17 vote, insisted “Greek workers pay their taxes, which are unbearable”.
The IMF managing director’s comments drew more than 10,000 messages on her Facebook page, many of them angry or obscene.
By late Sunday afternoon a new page had sprung up, titled “Greeks are against Lagarde”.
The comments by the French IMF head came as parties squared off for the election that could determine whether Greece continues to receive EU-IMF funds as part of a multi-billion euro bailout package and remains in the eurozone.
Lagarde said she was “very sympathetic to the Greek people and the challenges they are facing”, in a response on Facebook.
“That’s why the IMF is supporting Greece in its endeavour to overcome the current crisis”.
“Ms. Lagarde needs to come visit the people, and not the politicians, so she can see whether we are hungry, how
often we work, and what we have paid the state. Because when my husband has worked for 40 years and paid his dues
he has the right to a decent pension, it should not be cut. And they should not be increasing our taxes when we cannot
pay them with the pensions we receive”, Kaity Lianou, a 66-year-old Greek resident told the Reuters news agency.
Tsipras seized on her comments to assert his stance as a defender against economic cuts, which drove many Greeks to vote for him in an inconclusive election on May 6, putting him second ahead of Venizelos’s Pasok party.
“The last thing we seek in Greece is her sympathy. Greek workers pay their taxes, which are unbearable,” Tsipras said in a statement, taking a swipe at Pasok and the conservative New Democracy party which came first in May.
“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”.
In France, whose Socialist President Francois Hollande has defended Greece’s place in the eurozone and pushed for a more growth-oriented strategy in the crisis, government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem described Lagarde’s comments as “rather simplistic and stereotypical”.
Venizelos welcomed Lagarde’s Facebook message, after telling an election rally: “Nobody can humiliate the Greek people during the crisis.”
“I say this today addressing specifically Ms Lagarde… who with her stance insulted the Greek people,” he said.
Greece made a deal in 2010 to receive hundreds of billions of euros (dollars) from the IMF and the EFSF, a European Union bailout fund, to rescue it from financial collapse. Lagarde took the reins of the global lender in May 2011.
The country will head to the polls for a second time in six weeks on June 17 since political parties failed to form a coalition after the May 6 election.
Syriza, which has threatened to renege on the bailout accords, has led at times in the opinion polls, but a series of polls published Sunday indicated New Democracy had taken the lead.
New Democracy and Pasok each defend the bailout agreement they signed as partners in a coalition government, but have proposed to amend it.