In an interview with the Guardian
, Lagarde was asked how she felt regarding IMF austerity policies that left the Greek people struggling to survive with no access to life-saving drugs, she replied "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."
Further questioned about what she thought of the many Greeks struggling to survive without jobs or public services, Lagarde responded "I think they should also help themselves collectively." How? "By all paying their tax. Yeah." She made it clear it was payback time for Greeks and other Europeans who had enjoyed themselves by their countries' entrance to the eurozone.
Greek people have reacted angrily to Lagarde's comments, dismayed that she is unable to separate the lot of the average Greek from the rich elite who have made careers out of tax evasion. Euronews
quoted a Greek cafe owner who said “Those two to three thousand people that have committed suicide
, for what are they to blame?”
A pensioner added “Ms. Lagarde needs to come to 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."
Lagarde would have done well to read the excellent piece in the New Statesman
entitled "Exploding the myth of feckless, lazy Greeks" before putting her foot in her mouth and tarring a whole populace with the tax evading practices of the wealthiest. The article is an excellent piece and a highly recommended read.
She could question why the IMF did not impose restrictions on the flight of Greek capital from Greek bank accounts to the tax havens of Switzerland and the property market of London. Her condemnation would have been better placed if she had criticized former Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos decision to introduce a law making all Greek politicians, well known for their corruption, immune from prosecution, or the previous PASOK government's failure to implement necessary reforms in the tax office where tax collectors regularly took massive bribes as an accepted part of their job description.
Greek politicians who already bear the brunt of the populaces anger were quick to criticize Lagarde's remarks too. Ekathimerini
reported Venizelos said “Nobody should humiliate a people during a crisis and I call on Mrs Lagarde, who insulted the Greek people with her attitude, to rethink what she wanted to say,” whilst far-left SYRIZA released a statement accusing the IMF program of leading Greece into "poverty and bankruptcy."
Lagarde's remarks attracted thousands of comments on her Facebook
page where she hastily tried to backtrack from her insulting comments by tempering them with this explanation: "An important part of this effort is that everyone should carry their fair share of the burden, especially the most privileged and especially in terms of paying their taxes. That is the point I was emphasizing when I spoke to the Guardian newspaper as part of a broader interview some time ago."