Κυριακή, 18 Σεπτεμβρίου 2011

Greece, Greeks and the "Greek Problem"

I started this blog in an effort to provide another view, an inside view, let's say, of life in Greece etc. I have been rather relaxed in my postings, but as things seem to be coming to a head and the picture being painted of Greece and the Greeks by the foreign media, becomes increasingly darker and bleaker, I feel it is my duty to try and do something about it...

A few days ago I read a rather good article by a Swedish journalist, Kajsa Ekis Ekman. Here is the link to it for those who wish to read it: When the Euro-suit doesn't fit

The article is very good, (the translation is a bit off, though) and I agree with almost everything she writes. what I thought I would do is to take a few of the points she makes and expound upon them, thus adding some extra insights.

But first a look at the current situation. Greece is, to all intents and purposes, bankrupt. The government has announced that there is barely enough money to last until October and then they will be forced to stop paying wages and pensions. The 6th installment of the original, first, aid loan from the EU, is being stalled, due to the fact that Greece's austerity measures and financial plan are not going according to plan. At the beggining of September, the troika (whose inspections decide the fate of each loan installment) arrived for it's quarterly inspection, only to leave very quickly for unknown reasons. The troika officially announced that they had left in order to give Greece a little time to implement the measures, but the word on the grapevine is that they immediately saw the government had done almost nothing and left in disgust... The latest news is they don't know when they will return, and the decision on the 6th installment is postponed until sometime in October.
PM Papandreou has cancelled a trip to the US, to return to Greece and try and sort things out. Finance minister Mr. Venizelos, has announced a new tax on property, to be collected via the electricity bills. I personally think this tax will be their undoing... Just like the poll tax was the undoing of Mrs Thatcher's government... especially as the same man, Mr Venizelos stated in June that electricity is a basic need and not a means to leverage taxes on and out of the people...

In Ms Ekman's article she says "I don't think that I 've ever been to a country where everybody, everybody I meet, agrees"... Well I'm not sure that is exactly true. But certainly what I am hearing about this new tax is that probably most people agree it is unfair and shouldn't be paid. In an impressive show of solidarity the electricity company workers syndicate (GENOP-DEH) has announced that it will not allow the tax to be added to the bills, it will not allow any electricity cut-off orders to be issued and it will not allow anyone to go without electricity for not paying the tax. Finally Greeks seem to be getting the message that unless they do something all together there will be no change...


But are Greeks really waking up to reality? You could be mistaken to think not, if you took a nightly stroll along the Liston, where people continue to sit around drinking expensive coffee and the young sit around playing with their expensive smartphones...


In May 2011, the spanish Indignados, put up a sign in the Puerta del Sol square which read: "Be quiet, we might wake up the Greeks". This was taken up by a number of Greeks, initially in Athens and very quickly in other Greek towns and squares and became what is known as Aganaktismenoi . Amongst the other aganaktismenes towns of Greece  was also our very own Corfu. The Corfiot Aganaktismenoi have been there right from the start, and were responsible in part for the eruption in anti-politician and anti-MP behaviour and protests all over Greece. On the 1st of June, they protested a number of Greek and foreign MPs in the Old Fortress which resulted in them leaving via kaiki from the sailing club, in order to avoid confrontation! 


The protests in the squares continued and went from strength to strength. On one Sunday some calculated their numbers were over 300.000 and possibly even half a million! On the 15th of June they attempted to blockade the parliament. On that day PM Papandreou played yet another game on his people. He initially came out with an announcement that he was calling for a coalition governmet, an act which led everyone to think he was essentially resigning, and Greeks breathed a collective sigh of relief... Hours later he stated that the opposition was not being willing, so he would continue as is on his own... (Certainly without any consent from us anyway...) Many people now think this was a trick to allow the pressure to be relieved and people to go back to their sofas...

A trick to also buy them some time. But why? Why not just default and get it over and done with? Many people think ithe reason behind this is that this will allow European banks and institutions to lessen their exposure to Greek debt and cushion the fall. The problem is that the majority of Greek people are on the receiving end of all the measures, when it definitely was not the majority who took advantage of all the loans and grants sent Greece's way in the past years... VP Mr. Pangalos, famously came out and said "Ta fagame mazi" (we partied together loosely translated) but I can tell you many people were never invited to this party and they are now being asked to foot the bill...


At the end of June specifically the 28th and 29th the mid term austerity package was being voted in. It was decided that everyone who could, should go to Athens and be there to protest.. A small number of Corfiot Aganaktismenoi went too. I was among them. Our experience there shall be the material for another post. For now I 'll concentrate on the current timeline. During July and August the protester numbers waned. The heat, the summer holidays, but also the continuous threat of police violence and chemical attacks conspired to keep people away from the squares. Of course the groups continued, as they have from the beggining, to voice opinions and keep contact on the internet and social media,. and a small number of them continued to populate the squares... As the last days of August melted away in the heat, a call was made to bring people back to the square. Some, but not many, have answered it. Yet if you walk the streets and listen in on the kafeneio, you can hear the desperation. A friend of mine who works in a very specialised part of the IT industry, just told me that all of their future projects (mainly to do with banks etc) have just been put on hold indefinitely. The latest austerity measures, new taxes, a new law allowing the government to lay off 10% of its workers (within the next month), the news that potentially the greek deficit was made to look bigger (!) than it actually was to push the situation and the fact that the government somehow still managed to take on an extra 25000 workers in 2010, have pushed the greek population to the edge. The next few days could see some catalytic events...


To be cont'd...

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