Κυριακή, 28 Οκτωβρίου 2012

Greece vs Europe

(I should warn my readers this a sort of meandering post that started a while ago...and goes from one subject to another...I'm feeling a little pessimistic and it is not helping my writing...)

Having been born in England and grown up in Greece, I have often thought about the things Greeks have in common with Europeans and those that divide them. I was just going into my teens when we joined the European Union (known then as EOK). It was considered a great success on behalf of our politicians...

I still remember little snippets of conversations on the matter:

- "Greeks can never become Europeans"
- "Greeks don't want to be a part of Europe"
- "Being part of Europe will save us..."
- "Europe will support Greece..."


Well here we are 30 years later and it all feels like the lease has run out and we are potentially being evicted...

In 2006 I had the opportunity to travel to Luxembourg, visiting friends. On a day's outing in the car we would frequently cross a border or more, flitting from country to country, during the course of a day. Breakfast in Luxembourg, lunch in France, a late beer in Belgium, a quick run across one of the Moselle river's many bridges in order to say we'd been to Germany too...

For me this was where the idea of a United Europe really came to life.

Luxembourg was an eye opener. Very few obviously poor, one or two beggars in the streets, amazing schools, pretty clean cities, organised recycling, rubbish collection, the works.

One day we passed some roadworks and I saw the familiar steel rods in holes in the road with bits of tape tied to them and thought  "Myyy god, so dangerous, there must be a Greek overseeing the job..."


still better than here...

Yet further down the road along empty plots of land, I could see the pipes, cables and phone lines in waiting for development a few years or months later... seriously organised. I was stunned.

I remember chatting with friends trying to understand why we could not be Europeans. "Because Greeks cannot stand so much organisation", "Greeks are free spirits". "Greeks can never be just a part of the machine" (yes of course, I forgot they all want to be PMs...)

Yet, are things so different between us (well yes they are, but this is supposed to be an academic question so let it stand for a while...)

For example let's take one of those labels that the foreign press has liberally used against the poor, suffering  Greek people, of late...

Greeks are tax evaders. Well, yes they are. But so are millions of Europeans when they get a chance. How many rich Europeans keep offshore companies, yachts hidden abroad, or posing as charter yachts to hide their black money?
The rich tax-evade out of habit or greed. The poor do so out of need. And those Europeans, who do not tax evade, at least feel like they are getting something back . Good roads, good health systems, good schools, a government that may be as nepotist or corrupt as any Greek one, but importantly, keeps up appearances, at least to a certain extent. So the average European feels he is getting something for his taxes. And every now and then when someone slips up, he resigns and they get to feel a (potentially false) sense of justice, too. Things work and people keep quiet. Consumerism works and people keep even more quiet.

In Greece however all pretences have been dropped a long time ago.

The government wants taxes, the troika want taxes. But they are willing to give nothing. (not so much the troika as the government and all the governments before them.

I'll take a step back and give a few personal examples. In 2001, I paid 20000 euros income tax, when my income was supposedly 40000. (in reality half of this had gone back into the business in stock, but the system "caught me out")
As we were coming up to the Olympics then, I felt like a major sponsor and rightly so!

Throughout my business life I have paid more than 400000 in taxes and VAT. Yet I feel I have nothing to show for it. The roads are full of potholes, the hospital hasn't enough staff (at least it is next to my house now), the school my daughter goes to has not got enough classrooms so they rent 3 ex-bars from across the road, with no heating and not enough natural light. The school itself was built in 1952 and some of the windows are in such a state, the only solution was to screw them permanently shut! The Municipality doesn't have enough money to pay the streetcleaners, but it ca afford to spend 5000 euros on coffee a month! The list is endless... Corruption is rife...

At the same time, our politicians build villas, buy ever bigger cars and hold expensive weddings in France. Of course many tax-evaders do the same, at least the rich ones. The politicians and their cronies in the government share the loot, paid for by the average tax-payer (the guy who hasn't got enough money to hire the fancy accountant). While the average poor Greek is left trying to deal with Troika's demands for payment.

(Only last month I read about a businessman, mr Karouzos, with close ties to the government, (Mr Meimarakis is his koumbaros), who held a christening for his twins, in Crete, involving a chartered plane for the guests, chmamgne and caviar and may other extravaganzas! amomg the guests a public prosecutor. At the same time Mr Karouzos owed over 90.000.000 euros in fines for various tax frauds and omissions...)

Greece has been cursed. A beatiful country, full of good honest people, run by the worst and most corrupt politicians and system the world has ever known.

There is only one way to change this. Education. If people learn, it could be different.

All the above was written a few months ago. Today the 13th of October of 2012, Greece is still on the verge of bankruptcy, the Troika wants even more job cuts and pay cuts,  and to top it all off the ugly beast of Nationalism is rearing its head up, worse than ever...

I don't want to go into the current events... Golden frigging Dawn and the priesthood in hysterics over a Terence Mc Nally play, innumerous inconsequential matters, served by the totally corrupt media in order to keep the populace occupied with stupid matters, while the scene is being set for Greeks to lose everything they have...

I have bevome a little more cynic and pessimistic. There don't seem to be enough forward thinking people to make a difference. What could the consequences be?

I, and many others, fear that Greece, especially the urban centers will suffer greatly in the next few months. Already the price of heating oil is being hiked 30% up from last year. I for one will not be able to afford it. I'm switching to a woodburner and warmer clothes inside the house.
Since last September we set up a moneyless exchange of goods and services system, initially betwen friends but constantly expanding.

Last week I was in Athens taking part in the 1st Festival for Alternative and Solidarity-based economies. All over Greece alternative economies are sprouting, essentially barter, either direct or with the use of a virtual alternative currency.
The use of an alternative currency may sound complicated, certainly there has to be very good "book-keeping" but there is no interest involved and it is all based on good intentions... Imagine if currency were just a tool to facilitate exchange, and had no power. Remove interest and the possibility of accumulation and you have a tool by the people, for the people. And not a tool by the banks in order for them to make money and enslave people with...

Tomorrow it is the 28th of October. A National Holiday in Greece. As tradition has it there will be parades and flag-waving. Taditionally there always was a presence of government officials, high-ranking police and priesthood at the parades, all standing together under a pavillion, with the school-children parading in front of them, expected to turn sharply towards them as they pass and raise their hands in salute, showing their respect.

Since 2011, increasingly, kids have often opened their fingers in that familiar greek gesture of (dis) respect. Others have staged incredibly well executed exits from the parade or turned the other way.



 Have a look at 03:10 or so, to cut straight to the "chase"...hahah!!

In fact the phys-ed teacher in charge of the kids practice for the parade at a school that shall remain unnamed, essentially said to the kids, "I won't teach you what you are supposed to do to show respect, in the hope that the "officials pavillion" will be demolished by the crowd like last year".

Which brings me to last year...
I was there. After putting up this:

Ελευθερία η ΔΝΤ-Freedom or IMF , a play on the famous Ελευθερία η Θάνατος which was said during the revolution and has as many syllables as the lines in the Greek Flag...
 I joined my friends in the square, where as Dr Feelgood once sang "there's a riot going on.." The "minor state official" appointed to watch our parade, after being booed repeatedly, decided to take it upon himself and come and talk to the people booing him. This of course made them even angrier...a minor altercation ensued, the riot police moved in and the rioters were pushed back. Minutes later they regrouped and stormed the officials on their "pavillion" and managed to send them on their way in order for the parade to go on without their presence...
However our honorable Perifereiarchis, Mr Spyrou, managed to cancel the parade on his way out...

This year, today, the 28th of October, I watched the parade with the rest of the crowd... there were a few diehards shouting various anti-troika and anti-government slogans, and a very strong police presence.

At some point the antifascist protest march came up through the town to Pentofanaro, only to be met by a complement of riot police in full combat gear.

At the same time, most people were ther watching the parade, with their sunday clothes on, just like it was any other day...

In Athens the parade of schools (they hold a separate military one) was held in such a way that it was impossible for the parents to see their children marching. Such were the security measures... And in Thessalonika the military parade was watched only by officials...

More and more I feel that things are getting out of hand. Our completely corrupt government is passing law after law, taxing the poor to death. Only "the poor" are not those people you used to see sleeping on cardboard outside the train station anymore...

Greece's "poor" today, are your next door neighbour, your friend, their mother, their father... and tomorrow?

Most likely it will be us too...