Time is running out…

image Time is running out for Greece.

Or perhaps it has run out already. Capital controls – measures to keep money in the financial system – have been imposed. As of today the banks are shut – and who knows for how long. We’ve been told we can only take out 60 euros per person per day. That is, if your local ATM still has any to distribute. People have been queuing up for hours, and tempers are running short. When interviewed by journalists, some are defiant, some are worried, some admit to being scared. Some blame the government, some blame ‘Europe’, most both. It’s clear that the whole affair has been grossly mismanaged on all sides. And everyone’s exhausted – by years of austerity, and uncertainty, and general misery.

As was to be expected, there are various conspiracy theories making the rounds. Some say Mr. Tsipras and his government are executing a scheme to lead Greece to a Chavez-style situation (possible??) others that ‘Europe has never wanted us and planned to get us out’ (hardly likely).

SO: what happens next? On a daily basis, we might need to preserve petrol – no driving to the beach – and, of course, no retail therapy possible. The supermarkets are full of people who have been stocking up on the basics.  Does this feel a bit like being in a war zone? Well, at least no bombs are raining on our heads yet – it still beats being in Syria, by a long shot. But… we are supposed to be in Europe, right? That’s what we’ve always voted for – safety, progress, civilization. But no, just as the rest of Europe is coming out of the crisis (we thought we also were – slowly – doing that, only a short while ago) we’re heading for years of poverty. One way or the other.

Having dismally failed in his negotiations, and being unable to fulfill the promises he made to voters, it seems to me the PM is now hedging his bets. He can’t deliver, so he’s declared a referendum: he’s asking the Greek people to choose – but it’s no choice really. The question put to us is a non-question: Do you accept the measures imposed on Greece by its creditors? – YES or NO.

Do we accept more austerity, or else – what? The alternative is not made clear by Mr. Tsipras or anyone else. No one knows what the repercussions will be. So, damned if you will, and damned if you won’t. If the people vote for the measures, the PM can sit back (figuratively speaking) and say, what are you complaining about, you asked me to sign the deal. If they vote against, he can say, well, you knew we have no money, you didn’t want me to sign, Europe’s not paying any more. Way to go, Mr. Tsipras!

Meanwhile, we have to decide – by Sunday – what to vote for. We have been told we are to vote ‘proudly’ for our children’s future. In fact we need to decide (proudly) whether we prefer to be waterboarded or flogged. Yes to the measures? Greece is on its knees already… Out of the Euro? Maybe it’s a solution, but do we trust the government to do the right thing? (Set up a new currency, stop corruption and tax evasion, boost productivity, etc.) Trust has been eroded already. This, and previous, governments, have gambled Greece’s future away.

However, the great idea of European unity and solidarity has also taken a big hit. A Grexit will be bad for everyone. We are not to be saved but we are not to be allowed to determine our fate as an independent country, either. What’s more, the proposal on the table is to be withdrawn before the results of the referendum. So we might be voting for nothing…

Everyone’s still playing chicken – but nobody’s blinking. Yet. Our finance minister, Mr. Varoufakis, still insists that we will stay in the euro. He does not quite explain how. Perhaps one needs to understand Game Theory, at which he is an expert (he does have his own blog, http://yanisvaroufakis.eu, which one can peruse in search of clues). Are we going towards a (very) bad deal – what can be described as  EXTEND AND PRETEND – or uncontrollable disaster? That seems to be the choice.

Meanwhile, instead of exclusively working towards a solution, our politicians are wasting time assigning blame to each other and quarreling, as is their habit, mostly over ridiculous issues that no one cares about. What to do? Go off to a café, for a bitter cup of consolation (καφές της παρηγοριάς / kafés tis parigorias)? Greeks are by nature optimistic. They always hope for the best and rely on the Virgin Mary to lend a hand when all else fails. They are survivors, as proven by the fact this ancient land still exists. Let’s see what happens. Watch this space.

On afterthought, I’m interested: what do you think will happen?

If Greece was a bank, it would have been saved already

A lot of people think the whole trouble with Europe started with the Lehman Brothers fiasco. True? False? Financial manipulations are difficult for the layman to assess, and there’s a side to money that has practically become virtual nowadays.

Back to Greece: more than 75% of the population wants to stay in the EU, and most of those still think we should keep the euro. Why? In some ways, having our own currency – being able to devalue and print money in order to stay competitive – would be a bonus.

The answer, at least partly, can be found in the past – there are other angles, historical and geopolitical, that provide an explanation. The Yalta conference in 1945 meant we remained a free democracy, while the rest of the Balkan countries were absorbed into the Soviet maw. For decades, we were a small country surrounded on all sides by an empire we feared. Then, from 1967 to 1974, we suffered a seven year military dictatorship, culminating in the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Europe, for us, means safety as well as progress and civilization.

It is true we have not always used the benefits of the EU wisely. But it is also true that there was mismanagement on all sides. Europe is teetering. The British want out, believing inclusion is harming their business prospects. At least, they want a much better deal. And it is a fact that the integration of European financial markets has not gone according to plan.
For example, borrowing money for Greeks comes at a much higher cost than for the French or the Germans. Businesses, big and small, are suffering. Combined with the huge cuts in income borne by almost every Greek, this means the private sector is all but dead.

At the moment, it seems some kind of agreement is being reached. The Greek stock market has risen today on the strength of the news, but will the new deal just prolong the agony? Maybe we will avoid instant catastrophe, but unless something fundamental changes, we are still dying a slow death. Meanwhile, the PM’s party, SYRIZA, are vowing not to vote in the necessary reforms…
And people are queuing to get money out of the banks, amidst fears of capital controls. Go figure.

image

Life continues to proceed on a knife’s edge, reminding me of one of my favorite quotations, by Marcus Aurelius:
The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

Is Greece going down the plug hole?

 

FlagAnother day gone, another day without a solution.
There is no money in the banks, and those who don’t have the means to send their cash abroad hide it under the mattress.
The words ‘Capital Controls’ hover. Tourists are told to come with cash in case the ATMs run out.

The polls show most Greeks wish to stay in the EU and the euro, yet a strong faction in the government wants us out. Who knows what is best? Who knows what will happen? Who can plan for the future? You can read ten articles each day (foreign as well as Greek) – they all say something different. Nobody knows.

Amongst our co-Europeans, some want us out, some want to help, some are scared of the repercussions on their own country if we go. It is amazing that people whose job it is to find solutions – who are, in fact, paid by us, the taxpayers – are so incapable of delivering (and I’m talking about both – or all – sides here.) Entrenched positions, hubris, incompetence?

The Greek people voted for this government hoping for less austerity, but they are getting poorer by the minute. Every new measure taken is siphoning money from their pockets. Higher taxes, higher prices, lower income all around. Businesses, large and small, are shot.

It’s like living in wartime (at least no bombs are falling from the sky).You feel powerless, swept away by history… unable to lead a normal life. You look back, wondering what could/should have been done differently. A long series of missed opportunities. Tolerance for obvious mistakes. Corruption and greed. Bad management.

The blame goes back a long way, and is certainly not unilateral. The point is, what will happen now? And the problem is that, as usual, the people who will pay the most will not be those responsible.

Welcome

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Hello, and welcome to my blog about life and times in Greece.

Living in Greece nowadays necessitates a good dose of humor and a sprinkling of schizophrenia. Many lapse in despair; but Greeks do survival well and never fail to see the funny side of things. Every disaster is followed by a spate of jokes that sprout, overnight, like mushrooms.

One oldie, highlighting the problems of Greeks failing to agree on things political, is the following:

‘What happens when two Greeks get together?’

‘Three political parties.’

This, however, is not meant to be a political, historical, or even factual blog. Those interested in facts can find most Greek papers online in English. This aims to be a collection of vignettes, snippets of life, seen through the eyes of a Greek.

If you are a visitor in a country, or even an expat living there, however implicated or committed, however unable to leave because of a spouse, or work, or the elderly mother-in-law, your perspective is not quite the same. When the locals complain about things, you always tend to feel a tiny bit smug: after all, it’s not really your problem, is it?

But Greece is my problem: my home, my roots, my history. So I felt inspired to comment on what I, and the people around me, are going through – from my own, biased, particular point of view. Things I see, stories I hear, bits I read in the paper. The good, the bad, and the just plain funny.