Monday, May 03, 2010

Do you feel grateful? You've got to be kidding, right?

Just got off the phone with the BBC. I got a phone call earlier today asking if I would like to take part in a discussuion on the their Have Your Say programme and I said that I would be delighted to take part, especially after the BBC employee me asked me why Greeks were not feeling more grateful about the recent bailout deal. People here have a number of reactions to the EU-IMF brokered deal but gratitude is certianly not one of them. Anger, outrage, frustration and fear are far likely to be quoted but no one, and I mean no one I have heard discuss the matter considerd the current situation something to celebrate.

This seemed to puzzle some of the other participants on Have Your Say and many of the listener who sent in emails. Perhaps this stems from the fact apart from the raw economic facts people living outside Greece have only the vaguest idea of how things work here and how big a shock the present crisis is to people throughout the country. As I said to the presenter imagine being mugged and then being asked to contribute to your mugger's legal costs, which is basically what many Greeks are feeling at the moment.

Whilst everyone here is aware of the extensive faults of the Greek government (we live them daily) and the problems with graft and waste the the sheer size of the deficit created by the past two government's came as much as a surprise to ordinary people here as it did to the world's financial markets. Now it seems that the two major parties have not just sold off the family silver but mortgaged the future of the whole nation for at least a generation the mood of seething anger lies over the country like some kind of toxic fug.

How did it come to this? Where did all that money go? How come the country owes so much? are just some of the questions on everyone's lips. Now those who are responsible for getting the country into this "death spiral" as the BBC put it are now calling for a joint national effort to pay off an impossible mountain of debt. I swear that if the leader of either PASOK or New Democracy made a public appearence at the moment they'd be lucky to escape a lynching by a baying mob.

A measure of the fear that the present administration feels over the strength of popular resentment that it announced the fact that the country was going to go to the EU-IMF from the island of Kastellorizo which about as far away from Athens as it far to get and still remain in Greece. This is akin to Gordon Brown announcing the most regressive social measures in a generation from the Outer Hebrides.


chitubajeff said...

I am a faithful follower of your blog. Thanks for all your photos and thoughts that you share with those of us who care about what is going on in Greece.

I have a lot of sympathy for the people of Greece, but that said, they also must share in some of the blame that has come to pass. They have accepted and voted in the parties that have acted as they have. They accepted that the way of life there is full of corruption (and in many cases would fool themselves that it actually helped them get to a better situation than a neighbor).

The scale of the corruption of the Greek governments over the years is staggering, but if the Greek people do not accept responsibility for voting them in, and accepting the way of life they've also been leading... I don't think they will truly want real change. Just continue to be mad about their own situations. That is my thought any way.

Thanks again for sharing your comments, photos, and taking the risks you sometimes do to help us understand things.

greek_bear said...

I echo chitubajeff's sentiments and I thank you for your honest coverage of these sad events. I live in Chicago, but I grew up in Thessaloniki in the 1960s and '70s. I visit Greece every year and have to deal with the authorities as I have to file taxes and manage a summer cottage. Corruption was always part of the picture. At one end, the 'peripteras' never gave receipts. At the other end, pretty much anything could be accommodated with 'meso' ("a means..." as they call it). But it was never a situation where tens, hundreds of billions, in fact, were at play. I am trying to figure out when petty graft became massive fraud. Thanks again for your generosity of time and spirit.

JB said...

I'm not sure 'fraud' comes into it - I don't think anyone 'stole' the money, which seems to be what people in Greece are asking.

The debt appears to have arisen as a result of a clientelistic state of political patronage where unnecessary jobs were created and dished out as favours or in exchange for votes, and where militant trade unions managed to secure for their workers benefits that in most other countries would be considered insane.

The above two things alone happened on an epic scale; even the government itself doesn't know the exact numbers. Combine them with Greece's military spend and pensions budget and you have a mightily expensive state that tax income wasn't anywhere near sufficient to pay for. Robust economic growth during the '00s helped to disguise the fiscal timebomb, but once the global financial crisis kicked in, it was clear that the Greek economic model was living on borrowed time.

That, I think, deals with how the Greek state got into so much debt. How that debt mushroomed into the current crisis is a separate question...

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Teacher Dude, for your comments. We, in the civilized world, have rejected collective guilt for Nazi Germany; we have agreed that not everyone is equally guilty; but, apparently, modern-day Greece is worse...