Monday, January 16, 2012

What we've lost - A personal account of the crisis in Greece


I could give you a list of statistics and figures that show just how grim the situation has become in Thessaloniki, such as the rise in unemployment or I could tell you how many businesses have closed down in the city over the last 12 months. Then, there are the number of suicide attempts "successful" and "unsuccessful" that have taken place in Greece recently. But I doubt that they would mean much to you. Numbers have a strange way of draining the life out of any disaster, reducing it to simply an accountant's end of year report.

Instead I would like to talk about what I have lost and through that give you an idea of the what people are going through. For me, the most poignant memory of late has not been people sleeping out in freezing temperatures or pensioners scavenging for for food in rubbish bins, nor has it been the sight of kids as young as eight years old collecting scrap metal from bins and off the street to sell. No, for me the worst image has been that of a cardboard box, inside it the things my daughter will be taking with her to her new home 200km from here.

Unable to survive economically in the city Lydia's mother has decided to move away to be closer to her side of the family. The small flower business Maria has struggled to keep afloat for the least two years is now completely unviable and so is being closed down. With people now waiting to see what happens before getting married and fewer and fewer buying flowers to take as presents to friends and family the shop has become a liability and will shut in the next few days.

For my daughter it means leaving her friends, school and home to start out afresh in a new community, a tough challenge for anyone but especially so for a twelve year old on the brink of teenage.

As for me, that means the amount of time I get to spend with her will be drastically reduced, no longer will she be just a bus ride away but every visit will need to be co-ordinated and so will lose the spontaneity I so cherish. Of course, 200km away is not another world but it is far enough to make visiting much more difficult.

So far I have hidden all these thoughts from my daughter, she has enough on her mind without an adult's compliment of concerns, so instead I've kept on emphasising the benefits of moving to a smaller community where she's have more freedom to roam and even have her own cat.

I cannot fault her mother for her decision as things have got so bad in Thessaloniki that any alternative form of decent employment is just a pipe dream. Even when work is available friends have been telling me that wages as low as 300 euros a month are bring offered. And if you don't like it there are plenty more desperate people who do. Just to give you a sense of perspective 300 euros is barely enough for rent let along food and bills. And of course such wages come without health benefits or unemployment insurance.

Lydia's mother is making a rational choice and abandoning a sinking ship and in that she is not alone, so many friends have left the city either to return to the small towns or villages they came from or alternatively gone abroad to places as diverse as Germany and China. Indeed, anywhere where they can have something resembling a living wage and a future.

On the other hand I've been lucky in being to keep my head above water financially, but that is just for the time being, my lessons are growing fewer and no new ones are coming along. Occasionally, I am asked if I want to take on new students but almost invariably it doesn't work out as people struggle to pay yet more taxes and rising prices for basics such as power, food and transport.

Like so many others I have had to give up so much over the last 12 months, eating out is just a memory as is going to the cinema or buying new clothes. instead you feel happy if you can earn enough to pay your rent this month and still have enough left over to go food shopping. And I'm one of the lucky ones. Today 20,000 households and businesses will have their power cut off as they did not pay the latest property tax hike included in their electricity bills. The total number of accounts under threat is estimated to be a quarter of a million.

In the meantime Greece's political leaders bicker and pose for the cameras daily issuing statements that show that they have lost touch with the mounting crisis outside parliament. locked away in their offices, surrounded by police guards they indulge in power struggles over who will take over once the present party leaders are toppled. However, given the plummeting poll figures for all three parties involved in the present coalition government whoever the the next leader is, they are about to be charge of not much at all as much of the Greek electorate has written them off as corrupt, venial and inept.

But little of that matters, the packing cases containing my daughter's possessions are still in her bedroom, awaiting a removal van to take her off to a new life and I'm still here trying desperately not to get sucked down into the kind of despair that has debilitated so many people I know.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Trekonomics - The German finance establishment's contribution to the Dismal Science

The term Trekonomics (neologism derived from Star Trek & Economics) was inspired by the article, Germans and Aliens in the New York Times by economist Paul Krugman. In a nutshell Krugman argues that the insistence by German leaders on all EU members producing a budget surplus can only be achieved if we start exporting off-world.

"But the Germans believe that their own experience shows that austerity works: they went through some tough times a decade ago, but they tightened their belts, and all was well in the end.

Not that it will do any good, but it's worth pointing out that Germany's experience can only be generalized if we find some space aliens to trade with, fast."

New York Times

Here's to you, Mr Cameron. Now with new, improved lyrics

And here's to you, Mr Cameron
The markets love you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
God bless you please, Mr Cameron
The City holds a place for those who obey
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

He'd like to know a little bit about you for their files
He'd like to help you learn to help yourself
Look around you, all you see are CCTV eyes
Staring at you even when you're at home

And here's to you, Mr Cameron
The markets love you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
God bless you please, Mr Cameron
The City holds a place for those who obey
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Hide your money off-shore where no one ever goes
Put it in Swiss accounts with all your gold bars
It's a little secret, just the Camerons' affair
Most of all, you've got to hide it from the poor.

Coo, coo, ca-choo, Mr Cameron
The market loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
God bless you please, Mr Cameron
The City holds a place for those who obey
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Sitting on the front bench on Monday afternoon
Going to the candidates debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you've got to choose
Ev'ry way you look at it, people lose

Where have you gone, Maggie Thatcher?
The wealthy turn their lonely eyes to you (Woo, woo, woo)
What's that you say, Mr Cameron
The Iron Lady has left and gone away
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Song to the tune of Mrs Robinson.

Monday, January 02, 2012

What the Olympics will really cost you.

"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious,makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part

"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all! "

Mario Salvio - Berkeley, California 1964