Having friends abroad, always puts me on the spot the past few years when something weird or bad happens in Greece. From 2010 when the crisis hit, we used to attend project meetings for EU-funded projects (there’s your next anecdote for Greece-based researchers), and we were constantly asked questions about the future of Greece, about our politicians, the tax-evaders, the whole deal. We took it upon ourselves from back then, to explain the inexplicable, which is that we were not that corrupted, us the Greeks.
That there existed people that worked hard and got nothing in return, and so on and so forth. Explaining all of this usually resulted in a comment like “politicians everywhere are the same, the same things happen in my country as well“. Or, to a weird look, almost a mean one that had no words but sounded like “you fu…ing freeloader to the EU development train! You lazy lazy Greek!“.
Now, once more we are center stage and the spotlight is hitting us on the face. It’s so bright that we can hardly see beyond the end of the stage (the stage being the Greek territory) to the audience, to all of you, all the other countries (I guess you got the metaphor by now). But someone has to get the message across, so I decided to join other Greeks and share my view of all of this, to either get some understanding and support from you, or get another nasty look of judgement and despise! 😉
This is not a course in economics of EU-funding, so I will spare the details. Bottom line, at the point we are now, for each euro of funding we get, only 10% reaches the average Greek. The other 90% is payment for the other loans that we took and interest and so on. We are being forced as a country, to make the same mistake that households did in the past, that is taking out loans to repay older loans, ending in losing their house in the end, still having a loan that could not be served. I know it has happened to someone that you know personally, so you can understand how this goes. And we have made this mistake for many years as have others. But now time has come to stop it. But why haven’t we created value with this money so that we could repay the debt with “new” money? Well, we could have and then we couldn’t. We are to blame but this is also a coin with two sides. Let me provide one example. Greece, as a part of the EU is forced to produce (as the other member states) certain amounts of agricultural products (and others). There are quotas that cannot be extended. Therefore, we are faced today with the fact that among others, we have to import raisins from other countries! Raisins for God’s sake! And the fact that we cannot fish freely in the Aegean, since we have quotas of fish that we have to import and can export, so the Turkish side, not being part of the EU, can fish the heck out of the Aegean sea. Nice huh? To put it in a few words, we are part of a European “family” that dictates what you can produce and what you cannot, and we are expected to find areas and ways to grow, despite that.
To make things even worse, Greece has had for the past years, a public domain that is too huge to be anywhere near productive or efficient. The dream of becoming a civil servant was encouraged by massive hirings of political parties’ followers. The dream of getting a degree in information science, economics or other popular “desk-based” and “service-offering” professions, grew bigger. And it was served either by local universities that accepted hundreds each year (with no orientation as to the career opportunities one could pursue given the circumstances), or by UK universities for the ones unworthy and/or rich enough. So in ten-fifteen years’ time, we only produced professionals such as economists, computer scientists, laywers, etc. In conjunction with the previous paragraph and the new lifestyle promised (successful businesman/woman type), we were left only with desk clerks that dreamt the big life. And with no one to produce or to carry out simpler, less “brainy” and more manual professions. But it’s ok, cause we could import that from other countries! 😉
Then you had the other dream of getting a pension early! This became also true through a series of early retirement plans for people that worked for sth like 20 or years or less, sometimes at age 40(!). And these people continued to work after retiring, not declaring their income, with no control, whatsoever. Combine this with pensions for civil cervants that were in some cases insanely high and you get why the pension system is doomed to default. In our everyday practices, we became as crooked as the politicians that governed us. There were families that falsified the death of their elders, continuing to receive pensions, just like they were still alive. And when the families did not do so, there was always a clerk that falsified documents and continued to receive the same pensions of these people without their family knowing ever! Just to showcase some of the scams we were faced with the previous years. And within all of this, you had the politicians that were probably the most greedy in the EU. They took and took and then took some more of the public money and EU-funds! Hospital supplies that were procured for 5 or 10 times their value so that the corresponding contractor could pay the difference to the “patriots” in between the two ends of the transaction. The Siemens scandal where all the Greek politicians in power were bribed and when the case went to court, the man responsible fled to Germany that is denying to extradite him to Greece. I wonder why… How convenient though!
Weapon systems that we were forced to buy so that we “defend” ourselves from the inevitable Turkish attack! A member-state of NATO (with Turkey being one as well) and the EU, having to spend billions on choppers, tanks, subs or whatever else! To avoid war… In the 21 century, in the civilized Europe! Oh, and of course, among the other suppliers of weapons we always find the Germans. The Germans that give us money from the EU funds, not to develop or handle the social crisis, but to buy submarines! Hypocrisy… Another Greek word that some of our EU member states seem to have understood well-enough!
And then, from 2010 to 2015, we bent but we did not break. We limited expenses, we borrowed from our parents and continued to live with them till our 30s. We postponed marriages, births, holidays, etc. Things that the average north-European citizen takes for granted. We saw our health system fall apart and we lost friends and family cause of that. People died cause of austerity and budget cuts in hospitals! We lost friends that left the country and worse, we lost friends that committed suicide. We stopped dreaming big and started dreaming “as big as possible“. We reduced or stopped spending on these “essential” extras such as books, movies, theaters, etc. We stopped living decently and others had it even worse. Living on the streets by the hundreds, having no food and shelter. But we managed. We took care of ourselves and others by sticking together, as a family either through blood bonds or not. We felt other people’s suffering and we did something about it. This is called EMPATHY, and it’s a Greek word as well.
Europe asked us to give away control over our own country. Sell harbors and airports and any other piece of land worth talking about. Privatize everything that can be private (luckily not the sun yet!). Accept worse conditions for our farmers, so that they make sure we don’t produce anything anymore, and accept a higher VAT for all touristic related businesses, so that we also lose another competitive advantage. And they call those measures that will help the debt decrease. I am guessing that then, when they create an army of low-paid, highly educated people, they will open the borders to all the factories of multinational companies and we will be happy to work in them as they enjoy our islands. Does this sum it up? Isn’t this similar to what they are trying to do all over? Lend, lend, lend, undermine development and then take back everything and more. While at the same time they expand the markets for their products that you have to buy!
During the last week, media of the country carried out the most appaling propaganda you can think of, trying, hand-in-hand with some colleagues from abroad, to frighten the Greek people into voting “YES” and accepting another decade or more of austerity, suicides and despair. And they failed! They failed cause we united and rose above them, informing through discussions and social media about their plans. We read, we studied and we made a decision with criteria that transcend the Greek borders or our personal problems for that matter.
Now, there’s no more slack. There’s no fat left. We are down to the bone if not the bone marrow. We stand and we demand. We will not tolerate our country being cut down to pieces and sold one by one. #wearestillhere and will be for many years to come in spite of everything they throw at us. We fight for our existence and I am not being dramatic when I say that. And at the same time, starting from our own suffering (cause we are not that altruistic) we fight for the idea of the EU that seems to be Germany’s pet mostly. We fight for the next country that will find itself in this path of destruction.
These days, I am more proud to be Greek than any other time. And I am sad only for my fellow Greeks that have not yet risen their heads up high to look into the horizon. I am sad for those that are afraid and keep believing all the non-sense that goes around. But I am also furious for the ones that have led Greece here and are still spreading their propaganda through social media, thinking that they are serving their country in this way. These “patriots” will find me and many others against them, peacefully but firmly.
This is my “short” message to all those out there that are interested in another opinion about the Greek crisis (the irony of “crisis” being a Greek word, again!). My thoughts were random and written in one pass, mainly cause this is how chaotic our heads are these days. And through this chaos we are called to make the right decisions, for ourselves, for Europe, but mainly for our unborn children that will be called to live with our choices. Best regards #wearestillhere