Postcard from Ouranoupolis

OuranoupoliNew1Here we are in Greece in the middle of something very very important. We often are. She’s Greek, I’m Irish, we’re married and we’ve been through The Colonels, The Americans, New Democracy, Pan Hellenic Socialism and one hell of a lot of explaining. Greece has always been hard to explain. It never looks like it’s in trouble. Life continues to happen, in the Greek style – despairing politics, because of the almost complete, endemic corruption of almost every function of the State alongside an economy that usually looks like a cartoon version of the free market – vivacious wheeling and dealing, bargaining, buying and selling, no receipts, very little tax paid. It looked Greek-normal even under the Colonels and it does now. But the coming referendum is not normal.

We have two guys next door. One of them builds stuff and calls the present Syriza government ‘donkeys’. He wants private enterprise to be given its head. On the other hand we wants Greece to be a proper country (Kanoniki Hora). He avoids whatever Government regulations he can because what’s the point in obeying laws when nobody else does? He wants laws but hardly any government. He’ll probably vote Yes in the referendum because the Government wants him to vote No.

The other guy worked all his life as a highly competent fixer of things, contributed the maximum to pension funds, obeys the law and supports Syriza. His pension has been halved by the austerity measures as have those of many we know. He’ll probably vote Yes in because he thinks a No vote will take Greece out of the EU altogether – two ‘Yes’ votes but for opposite reasons. It’s a mess and it looks like no information likely to be available will help. Even if everybody were to understand the details of the offered deal, nobody is at all clear what would follow from either a Yes or a No.

The EU is Greece’s chance to build a reasonably functional State. So it’s a pity that the EU is so ignorant about Greece. There is some understanding of states recovering from being part of the Soviet Bloc, what they lack, what they need and how their physical position affects their life. There is no such understanding of Greece, for ages a client state of Britain and the US, ruled by more or less puppet governments, cut off from its natural cultural and trading partners in the Balkans and the East by the Cold War, inundated by migrants and with its greatest asset – agriculture – in need of radical reorganisation.

The apparent simplicity of referendums will fool nobody in Scotland I hope. With this one, even when the result is known, none of us will
be sure who really won or what will happen. There is great fear.

Comments (11)

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  1. Tina Fiji says:

    Postcard from Athens
    Everyone I work with in Northern Athens is voting yes, but then none of them are in a desperate financial situation. The main reason for voting yes seems to be fear of exiting the EU/EMU, even though this is not what they’re being asked on the ballot paper….the European powers-that-be seem to have shifted the goalposts somewhat.

    It looks like fear will win the day, again.

    I’m left wondering if the best result would be a sub-40% turnout thereby rendering the referendum invalid.

    1. MBC says:

      I think you may be right there. I wonder if Tsipras and Syriza will resign if Yes wins. Bringing Greece into chaos. They haven’t threatened that, nor has there been any talk of it, but I wonder if they will want to continue if they feel the Greek people do not have the stomach for a fight after all. They were elected to take a tough line on austerity, they have tried and failed to get the EU leaders to budge on renegotiating Greece’s debt, they have engineered a crunch point, if the Greek people don’t want to back them, what is left for them to do?

  2. meaghan says:

    Thanks for posting this, Kevin. Let’s hope that fear and confusion don’t win out on Sunday. Or that the Right won’t use it as an opportunity for ‘regime change.’

  3. Jean Urquhart says:

    Also on holiday in Greece, different experience though. Mixed messages in reasons for voting NO. It seems that it is no to austerity, but not no to leaving either the Euro or EU. Believed a bit that the better off ‘middle classes’ would vote YES. However a few days later we met the only stall in town with well prepared information sheets, posters to take away and it seemed they were, or seemed to be reasonably well off, professional women (at the time of speaking to them it was all women ‘manning’ the stall.
    No long queues at the banks. Anger in the tourist industry that British newspapers giving the wrong impression – I’d go along with that. If you haven’t booked a holiday – come and show support for democracy in Greece and have a wee break from fighting for much of the same at home.

  4. Laura Martin says:

    In Crete for 4 months of the summer, tourist numbers way down on usual. Spoke to a Syriza supporting taxi driver who said only Brits & Scandinavians visiting, others eg French, German scared off by press reports. Locals are divided on vote here too but mostly angry at EU and scared for the future. Queues at ATMs last week and Petrol stations.
    I would agree with Jean Urquhart, book a break in Greece, they need our help.

  5. Lesley Docksey says:

    Always been a big fan of Greece and Greeks, particularly Cretans, who are a wonderful breed apart. Forty years or more ago I went out to Crete every year (lots of Cretan friends there) but stopped when tourism started to kick in. Quite happy with “primitive” conditions and dirt track roads. The people, the hospitality and the food were worth it. And the conversations. I was there during the time of the Colonels, there when the Cretans (I don’t know about the rest of Greece) voted OXI against the Colonels’ continued regime. Mind you, I was in North Africa just after Israel’s 6-day war – I have an impeccable sense of timing!!!
    I am appalled at what the Troika are doing to this wonderful, very individual country. A journalist friend of mine has just sent me this link:
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/feb/27/greece-spain-helped-germany-recover
    to remind me what has been done and what COULD be done. It is as though the EU wants rid of Greece.. I’d happily get rid of the top echelons in the EU, but I don’t want rid of the EU people, any of us. We’re worth far more than the EC, ECB and the IMF.

    1. C Rober says:

      Keynes as reported in the Guardian was on the ball , something that my Modern Studies teacher would rant on about that stuck in my mind forever , is that banks cause and fund wars , years later I stumbled upon such a piece arguing the same as both that teacher and Keynes did.

      So if Keynes was right then austerity doesn’t work?

      Were it not for a handful of people that reindustrialised Germany , as well as those that cleared away the bank debt , then Germany as a war nation would have rose again.

      Those low level military officers that stumbled onto something in a bombed out factory , the VW beetle , ironically both an icon later of those anti war hippies , and a funder of the war itself through deception of the German people , has helped to rebuild it.

      Vw now though has like the banks , the euro and the eu , absorbed not the debt but only the profit . It absorbed every major competitor in the EU into its company , much like the Nazi war machine had tried to do geographically , VW though has succeeded.Was there even a whimper about anti competition rules German forces on the rest of the EU?

      The Germans and the French engineered , pun intended , that they would benefit the most from the Euro , so like Greece should be expected to carry the biggest burden.

      If they don’t then the rest that might currently only complain about having to contribute . they will also choose to leave , that is if Greece makes a go of it and prospers , so don’t expect a debt right off anytime soon.

      It would not be in the interest of Germany and France to let them succeed , but instead supporting their failure has the least financial consequence for them , where a shared EU burden is better than reducing their national clout , and the benefit they get from the EU is thus protected once more. Socialism for the wealthy ,once again like when the banks were bailed out?

      The ECB wont fund the Greek banks if they dont remain in the EU , interest rates will be high but not for savers , leaving only the option of funding from outside the EU.

      Sure with an independent Greece they could devalue currency , but their imports would have to therefore come from other baskets case economies , their exports to the EU will suffer higher taxes , therefore leaving exports also to the same countries they will be importing from.

      Long before the financial crisis Greece had been suffering from its own.

      The income from tourism was drying up , their solution , just put up prices , ultimately driving more tourists to cheaper destinations in larger numbers.The EURO they had hoped would redress it , again showing their lack of fiscal concepts , so borrowed heavily to pay electoral promises of increasing the civil services.

      Greece has not learned , like some teenager with a credit card , that credit costs.

      This is not a new thing to them , they have a history of defaults , so any bank that took the risk like the debtor themselves should also have to pay , so perhaps the answer is to share the debt not across the EU members , but across its creditors and Greece themselves?

      They unlike post war Germany have nothing to rebuild on , there’s no ugly car under rubble in a factory. So simply writing off a debt wont be enough , tourism wont be enough , manufacturing wont be enough , so some form of Austerity even after leaving the EU will still have to be applied.

      So therefore the Sriza party is a sham , it knows this , the ECB and IMF know too , all that their politicians have done is asked the turkeys what they are doing for boxing day.

      1. MBC says:

        I don’t think Syriza are a sham. From my grasp of things it seems like their strategy has been to try and get the crisis taken out of the hands of the bureaucrats in the institutions (or troika) and into the hands of EU leaders and politicians. They are trying and failing to get political leadership and politicial decisions at EU level taken about renegotiating their debt, like the Marshall plan after WW2 from which Germany benefitted. They are trying but failing to get a ‘concert of Europe’ on this issue.

        But EU leaders seem unable to step up to the plate. They just hand things back to the financial bureaucrats running the ECB. Theirs is a technocratic view of government. Leadership, justice, vision, ideas, don’t seems to figure in their minds at all.

        That’s how I see the problem. The current batch of EU leaders seem to be wholly inadequate. There is no blue skies thinking or ‘concert of Europe’. There is no attempt to understand Greece or the Greek problem. To think beyond the technocratic. Europe is actually in crisis but nobody is even talking about it. Cameron at least wants reform of the purely technocratic way decisions are made in Europe but is likewise getting nowhere fast with other EU leaders. There is no ‘concert of Europe’. The Greeks are caught between a rock and a hard place. I wonder if Tsipras will resign if there is a Yes vote.

        1. MBC says:

          It’s the EU that’s the sham. As a political institution it is hollow and devoid of leadership, ideas, vision, solutions, analysis, and acting on a European level.

  6. ben madigan says:

    support syriza – express your support when and wherever you can https://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/6-reasons-to-support-the-vote-for-oxi/

  7. C Rober says:

    Perhaps the solution itself is to get rid of big brother Germany and France out of the EU , not instead the minnows?

    With this comes a better advantage for the smaller countries , a more equal footing that the EU and Euro was promising.

    The EU EURO project hasnt failed , it should though have been better prepared to withstand a financial crisis on the periphery. All of the smaller countries avoid the rules of the game , but so do the big two.

    For example , the much highlighted black economies of the southern countries has contributed to their own downfall.

    Tax avoidance is endemic , bordering on religion , but taxes pay these large civil service early retirement pensions that now must be cut , the setting of spend as percentage of gdp has not remained the same across the regions , despite it being a mandate for inclusion.

    In the Uk we have tax avoidance too , but not by the electorate , instead by the Corporations and banks. Plus we have a PM whom has a particularly egregious view on it , especially when he and his siblings benefited from it through his fathers estate.

    France too has its back doors , its really good at dictating EU policy on Govt ownership , yet its Govt is a major stakeholder in some key businesses. Hardly following the rules it expects Greece to.

    Germany , again state owned large businesses , but at the federal level.

    Yet Both Germany and France complains when others do the same as them , or act in such protectionist manners without fear. IE RBS , Royal Mail and the utilities are/were preventing a free market , threats of fines for the UK , but not for France and Germany?

    The solution for Greece is pain , regardless of the vote , but I suspect that a national pride means they will be going Drachmania , without any banks willing to fund them , leaving open a door for China to offload its dollars , or Russia to have another sea port….which will cost them even more in the long run , China and Russia wont be as kind or patient comparatively as the IMF or ECB have been.

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