Best of 2011: Greek crisis viewed from the corner store


Greek corner storeFor people who live in Greece these are troubled times: we know that. But what is to be done about them? Not a lot, but we carry on as best we can, sticking to routine, hoping feebly that pressing problems will go away, putting our heads in the sand, trying to forget that Greece has to cope with the IMF yet again.

I buy potting mix from shop-owner Panayiotis, who runs the mini-market he inherited from his father. I have known father and son for 30 years. Father Spiros was the youngest of a large tribe of brothers born at a time when Greece was experiencing truly dire poverty. Four of these brothers became monks at Mt Athos: I cannot know anything about their religious convictions, but they knew that no monastery would let them starve.

Somehow Spiros started his modest shop, and was doing well when I was first here. Since then he has retired, the market has become more complicated, there are a few more shops competing, and life has changed. In all sorts of ways. Still, son Panayiotis remains philosophical. Well, he's Greek.

'How do you see things at this stage of the krisi?' I ask, for I'm always asking people what they think of Greece's financial crisis, which is of course not just Greece's.

'Crisis? What crisis?' Pano grins. 'Greece has got a crisis; Greeks haven't.' (They're all inclined to be bush lawyers as well as philosophers, I think yet again, and sophist is a Greek word, after all.)

But he's got a point: café society shows no sign of dying, people continue to eat and drink out, and spending on cigarettes and tobacco seems quite unabated. Girls and youths still manage to dress to the nines, and everybody, just everybody, has a mobile phone.

That's the surface, of course. Lift a layer or two, and then the suffering is revealed: the old scrimp and try to save, the unemployed young are angry and frustrated, the sick have to make do with inadequate care. And a multitude of immigrants scrapes along; who knows how?

Says Pano: 'Perhaps it's all to the good; perhaps we'll come to our senses at last, and things will work out.'

Here's hoping. While Pano does quiet but regular business in this village, Syntagma Square, the heart of Athens, has been packed with thousands of people since 25 May. Protest is mainly anti-bank, and anti-MP: on 31 May, more than a dozen MPs had to be rescued by police after protesters blocked a parliamentary exit.

As well as many passionate speeches by day and by night, there is much clanging of pots and pans, in a gesture that symbolises the basic level to which many Greeks have been reduced. That gallant old war-horse and genius, Mikis Theodorakis, has been on a podium out there, blaming the political system for the current mess. Well, he's seen a few messes in his time.

The latest mess centres on the German conviction that Greece cannot repay its enormous debt, and that said debt must therefore be restructured. I am clueless about such things, but a friend who is an expert in financial matters did his best to put me straight.

'There is considerable contagion risk in extending the maturities of Greek loans, and so German banks are terrified. Still, Greeks may continue to receive European charity. It might be yet another instance of captive Greece taking her captor captive. Look at it this way: if you owe a bank a million dollars and can't pay, you're in trouble. If you owe banks 60 billion dollars and can't pay, they're in trouble.'

I'm not used to coping with all those noughts, and hate the thought of such trouble, but am trying to look at the awful problem every which way, really, while not getting very far with the kaleidoscope. Although one thing seems clear: Greece's ratings are now below those of Egypt and Venezuela.

Another thing that seems clear is that the krisi has divided Greek society very sharply. There have, of course, been terrible divisions in the past: the effects of the civil war linger on. At this very trying point, I can but hope with Panayiotis that things will work out. 


Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 30 years. She has had nine books published. Her most recent is No Time For Dances. Her latest, Seeing and Believing, is appearing in instalments on her website.

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, krisi, financial crisis, Panayiotis, Spiros, germany



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Existing comments

End of Europe? I am amazed about all the doom and gloom about Europe. Most people in Europe still go to work, shop and eat. The current crisis was long overdue. In a few countries everyone thought life was just a big holiday. Working and paying taxes was something only people in Germany, Sweden etc.did. What is the the situation today? Many people in the south of Europe are still on holidays, but they are no longer payroll of a company. The Euro has fallen and all of sudden French and German cars have become affordable in other countries. Going on holidays to Europe has become also an affordable option. Australia had “ a recession we had to have” according to Keating. Australia has done well ever since. I am sure Europe will recover the same way Australia and Asia did after they had their recession.
Beat Odermatt | 10 January 2012

It's the old story of any human group that becomes complacent and lazy. They believe they can live beyond their means. There is a lesson for us here in Australia as we have been living beyond our means for a very long time. Digging up the backyard and selling it to the industry of the rest of the world is not 'real' work for a 'real' nation. Grow up and earn our right to this wonderful country God gave us.
graham patison | 11 January 2012


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