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Greeks suffer as leaders quarrel


Greek PM's address at Russian forum It is Friday 19 June, and my youngest son, who lives in central Athens, is on the phone.

‘What do you think I should do with my money?’ he asks. He hasn’t got much, and I’m the last person he should be consulting: my mother, who died more than twenty years ago, told me more than once that I have champagne taste on a beer income, and that I’d never be rich.

How right she was. So in this moment I flounder more than a little, and burble something about leaving the money where it is, ‘as a gesture of confidence.’

‘A gesture of confidence isn’t going to do me much good when I lose the little money I’ve got.’

And I am forced to concede that he has a point, seeing that the much-feared Grexit looms more threateningly every minute. The conversation is left in limbo.

Between Tuesday and Friday Greeks made bank withdrawals of at least two billion euros. Deposits of any substance have not been made for a long time, Greece has to pay its creditors 1.6 billion euros by the end of the month, and the European Central Bank did nothing for frayed nerves by suggesting that Greek banks might not open on Monday. A friend told me of seeing a girl in tears as she turned away from an ATM. The machine was working, but had denied her request: many people fear this, fear being unable to get hold of ready cash.

Also on Friday Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, rather than being in Brussels, was in St Petersburg, a surprise attendee at the annual St Petersburg International Economic Forum. But perhaps Tsipras’s presence was not such a surprise, after all. A staunch Communist in his youth, he has few warm feelings for the United States, (currently insisting that the burden of compromise is the Greeks’ responsibility), and has lately been engaging in fiery rhetoric against the powers that be in Europe, labeling them ‘criminals,’ and accusing them of exploiting Greece.

His Russian visit is seen in some quarters as an attempt by both leaders to thumb their noses at Europe: Tsipras is demonstrating he has friends elsewhere, and may be hoping to put a little pressure on the EU via this manoeuvre, while Putin has had Europe’s attention distracted from the Ukraine, even if only momentarily. But so far there is no real indication that Russia is going to help Greece.

As I write, it is Sunday. Tomorrow there is a crucial meeting in Brussels, a so-called EU summit. Today Greek negotiators are working on yet another attempt to defuse the crisis situation and to make proposals that have a chance of heading off default. In the meantime the Greek public is subdued, frustrated, and weary: this sort of thing, this game of chicken, has been going on for five years, while in the five months since Syriza was elected very little has occurred in the way of reassurance: the legendary light at the end of the tunnel is not even flickering. Tomorrow’s proposals will be the third set in three weeks.

Both sides are blaming the other, yet surely both are at fault? The measures imposed on Greece by Europe were cruelly and unrealistically harsh, but Greece has done virtually nothing to institute the reforms that the EU demands, and which are indeed necessary: tax evasion has to be punished, nepotism curbed, and bureaucratic performance much improved. Trust has to be re-established; at present non-Greek investors are alarmed by the lack of predictability and transparency in the Greek economy.

The New York Times has commented on the five years of sniping and failed negotiations, and likens Europe and Greece to two prize-fighters who are circling each other and having periodic attempts at slugging things out in hope of a result. I suspect that this is a male take on the matter. The women on the scene, Chancellor Angela Merkel and IMF chief Christine Lagarde, are more or less playing the part of the firm mother to naughty, quarrelling boys. Lagarde has recently announced that there will be no grace period for Greece, and that she has a desire for dialogue with adults. It is to be hoped that her wish is granted tomorrow.

Gillian Bouras

Gillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.


Topic tags: Gilliian Bouras, Greece, Europe, economy, Lagarde, Grexit



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Existing comments

Greece's current economic predicament is the result of poor economic management by Greek governments, especially the policies of funding government activities with bank loans rather than taxation. Most Greek people have been happy with these policies. Greece is now in an unfortunate position and can only survive with the support of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and influential countries such as Germany.

Mark Doyle | 23 June 2015  

Greece's current situation is neatly summed up for me in a Far Side cartoon which shows a building labelled "Crisis Centre" floating down the river towards the falls. Hopefully, in real life, that won't happen to Greece. The days of Greek politicians posturing and debating need to be done with and sensible action taken.

Edward Fido | 23 June 2015  

Greece's predicament, besides its own poor management, is also due to the monetary union and its loss of export income from shipping. The currency allowed major European countries access to the Grecian market in which the terms of trade were very one-sided. Europe's problem is that everything is one-way.

Peter Horan | 23 June 2015  

My heart goes out to brave, beautiful, embattled Greece and its people at this time. As if they didn't have enough to endure, there is the misplaced general opprobrium that confuses economic insufficiency with some sort of moral deficiency, and looks askance at both the nation and its citizens, when surely it has always been evident that an economic union that amalgamates and attempts to equate powerful industrial economies like that of Germany with small, precarious economies like that of Greece is bound to expose the weaknesses of such an unequal partnership at some point. I am appalled at the way Greece is being punished for this -- part of the penalty being unpayably high interest rates on mounting debts to erstwhile "partners".

Jena Woodhouse | 23 June 2015  

The utopian vision of the Euro was flawed from the beginning. But in our credulous era, rational voices are drowned out, just like they have been in the same-sex marriage debate. Simply package any cause as ‘progressive’ and today’s mob fall for it. The debate over the UK’s proposed entry into the Euro revealed the same mentality. A partisan BBC presented the pro-euro position as moderate, thus defining Euroseptics as extreme. It promoted scare stories that failure to join the euro would lead to economic disaster. Journalist Rod Liddle wrote, “The whole ethos of the BBC and all the staff was that Eurosceptics were xenophobes.” Liddle recalled how a senior BBC official told him “Rod, the thing you have to understand is that these people are mad. They are mad.” But Greece too has been irresponsible. It lied about its financial situation when it entered the Eurozone; its pensions are equal to 96 % of previous earnings compared to the OECD average of 59%; over 130 employment categories are closed-shop with no competition; and there is massive tax evasion and pension fraud. But rather than attack the real causes, Tsipras, the former communist, played to the mob to attain power.

Ross Howard | 24 June 2015  

The whole political world appears to be made up of naughty boys - none of whom can be trusted - it would seem. I am not an economist - and would not know what to do myself if faced by your son's dilemma! Nevertheless it seems to me, too, that Greece is being used as a kind of example - the kind that must be made an example of - if you get my drift. There is something decidedly unfair in the whole set-up and I can't decide if it is the big-and-powerful or the tiny-and-insignificant - but you can probably guess where I my divining rod is straining to point towards!

Jim KABLE | 25 June 2015  

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