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Two goats, a sheep and Grexit


Khatimerini newspaper front page on referendum options Was it only yesterday that everything changed? Again. A creature of habit, I staggered out of bed at 6.30 on Saturday morning, and checked the weather.

The sky was tinged the pink usual for this time of year, but there were a few clouds about. Unusual, and perhaps a warning, I thought later, although developments in this country seldom happen out of a clear sky. I ate my unvarying breakfast and then opened my laptop. As I always do. So far, so routine.

But then the bombshell that had been planted while most of Greece slept exploded: in the early hours of Saturday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had announced a referendum for July 5. This move comes at the end of a series of failed negotiations with Europe, and as June 30 looms, this date being the deadline for Greece’s repayment of 1.5 billion euros to the International Monetary Fund.

The billion dollar question is as follows: The Greek people are hereby asked to decide whether they accept a draft agreement document submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund at the Eurogroup meeting held on June 25, and which consists of 2 documents:

1. Reforms for the Completion of the Current Program and Beyond
2. Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis.

Whether the average Spiro and Soula has much idea of what these documents contain and entail seems doubtful. I certainly haven’t. And there is not much time for them or me to learn. I imagine that, like me, Spiro and Soula listen to simplified explanations: NO will mean a return to the drachma or a conversion to a new drachma, while YES indicates that Greece will continue to be in the European fold, even if at present said fold seems to be inhabited by wolves. Grexit or not? seems to be the question.

Whatever the case, Spiro and Soula and I, and most ordinary people, are naturally concerned about the supply of ready cash. There has been what a friend calls a bank jog during the last couple of weeks, but it seems, predictably, to be speeding up into a run: there have been long queues at ATMs in Athens and Thessaloniki, and some machines have had EMPTY labels pasted on them. In the provinces, where I am fortunate to live, things remain calm. So far: although once again it is rumoured that banks will not open tomorrow, Monday. Other rumours concern the possibility of capital controls.

The whole European/Greek situation puts me in mind of Dr Johnson’s dry comment on two women he saw arguing from their respective doorways, which were on opposite sides of the street. ‘They will never agree,’ opined the good doctor, ‘because they are arguing from different premises.’ The EU is demanding reforms in the areas of pensions and VAT/GST payments, and the Greek government is refusing to accede to these demands. And at present the population of Greece, by and large, wants two mutually exclusive things. Most people seem to want to remain in the EU, but those same people are quite literally sick and tired of austerity, while the powers that be in the EU insist that Greek membership depends on still more of a policy that has led, among other effects, to a 35% rise in suicide rates since 2010.

Of course there have been emotional scenes in Parliament, with the inevitable call for elections from the conservative opposition, while Tsipras has been accused of making a last-ditch effort to save his political career, for he was elected on an anti-austerity platform. Both he and Finance Minister Varoufakis have asked the Eurogroup for an extension of payment time past June 30, so that the referendum can take place in a calmer atmosphere. The request has been denied. This refusal, Varoufakis has said, ‘will certainly damage the credibility of the Eurogroup as a democratic union of partner member states.’ He added that he is very much afraid the damage will be permanent.

When I jitter, I pace the floor. So on Saturday morning I was mooching about and up and down when a movement on the terrace outside the sitting room caught my eye. And I heard a tinkle of bells. There, to my great surprise, were two goats and a sheep. I’ve been pondering the symbolism of this vision ever since.

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: Gillian Bouras, Alexisi Tsipras, Grexit, IMF, Greece, economics, banking



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Existing comments

The tension must be getting very serious in Greece. We are hearing it discussed and rediscussed in Australia nowadays. However I do wonder about the two goats you saw...whether maybe they were blind? I suggest that the sheep may have been leading them; but also not really clear as to what all this could mean!

John Whitehead | 01 July 2015  

Thank you, Gillian, for this report from the front, as it were. In some respects, the attitude and behaviour of certain EU nations and the IMF smack of wartime reprisals, which many Greeks would remember only too well, in which the vulnerable and the innocent were sacrificed to the interests and will of the aggressor; or at least of a form of bullying motivated in part by something more insidious than economic resolution of fiscal malfunction. Happy the sheep and goats -- traditionally sacrificial beasts -- who are oblivious to these goings-on, at least for the moment.

Jena Woodhouse | 01 July 2015  

One of my former Japanese university students wrote to me yesterday from Japan - as he does everyday - asking for my opinion on a vast array of geo-political matters - this time re the situation in Greece. I could tell him even less than you know, Gillian - though I did say that Greece's financial context is a mere i% of that of the entire EU and that the rest of the EU could easily accommodate that if it wanted to do so. The goats and the sheep on your terrace seems no more bizarre than the situation facing Greece - nor the fact that my wife and I are travelling through North America and that this response comes from a hill-top AirBnB in San Francisco - a thick fog rolling all over the city - not yet lifted - as it will - (as must Greece's own foggy state recover) and that we will visit Alcatraz this afternoon - more signs and portents - heralding what!!! Bonne chance, Gillian - and Spiro & Soula!

Jim KABLE | 02 July 2015  

it is very difficult to find a balanced argument for the Greek position but your perspective is insightful and authentic. I love the possible symbolism of the goats and sheep visitors and hope that the future will spare ordinary Greeks more austerity and suffering.

Maggie | 02 July 2015  

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