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It’s not a crisis, it’s a tragedy

28 Feb

‘It’s not a crisis, it’s a tragedy,’ said one of my Greek friends while we had a cup of coffee in her house. On my first day in Greece, the soup kitchens and even souvlaki kitchens laid on by the army with their huge crowds were shown on Greek TV, but you don’t need the TV to see how many shops are closed for good, how few people are visiting tavernas and restaurants, how many more homes are rotting and derelict. And the Greeks themselves are sad. In  a country where few people get depressed and fewer still take their own lives, there have been a number of suicides recently.

My Greek friend’s son is a computer expert who in the last year has been working for a tiny proporion of the salary he once enjoyed; it’s just enough to keep him in Athens, unlike scores of other middle-class professionals who have either emigrated to Australia or America. Many others are now returning to the Greek countryside to their villages where their forefathers tilled the soil, to do the same, or at least to do something. While talent scouts have been sent from Australia to tempt Greeks to Sydney and Melbourne and other Hellenophile cities where they will be able to practise their skills,  they have limited themselves to selected people under 40, as they can’t accommodate everybody, such is the enormity of the problem Greece faces.

The problem is not confined to the middle classes. Workers have no jobs, either, especially in the building trade, where it has been a very lean year. Throughout the eighties, nineties and noughties, the combination of corrupt politicians and bankers willing to turn a blind eye and help in the cooking of the books of this deeply indebted nation have delivered blows to this once proud country. It will take at least a generation for Greece to recover. The 2004 Olympics, for example, were a victory for Athens and its infrastructure but a Pyrrhic one as it cost Greece far more than it ever got back from it, and Greece was not a country which could afford such losses.

Credit cards were almost unheard of in Greece until the late ‘nineties. ‘Suddenly Greeks could pay for all sorts of consumer goods they had never been able to afford before on credit.  It was like offering a lollipop to a child; even if you tell the child that the lollipop is going to rot your teeth, the child isn’t going to refuse it,’ says another Greek friend, while pointing out that he didn’t think Greeks were children, it was just an analogy.

Should Greece default, or keep kicking the can down the road? It’s a difficult one.

I wonder what the great tragedians of Ancient Greece would have made of it all.

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