Thursday, March 15, 2012

The state of things

What could I have done differently to prevent this?

I have been watching my country sink in the abyss for almost ten years. Like a huge accident happening in slow motion before my eyes and I'm not lifting one finger to stop it.

1997, England: I was watching those cheap ads about loans on television. 'Every one else has said no? Come to us!' I was thinking, how nice, that in Greece we have own our homes, we don't use credit cards, we don't get bank loans. Once, an English girl from uni bragged about how much higher the standard of living in England was, compared to that of Greece. Silly girl, I muttered. I hadn't imagined poverty and misery in a European country before going to the UK. Homeless men and women on almost every corner. Racism. Muggings. Stabbings. Squalid student houses. Filthy streets. Break ins. Crappy constructions. University students who couldn't even spell. Men peeing in alleys. Vomit on the pavements. Alcoholism. Teen pregnancy. Greece, at that time, was a safe and happy place compared to England. Everything that mattered was cheap: food, rent, petrol.

2004, Greece: Even if many of us didn't want the 2004 Olympics, we nevertheless felt a sense of pride at the opening ceremony of the games, we found ourselves in a hype by the totally unexpected win of the UEFA Cup, and thought we were really on a roll when we won the 2005 Eurovision song contest (yeah, I know...).

From 1996 until 2004 I had been visiting Greece only for short periods of time. Every time I returned, another myth of mine was shattered. Suddenly everyone could and did have a credit card. In fact they had several credit cards and weren't afraid to use them. Banks enticed people into all kinds of loans: loan to buy a house, a car, loan to renovate a house, loan for you business, heating petrol loan, holiday loan, extra cash loan. Suddenly, the streets were filled with big black blocks on wheels. Hummer, Cayenne, Lexus, which cost as much as an apartment and probably cost to run as much as the rent of that apartment. Not so suddenly,  the ghettoisation of certain areas in the city centre had begun.Whole neighborhoods became no-go zones, because of muggings, the drug dealing, the drug using, the prostitutes and their pimps.

2004 was also the year that I left England to come back to Greece.

The price of a ticket for the metro went up to 0,80 euros in 2006. It is now 1,40  euros and in compliance with the new terms that we signed, it will go to 1.75 euros within a year, an increase of almost 120% since 2006. The price of petrol has more than doubled in the last three years. And since we joined the euro, the prices of all basic goods have gone and keep going up.

2012, Greece: Pay cuts, pension cuts, more increases in utility bills, direct and indirect taxes, cuts in money spent on health and education, to the degree of hospitals shutting down, merging with other hospitals, schools also merging with other schools, thus increasing the number of students per classroom. And let's not talk about how many people were fired from their jobs in the last year and how many businesses went bust. And let's not talk about the increase of homelessness, people looking in the garbage for things they can sell or eat, the increase of violent street crimes and the spiral increase in suicides, either.

But you know all these, don't you? And of course you know that Greeks work the longest hours in the EU. Of course you do. Because you are an informed citizen of the world. And you wouldn't label a people lazy without having done your homework first. You wouldn't laugh at what is happening to Greece now, because you are a human being and you don't find the suffering of others entertaining. You wouldn't just say, 'they lied in order to join the monetary union', as if that justifies the terms on which we are made to borrow money now. When other countries have larger debts than ours. You wouldn't say that. And surely you would be outraged at the suggestions that we should sell our islands. And because you are not ignorant, surely you don't sleep very comfortably at night, a part of you knowing that your country might be next and that you might find yourself asking the exact same question: What I could have done differently to prevent this?

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