Saturday, July 14, 2012

GREECE: Point and Counterpoint

Perhaps a better title would be, “Let’s open a dialogue.”   On May 28th I posted a blog entitled “From Munich to Mykonos.”  It was about my trip to Bavaria.  I’m pleased to say it elicited many thoughtful comments from readers.  In one, the commenter (identified as N&C) expressed views on the seriousness of upcoming elections in Greece for both the Greeks and the world.

Over a month has passed, the elections are over, and most Greeks are holding their breath in prayer that the new coalition government will work together in bringing the country through the crisis.  I think a sound first step would be to get beyond polarizing finger pointing to where champions of disparate positions are channeling their energies into making things work for the country. 

That’s not to say there aren’t worthwhile reasons for assessing blame; it’s just that when the rowboat is sinking it seems a better use of everyone’s hands to be bailing away and rowing together toward safety. 

A few days ago, a thoughtful post, done anonymously, took issue with N&C’s views.   I later received a direct reply from N&C who could not seem to post their reply.  I took it as a sign from providence that here was the perfect combination of views for making my point on Greece’s need for constructive dialog.

The words are exactly as written (aside from correcting a few obvious typos), though I have broken Anonymous’ comment into paragraphs for the sake of visual clarity to the reader.  I hope these courteous, responsible expressions of “front-line” views on what separate so many from one another might possibly suggest the sorts of bridges that must be built to bring them together in common cause.


To N&C,

Hi there.  I accidentally read your recent comment here while I was browsing some sites and blogs on Munich.  I feel I also need to comment on something you wrote about the "so-called" friends of yours in Greece. 

You have explicitly described the Greek electorate as if they had the capacity to define the future of the whole world!  In particular, you said: "It's vitally important that they make the right choice in selecting a government that will lead them out of this crises with the help of many on both sides of the Atlantic, and not one that could potentially return them and us all, back to the darker days of the past." 

I suppose you live in the US and therefore you are pro-austerity measures in order to sustain disaster Capitalism, right?  Thus, you present the Greeks as if they would have destroyed the whole world if they had chosen anything else in the past elections!!!
 How can you say something like that?

Have you experienced what it means to be the "guinea pig" personally and collectively in order to save a system that has just been overloaded and needs to devour more and more people, sovereign nations and economies? 

I suppose Jeff who lives on the island of Mykonos has a picture of what it means for my co-patriots to be pressured so much that they cannot handle anymore. But clearly you can't have this picture.  You only know what the news channels and newspapers want to show you about my country and my people.

What about Lehman Brothers and the US debt crisis?? Would you like to comment on these things too?

Finally, I need to underline that I totally respect your opinion but please try to see things in a wider context not just placing the blame on a whole nation as being nothing but scapegoats.



Dear Anonymous,

I am sorry you took offense at my comments posted here before the last Greek elections.

I don’t really consider Jeff’s blog to be an appropriate forum to debate the merits of capitalism and geopolitical and economic reforms, but since you have invited me to comment on your response, in this particular case, I shall make an exception.

You have obviously mistaken me for an American living in the United States and deriving my political views and perceptions of what is happening in your country from watching Fox News and reading USA Today. Unfortunately, you happen to be wrong on both counts.

I am indeed an American however, and probably of the same generation as your parents, if not that of your grandparents, and have spent almost a half century living and working throughout Europe, including a considerable number of years in your country. Over the past 40 odd years, I have always marveled at the many unique qualities of Greece, your long history and vibrant culture, and the mindset of the majority of honest and incredibly hard working people that make up your society.

Just as a point of reference, I am proud to say that included among my many Greek friends are a taxi driver in Mykonos, taverna, restaurant, bar owners and hoteliers on many of the islands; academics, jewelers, merchants, professional businessmen, ship owners, private entrepreneurs, and what you would probably refer to as the Greek ‘elites’ in terms of politicians and ministers of both past and present governments. All of which, I consider to be representative of a cross section of your society.

Contrary to what you seem to believe, my personal views have been formulated and heavily influenced by ‘Greeks’ over endless coffees and bottles of ouzo in frank, well intended discussions among good friends in sidewalk café’s from Macedonia to the Peloponnese. And a great deal of philosophical discussions and ‘Greek drama’ over many a late night dinner in restaurants from Spondi in Pagrati to Niko’s Taverna in Mykonos and many, many more – famous and otherwise – in between.

My frequent visits to Mykonos, Santorini, Corfu, Crete, Rhodes, Cypress and some of the other smaller islands throughout the Aegean - where I typically tried to spend my summers - have always made a lasting impression on me and taught me a great deal about both Greece and the islander’s mentality. And of course I have been equally influenced by more ‘all night’ sessions than I would care to admit to in the Bouzouki clubs of Athens and Thessaloniki which probably qualifies me as an expert on ‘Athenian night life’!     

But my views of Greece have also been colored by witnessing first hand, the last military coup and dictatorship that took place in your country and the slaughter of innocent students on the streets of Athens in the ‘cradle of democracy’. Not to mention, the unwarranted and criminal assassinations carried out over the years by right wing extremists and anarchists who belonged to the November 17 movement. All of which, I would hope provides me with some measurable degree of objectivity when it comes to commenting on Greece and its current problems.  

So having now presented my credentials, let me paraphrase that famous last movie line of Alexis Zorba (Nikos Kazantzakis’ book) by saying “Shall we dance?”

Over these many years, I have watched capitalism and prosperity elevate a large segment of your society from that of squeezing grapes and tomatoes to squeezing tourists and I have had a lot of fun and excitement watching it along the way.

In my earlier comments, I could not help but draw a distinct parallel between the events of the 1930’s and the rise of nationalism in pre-war Nazi Germany as described in Jeff’s blog on Bavaria, and that of the 7 percent of the Greek national electorate now voting for right wing extremists parties such as Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn). The same rhetoric and proposed ‘solutions’ (if they have any at all) which I read of in Ekathimerini and hear from them today, is essentially no different to that espoused by member of the Third Reich in the run up to WW2 and we all presumably remember what the earlier German ‘experiment’ resulted it.

Capitalism did not cause Greece’s current economic and political problems, but endemic greed, graft, corruption and sense of entitlement that exists in Greece today did; and unfortunately your country does not have a monopoly on that problem. It also exists to some degree in my own, as well as many other countries throughout the developed world.

The fall of Lehman Brothers and the onset of today’s economic crisis is a direct result of the same type of excesses mentioned above, coupled to the fact that we all now live in a ‘global’ economy where failures on one side of the Atlantic are compounded as their effects ripple around the world. Unfortunately, that same disease is equally prevalent in many of your own financial institutions today.

While I do indeed believe that austerity has its place in the effective management of a country’s economy, I do not subscribe to the theory that austerity alone without the necessary provisions for economic growth is the proper solution. People can only be pushed down so far before they loose all hope and what is going on in your country and others in the EU today, as well as in the US, is indicative of that. In your particular case however, it is not dissimilar to what occurred in Germany before the onset of WW2.

Your problems weren’t brought on by Germany, the EU and the IMF with their generously supported financial bailout program any more than brought on by the lack of repatriation of the Elgin Marbles by the United Kingdom, or the theft and pillage of Greek sovereign funds during the Nazi regime.  Nor, were they brought on by ‘legal’ immigrants seeking a better standard of living in your country taking up menial or low paying jobs in your economy that Greeks refused to do, or felt were beneath them.

It was brought on simply by Greek’s themselves!  Living above their means with historically poor governance and an unwillingness to institute strict political and economic reforms with regard to revenue enforcement and labor reforms, has resulted in many years of the rich in power stealing from the poor.

If history is any guide, an electorate willing to grasp for any solution that makes them feel better in the short term; will in my view, only lead to far larger and protracted problems in the future. I truly feel sorry for the despair and hopelessness that I see among many of my friends of all ages in Greece, but am somewhat encouraged by the results of your last election.

Let’s hope that for the first time, an elected coalition government in Greece can effectively work together and stop putting their personal and party interests ahead of those of you and your fellow citizens and your country at large.

While I too respect your opinion, I would suggest to you that the answer to Greece’s problems today does not lie in substituting capitalism with something else - nor electing extremists from both sides of the political spectrum to govern your country - but for people to play by the rules as they have long been established, and get back to the work of demonstrating to the rest of the world that Greece can indeed become the great, proud democracy that it once was, where prosperity and a decent quality of life is shared by all…

N & C          

Thanks, Anonymous and N&C, for taking the time to make us all think.



  1. Very interesting. My final thought was something like wouldn't it be nice if more people remembered to live by the spirit of the rules, since breaking the rules doesn't seem to bother them?

  2. Lil, you made me think of Diogenes wandering about with his lamp looking for an honest man. He was Greek. These days his lamp -- much like the Olympic torch -- could make its way around the planet without having reason to pause for an instant.

    Today the world seems to abide only one rule: Break the rules whenever in your perceived self-interest to do so.

  3. This is tough. I would say that the views and feelings of Greek people who are suffering from the global economic crisis, cuts in salaries, pensions and essential services and unemployment, have to be the first heard. They're the ones who are suffering.

    The reality is that the rich are richer and the poor are poorer in Greece as in the U.S. and elsewhere. However, terrible catastrophes are happening in Greece.

    Suicide rates are escalating. Mothers are putting children into government care because they can't feed them. Hospitals are being closed. Much medical care for unemployed and poor people has been cut off.

    I do not blame one Greek for being angry at the "troika" of IMF, EU and the European Central Bank, or at global capitalism for that matter. That "rich" vs. "poor" dynamic is growing internationally as well as within countries, and terribly so within Southern European countries, ever more so.

    The "bailouts" are reimbursed -- at high interest, by the way -- and are paid for on the backs of the Greek people. It's not the wealthy who are suffering.

    And at the same time, as Jeff has constantly pointed out, the anti-immigrant, racist Golden Dawn neo-fascists are putting the blame for the economic crisis and suffering on immigrants, documented and undocumented.

    A horrifying front-page New York Times article last week called attention to the beatings and threats the ultra-right is making against Pakistani and other documented immigrant shopkeepers, telling them that they will have one week to close their stores or the stores -- and the people -- will be burned down. The Times mentioned that the police are doing nothing, are even watching beatings take place, or are abetting them.

    Why did I get a moment of deja vu, remembering what the Nazis did to Jewish shopkeepers in Germany in the 1930s? And then to the Jewish population throughout the country? We all know this.

    This kind of bigoted terror should be stopped.
    It's very common for the ultra-right to emerge during times of economic crisis and find scapegoats, as occurred in Germany. And, unfortunately, it's happening in Greece and in France, with the rise of Marine Le Pen's National Front, now aimed at immigrants.

  4. Kathy, sometimes ‘tough’ love among friends is necessary in order to get things out in the open for people to confront reality. Your comments and observations are both correct and very well informed.