5 things that non-Greeks may NOT realise about the Greek Crisis
13 Nov 2017
The Greek Crisis is a "short" for the financial challenges and economic recession that Greece has been dealing with, over the past 10 years. The country went bankrupt in May 2010, since we were cut-off from international money markets and had no means for refinancing our excessive national debt, apart from the joint IMF-EU loans. We have been under strict financial control ever since. There was a similar situation in Portugal, Cyprus, Ireland (and, in a less-similar manner, Spain and Italy too) but all those countries managed to "suck it up" and get back on the recovery path within 3 years. Greece, in a truly greek-drama manner, is still under foreign supervision, and will continue to be so (albeit in a lighter version) deep into the 2050s.
There are lots of causes for the financial Crisis, and people's opinions greatly vary on the issue. My personal view is that Greece has been wildly overspending on the "consuming" side of the economy (instead of the "investing" one) over the past 4 decades, managing to build a gigantic and dysfynctional public sector that controlled and staggered the whole economy. Young university graduates (and non-graduates too) were only aspiring to a permanent position in the public sector, in order to have their peace of mind ("na e'ho to kefa'li mou i'syho" is the widespread greek catch-phrase, which literally translates into "to keep my head calm"). The private sector revolved around an all-encompassing public sector, which provided monetary liquidity. Bureaucracy, corruption, and a minimum-effort attitude, were everywhere. Foreign exports and primary domestic production were stagnant, imports grew out of control, non-productive public spending (financed by huge budget deficits) soared, public and private debt soared, and BOOM... Crisis happened!
Non-greeks, coming from a different ethnic mentality, may find it very hard to appreciate certain aspects of the greek Crisis, especially in terms of how the everyday greek person perceives and copes withthe financial challenges. THESE are the primary issues that I would like to bring forward (based on my personal views), INSTEAD of pointlessly arguing about the roots of the Crisis. Here goes:
The Crisis and recession have been going on for almost 10 years. This means that a lot of people who were hoping for a quick recovery, have all but lost their faith and hope. People have stopped making dreams about their future, they have stopped believing in the old-guard political Parties and politicians, they have stopped expressing their anger in a loud manner. They are now suffering in silence, with little anticipation for "things to get better"
Almost a whole generation of greeks have "permanently missed the recovery boat" already. The 2010 25-year-olds who were graduating from Universities at the time, were being faced with 50% unemployment rates (for their age sector). More than 250.000 businesses and professionals who have closed down, will NEVER set up shop again. More than 20.000 companies which have fled the country, will never return. 50+ year old unemployed people may never find a job again. The majority of the 4.2 million Greeks who owe more than 100 billion € to the Greek Tax Office, will never repay their debts. Nor will those who owe 30 billion € to state Pension Funds, or 110 billion "red" loans to banks, or 3.5 billion € to the state Electricity Firm (ΔΕΗ). Greece has lost 25% of its GDP during the Crisis (from 235 billion €, down to 178 billion €) and it will take decades to recover it . The 500.000 Greeks who have already migrated to other countries (most of them highly educated and qualified) may never return. All these people, are now, permanently, left behind.
Greeks are very difficult to manage. We do not have an acceptable way of reconciling our differences, or appreciating different points of view and finding the common ground on which to base our future path. We may unite in the face of a "foreign enemy", only to start killing each other again when the "foreign threat" subsides. We thrive on passion, heated exchanges of arguments, loud noise, conflict. We take thing personally. We may get insulted very easily, and then forget about the whole "insult" in a few hours. We find it hard to persevere and retain a difficult course for a long time. Politicians feed the "discord monster" all the time, seeking their own agenda of political survival. We are a nation divided, and this has NOT helped up reach a common consensus on how to attain financial recovery in an effective and orderly manner, as the abovementioned countries did.
In the private sector of the economy, domestic demand for goods and services has hit rock-bottom. People have been drastically cutting down on expenses, even in basic goods like milk, food, or bread. You may see a lot of closed shops, or ones with NO customers inside with the sad shopkeeper hopelessly looking out of the glass window just in case a customer steps inside. People are NOT easily partying with their scarce money, they seek bargains, they leave bills unpaid, they pay in installments. Under these circumstances, entrepreneurs and businessmen cannot retain hope for "successfully launching their new and exciting product" since nobody will buy it. At the same time, crippling state taxation will rapidly bring them to their knees. All these, mean that people are not taking financial or business risks, which consequently has a detrimental effect on future financial recovery
On a personal level, people are utterly stressed, and interpersonal relationships are under huge burden. Families have broken up, young couples are not easy to get married or have kids, 35-year-olds are still living with their parents, pensioners are financially subsidizing their children or grand-children in order to help them maintain their businesses or a minimal standard of living. Deaths exceed births by almost 25.000 pa, which is a demographic bomb. People are short-tempered, they are eager to disagree in a forceful manner, there is little room for tolerance. Sights of beggars, or homeless, or unemployed people are not raising any sentiments of compassion, the way they used to. News about people's hardships are not making the headlines any more. There is a widespread feeling of neglect and "don't care". Our main aim is just to survive the day.
These are facts that, unless one is a born and raised greek who has been fighting hard in the midst of the Crisis in order to survive, may find difficult to spot and appreciate.
HOWEVER, THERE IS STILL HOPE. 18-year-olds are now turning towards practical professions. Gone is the ambition to "study anything, as long as it leads to a state-secured job". Tourism offers a glimpse of hope. Wasteful spending behavior is not fashionable any more. Businesses and professionals are digging deep, in order to identify their competitive advantages in the global market. Family ties were severed to a large extend, but are keeping up. Youngsters are still finding time to laugh, go out for a coffee with their friends, make love, dream...
Even in the midst of the deepest darkness, we are not finished yet..., Greeks will NEVER give up!