Friday, June 15, 2012

Political sports in Greece

During my initial visits to Greece I was always impressed with the level of political activism. Everyone had an opinion and almost everyone supported a political party. Come election time the streets would be filled with people waving flags enthusiastically, topics would be debated and insults would fly. People sitting in the cafés would count the political points that their team made during some panel discussion. And they would debate the pros and cons of the political parties with the same enthusiasm as they would discuss the starting line-up of their favourite football team. As if politics was a sport.

And that is what it is in Greece - a sport.

In Australia the weekend would be devoted to actual sports. The TV stations would vie with each other to show different events. Switch to any channel and you could watch the tennis, Aussie rules football, golf,  swimming or even lawn bowls. Now with the run-up to the Olympics I am sure its all Olympic fever, with different channels devoted to broadcasting different events to provide 100% - 24 hour coverage.

Here in Greece, aside from the Olympic torch ceremony, the Olympics is forgotten. At the moment of course yes people here are watching the EURO championship. But its only since Greece won in 2004 that Greeks paid the same interest in their national team that they would to their local soccer teams like Olympiakos or AEK.

The major sport however has always been politics. The weekend has even more talk shows with politicians talking from the morning - straight through to midnight. Want to watch a sporting event? Switch over to France's TV5 and watch their rugby, otherwise forget it.

The only sport to watch is politics. The problem with treating politics like a sport is that political discussion is reduced to political point scoring. Instead of discussing 'what' makes a good political leader it's reduced to numbers from polls, who scored the most in a poll of who is the better leader.

To get the most points is simple - Say whatever you want to get the points. The criminal action is that no one, especially Greek journalists ever challenges them on how they will implement their promises, do any fact checks or follow up on past promises. One TV station SKAI is pretending to evolve, they asked SYRIZA how they would pay to implement their promises such as hiring 150,000 new public servants, the response was - "We're not saying because other parties will steal our ideas." How very mature. I say pretending to evolve because just asking the question is not enough, a real journalist has to follow up. So when they ask the same question to New Democracy and they respond "we will implement wide ranging measures", a journalist has to follow up and ask "What specific measures" and "How much much from each measure - and who has costed it" etc... and then fact-check it from an independent source.

Of course this is all new to Greek journalists. One of the measures implemented as a result of the much hated Memorandum - Which all parties blame as the source of all Greece's ills and present situation - is that Greece actually produce a central budget, with forecasts and reviews. Instead of having each Ministry handle its own money and spend it on where it wanted without any oversight, and just simply spend. So i will forgive them not knowing.

As a result of this realisation the façade of "political awareness" has worn off, and not just for me, but for many people. Even though voting is mandatory, in the last election around 30% of eligible voters did not turn up to vote. But for many who used to believe in the façade it has turned to disgust with the politicians and their parties. Quite a few politicians have switched sides, PASOK politicians are jumping ship like rats of a sinking boat and are trying to get on-board the far left party SYRIZA. They of course claim that they are doing so out of personal conscience. But if that was the case - they would stay in their party and change it from the inside, not leave because they fear losing their seat. And the same could be said of the other politicians leaving parties like LAOS to go to ND.

And just like in sports, these are treated like sports player transfers. The "numbers" that could be gained as a result of this star transfer.

Talk of ideology or even a plan for Greece - forget it.

This is why i see no ray of hope in these up-coming elections. There is no in depth discussion of what really needs to be done. No balancing of the pros and cons. Instead its all talk of appeasement.

SYRIZA talks big and makes promises - but at the moment the leadership is shitting themselves. They might actually win and that's something that they don't want. Because they know that there is no way that they can actually deliver on anything that they promised. Which is why in the dying days they are fuelling fears saying that "We are no euro fetishists" hoping to scare some voters away from them. In opposition and in control of the Unions they know that they can wield much more power without any responsibility.

New Democracy on the other hand. Wants to show itself to be responsible, and that it will take leadership which its base demands it take. But you can see it in their eyes... If we win, lets just delay things and hopefully something will happen, like winning the Spanish lottery and we won't have to make any decisions, after all that is what PASOK did and look at where they are now.... oh shit!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Man shoots himself in the head in public square: Athens, Greece

Greece is in a state of shock this morning when it heard the news that an elderly man walked into Athens' Syntagma square - the heart of Athens, sat down on a park bench and calmly drew a gun shooting himself in the head.

Syntagma square situated in front of Parliament House has also been the site of all the protests against the IMF and the Memorandum of Understanding that many see as the source of Greece's current problems. All this a mere hundered meters from the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Development, Competitiveness & Shipping. I can't help but remember that the employees of the Finance Ministry recently rejected the latest PSI agreement which the government insisted would help Greece (only because they couldn't be bothered to do something earlier) so that they can save their extraordinary exhorbitant pension scheme (which is guaranteed by the government anyway) - while low income (read non public sector) pensioners were the first to have their pensions slashed.

Stepping back from the tragedy i cannot say that i am shocked. Living in Athens for as long as i have and having seen what i have seen - this was to be expected. In fact Greece is lucky that it hasn't happened sooner.
At a recent Health Conference organised by Boussias, health care providers from all around Europe gave solutions to Greece's problems in healthcare as well as sounding a warning for potential problems that arise from a crisis. Worldwide, whenever their is a recession suicides have increased. Except in Greece (based on stats up till 2011). Suicides have remained fairly stable and have not shot up as they have done in other countries. Where Greece is similar is less traffic related deaths as the price of petrol increases (close to 2 euros now) and increases to the price of alcohol.

This tragic incident may be the warning bell that the crisis is only really now starting to hit Greeks. Up until now the family safety nets have saved many Greeks hitting rock bottom, but now their savings are nearly empty. Revised tax laws are taxing unemployed families, with no source of income, merely because they are able to pay the rent. Many unemployed are divulging themselves of their cars to save themselves being taxed an assumed income based on the worth of the car. (Your car is a 1.6 litre and valued at 6000 euros therefore to maintain that car you have a valued worth of x amount - pay more tax in addition to road tax, license fees and insurance. But lets face it for every job that requires a car there are 800 people applying for it, better to give up and save the money for food.) So many are also choosing to live on the streets to avoid more tax.
What was also revealed at the conference was a rise in HIV rates amongst drug users. Health care volunteers who go out on the streets told me that many have purposely shared needles with a known carrier so that they could receive disability pension and receive healthcare. However in 2010 there were reports that as a result of lack of beds for HIV carriers, hospitals would re-categorise them to deny them care.

With politicians refusing to act and intent on looking to the past to lay the blame on someone, the situation in Greece will get worse. This suicide, in so public and so meaningful a place can be interpreted as a message to these politicians to wake up.

While politicians bicker - people and the very country is dying.

This article also appears here

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Greece Should default on its debt and leave the Euro" - Debate

Nouriel Roubini has arrived in Greece to take part in a debate tonight where the question will be asked "Greece Should default on its debt and leave the Euro".

This statement has been on the lips of many economists and politicians since the beginning of the crisis. It has brought together Euroskeptics and Euro-Unionists. That Greece must leave to save the Euro and that Greece must leave to end the Euro experiment. Its enough to throw ones hands up into the air, sigh and go out for a drink - if only they hadn't raised VAT so high denying us of this small pleasure.

Debating for the affirmative will be well known economic celebrity Nouriel Roubini and Costas Lapavitsas.

Debating for the negative will be Denis Mac Shane and local economics truth teller, Miranda Xafa.

The debate moderator will be Zeinab Badawi of the BBC.

Though a Marxist-Leninist, by all accounts Costas Lapavitsas is someone that you can talk to and is open to dialogue so he should be interesting to listen to. Of course the communist party here in Greece is all for Greece leaving the Euro and that Greece should default, and withdraw from the capitalist system and has praised the North Korean utopia.

Miranda Xafa worked in the IMF during its most turbulent times from 1980 to 1990 and again in 2004 to 2009. She is well known for her blunt talk and saying the truth. In February 2011 she caused an uproar when she stated that "In order to get the country out of the Memorandum, the government and opposition should leave the doubletalk and come to a national agreement to end the crisis." Months later....

So the debate should be interesting to follow. If you won't be able to make it, Business File will be there and hope to report back on the events.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Greece horoscope in the Year of the Dragon

2012 heralds the Year of the Dragon in Chinese astrology, the most auspicious of all animals, making this a year of momentous occurrences and good fortune, (except for those born in the year of the Dragon who will see a tough year ahead). This however does not necessarily equal good financial fortune, that is more commonly associated with the year of the Pig which passed us by in 2007, and we all remember what followed in 2008.

So what does 2012 hold for Greece, where the markets are looking positively bearish - if we are to continue with the animal analogies. Well, according to Chinese astrologers, Greece certainly has a lot more hardship and tough decisions ahead of it. According to one Feng Shui practitioner, Greece as well as its southern neighbours such as Italy and Turkey will see an initial slump in its markets in the first half of the year, only to see these slumps become even stronger as the year wears on. Analysts are already projecting that eurozone economies will see negative growth this year with the region contracting by about 0.7 per cent. And while many local pundits are publicising the on-going saga that are the PSI+ negotiations as a cure all to Greece's sovereign debt problem, we know that this is far from the truth. Indeed just recently Angel Gurria, head of the OECD, has stated that, “After we have overcome this debt hurdle there will come the more difficult question of having sustainable, sustained, growth over the medium and the long term and that requires a very serious structural transformation of the Greek economy, of the Greek administration.” She also went on to add that Greece could do a lot more with regard to privatisations and structural changes and that tax collection needed urgent reform.

The same negative outlook in the Year of the Dragon cannot be said for the rest of Europe however. Germany, England, and France are singled out and slated for a better performance, even their banking and insurance sector will amazingly see itself stabilise, while real estate in England will once again boom. If last year's reports are to be believed, that Greek money was fleeing the country and being invested in London's west end, there could be some nugget of truth in this little prediction.

Overall however astrologers remain optimistic on the fate of the Euro with predictions concurring that the Euro will remain intact, weaker against the Pound and the US Dollar, but intact nonetheless.

2012 is also the year for innovation and innovative businesses ideas, according to another astrologer "We will see many new technology trends and more people will become comfortable using technology in their lifestyles." If this is true, this is good news for Greece's innovators and a good time as any to implement the innovative changes that are so desperately needed in Greece's public sector to achieve reform and transparency. Innovation can also serve to help boost Greece's private sector and improve its global competitiveness as it searches for new markets abroad.

This year will also the year for love and passion and will be full of romance and justice. Justice in that lies will be revealed, so unfaithful lovers take note. Is this perhaps a call for Greece to be more faithful to its promises that it made to its European partners? For the most part it has been revealed that many reforms promised have not been carried out. And if Greece is to remain a trusted partner, and to finally take its future in its hands these reforms must be carried out. There is no denying that it will be a tough road ahead to achieving debt sustainability by 2020, but if there is a will there is a way.

And what astrological sign will it be then I hear you ask, why 2019 till January 2020 will be the year of the Pig and good financial fortune.

Happy Lunar New Year!