Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Sunday in Greece

The day started with bad news all over the internet. The coming week was going to be the week that mattered; the end was near.

Then we drove from Thessaloniki to Makrygialos where a cousin of my wife's has a small farm. Nearby, his friend and interior designer has a palace. My wife's cousin is approaching the mid-fifties; he has been in retirement since his mid-fourties. Coming from a poor village background, he had started his own textile manufacturing company where, he says, he worked like a horse for over 20 years. He sold his business, invested in real estate and now lives off rent. And not bad.

The small farm is in a location which could just as well be the Toscana. Absolutely charming with a view towards the sea and Mount Olympus. Other friends gathered. Three retired men and a lady who owns a pharmacy. None of them have anything to worry about.

Before lunch, we drove over to Katerini to visit the new Mikel coffee shop. It is the newest unit in the Mikel franchise chain and the cousin's friend had done the interior designing. Everything absolutely first class! (including the coffee!). And prices not even unreasonable. I heard that daily sales were over 3.000 Euros which comes out to about 100.000 Euros per month. Wait, 100.000 Euros per month? Who has all that purchasing power?

For lunch, we drove to a fish restaurant by the beach. The interior designer was, of course, well known there. The restaurant was full. Food and drinks were served in typical Greek quantities (and quality!). The bill was 25 Euros per person.

On the way back to Thessaloniki we passed a delivery truck carrying about 10 new Mercedes cars. And on the ring road around Thessaloniki a brand-new Porsche honked nervously because I had slowed down his speed. So I moved my Hyundai i10 over and let him pass.

All in all, a very nice day. Economic crisis? What crisis? Oh, that crisis!


  1. The above (truly) depicts a 5-10% of Greece's reality right now. But if someone shows you a forest and you look at the tree.. The reality is not that pretty. As we speak cancer patients are not supplied with their medication, millions of people (including my family) live off their ending deposits since they are either unemployed or they work but don't get paid. Personally my boss owes me almost 20k Euros. Many people simply cannot feed themselves. If you hang out with rich people for sure they live in palaces and don't give a damn but that represents nothing.. and is worthless of speaking of it and naming it reality. Anyway.. Tired of all this dirt thrown at my people 2 for years now.. I am 30y old and i have no future, I never voted for them, I worked 48h/week (lazy Greek) for nothing till I was made part time and will probably get fired near future. Finally i don't understand what's your point? That there are rich Greeks and you know some? So?

    1. If I hurt your feelings, I apologize. But since you ask what my point was, let me clarify.

      Everyone knows that, historically, Greece has had a small oligarchy of extremely wealthy families. What is not so well known is that, since the EU-grants and particularly since the cheap Euro-loans, a fairly large segment of society has become not extremely wealthy but quite rich by normal standards.

      Personally, I would doubt that the majority of that wealth has come from salaries or pensions. Nor am I sure that it came from “hard work & clean living”.

      Not all Greek society had a ball while seemingly all Greek society had a ball and those who had less of a ball then (or none at all) have now been asked to participate unduly and unfairly in the repair cost of damage with which they had little or nothing to do!!! Yes, today misery is over segments of Greek society and financial stress and emotional strain over a large part thereof. BUT: there is, in my judgment (and I spend close to half a year in Greece), quite a large part of society which even today is having a very, very good life. And I am not thinking of the ultra-rich Greek families. I am thinking of the “smart and clever ones”.

      The Gran Masoutis nearby is packed with shoppers (and prices are no less than 3-4 years ago if not higher, and many are higher than in Austria). Whenever I stop by IKEA, I hardly need to move on my own. People traffic carries me with it. On weekends, the parking lot of Cosmos Mediterranean (the largest I have ever seen) is full and the place is packed with families paying the same prices for fast food as in Munich. As the weather gets better, the weekend convoy from Thessaloniki to Chalkidiki is getting under way again (I just returned in bumper-to-bumper traffic). I could go on.

      And then I read that a young couple living on a teacher’s salary has to get by with 588 Euro net every month! Nice guys finish last? Well, there are a lot of nice guys in Greece but there are also a lot of fast movers who are not paying their traffic tolls. In my judgment, one part of Greek society has taken the other part for an unbelievable ride since the EU and particularly since the Euro.

      Now let me point to another category which you might want to get angry with – Greek leadership. Who can/should fix all of this unfairness in Greek society? The Troika? The EU? George Soros maybe? Only Greeks themselves can fix domestic issues within their own jurisdiction and exactly this is what Greek brainpower should be concentrating on. Greece must take on its own problems and suggest ways how they could be solved! If it needs help from others for that, it will get it. What others don’t like is if they get the feeling that they offer help to someone who does not want to help himself.

      I could give you an endless list of issues which Greece could/should tackle on its own. My blog is full of them. Just take the decline in the Euro as one example. Here the Euro (including the Greek Euro) has declined versus the USD by about 25% in a reasonably short period of time. Presumably also versus other currencies. Now if that is not a window of opportunity for increasing exports to non-Euro countries then I don’t know what a window of opportunity is. I am not even sure if Greece’s policy makers have noticed that exports have increased but they certainly have not done anything to “make a killing” out of such a window of opportunity. Attracting tourists from non-Euro countries might have been a smart idea at a time where Eurozone tourism is tanking. Etc., etc.

      I can see why you feel that you have no future perspective in Greece. There are few things worse for a society than a young generation not seeing future perspectives. But, please believe me, there is no one sitting in foreign countries, perhaps in Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt or Berlin, who decided to deprive the young generation of Greeks of their perspective. The enemy is elsewhere…

  2. Concerning rich people in Greece: Being Austrian you will be able to read this piece of news on the website of the first channel of public television in Germany. (It is in German, of course. I could not find an English version.):

    Of the 18 billion euros which the EU gives to Greek banks, 4,2 billion euros, that is nearly a quarter, go to a Greek billionaire, Mr. Spiros Latsis, owner of Eurobank. I really ask myself whether the EU spends all that money in a reasonable way.

    1. No, the money is NOT being spent in a reasonable way! My point from the beginning has been that the EU spends its money (i. e. tax payers' money) in a completely irresponsible way. Whichever analysis you read, about 70% (or more) of all the tax payers' money which has been sent to Greece so far turned around right away and landed on the books of private creditors. To use tax payers' money to rescue Greek banks without getting a fair share of ownership (something like 90%+, because without tax payers' money they would be broke) is simply naive (or corrupt?). Courageous leadership would say to a family like Latsis "ask not what Greece can do for you, ask what you can do for Greece!" You might want to add to this that about 135 BEUR have been sent to Greece as EU-grants since Greece joined the EU and I would be curious to know where most of that money has landed. Etc. Etc. And then compare that to the fact that more than half of Greece's work force is taxed at the source (salaries & pensions) and had to carry the brunt of all austerity measures so far. And consider that a million or more are out of a job and --- then you really wonder where fairness and justice are in Greek society!

    2. Indeed, I would also like to know where all those 135 billion euros of EU grants have ended up!

      So far I had assumed that the EU institutions had at least honest intentions. But when I read that Mr Barroso has been seen several times on Mr Latsis' yought, I start to wonder!

    3. Perhaps this is of interest to you.

  3. No, you did not hurt my feelings and thank you for the answer..

    There are very specific issues that need to be addressed in Greece in my opinion.

    The Greek state never did the job it's supposed to:
    (1)It was always incompetent of raising taxes properly and fairly.
    (2)It was always incompetent of controlling the supplies contests ranging from i.e.
    hospital material (Greek hospitals bought daily use stuff such as band aids and syringes
    in a price 10 or 20 times higher than me if I bought them in a drug store, huge losses),
    (3) Olympic games security systems costs
    (highly overpaid and malfunctioning but did get accepted and paid for by the state),
    (4) Army equipment
    (the famous German submarines which are not horizontal but tilt on oneside but did get
    accepted and paid for by the state and who knows how many more),
    (5) SIEMENS scandals (siemens has essentially won almost every contest for supplying
    electrical and electronic equipment to the Greek state for years and this was done by
    bribing e.t.c. after some of the scandals were brought to surface it was calculated that the losses were

    above 2 billion Euros for the Greek state)
    SIEMENS is just an example since there are more and more of these multinationals I am sure!
    (6) It was always incompetent of making legitimate staff hires
    (7) It was always incompetent of making the public employees to work efficiently because
    the bureaucracy is so large that you cannot control it, it controls you.
    (8) It did n't even know how many public employees it had till recently
    and more and more...

    The fact is that most Greeks knew, or to put it better assumed all of the above for years.
    But it was considered de facto by everyone, everybody was adjusted to the
    fact of the States incompetence and nobody believed that all this could or would be changed.

    The other VERY important fact is that no politician EVER said to the people that
    the economy is in such a bad shape, no citizen expected what happened.
    The wages were getting raised, the interest rates were falling, unemployment was
    relatively OK and Greek society was feeling safe.
    Nobody could BEFOREbeforehande all of the above with what would come next.

  4. I cannot leave out of this the BLAME on the Greek people for voting, thinking,
    acting in such ways and this is what we eventually will pay.. and our children also..

    Then the bubble was revealed...

    There came the EU, IMF etc to save us..
    (or maybe to save their banks????? Would they give a damn otherwise?? NO!!
    So NOBODY came to SAVE us, NOBODY GAVE us money, their banks made bad investments and in
    the fear of paying for the bad investments in case of a Greek default they came).

    They designed a big plan for us to implement, they LEND us money (that all was
    returned to them since it's to them we owe the most, so they lend us to pay them back again)
    and all was going to be OK... or not?

    The problem is that they did not take into account the incompetence of the Greek state
    to implement so many reforms in so little time. (It's like asking a man that
    has never even walked to stand up and run)

    So the Greek state needed to fulfill IMF targets and took the easy way of cutting salaries,
    cutting pensions, cutting public welfare, cutting whatever it could.. and raising taxes...

    Cutting and raising led to suffocation of the Greek economy because since no one has
    money to spend, the economy stops working, shops are closing, people are getting fired,
    unemployment skyrockets and IMF targets are lost.

    When IMF targets are lost then the IMF comes again and demands MORE CUTS so that targets are met.
    And there an endless circle begins which impoverishes people and gives them
    NOTHING TO EXPECT TO (it is of utter importance since you cannot implement such
    hard policies on people if they can't hope to something for the future).

    I will just say something about stereotypes..
    Just as all Germans are NOT Nazis,
    all Greeks are NOT lazy, scums, imature and i don't know what else..
    These types of comments reveal racism and contribute nothing..
    Also scapegoating is not advised since it is now revealed to all that this problem
    has it's roots in the structuring of Europe itself and no single states can be solely blamed.

    Finally I can say to you something personal.
    Me and my wife work in the private sector.
    My family's income has been cut MORE than 50%. (and we had LOW salaries)
    On top of that my boss owes me more than ONE YEARS SALARIES. (I can't quit cause there are no new jobs)
    My deposits in the bank are running out.
    Both me and my wife have university degrees and are attending MSc courses and work simultaneously.
    I don't have time to pee during my day and I will not tolerate ANYONE saying I am lazy!
    I never voted for them.
    I never bribed anyone.
    My generation will probably be a 'lost generation' since there is nothing we can do here now.

    There is much more to say about this but it kindoff loses it's meaning after a while..

    The outcome of all this will be very bad for the Greeks and I hope...
    I don;t know what I hope exactly though...

  5. Dear Klaus, instead of going to trips with wealthy people why dont you go tonight to visit a public hospital? tell them you have a chest pain or something. There you will see the reality of what is really going on in Greek society. My mother is a cancer patient , for 6 months we go in and out in hospitals, nobody cares, nobody helps, we have been totally depressed with the system. I cant even describe or explain what we have been through. The last week we ended up in private hospital. I am unemployed, with one kid and I am living with my parents who get a TOTAL pention 1090 euros a month. Still we went to private hospital and I have no idea what we will do. Somehow, u dont seem to mind how wealthy German or Austrian people live, you are glad the german health system is working well, you seem to think normal most Germans to have expensive cars and phones, but somehow when you see greek people going to chalkidiki for a swim it really annoys you. Why do you think Germans should have the right to enjoy life and Greek people should not??

    1. Dear Sophie, I am afraid you are reading something into my post which I am not saying. Or am I saying somewhere that Greeks should not have the right to enjoy life?

      My point is about fairness in a society, be that German, Austrian or Greek society. When such a large part of Greek society is going through enormous financial and emotional stresses, I simply find it unfair when another not-so-small part of society continues to have a ball. Over one-half of Greek income earners are taxed at the source (salaries & pensions), i. e. they cannot cheat taxes. Because it was the easier way, the government chose to punish those who were tax-honest so far by burdening them with even more taxes and fees. Against this background I find it extremely unfair that a not-so-small part of Greek society which is very, very wealthy by German/Austrian standards would not be forced to contribute their fair share.

      Mind you, the issue is really not that those who already pay taxes should pay even more. The head of the Greek tax authority, Nikos Lekkas, just gave an interview where he said “if we could only raise half the taxes which are being evaded, our problems would be solved”.

      Any social entity, be it a family, a company or a country, where the principles of fairness and solidarity are brutally violated on a sustained basis will sooner or later fall apart. At least in my opinion. Sometimes I am surprised that there has not yet been more social tension between the different strata of Greek society.

    2. Just saw this article.

      I wasn't even talking about the super-rich. That is an entirely different league. I was just talking about those very clever ones who are still enjoying very nice life styles without contributing to society as a whole. Those are the ones you should get angry with and not those who point that out to you.

  6. I am not angry with anyone...especially not with u :). But in your article above you don't point out the fact that some wealthy people indeed don't contribute to the society( how do u know what anyway?) , but instead you describe a "typical day" in Greece,thats my impression. Personally i doubt that the super rich people are many, I think they are very few and they are not the main reason Greece got destroyed. There is a combination of problems and mistakes that brought us into this situation.
    Finally I am unemployed and feel the crisis, I have 1000 problems and worries, however I may go for a coffee today or even go down to the beach with my kid, why somehow i feel this is really annoying for the rest of europe? My generation (late 20s early 30s) we are not different from the rest of europeans, we had good education, we pay our taxes , we go to work.. however most of us weren't prepared to deal or face the sequences of the previous politics (politics and ways that many of us weren't even aware of!!)