I’m currently living in Athens – the epicentre of a country that has just defaulted; and the eye of potentially the greatest financial shit storm ever to hit Europe.
No doubt in the good old (ancient) days, the Greeks would have given the rest of Europe the big, hairy middle finger and sacrificed its people to the gods for even daring to ask for their money back. But this ain’t the good old days. The world works on credit, not gold coins; and Greek coffers are dry.
The complexities of international finance are pretty much wasted on me but this is how I understand it:
Think of Greece as the favourite daughter of Europe – a little spoilt, with a tendency to throw tantrums, but still the favourite.
Now imagine Europe gave Greece a massive, country-sized credit card. On it, is a design illustrating white island villas, sparkling blue waters, olive groves, quaint little sailboats, impossibly tasty pita-things (gyros); and street dogs that shit everywhere and cross the road like people do (they have those).
Like any spoilt daughter, Greece abused the credit card.
“But Daddy, I saw the cutest pair of tax cuts and I just have to have them!”
“Ooh, look! The latest pension funds! My Balkan friends will be suuuper jealous. Totes getting them!”
And like any soft-hearted Father, Europe kept giving in.
“OK, you can use the card again. But one day you’re going to have to pay me back, young lady!” [Chortles nervously].
This cycle has repeated itself for years, each time Daddy-Europe’s patience running a little thinner. And when I say Daddy-Europe, I really mean Germany’s gender-ambiguous Chancellor, Angela Merkel.
But back to the metaphor.
Finally we’re at a stage where Greece’s credit card bill has begun to outweigh its charms. Daddy Europe is pissed. He’s got the scissors in one hand, the card in the other and he’s just asked Greece this:
Give me one good reason (or page-upon-page of protracted jargonated reasoning, whatever) why I shouldn’t cut your credit card in to a million tiny pieces and put you up for adoption!
Greece is feeling hard done by. After all, sisters Spain, Portugal and very-distant-cousin Ireland were also a bit naughty with their credit cards and no one is being meanies to them. But were those countries more fortunate/favoured or have they simply dealt with things better since 2008?
Greece is the first developed country to default its debt to the International Monetary Fund. It’s hard to see that as coincidence.
Perhaps there is some conspiracy against them; maybe Greece was never Daddy’s favourite and they really are being blackmailed in to accepting harsh austerity measures.
Or maybe, they just fucked up.
I’ve heard an argument that it’s not the Greece of today that is to blame but the previous government(s) that were defiant and reckless in terms of spending. Those who didn’t want the previous party in power are now lumbered with the consequences of actions they never agreed with. That very well may be. But – for lack of a better phrase – too bad, so sad.
That’s democracy. Deal with it. And if you can’t deal with democracy, don’t blame Europe. Blame the guys who invented it.
‘This is so awks.’
Speaking of democracy, today Greek citizens are voting “Yes” or “No” on whether to accept the latest and harshest austerity measures their creditors would have them meet. But those are simple answers to a complex question. I’ve heard many different opinions on the consequences of “yes” or “no” – all of them fascinating but none of them concrete. And because no one quite knows for sure what they’re voting for, it seems to have become more a vote of principle, a vote of emotion, than anything else.
A lot of the No (Oxi) campaigners are of the view that they are royally fucked if they accept the austerity measures anyway, so they might as well tell Angela that that the proposed terms are bullshit. If they have to leave the Euro, so be it.
I liken that view to jumping off a ship full of wolves and taking your chances in shark-infested waters.
A lot of the Yes (Nai) campaigners are saying that it is far safer to stay under the protection of Daddy Europe, even if he’s being less sympathetic than usual. Also, staying in the European Union Easy-Travel Club is awesome and it would suck not to be a member.
I liken that viewpoint to staying on the ship and placating the wolves by feeding them bits of yourself over time until you figure out a better plan.
Either way the vote goes, my feeling is there are going to be a lot of unhappy Greeks, which is a shame. What I’ve seen of the country so far has been fantastic and at times, breath-taking. The history and culture here is inconceivably rich, even if the country is broke. For that reason alone, I hope people make the right decision (whatever that may be).
But in all honesty, my biggest concern is whether the Euros I’ve earned, which are now completely frozen (I still haven’t got a debit card or an online banking pin), will come back to me as drachmas.
It’s a brilliant place but I didn’t come to Greece for drachmas.
P.S – If you’re Greek and this post pissed you off, cut me some slack. After all, I’m just a guy from South Africa – what could I know about economic unrest?