Greece. The cradle of European civilisation. Of democracy. Of mathematics and philosophy. Of poetry (think Homer, not Simpson!). The backdrop to the epic poem “Hyperion” by German national poet Friedrich Hoelderlin (and that’s only the first that springs to my mind, right now, oh how the classics, how Ancient Greece echoes throughout German literature and thinking). Oh Greece! I’ve never been there so far, but the fact that Greece is bankrupt really affects me, as it does all Europeans. Certainly, if you’ve got an academic background in the humanities as I do, it works and reverberates on this second level. How can a people that gave the world so much, that put their stamp on the BLUEPRINT of modern civilization, go down the drain like this? What’s going wrong there? I am confused. Europe is confused (hell, our continent is NAMED after that girl Zeus abducted on his back in the guise of a steer, and certainly SHE was confused when it happened).
Greece. Not Grease. The thing that set us apart from the Americans. History. It really makes me bitter. Because well, the Greek went down and it was only indirectly related to the global crisis that the banksters (and the greed of millions of “Mr. Man in the Streets” who always wanted more more more for their shares) caused.
Our family physician hails from Greece and some time ago, at a garden party, she told us a few things. How in Greece, it was normal that everyone got a thirteenth and fourteenth salary. How there were bonus payments not just around Christmas, but also due before Easter. How everyone had more holidays, how no-one really paid any taxes because corruption had crippled bureaucracy into in-effectiveness. You always made an insider deal, and when you should’ve payed, say, 500 Euros for tax (turnover, income, VAT in greater invest-questions, whatever), you arranged something with the official in charge of your case. You payed like, say, 200 under the table, and all was settled. And Greek financial authorities are said to be deliberately sluggish and ineffective. I’ve heard this kind of story from more then one person with a Greek background, and it was even covered on conservative German media like ARD (basically our CBC) and in Deutschlandfunk (Radio Germany) who are not known for sensationalism. So, to a degree, bribery killed the Greek cat.
No wonder their infrastructure is disintegrating, and students are rioting. In Greece, when you retired, your state
retirement plan GUARANTEED you that you would have more money than you earned during your last job. And as far as I know, retirement age was what, 60? Well, no wonder they could hardly invest into the younger generations. It simply couldn’t go on like that forever. Like this, the Greek just couldn’t compete on a global level. The sad thing is, though, that a lot of Germans now chide the Greek for trying to live the idea of a, well, let’s call it “laissez-faire welfare-utopia” that we forced ourselves to abandon around twenty years ago here in Germania (yes, I know Real Pete, it’s Germany, not Germania, I live here – let’s just do this for John, right?). A lot of people dream of the seventies, when socialist and welfare-positions were strong in Germany, and when it could be financed because there were enough jobs for everyone, even people with little or no real qualifications. Maybe we’re a little jealous that at least still for a while, some of the Greek populace had it easier than we did?
I can understand that a lot of people are angry because we had to bail out Greece (well, we, read: the German government or the people who currently pose for being “a government” waited long enough for sure, which certainly made the Greek go mad, and rightly so). But what would the alternative have been? Of course, given the fact how prices have exploded and wages have dwindled in the last decade that doesn’t make the Euro the favourite child Germany had with its former currency, the Deutschmark. Most people hate the Euro now, only the filthily rich aren’t affected by the way you have to cut your costs. And even my Euro-enthusiasm has gone down the drain quite a bit.
But still, not bailing out Greece? As a consequence, the Euro would’ve failed. I’m not a financial expert, but I talked to some people working in banks, and most told me that nobody could have rebooted the system afterwards. Of course, we’ll get a bad inflation, but still, instant hyper-inflation? With riots as we could watch them in Greece all over Europe? It could have meant civil war-like conditions in a lot of European states, at least in the capitals and major cities. No, thanks. Bail ‘em out. It’s only money. And “Money is not our God”, as British alternative rock legends Killing Joke once sang (or at least it shouldn’t be). At least now I know where most of my taxes go. And Greece is just the scapegoat, the synonym. After all, the acronym PIGS tells you that in this context, we’re also talking Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. Don’t blame the people, blame the system. Both in those states and on the global level. Our governments could have pushed the reset-button in 2008, changing the rules of financial transactions once and for all. They didn’t.
But to get back (to) my taxes: The next time I eat at a Greek restaurant or Snack Bar (Germany’s littered with them), I’ll
just tell the waiter, on leaving: “Thanks for my meal. As you know, I’ve already paid for it with my last income-tax declaration…” I hope they’ll be able to take that Joke. I like the Greek. They’re quite laid back and rock’n’roll (at least the ones I met so far). They’ll have to have a lot of guts to be able to face what’s coming their way. Maybe this is what we should consider more all over Europe. We’re not just in it for the money. We’re in this together now. Trying to beat the odds. Maybe we should look to Alexander the Great for a solution to this Gordian knot? His take in 333 BC was a subtle blend of violence and lateral thinking. Maybe we can do it without the violence part today. Untying the knot, yet keeping Europe together. I don’t know about you, but I’ll drink some Ouzo to that…
Laugh at your own peril – “Money is not our God” by Killing Joke: