Monday, 6 July 2015

Gatherings (Συγκεντρώσεις)

One of the topics that came up in my interview on Radio New Zealand about the Greek referendum was Greek demonstrations. I immediately pointed out to the interviewer Wallace Chapman that Greeks are no longer 'demonstrating' or 'protesting'. They are now congregating in focal locations of their towns and cities in the form of 'gatherings'. These gatherings are not violent, and the special forces only returned back tot he streets once

Start listening at point 5.30 to hear about the gatherings

I personally don't go to any of these gatherings myself, but that does not mean that I am inactive, it does not mean that I am not taking a stance. We need to think about what kind of people go to these gatherings in order to understand my absence from them.

During the one week that we had to think about how we will vote in the referendum, I happened to pass by a NO gathering taking place in the town. My daughter was playing basketball in the town's stadium and the times coincided with the gathering.

Hania is pretty much an OXI/NO town. This doesnt mean that I know the outcome of the plebiscite (which we do not know...
Posted by Maria Verivaki on Wednesday, 1 July 2015

I took photos (something I always do anyway), and I didn't think too much about the whole thing, as I had made my decisions about which way I would vote anyway. I also took a video (something I don't usually do), just so I could post it on facebook, to give people outside Greece a feel for what was happening. More importantly, I took the video so people could see that a gathering is not a violent outburst.

here's a glimpse of what the OXI/NO camp looked like in the town - music of a political nature is always boomed across the town in such cases
Posted by Maria Verivaki on Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Two days later, I got an email from a YES supporter urging people to turn up to a YES gathering. I decided that it was very important for me to get myself down there, in the same casual way that I had gone to the previous gathering, so that I could see what was happening, and to understand what the differences were between the two gatherings.

I had a quick look-see this evening of a NAI/YES rally. A lot fo people say that the YES folks are richer. Perhaps they...
Posted by Maria Verivaki on Friday, 3 July 2015

These two gatherings took place at the same location, and they started at the same time. I managed to get to the YES gathering an hour after it started, whereas I was at the NO gathering at the time that it started. I leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions about the differences in the appearance of the  participants of each gathering.

Now why don't I go to these gatherings? I do not live far from the town, so in theory I can attend them easily. They are peaceful, so there is no fear whatsoever of violence. Greeks are talking in these gatherings, not throwing stones. (In fact, they remind me of what is often mentioned in analyses of Ancient Greece, that people would gather at the main square of their town and debate for hours. I try not to think about this too much because I fear that I may fall into the trap of bragging about my glorious heritage and its continuity in modern life.)

I am a rural resident. Gatherings do NOT take place in a village square. Gatherings take place in a prominent position of ... an URBAN centre. For a gathering to have momentum, it needs to be well attended. Villages are small, towns are big, and cities even bigger.

Hania had the biggest
NO count in any Greek
What does a middle-aged woman living in a Cretan village do in her daily life? Whether she is in paid employment (like myself) or not makes no difference to one of her main priorities: cooking. If you live in a Cretan village, not only will you cook a lot, but you will also do a lot of food processing, because in all likelihood, you will have access to a very productive garden. You will get your hands dirty, your body sweaty, your clothes smelly, and to a certain extent, your kitchen will also suffer from the detritus of garden soil. Once you've finished (a misnomer, as the Greek saying suggests: οι δουλειές δεν τελειώνουν - jobs never finish), you need to clean up both yourself and your kitchen. And once you've done that, you need to relax: a woman in particular must find a way to do this because she is the one who maintains some sense of calm and saneness in her house. The man of the house, while appearing calm and sane, boils more easily.

By the end of all THAT, you can understand why I don't go to these gatherings. I can't stand around a square all afternoon, after I've been standing around in my kitchen all day. It makes more sense to me to hit the beach on a hot day rather than face a long evening spent on my feet again.

But that by no means is a sign of apathy. I went along and voted, and I made my voice count.
After voting, I drove away from the polling station (the local school), taking the only road out of the area, a circular...
Posted by Maria Verivaki on Sunday, 5 July 2015

And after the vote, I had the satisfaction of watching my vote count. Watch this 4-minute video of feisty Greekness at its best.

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Sunday, 5 July 2015

Radio New Zealand National interview

My interview on the Radio New Zealand National Programme went very well.
You can listen to it here:

"Being in touch with your land is a very important value,... we've got this continuation from older times, we have the know-how, we have the technique, we have the knowledge to be able to continue to survive without much money.

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Friday, 3 July 2015

In this eleventh hour

I may be speaking to Radio New Zealand National on Saturday night 11.40pm Greek time (Sunday morning 8.40am New Zealand time) about the political crisis Greek is facing with the announcement of the referendum, and how it is affecting people. 

Greece is continuing to make headline news at the moment because of the upcoming referendum taking place on Sunday. Greece is not blameless for her problems. But Greek people cannot forever be vindicated for the often secretive under-the-table agreements of corrupt politicians from all sides; this includes both Greek and European politicians. At the moment, a lot of the media portrayal of Greece outside the country is rather judgmental against Greece, making Greece sound like she created her own problems. This is true in part - even as a Greek, I cannot deny this - but there is also another side to the story: it seems that Greece's problems will soon become more global issues, and the whole world will then have to ask itself who created these problems. Greece is basically being told what to do by politicians of other countries, and people are being forced to look into their pockets for the answer to the upcoming referendum. No one really knows where this situation is going to take us; in Greece, we don't even know what tomorrow will bring. Things keep changing all the time. 

In fact, things are changing so fast that it's almost impossible to write a blog post about what is happening in Greece at the moment because by the time I have written and posted it, it will have been superseded by new news that may counter anything I wrote in the blog. We're living at the fastest pace that we have ever lived in Greece. While this is tiring for many of us, it will also stand us in good stead for the very difficult times ahead of us, which are coming right after the referendum results are announced. We will need that experience desperately as there will be no time to waste.

There is a lot of news flying about at the moment concerning the Greek crisis, but it is being disseminated in an overly subjective way. It pains me immensely to see this happening. Never before in my years in Greece have I seen such a well-organised attempt by one sector of society to sabotage another sector's views. But then again, there is a lot at stake. Realism has never been part of any previous election - this one is based on the reality of the day after, vs. the slight possibility that things could actually truly get better for once. It's the choice between the wrong yes and the right no, as described in a poem by Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933), a great Greek poet who lived both in Egypt and Greece:
Che gran rifiuto
For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,
he goes forward in honor and self-assurance.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he would still say no. Yet that no—the right no—
undermines him all his life. 
Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard
(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992) 

Greece has always been a highly divided country. But in the past, we had more options to choose from among the different political factions. Now with the referendum, we have only two choices: a NO/YES vote (in that order!), on an incomprehensible and invalid question (as the Council of Europe recently decided). 

"Should the proposal that was submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund at the Eurogroup of 25 June 2015, which consists of two parts that together constitute their comprehensive proposal, be accepted? The first document is titled 'Reforms for the completion of the Current Programme and beyond' and the second 'Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis'," the ballot reads on the left-hand side.

On the right are the two possible answers: "Not agreed/No" on top, and "Agreed/Yes" underneath.
The No is the answer Alexis Tsipras' government and Syriza party are campaigning for. "No, for democracy and dignity," reads the referendum poster issued by Syriza. But the question asked to Greek voters itself raises two questions. Firstly, what documents does it refer to? Secondly, how can voters take an informed decision on the content?
The two documents mentioned on the ballot are the agreement proposal put forward by Greece's creditors last week, and an analysis of Greek debt by the creditors’ institutions... The problem, however, is that these documents, even if considered still valid by the institutions, are not yet public, apart from the "List of prior actions" published by the commission, and therefore not available to the Greek voters who have to decide on them. Atop this, they were produced in English - the language used in the technical talks between Greece and its creditors. Even if they are made public they would remain unfathomable to a large part of the Greek electorate.

The global mass media shows many images from Greece as a way to portray what is happening to the country. In my opinion, I find that nearly all the photos shown in the media are accompanied by biased opinions. They often emphasise a situation to provide evidence of the view that is presented in the article. Even an article that extends compassion towards Greece shows biased photos. For example, when there is a lot of solidarity being expressed towards Greece, the article will be accompanied by the very wrinkled face of an elderly person, which is interpreted as a very poor/desperate person. When an article writes about the poverty levels of Greece, it may be accompanied by a photo of people gathered around a truck from which a person is throwing bags of food at them. The media portrays the human pain of the crisis in a distorted manner, leaving people misinformed about the real problems that Greek people are facing. Pictures tell a thousand words - but you have to see beyond the picture to understand a situation fully; you need to read between the images. 

The divisions of Greek people will now come to a head as society clashes, wearing either one or another banner. People have equated the referendum question with EU/€ membership: so if they vote NO to the referendum question, it means YES to EU/€ membership, but if they vote YES to the question, it means NO to EU/€ membership. It's a curly way of seeing the whole issue of what the EU/€ means to Greeks. I think these divisions stem back from the divides of our society. If people wanted to know what was really going on in Greek people's lives, they should consider the various divisions in society which will affect the way each one of us sees things. These divisions, in combination, hold the key to understanding how people will vote:
- do they live in an urban setting or a rural setting? (NO -YES)
- are they in paid employment, public sector, business owners or pensioners? (YES - NO - YES - YES)
- are they unemployed? (NO)
- do they live in a family home or a rented property? (YES - NO)
- are they in debt in some way or do they have savings? (NO - YES)
- are they young or old people? (NO - YES)

My answers aren't definitive: they are an indication of the people's personal interests. I imagine that if you asked people whether they prefer to listen to the radio rather than watch television, you'll probably get a NO voe out of them. What few people are willing to admit at this stage is that:
"There's no good choice, just a frying pan and a fire. On Sunday you'll get to choose exactly how you'd like to burn." 
Despite the immense divisions that seem apparent in Greek society, I firmly believe that people are actually searching to find the same kind of stability. They are simply trying to achieve the same goals in life in a different way. I recently came across a prominent Greek's reasons for voting YES:
1. I will vote yes because Greece is European
2. I will vote yes because Europe is Greek
3. I will vote yes because Greece needs to become a proud modern society, producing things and ideas valued by the world
4. I will vote yes because I am sick and tired of government inefficiency
5. I will vote yes because I loathe corruption and a system based on favours
6. I will vote yes because Greece needs to attract Greek treasure - money and talent - back to Greece
7. I will vote yes because Greece should not lose its brightest and smartest and most talented young people
8. I will vote yes because we need courageous, creative thinking inside Greece
9. I will vote yes because I prefer that we have a constructive rather than a destructive role in contributing to a better Europe
10. I will vote yes because children are afraid of the dark
I would say that I could vote NO for all these reasons too, except the first two - by voting NO, I believe that Greece will eventually become more European, and Europe will also become a bit more Greek. Greeks are very far behind Europe in understanding what it means to be European.

If someone were to ask me how the crisis has affected not just my life, but the life of the people I am surrounded by, I don't want them to ask me questions about how much food we have to eat or whether we have enough clothes to wear. These, in my opinion, are ridiculous questions. Even the poor will have food to eat in Greece: we are not a starving race. We don't have to spend so much on food for many reasons. Second hand clothes shops, while considered an oddity only five years ago, now abound in many Greek towns, even in my town which is considered a richer area than other places in Greece. As for work, some of us are in paid employment while others don't. But if you live in a rural region, work is not necessarily conceived in the same way as work in a city. Again, we are misleading people when we talk about work opportunities if we do not specify the environment that we live in. 

There are also some questions that deserve more merit than those being answered by the global media at the moment, which focus mainly on figures and numbers expressed in US currency. I would personally prefer to answer questions of this sort:
1. Greece did not make a scheduled payment to the IMF which caused the country to default. How have people reacted to this default? What does default mean to the Greek people? What were the immediate effects of the announcement of default on society?
2. The Greek banks have been closed in the past week. Has this situation affected you personally? How do people feel about the banks being closed? 
3. Hania is a summer tourist town. How has the referendum affected this? Have you been able to speak with tourists about what they think of the situation? 
4. Greek people seem to be equally divided about which way they will vote in the referendum. What is the greatest division in Greek society that will sway their vote? 
5. What help has been provided to people in these past few days to overcome potential difficulties? How have you been able to help others? 
6. What is the Greek media portrayal of the referendum? 
7. How have your children been affected by the change in the political situation? What kind of questions do they ask you? Are you able to provide suitable answers for them? How has the crisis affected you psychologically?
8. You have dual citizenship in Greece and New Zealand. While we are hearing of Greeks fleeing their country to escape the crisis, what has made you decide to stay in Greece at this time? Would you ever consider coming to live in New Zealand?  
9. Most analysts present a return to the drachma as the worst possible scenario, pointing out that the currency would have a worthless market value and people's euro-savings would be greatly eroded. What do you think may be a danger of staying in a euro world? 
10. If there was one thing that you could change in your life now, what would it be? 
11. How do you feel about Europe? What do the concepts of a European Union and the eurozone mean to you?
12. Your parents did not live to see the crisis. How do you think they would have voted if they were still alive?
13. Do you see a positive outcome to the crisis? What is your greatest fear? 

Greece is facing turbulent times, with only a glimmer of hope, no matter what the outcome of this war of economics will be. As I listen to Farewell, a composition by the late Greek musician Manos Hadjidakis from the soundtrack of America, America (1963), I hear the silences of uncertainty interrupted by the cacophony of sirens and twangs. Turbulence is broken by the peals of those glimmers of hope.  

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Monday, 29 June 2015

Travel advice for Greece

On opening my 'regular' news websites today, I cannot believe the CRAP I am coming across about Greece. This post is intended to inform travellers to Greece about what is happening right this minute as I write: this 'advice' comes from a real Greek who lives and work here, and not an automated western-world governmental response to an unknown situation.

In Hania, I saw three things over the last two days - a bank run on the ATMs (that;s now over becos capital controls have been put in place - 60 euro per card), a petrol run (people are topping up out of panic) and a supermarket run, because people are topping up on staples. By staples, I mean real food that you can cook with - flour, rice, beans, sugar, pasta: stuff like that, not junk and ready to eats. (Greeks still know how to cook real food. Not all people do).

I only use credit cards at the supermarket and when I buy petrol. I never ever use cash for these purposes. Today I went to two supermarkets: they both accepted my credit cards (a different one was used for each supermarket) without any problem. 

I only use two petrol stations in my town: the ECO on the road out of Hania going onto the motorway, and the big BP (Kapetanakis) in Souda, as you leave Souda to get onto the motorway. I never use any other places - I know that these two places reputable. (Because I always get the petrol I expect to get.) On Saturday night, I was able to top up the car at the ECO station with my credit card. But  I heard that Kapetanakis is not accepting a debit card. A debit card is seen as withdrawing money from the bank straight from the account, but if banks aren't open, they will not be able to process the transaction. A credit card is like making a purchase, which will be paid later. Interest will not be charged on overdue payments while the banks are closed, ie while you will not be able to make a payment; this applies to Greek bank holders, not foreign bank accounts. (i read this in a report this morning - i need to find the link and will post it here once i find it - some information can be found here in Greek: , and there is a bit about it in the Guardian live updates here ). 

Tourists with cards linked to foreign banks do not have capital controls forced on them while they are visiting the country. This advice comes from the news reports I am reading this morning: The capital controls on ATMs are only for Greek banks. 

I think that the problems for tourists are mainly in the places they choose to spend money on - small tavernas in small places may not do credit cards. I think this is their problem and not the tourists'. If in doubt, just ask, and if they say they don't accept credit cards, go elsewhere. Anyone who allows you to use a credit card is not ripping off the tax department (cash-only businesses are definitely not showing all their income).

I think that small out-of-town petrol stations are asking for cash only, so that they can force your cash out of you, so that they can hoard it. There is no other real explanation not to accept a credit card. You really need to look for places that will always allow you to use a credit card - they are most likely to be found in the urban areas rather than the rural areas. Reputable businesses do not hoard cash.

When I travel out of Greece, I always use my credit cards to make transactions. I do not actually use much cash at all. This is very unlike most of my compatriots who are cash hoarders. I don't like carrying a heap of cash on me. If you feel comfortable with that, then do it. I wouldn't. If you absolutely need to pay in cash, then have some cash on you. But that's the difference between a reputable business and a fly-by-nighter. I rarely need to pay by cash, but then again, I rarely go out for a meal. 

By the way, public transport is free up until the day after the referendum (ie July 6). See

On the issue of Grexit: Greece will never ever ask to leave the euro (€) or the EU. I can guarantee that. The only way for Greece to not be part of the euro (€) or the EU is for someone to deny her access to it. In other words, someone else will make her leave. If you ask Greece to leave, she won't. You will have to force her out. (So what Cameron is saying here is effectively BS.) If you wake up to hear that Greece is out of the euro (€) or the EU, then you can guarantee that someone threw her out - she didn't leave of her own accord.

On the day of the referendum (July 5), there will be no hint of panic or chaos. I can guarantee that. Most people will go about their normal Sunday duties (sleep in, have lunch with family/friends, go to the beach if they live on the coast). There will be a hieghtened sense of security, so don't be surprised to see more police in the area - see This is to be expected.

I can guarantee that if you are planning to come to Greece soon on holiday, you will probably have a really good time. As a Greek, I wouldn't travel out of the country now. I haven't made any travel plans at all. Why miss out on a Greek summer? 

UPDATE 30-6-2015: just popped into the INKA supermarket for my MiL's food needs - the supermarket accepts both debit and credit cards - it's a heap of shite what we are being told, that some companies can only operate on a cash basis: quite simply, they are evading taxes and hoarding cash.

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Sunday, 28 June 2015

Referendum (Δημοψήφισμα)

It looks like we are going to get a referendum next Sunday after all, as it was just voted on in the Βουλή. I don't think my fellow compatriots are in a position to make this kind of decision, which is of a political-economic nature, but since we have been given the chance to vote, we can either take it up and be part of the action, or deny the chance to take a pro-active approach to deciding our future. So here is my reasoning about how I will vote:

I think the whole Greek issue is one of misunderstanding. The Greek side are passionate, the non-Greek side are astute. The Greek side accuse the other side of blackmail, but any person with an Anglo-Saxon education (like myself) should be able to clearly see that the non-Greek side is simply using literal meanings and facts and figures to get their point across. One side is playing with a WORD file while the other side prefers EXCEL. (Not my metaphorical phrasing - I heard it a while back.) This is why a political level agreement was needed on the Greek problem. But who will sacrifice their politics to find a compromise that will make everyone unhappy to some extent? No one. Both sides have something to lose in this issue: one side is worried about a lack of funding, while the other side is worried about setting a precedent. I guess this is part of the compromise. We're all going to be unhappy to a certain extent.

Apparently we are going to be asked something like:
Should Greece accept the loan/bailout package as outlined by the creditors?
I think I know what a YES vote would mean to that: not much will change in my life as I know it up to now. Greece has been a bailout addict for a number of decades now. But I don't know what a NO vote will really mean, because we haven't had it explained to us. There is no Plan B (except for wait and see). We are all hypothesising about what might happen in the event of a NO vote - we don't actually have any real idea what it will mean. But I don't even want to hear of Greece taking out a new loan that will not be repayable. I don't believe in loans. I've never taken one out, and I hope the same goes for my kids, that they will never ask for a loan. More importantly, I don't want any potential grandchildren to still be paying this loan off when/if they are parents themselves. That's why I'm voting όχι.

I'm not voting NO to Europe or the eurozone - I'm just voting NO to a new loan, or bailout, package, program, memorandum, and any other way it is also known. I hope NO means that Greece gets no more money from strangers, and she can learn to live within her means, and she learns to use her resources wisely in order to ensure this. If the referendum question was:
Should Greece remain in the European Union?
I'd immediately know what I'd answer to that: ναι!

If the question was:
Should Greece remain in the eurozone?
I know the answer to that one too: ναι!

I will leave it up to Europe and the eurozone to decide if they want non-Anglo-Saxon Greece in their Anglo-Saxon club. Let's face it: while Greece is a lovely country, she can look like she is veering right off course concerning many aspects of western-world life as we know it.
The issue of filling up your petrol tank, emptying supermarket shelves and flocking to ATMs to withdraw money reeks of an urban crisis. People who live in apartment blocks in Crete don't have gardens and may not have access to their fields. If you come up to my house, you would not even suspect what was happening. 

I live on the island of Crete, where things are really "not that bad". For those that have been following my blog over the years, they will understand what that means. For those who haven't, if I were to explain this in one sentence, I'd say that we will never go hungry on this island. I don't want to kick the can don the road with a NO vote which will eventually catch up with us again: better to go bankrupt now in the summer, before the cold weather sets in - we can start to clean up our act under more favorable conditions. As I write, the ATMs are empty, people began hoarding basic items by clearing shelves in the supermarket, and petrol stations are drying up. This is the knee-jerk reaction to any major event that could cause turmoil: people panic. I watched people last night trying to withdraw money from empty ATMs: what made them decide that they needed to withdraw 800€ (I watched them as discreetly as possible as they pushed the buttons on the machine) on a Saturday night? It is sheer panic and nothing else. I have to hand it to the 10-year-old that I overheard in my loud noisy boisterous Greek neighbourhood last night:
Daddy says that if we go to an ATM now, it'll give us drachmas.
Panic brings out the worst in us.

Even if the YES vote wins, I will still be happy with that because it's all I've ever known of Greece - that she is an indebted country. Whatever happens, I think Greece is still going to be a great country, and people will always be guaranteed of having the time of their life when they visit Greece.

The Greek Collection - work in progress: "All eyes on Greece".
The outcome of the Greek referendum will have far-reaching consequences; it is not just about Greeks continuing to fool the rest of the world about their virtuousness in implementing sound fiscal policies (my opinion, of course); it is also about the rest of the greedy world who may eventually have to deal with the real possibility of other countries following suit: saying NO when they usually said ALRIGHT. Tsipras was brave to make this move; it's something that Papandreou mentioned he would do back in 2010 but decided against it after being pressurised by the EU, which in turn was worried about the stability of the euro at the time. The EU feared that the euro would fall and the EU would break apart if one of its members were 'allowed' to be bold enough to escape its noose. The EU now says that they have a stability mechanism in place so that an GREXIT will not have serious consequences on the global economy. (Yeah, right.)

I feel sorry for the Greek people because they have been aided and abetted all their lives into making bad voting choices, and now they are being forced to make a crucial political decision themselves, after having elected a government only five months ago to make important decisions like these ones. The average Greek citizen is neither knowledgeable or experienced enough to make such a decision. That's why we choose politicians to represent us in parliament. So even our politicians are useless. And who do politicians come from? The people themselves.

I think there is only ONE way out of the crisis - Greece needs to go cold turkey: stop accepting other countries' money, see where your country stands financially on its own, and then find ways to make money in your country for your country. I can only deem this solution to be the right one. It's from that 80s era that did Greece in. Before that, Greece was poor. Then Greece became a member of the EU in 1981, and suddenly, unprecedented personal wealth became the norm. Now we are seeing what this wealth entailed: bad choices that looked good only on the surface.

As a final word, I am reminded of the words of Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), the greatest Greek writer of modern times (writer of the classic Zorba the Greek), who was born in Crete, died in Germany, and was laid to rest in the old city walls of Iraklion on the island of his birth:
I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.
UPDATE: "In the interest of transparency and for the information of the Greek people, the European Commission is publishing the latest proposals agreed among the three institutions (European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund), which take into account the proposals of the Greek authorities of 8, 14, 22 and 25 June 2015 as well as the talks at political and technical level throughout the week." (click on the PDF at the bottom of the page)

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