Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Betrayal (Προδοσία)

On Holy Wednesday (Μεγάλη Τετάρτη), which is also called Spy Wednesday, the Orthodox church services discuss the notion of betrayal: "We should know that today the deceitful Judas, that lover of money, Satan's child, began the negotiations with the wicked Sanhedrin to betray the Lord for thirty pieces of silver."
Betrayal is a highly emotive topic. It involves the naming of an accused, and in this day and age, you can get into a lot of legal trouble naming anyone as having betrayed you without firm evidence. Whereas you feel the victim, by accusing anyone of betraying you, you may end up digging your own grave and being made to look as though your fate was your own doing. So you have to have a really strong case to make a public statement of betrayal against you to avoid libel.

The betrayal of Greece is now a fact. Contrary to popular opinion, which lays the blame on outside forces, quite the opposite is true.
The blame for the wretched life that many Greeks are now living is due to Greek people themselves. An exponentially larger number of Greeks have ended up funding the interests of a limited few, making the betrayed look like they are supporting the betrayers. Greeks have put Greece into the mess that she is in, even though most Greeks will deny this, refuting evidence by claiming it is a show of democracy instead. Is my accusation a case of libel?

In the last month, the Greek government has admitted that the state:
- has been paying benefits for the last 2-3 decades to many people that were dead (ie family members did not register a death),
- has been paying benefits to people falsely claiming that they are disabled,
- has allowed doctors who signed documents verifying that able-bodied people were disabled to continue working for the state,

- has supported state-paid holidays at luxury spa hotels for public power corporation employees, under the cover of 'conference attendance',
- has allowed state employees to embezzle state funds,
- never punished anyone for cheating the system, and (the worst crime of all, in my opinion:)
- was able to check all stages of the misuse of funds, but never bothered to install the appropriate software or even allow honest employees who were noticing such instances to let the truth be known (these people would be dealt a transfer of position, often to a lower-class job or to another part of the country), in order to secure voters in forthcoming elections,
... among many other cases of state fund misuse, state power abuse and blatant negligence.

Every day, for the past two months, new cases of embezzlement are becoming public knowledge, but without any guarantee that these white-collar criminals will ever be made to pay for the crimes they have committed against their own race. It has even been revealed by the present acting Minister of Health that MPs are phoning his office, asking him to show leniency towards doctors who have been caught over-prescribing medication (and therefore profiting from commissions from the pharmaceutical companies). This shows a clear refusal to change mentality; since this refusal is coming from the top echelons of society, this can be translated as entailing that those on the lower rungs of the ladder will only follow on from what they see happening at the top. Hence, Greek people will never see justice for the betrayal they have been subjected to by their own compatriots, because they will continue to support such a system. This chaotic situation is accentuated by the fact that this is an election year, so MPs will most likely continue to settle favours for votes, given that they are highly unpopular at the moment: political bartering continues to be rife.

The number of people cheating the system is very difficult to gauge, most likely because it dos not serve the interests of any political party: the main two (PASOK and NeaDimokratia) know that they both hold a certain amount of responsibility for this situation. But even though they have both lost face among the Greek public, they still dominate the political arena, a clear indication that Greeks still prefer to be blissfully ignorant of the root cause of the problem that the country finds itself in. On most nights, a case will come to light of state fund misuse and/or state power abuse with various numbers quoted. My private calculations put this at a third of the adult population of Greece. That's about the same number of people that I estimate (again, from TV news and newspaper/web-based reports) to have been claiming severe impoverishment so that they are no longer able to afford to buy enough food or clothing or were unable to provide heating this past winter. That leaves about another third of the remaining population, the so-called 'lucky' ones who are still able to make ends meet and don't betray the country by claiming state funds that they aren't entitled to, myself included. Through this blog, I've shown quite clearly how I've managed to achieve that

The family is now used to cheap'n'Greek'nfrugal meals; it took a while to get them round. It doesn't mean we eat less, or that we don't have enough money to eat well: it simply means that every cent is counted, and most of our food is cooked in a way that means money is saved.

When we hear of embezzlement cases coming to light, we often like to think that this is a sign of improvement. If we can talk about it openly, there is hope that we can fight it too, so that such mistakes will not re-occur. But this doesn't seem to be happening in Greece. What is a perfectly simple process is other EU countries (putting criminals in jail, freezing their assets, confiscating property, naming and shaming, being law-abiding) seems like a laborious complex procedure here. Worse still, it's highly doubtful that Greek people will ever work together for the good of their country. Generally speaking, Greeks have never done that, not in the ancient world, and not in contemporary times either: since antiquity, they have been fighting each other. Only last week, Anna Diamantopoulou (PASOK MP) mentioned that it is no longer acceptable to refuse to cooperate. This globally undesirable trait in the Greek identity is very strong. It's what often thwarts Greeks' struggles towards progress (in the Western sense, of course).

In order to understand why cooperation is not a Greek trait, you need to have a good grounding in the history of Greece and the Greeks. Most of us don't have this - some of us insist that we do because we studied ancient Greek history through mythology or Classical Studies courses, while a good number of us who have lived in Greece use our experiences to provide us with the minutiae of modern Greek history, often quoting the Turks (who removed themselves from the country over a century ago), Nazi-occupied Athens during WW2 and (maybe) the history of the (now defunct) 17th of November demonstrations. Few people can really claim to know Greek history since the war very well because: 
  • modern Greek history is never associated with ancient Greek history, but most people outside Greece will associate Greek history with ancient Greece, 
  • the Greek state is constantly forming and reforming itself politically, with a significant change occurring every 2-3 decades, hence history is constantly being created,
  • Greeks aren't very good at admitting their historical mistakes (some nations are much more honest about themselves in this respect), so that they aren't able to write objective history books (Greek children are rarely taught in an objective manner about their history), 
  • few people outside Greece have any knowledge of (or show the slightest interest in) certain turnaround events in modern Greek history, eg the population exchange on 1922, the Greek civil war of 1947-1949, the removal of the Greek monarchy (whose families members were never Hellenes in ancestry), the 1967-1974 junta regime, the significance of the 17th of November date, the rise (and fall) of PASOK, mainly because Greece played a highly insignificant role in global politics until only recently,
  • diaspora Greeks (ie people of Greek heritage who don't live in Greece) have quite a different mentality and upbringing from Greeks living in Greece, and hence a different form of Greek heritage - the historical elements of Greece that they identity with are quite different to those that have formed the the identity of the Greek born and raised in Greece (Greece is that thing),
  • there's a language barrier - some very Greek elements of history were written up only in the Greek language, until very recently since the rise in interest in things Greek, due to the economic crisis and the radically changed image of Greece that the world now has.
Once you read enough about the history of Greece from ancient to modern times, you realise that they are inextricably bound, and history often repeats itself over time, with Greeks fighting against Greeks, and the state never serving the interests of the majority, but a smaller group. 

The property tax is shown in the small box below the other small box on the top right-hand side of the Greek electricity bill.
Let's take the 2011-2012 property tax as an example of betrayal and refusal to cooperate. A sum of money was added to our electric bills (often much larger than the cost of the actual bill). The state threatened the citizens that if they did not pay it, they would have their electricity bill disconnected. The public power corporation, on the other hand, stated categorically that it would not disconnect anyone's power due to non-payment of the tax. Many citizens paid the bill - but a good many did not. They were informed that if they had not paid the bill four months after its expiry date, they would have their power disconnected. But seven months after the introduction of the tax (just last week), the Greek justice system decided that it was unconstitutional to disconnect people's power if they refused to pay the tax. It was decided that non-payment of the tax would be treated as an outstanding debt, which, if not paid four months after the date it was due, would be diverted from the electric bill to the tax department, so it would appear as an unpaid tax and would be dealth as such. Hence, some suckers have paid it, while others have not, and who knows when they will be called to pay it. It's a clear case of Greeks versus Greeks. Non-cooperation is a democratic right in Greece, and so is betrayal by the state. It seems that Greece is the only EU country where it is a democratic right not to pay taxes.

Learning to work as one nation is still difficult for the majority of Greeks, unfortunately. What is to blame is still a subject of heated debate among them. It's an Ottoman mentality, some will argue, even though Ottoman rule ceased to exist in the mainland over a century ago, while others strongly believe that the Germans are to blame because they destroyed the country's infrastructure during WW2 (which has since all been rebuilt - last summer, I travelled through one of the most unpopulated regions of Greece with a heavily-laden old car; no part of Greece is impenetrable). I personally think it's just a sign of a badly educated race that prefers to stunt mature thinking. Those who argue that Greeks are fighting themselves often have their voices drowned out; it doesn't seem right to hear that Greeks are betraying Greece, and they have only themselves to blame for the mess the country is in. It's difficult to look in the mirror because the ugly truth sticks out like a sore thumb. It's much easier to look through the window.

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