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Monday, 14 May 2012

The way we are: Survival (Επιβίωση)

Whether Greece continues to use the euro or not doesn't worry me at all. No matter what currency is legal tender in my country, I will be able to use it just like I did any other currency. Having said that, I acknowledge that there will be a few teething problems, so to speak, in the beginning, until we get used to the New Drachma, or the Greek Euro, or whatever it's going to be called. I suppose we will stick to 'drachma' and feel a twitch of embarrassment until my generation gets used to being the first one to have left their national currency and returned to it in one single decade - before others follow suit.

So what's going to happen in the interim period, between euro and drachma? Scenarios like no petrol and no medicine have been painted of a Greek default. Sounds like sci-fi to me. We can't go back to such a past in a globally connected world. No one really knows what will happen, but many people are speculating by using the past miseries of other countries' experiences, notably Argentina. Instead of looking at other countries as a model, it pays better to think like a Greek at times like this.

 A glimpse back in history by a witness of the 17th of November siege in 1973 of the Polytechneio by the junta regime: that was the last time Greece faced a serious internal crisis, which was a pre-cursor to the overthrow of Papadopoulos' junta regime. The newspaper article, from  the Greeneville Daily Sun, dated 30 November 1973, was written by American teacher Betty Blair (who was living in Greece from 1971-1977) one day after the siege took place, under the pseudonym Xenophon (= foreign voice); with no internet back then, the outside world found out what was going on in Greece with great delay. The article is highly relevant today.

As in the war, when inflation was out of control and a loaf of bread cost a million drachmas (or something like that), people will give up large sums of their stashed cash to buy basic necessities. The cities will suffer, as they usually do in times of crisis, because food becomes unaffordable. In the villages, there should be no reason to panic. People living in villages - and I'm thinking along the lines of middle-aged Greeks who live in remote self-sufficient villages - will be affected only slightly, like when they can't pay their electricity/phone bills, or when they want to buy medication. But they won't need to worry about bills in times of crisis - people who didn't pay the newly instated property tax still have electricity, so there is no doubt that there will be a relaxed outlook on the part of the authorities towards such debts. As for medication, it pays to stock up. I always have basic children's medication with me when I travel. I don't leave things until the last minute.

Greece doesn't have a humanitarian crisis on her hands, as the press (both Greek and foreign) leads us to believe. There's plenty of food, and it's getting distributed. People's health is mainly affected by stress, not cholera and other third-world diseases; the prostitutes being found HIV positive are mainly drug addicts looking for a way to sustain their habit.

 The slogans back in 1973: "Death to Papadopoulos", "Out with NATO", "Down with the Junta,", Out with the Americans," "USA-FASCISM". Thirty-nine years later, we have direct parallels: references to the EU or people/countries involved with it take the place of the US.

The way Greeks panic over money issues will be the cause of most of the problems Greece will face in the immediate period after Greece's exit from the euro. Most people will probably take out all their euro from the bank and keep it under their mattress. No doubt, it will be a good time for robberies in Greece. Burglar alarms are useless - the state will be in chaos and I doubt the police will bother with just another commonplace petty crime like a house burglary. Since most Greeks aren't about to go anywhere soon (as the press again misleads us into believing), they shouldn't really be worrying about their money - they will be able to use it to live in Greece the way they have always been doing. If they just left their money in the bank, Greece would be in a better position than she is, even now that Greece is still in the euro.

The day Greece defaults, I want to be prepared for the next week (or month) or so for really basic things like food and personal safety. I've got a home to live in, and I doubt that will be taken away from me. I probably won't go to work (and the children won't go to school) until things calm down. Even if my workplace or school is still open, for reasons of personal safety (or maybe because I run out of petrol), I will not leave the house, and no one will expect me to, either. They will probably be feeling the same way as me.

In the aftermath of the 17th of November, people went to school  and work as usual, but Greece is no longer run by a junta regime - I assume people will not return to work too quickly. The Acropolis was closed for the first time in modern times in 1973, which has direct parallels with Greece's current crisis. A curfew will probably be imposed: "for the citizens' personal safety", no doubt; by staying home, I won't need to worry about where all my family members are, unlike Maria (in the above newspaper excerpt).
 
I'll continue to process all the food I can off our little plot, having stocked up previously on flour, beans, rice and pasta (the kids like the latter). And don't forget the sugar and coffee, just to make our life more interesting. Thankfully we live in Crete, so I'll have plenty of fat (in the form of olive oil) to cook with and to make our food tasty. We'll probably get a couple of chickens to give us an egg or two from time to time, and maybe we'll even invest in a goat (only one) for her milk which will provide us with protein from the cheese we make out of it. We'll probably forget about meat for a while - vegetarians do well without it, so I don't see why we can't.

The 70-year-old woman (in the above newspaper excerpt - click on image to enlarge) probably never ran out of food because she was hoarding it; she had been through the wars and knew what to do in a crisis. Xenophon (who is actually Betty Blair) wrote: "One must always be prepared for the unexpected here in Greece. Housewives all around me ... had filled their arms with milk, sugar and olive oil. The prices would probably go up tomorrow and who knew how long this crisis would last."

While some people will be hoarding euro notes, US dollars, pounds sterling or gold, I'll be hoarding food. I won't be going anywhere, and I won't have to fear that anyone will rob me of my cash. If I am accosted in any way during the chaos that will ensue after Greece's economic downfall, at least I can share my food with them. But that would mean that my personal safety is not intact - during their moment of madness at not finding anything of pecuniary value, my attackers may simply tear up our vegetable garden. That would be my downfall, even if short-term; I'd have to start picking horta and snails to compensate for such losses.

 Postcard from 1971 - rebuilding the Acropolis had not yet started. Compare this view with a more recent one - not much has changed. 

I know I'm painting a really simple picture. But even though I am a much more complex person, most of the time, my life on this island really is simple, complicated mainly by other people's problems. As long as I have my health, I'll be able to look after my family. After that comes accommodation, food and safety - if I manage to have all that, I will survive. I refuse to create more worries than I have already. I may become poor overnight, but I won't go hungry.

*** *** ***

Thanks to the author of Suns, Seasons and Souvlaki: A glimpse of Modern Greece, by Betty Blair, who gave me permission to reprint her article. She told me that her mother (now 94 years old) lived through the depression in 1929 in the US. But since she was on a farm, she hardly felt it. I allow Betty to have the final word (taken from the last paragraph of the last excerpt above):
"But their spirit is not squelched, it simmers, indignant that such injustice has been wielded out against them. During the last 50 years, they have been able to survive five wars, including an exhausting civil war, at least two catastrophic population displacements, several violent earthquakes and chronic droughts. They were molded from the same clay as Pericles. Despite their sufferings, they would triumph. Not now perhaps, but eventually."
We're not done yet. 

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