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about what is happening in Greece at the moment because by the time I have written and posted it, it will have been superseded by new news that may counter anything I wrote in the blog.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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