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Friday, 18 September 2015

Hope for the future

The focus of Greece's upcoming elections this Sunday is the economy and very little else. Civil liberties rarely get mentioned in the campaigns of the parties battling to get a share of the vote. (You can see all the TV spots for each political party in the following two Greek-language links: http://www.thetoc.gr/politiki/article/deite-kai-sugkrinete-ta-tileoptika-spot-twn-kommatwn and http://www.protothema.gr/politics/article/506579/ta-proeklogika-spot-olon-ton-kommaton-/ .) What economists and analysts don't tell you about Greece's economy is that it has already bounced back:
"Official announcement of the Finance Ministry:... Not only was a shortfall not recorded in revenues in August, but instead there was a significant excess of the target...: 
- Excess of Internal Revenue and Audit Centres in 617 mil. Euro compared to August 2014, ie 28.17% increase.
- Excess of revenues generally in relation to the budget target by 1.6%. The budget provided for 3.991 million while revenues reached 4.055 million.
- Strong growth was recorded during the tourist season.
- VAT corresponding to the period is expected to be particularly high and will appear in revenues in September but MAINLY in October."  http://news247.gr/eidiseis/oikonomia/oikonomika/ypervhkame-kata-1-6-ta-esoda-ton-augoysto.3650775.html (see also earlier growth recorded after the referendum in one of my earlier posts: http://www.organicallycooked.com/2015/08/snap-elections.html )
The Greek economy was never really in crisis; Greeks were just very good at hiding their wealth.


Eating out like this, dining on freshly cooked food made with very fresh seasonal and local ingredients, costs not much more than €12 euro a head in Hania. You won't do it every day, but when you need to, you will be able to afford it, even in a low-income country like Greece.

But I've never believed that the Greek crisis was ever really an economic crisis - it was always a crisis of privileges, values and identity. Throughout her 200-odd years of life, the modern Greek state has been a poor country with many rich people. I think Greece is set to remain this way for a number of reasons, mainly that people are still being held back from progress by misguiding forces:
"Something keeps holding us back: resistance to change, suspicion of our EU partners and of each other, a sense of victimhood... Seeing ourselves as part of a world that is larger than Greece and larger than the EU, setting aside past grievances and delusions of grandeur, choosing the best people to implement the best ideas that other countries have tried would not only be a good start, it would be a great achievement."  http://www.ekathimerini.com/201646/opinion/ekathimerini/comment/a-window-on-the-world
The only thing that has changed in this country is that no one is feeding her with money anymore. Tat's why Brussels is coming out as the clear winner from this election. Left or right, an MoU (read: debt agreement) is in place and babies are born in this country with a debt burden as large as that of the US per capita. For Greece to be a truly global country, we cannot look just at her economy. Things like gay marriage, separation of church and state, recognition of minorities and other civil liberties must be passed into law. People need to learn to travel for the experience, and not just for work; this kind of mindset is evidenced among developing nations, not progressive countries. We still have the 'backward' mentality of the migrant worker, who dreams of making a lot of money while reminiscing about the homeland without ever fitting into any country.

Mama's kouzina: Lightly fried whitebait in olive oil (€5/kg) and φακές (lentil soup) made with garden grown tomatoes. 

Greeks haven't yet learnt how to be global citizens. As a global citizen, you move about from one country to the other without fear. You are not embarrassed about your origins, and you are proud of your open-mindedness when you face challenges like living in a country that doesn't speak your language and doesn't eat your food. Greeks do not leave their country due to war or hunger. They leave mainly for ideological reasons, and they are often the first to criticise their country once they have left, believing - wrongly in my opinion - that they are living a better life by comparing what they now have with what they once lost. At this stage, I am glad Greeks abroad cannot vote in the Greek elections - this should only be allowed to happen when Greeks come to terms with their identity crisis.

And for this to happen, there must be a Syriza majority in government, because Syriza is ideologically leftist. But Syriza's idea of economics has been proven to be unrealistic. At least with NeaDimokratia, we went up two steps and down one. With Syriza, we went up one step and two down. These are the main reasons I will not be voting in this election, and I am surprised to hear the same thing from people I am surrounded by. It's not just me that feels this way. Syriza is still getting to grips with basic economic tenets, while ND is still far too conservative for my liking. We don't need to create new laws - we just need to find an existing model that we will adopt and stick to, which is why a unity government sounds more plausible. But Greeks don't have the patience to stick it out. They still expect instant results - that's very selfish, especially considering that it took two generations to create the present shambles.If you read a complete list of what has to change (see here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/17/opinion/hugo-dixon-on-notice-greeces-vested-interests.html for a summary of Greek extremes), you will understand how difficult it will be to force such changes on people who have learnt to live with such privileges for such a long time.

To appreciate the architecture of a city as old as Hania, you mustn't focus on the graffiti - graffiti is everywhere, we take it for granted and people just paint over it periodically.

Greek politics is so transparent these days; there is no need to make up conspiracy theories, like the one I heard recently, apparently from a prominent politics/economics analyst:, eg: "that Meimarakis [the NeaDimokratia party chief] is very light on substance and is just a puppet of Costas Karamanlis, who is the real power behind the throne." ???!!!??? The person who made up this story is not Greek, does not speak Greek and is not based in Greece. Clearly, this person could not understand what was happening in the leaders' recent debates: Meimarakis was very convincing and he stated right from the start that he wants some kind of unity government, while Tsipras (who does not want to work with Meimarakis) smiled a lot when he was criticised by Meimarakis or when he was asked a curly question by the journalists. This is a sign of embarrassment, a wish to avoid the question in some way; he did not have Meimarakis' forthright answers. Meimarakis is known as a 'tsambouka' (macho-man) because he has a lot of confidence, and he doesn't stall:
"There are those who despair at the new chief because they find his manner inappropriate for a party of the middle classes. They are mistaken because good manners do not necessarily mean that someone can get the job done, whether it be in politics or finance. In fact, many a layabout has excellent manners. The fact is that the Greek middle classes today do not have time for such niceties; they are more concerned with survival than party loyalties." http://www.ekathimerini.com/201607/opinion/ekathimerini/comment/the-demonic-mind-of-the-left
In my opinion, Meimarakis won both leaders' debates, hands down.

First day of school for my kids, and they get their books: Aristophanes' Ornithes (Birds) is included in his reading list. Aristophanes must have been quite some 'tsambouka' in his days, satirising all and sundry.

Syriza will have to get a majority if it wants to rule. ND has it much easier: it will simply ask a couple of smaller parties to be its coalition partners. At the end of the day, not much will change. If someone can steer Greeks towards the changes needed to make the country a global member of this planet, then something can change. We need a strong leader to do that. I'd be surprised to see it come from someone like Tsipras who highlighted that he didn't believe in what he was signing, or Meimarakis with his 'take it or leave it' attitude.

A short video explaining the possible post-election scenarios: Greek politics is so transparent these days, there is no need to make up conspiracy theories . Disregard the title about why you need to care about Greece's elections - you do not really need to; Brussels has already done that.

Choppy waters at the Venetian harbour, 14-09-2015

The political games being played these days in Greece feel a bit like the ending in Animal Farm by George Orwell, at least for me:
"... An uproar of voices was coming from the farmhouse. They rushed back and looked through the window again. Yes, a violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously. Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Autumn is coming to Crete: Persephone's presence gets too much for us to bear, and we can't wait for her to leave her mother Demetra. When she leaves, cooler weather arrives, we wind down from a long hot dry summer, and we shut our doors to the cold weather seeking warmth in the hearth.

I am also reminded of things my mother used to say about people who acted like best of buddies (κώλος και βρακί  as the Greek saying goes), then they had a fight and broke up. She would say something like: "ασ' αυτούς που τα χαλάσανε να τα ξαναφτιάξουν μόνοι τους", which means something like: "Let those who quarrel among themselves make up and be friends again by themselves." In the meantime, you have to continue like you always have. You'll say hello to them, and if they stop you to talk, you will politely have a conversation with them. But at the end of the day, you will go to your own home while they go home to theirs. You won't need them as much as they need you, so you need to learn to keep your calm in the storm:

"Crete’s seats are up for grabs to an unusual extent, political analysts say, and if voters there retreat from Syriza that could give the conservatives an in. In a move allowed by Greek election law, many top leadership contenders—including Mr. Tsipras, who ran the country as prime minister until August—are running for parliamentary seats from there, a sign of just how important they perceive its support to be. [Tsipras (Syriza), Meimarakis (NeaDimokratia) and Kammenos (ANEL) are running for Iraklio, while Theodorakis (ToPotami) is running for Hania where he was born - see http://www.wsj.com/articles/crete-emerges-as-key-voice-in-greek-election-1442650777 ]

What the future holds for Greece is unknown. But if I could predict the future, here is my reckoning: as a peace-loving nation, Greece will remain a pillar of stability in her corner of the world, despite her unstable politics. She will always be a beautiful place to visit. Following the examples of my ancestors, I know I can have a quiet frugal happy life here. I won't become very rich money-wise; but I will continue to have a lot of hidden non-monetary wealth which cannot be lost. I think I'll always be able to survive in my beautiful country. My oldest relatives here are in 90s, and they have lived in difficult terrain, during the war and with no comforts until relatively recently in their lives. I don't see why I can't emulate their lives for the good of my own survival here.

Bonus photo: The old lady is Damaskini Petraki, and she lives in Paelohora. She claims to be 84 (she could be hiding some years), and she made the crochet apron herself. I took the photo while on our mini-break last week.

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