Saturday, September 8, 2012

Greece: The pain behind the beauty

by Mark Lowen

BBC News

September 8, 2012

Holidaymakers in Greece this summer said the beaches were as lovely as ever and the ancient sites as fascinating as they have always been. But the effects of five years of recession in the country are becoming more and more evident.

I get a little tired after a while of the endless sheet-washing, itinerary-planning and bread-buying but then, living abroad, you come to expect it.

For every summer, my humble apartment in whichever country I am posted, turns into a convenient hotel for friends, family and anybody I may have met at a party years ago, who decides they fancy a free stay.

It can get a little trying but, on the whole, I enjoy showing my guests a new city through my eyes, taking them to my favourite spots. Seeing their reaction is the interesting bit.

And nowhere more so than in Athens.

For months they have watched footage of angry street protests in the capital and heard stories of the impact of austerity. They come expecting the place to look and feel almost like a war zone.

When a visitor of mine this summer told his colleagues he was going to Athens for a few days, one seriously asked whether he would still find food in the shops.

"Where is the crisis?" said a university friend as I took him around the city. "You can't see it."


1 comment:

kleingut said...

"This is happening in a European Union country - a place of unparalleled cultural richness, of beauty, of history. How has it come to this?" - Quote from the article.

To me, Greece has been a case of very uneven wealth/income distribution even before the EU/Euro. My wife's parents, retired tobacco farmers, had to get by with a pension of about 300 EUR (in Drachma equivalent at the time) while only half-an-hour's drive away in the city of Kavala the living standard could not be differentiated from the living standard in a Central European country and the residential areas, particularly along the beaches near Kavala, surpassed much of what I could see in Austria at the time.

The EU and the Euro have only seemingly narrowed that gap because of all the debt-financed growth. With that growth gone, we are back to an even greater gap than before the EU/Euro (it seems to me).

I keep reading in the Greek media how much more income the government would have if only the upper class of Greece would pay their fair share of taxes. Some of these estimates even suggest that Greece would not have a budget deficit in that case.

So the question asked in this article is valid: how could, in a member country of the EU, there be a situation where the upper class takes such brutal advantage of the others? The issue, to me, is not Greece in toto. Greece has undoubtedly as many hard-working/clean-living people as any other EU-country; possibly even more. Mind you that those are generally people who cannot even cheat on income taxes because they are taxed at the source.

What Greece seems to have more of relative to other EU-countries is an upper class which has no qualms whatsoever to take the rest of the country on a ride. How that can still happen in an EU-country is indeed a very good question!