I don’t think there is anything to add to the sum of human knowledge by me slagging off Greece and the Greeks for their financial delinquency. Enough people have done that more than comprehensively. Suffices to say that there were an awful lot of people sitting around drinking €4 cups of coffee moaning about their reduced circumstances.
But on the other hand there are huge numbers who have been submitted to the financial equivalent of a waterboarding. Between pay cuts and tax hikes they have seen over 50% of their income disappear in under 12 months. They have not seen corresponding cost of living reductions that have made this in any way more affordable. They are drowning in debt and their society is disintegrating.
I set myself the challenge while walking around certain neighbourhoods of Athens to see how many city blocks I would walk before I found a shop that was open for business. There are “For Sale” signs literally everywhere.
My first morning there I assumed that the binmen must be on strike again because of the number of cardboard boxes lining the streets. They are in fact what my translator called “cardboard condos”. Three people were living in this one.
Not only were there junkies everywhere but they were using openly, apparently untroubled by me witnessing their addiction. Street prostitution is rampant on major city squares 24 hours a day. And as you will hear in one of my reports for Drivetime well dressed people are to be found begging on just about every street.
Reported crime figures are not too far ahead of other European capitals cities but there have been very significant spikes in aggravated burglaries, armed robberies, tiger kidnappings, muggings and theft.
Austerity, it has been argued, is too much for Greek the economy to bear. It is certainly too much for the vulnerable and the marginalised to bear, but it would do the Greek economy no harm if austerity measures ensured that a few more people paid some tax. “Tax is what we pay for a civilised society” was Oliver Wendell Holmes’s neat little aphorism. In Greece it will be the price of avoiding complete social disintegration.
As things stand Greece will be in this process until 2027. Polls show that the electorate is deserting the two largest parties and moving to the further ends of the political spectrum. Who knows how popular fringe groups like this one will be that stage. The caption below the Party name, Golden Dawn, reads “Greece for Greeks”. An appealingly simplistic message in a country with such a high immigrant population. The swastika like symbol on either side is a motif from ancient Greece. It is called the “meander”. Greece’s mainstream political parties would be foolish think of that as the far right’s strategy though.