Real-life matters took me away from the cyber-world for a while -I'm back though; back in my little world that until relatively recently I cherished as being among the safest places around.
Things are a-changing...
While all kinds of polemic scenarios are constantly being played out in the artificial online world via a legion of war games, a more sinister, real life drama is unfolding before our very eyes. A drama that could potentially become the catalyst for far greater woes in our once-so-safe corner of the world.
Life in Greece is simmering, bubbling and erupting with increasing regularity. It is doing so with a growing ferocity that any time soon might well blow the lid off the situation; a situation that more and more people appear to accept as a given: the prospect of large-scale violent eruptions which at present are lingering dangerously close to the surface of reality.
I'm talking about outright civil war - and I'm by far not the only one who contemplates the reality of this happening. No mincing words here: as many disgruntled people put it now: "with our backs against the wall we've got nothing else to lose, ... we cannot possibly begin to predict the fallout, but it won't be peaceful."
A fallout that is but a spark away from igniting into full-scale civil war - the Haves against the Have-nots; the People against the Leaders, current as well as generations of previous incumbents. The masses have had enough of being lied to, of their embezzling leaders, of the perpetual yo-yoing in an oligarchic political system dominated by the Papandreou, Karamanlis and Mitsotakis families where democracy translated into jobs in the public sectors for friends, contracts or convenient law amendments. As my neighbour puts it rather philosophically: "We all know they steal from the country, they all did, no exceptions - but now they've taken it all and haven't left anything for the people!"
And so, when you can no longer house or feed your family, you have indeed nothing to lose...
Soup-kitchens are popping up like mushrooms after a rainy night - a phenomenon virtually unheard of before this crisis hit Greece. Many among those who have lost their job have left the cities and returned to their ancestral villages, that is if they still have property there, the idea being that at least they can grow their own food in an effort to keep hunger from the door. They heat their houses with wood stoves - electricity or heating fuel being way beyond their financial means. And they know: people tend to have closer ties in the villages and will help one another more readily... one hopes!
Recent developments have now reached a point where the ordinary people are facing hardship beyond comprehension in what is supposed to be a modern, civilized and developed European country - fellow member state of the European Union. The collapse of the economic system has led to cuts, cuts and more cuts; taxes, taxes and more taxes. The boom Greece enjoyed only a few years ago during its build-up to the 2004 Olympics which was widely applauded by the very forces that today are behind the death knell the country is facing, is long forgotten, a distant memory - almost as if it never happened. Nowadays, all that remains of the pride of that Olympic moment, is shambles - empty buildings and constructions that are left to fall apart under the harsh summer sun. And then there are the debts. A veritable Olympus mountain of debts!
Let's not forget the darkest side of the coin, the sub-current ripples that don't really break the surface into daylight yet - a subject that still carries an air of taboo: suicide.
Recent reports have revealed that suicide rates have simply exploded over the last couple of years - people are losing their businesses, their livelihood, they can't keep up the mortgage rates, can't pay bills, can no longer feed their family - they have either lost it all, or receive a minimum wage or unemployment benefits in a country that is now among the most expensive in Euroland and they see no other way out than to tie the final knot ...
In my book this borders on being criminal, it's as simple as that.
The suicides are a direct result of the stringent and irresponsible austerity measures that are being imposed on the country by the powers that be... or rather by those people in the powers that be who have the final word and in whose power it is to dish out these death sentences by remote control.
How easy is it to demand further cuts, more layoffs, higher taxes when you're thousands of miles away from the reality of the life that befalls the ordinary Greek citizens. Those imposing these terms have no idea just what harm they have caused and are still causing. The bail-out package that is supposed to save the country from bankruptcy comes at a steep price in monetary terms too: the moneys lent to Greece are lent at premium interest rates, and whereas protests from fellow European taxpayers who are asked to dig deep into their pocket to help out can be understood, I fail to see the logic behind the measures that are imposed and which are supposed to create an economically sound base when thousands of businesses are folding, and unemployment figures are at record highs! The concrete employment policies that our European leaders have been promising us for decades now are nowhere to be seen... Why? Because there aren't any; the so-called experts and know-it-alls haven't got a clue as to how to solve the pan-European problem of unemployment, while at the same time the many European schemes that saw the light of day over the last couple of decades just disintegrated into nothingness - many a total waste of good European taxpayer's money!
These policy-makers are directly responsible for the despair that has driven many people to opt out of a life they could no longer face and in my book that makes them responsible - they have blood on their hands. As far as I'm concerned they are guilty of a form of manslaughter, even if it is indirect. However, no judge or jury will ever sentence them 'guilty as charged' - nor will anyone ever hint at their accountability. They'll get off scot-free.
A human catastrophy, the ramifications of which will linger on for decades to come - mark my words.
I'd like to share with you an article I found this morning which actually prompted me to write this blog post - those among you who know me, know also that I prefer to stay clear of politics.
I think however that the time has come to speak out, to add my voice to those who are trying to make sense of a situation that is rapidly getting out of hand...
We need leadership that offers real answers, answers that bring hope and more than anything: concrete proposals with regard to the future of the European industrial and business infrastructure. If we can't achieve that, I'm afraid our forefathers' dream of a prosperous, united and war-free Europe is doomed to fail.
So here is part of the missive that compelled me to speak up - perhaps you will gain some insight into what is affecting the human factor here in Greece...
(By Paul Kidner - (the full article can be viewed here - just click)
I’ve stopped watching the news. Every day feels like Groundhog Day. We watch the same drama on our screens – crisis, default, the drachma, unemployment, downward spiral – and it is getting increasingly depressing to watch.
For those living outside Greece the footage of rioting in the streets is in complete contrast to the cultural imagery handed down since the 1970s. Older women dressed in black, men playing backgammon in cafes, black coffee, ouzo, delicious food and beautiful beaches.
And now? What have we to show for the 'fast-food tourism' which developed from our cultural brand? Very little apart from vast debts and an all-pervading sense of gloom.
To give an indication of how it affects our daily lives, to keep bills down people have taken to switching off their central heating. One friend told me her family even uses a quick blast of a hair-dryer to keep warm.
They can’t afford expensive diesel-powered heating systems any more. It also begs the question of why we even use diesel in a land of wind, sun and rich geothermal energy sources?
But we do, the state-owned electricity grid still uses lignite – known to be one of the most inefficient fuels. And that is indicative of what little change takes place here. Things never change – except for the worse.
Since the austerity measures kicked in one business is closing after the other. Unemployment jumped from 11% last year to a current level of 21% and rising.
Among my immediate circle, I know of three people who have lost their jobs, and another who has remained unpaid over the past eight months. He’s finding it difficult to make ends meet and moved to a smaller flat with his girlfriend to cut down on costs.
Now one of the three has found a job but that involves taking a severe pay cut. 'I’m back to where I was in the 1990s,' he says. One friend who owned a printing business is now working as a security guard for €600 (£500) per month.
Many are thinking of emigrating.
On top of this there are the tax bills, one after the other. I had to pay 600 euro (£500) - the basic monthly salary in Greece - for a 'solidarity tax' a couple of months ago. At first the government said it was a one-off payment but there are fears it will be demanded again.
I earned a respectable salary last year but left in order to start my own business which still isn't profitable. But I still had to pay this tax.
After that there came a 'special tax' for anyone who owns property – it is worked out according to the area in which you live and how large your property is.
I own a small flat, so I 'only' had to spend a further €500 (£419). But - like many others - I found it hard to pay my mortgage as well as paying this new bill.
And it adds to a sense of unfairness that I have to pay an additional, brand-new tax on top of other property taxes I’ve already paid. The way it was implemented shows the government knew how unpopular it would be. So the property tax was taken through your electricity bill.
Anyone who didn’t pay would have their electricity cut off. What one side of the fence calls austerity, another calls extortion.
The middle-class feel they are constantly the ones who have to front the bills. We are the easy target, the people who can’t hide from the tax system. The rich move their money to off-shore accounts, while small businesses don’t issue bills making it impossible for the taxman to track their earnings.
A friend recently moved to a flat which needed work doing to it. But neither the painter, the electrician nor the plumber would issue a written bill.
So we get hit each and every time.
Taxes erode the middle class, while leaving systemic failures untouched. On top of that, despite many political scandals, no one with large pockets or ‘good connections’ has ever been punished. The sense of injustice infuriates the public.
The problem is that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Greeks feel that there are little prospects and no plans for growth. And there is little to choose from the political parties.
If the EU was really concerned about Greek debt, why are we not talking about cutting our defence spending? Greeks believe this is because EU countries benefit from lucrative defence contracts.
Most Greeks would agree that the country needs fiscal re-structuring, that the tax system has to be automated to reduce graft, that bureaucracy needs to be minimised and a business-friendly environment needs to be introduced. One that doesn’t require two weeks of queues and umpteen civil servants to stamp one piece of paper.
But the current measures on offer are seen as simply harsh, unfair and unsustainable.
As people’s wealth is being eroded so is their silence. Greece is going to begin to roar and its creditors are not going to like the consequences that this instability will bring.
Our leaders and the EU also bear responsibility for this need to communicate to the Greek people how they plan on making things better, how they will create jobs, efficiency and clamp down on tax evasion.
There is a Greek proverb which says 'hope dies last' but if we are ever to survive this collective anguish we need to find a source of hope - and quickly.
My sentiments exactly ...