It was a sunny warm day in early June 2018. My Greek-American classical scholar friend, Apostolos Athanassakis, and I were having coffee in a lovely coffee shop in Theseion (Θησεῖον) near the Acropolis. The “boom-boom” music bothered me. I asked the waiter to change that abominable sound with something Greek. “I agree with you, Sir,” he said. “The music is bad. But I can’t do anything about it. The boss thinks this is what tourists want to hear.”
Arming the poor
My friend and I had just left the coffee shop when a logo written in black graffiti on a glass caught my attention. It read, in Greek: “Poor people to arms.” At that moment when I was taking a picture of the slogan and commenting on its grave implications, a middle-age man responded on the meaning of the word “poor.” “Have-nots or brainless?” he asked. I admitted there are many people who are being brainwashed to oblivion and others who are, possibly, stupid.
“In either case,” I said, “arming the have-nots and the potentially brainless is combustible.”
The man said “let me tell you a story of Solon and Croesus of Lydia. Solon was the Athenian philosopher-legislator of late seventh-first half of the sixth centuries BCE who, in response to a question on ultimate happiness by this very wealthy and powerful Asian king Croesus, said he doubted money alone could buy happiness.”
“It happens,” this Greek continued, “that Croesus of Lydia lost a war and the victorious enemy put him on a fire pyre. Once Croesus of Lydia got hold of himself, he started saying Solon was right. Ah, Solon,” he cried aloud, where are you? You were right.”
My friend and I let this man go on with his passionate speech. He did know his mythology and had such an admirable way of telling stories.
This man, as well as the rest of the Greeks in 2018, have been caught in a vicious chronic oppression resembling low-level warfare. This unsettling affair started, supposedly, because Greek governments borrowed excessive funds from gigantic European and American banks.
When the American financial meltdown hit the airwaves and the wallets of millions all over the world in 2008, the sleaze in Greek borrowing also blew up. Suddenly, in 2009, the American-born Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, appealed to the IMF for fixing Greek finances. Immediately, the European Commission and the European Central Bank joined the IMF, forming a formidable international coalition to run Greece.
With this calculated anti-Greek policy, Papandreou tied Greece to the International Monetary Fund, an instrument of American foreign policy known for bankrupting countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The European Commission and the European Central Bank had no objections to IMF. Indeed, these three institutions exist to protect the interests of powerful countries and the profits of large banks.
Troika occupation of Greece
The ten-year hegemony of this “troika” over Greece has been utterly humiliating, violating human rights and national sovereignty. Moreover, this hostile foreign control of Greece has impoverished the country. First, the Troika insisted Greece gives up its sovereignty, patently an act violating both Greek and international law. Second, the Troika insisted the Greek government sells off all state assets and impose “austerity” on the Greeks. This means drastic cuts in social spending, shredding public health, abandoning environmental protection, the imposition of harsh taxation, and continuous cuts in pensions.
The results of these Troika-enforced policies have deleterious consequences on how Greeks think of Europe. Their pauperization brings to mind the terrible German destruction of their country during WWII. One tragic irony here is that Germany, magically burying its barbaric Nazi past, is leading Europe’s punishment of Greece.
The Greeks know this history, but, the influential among them, say they must obey the German-dominated troika. Silently, the Greeks oppose their government, which has become the enforcer of policies from Brussels. This probably reminds them of the dismemberment of their country by the European crusaders.
Aside from these metaphysical anxieties, the reality of daily life in Greece in 2018 brings to light large forces shaping the life of all Greeks.
Is Greece ditching its agrarian civilization?
In 2016, Greece exported goods valued at $26.5 billion. In 2016, however, Greece paid $47.6 billion for its imports.
Second, the pressure of “free” markets have sped up the industrialization of Greek farming. Farms of one crop have been getting larger. The use of hazardous and neurotoxic pesticides has been expanding. Urbanization has been depopulating thousands of villages. The country I left in 1961 is not the country of 2018.
How do I know these changes are going on? Certainly not by reading scarce and unreliable statistics. In each of my trips to Greece, I travel to villages and talk to farmers.
Greek farmers are telling me the effects from this fake farm “modernization,” subsidized by EU, are not good. It’s hard to find healthy food. Bread in 2018 is less nutritious than the bread of 1961. Bread in 2018 does not taste like homemade bread or the bread I ate while growing up in Cephalonia in the decades of the 1950s and 1960s. Greece is no longer self-reliant in food.
A flickering light of hope is the spreading of organic/biological agriculture. My visit to an organic fruits and vegetables food market was the climax of my 2018 trip to Greece. I admired the beautiful, aromatic red tomatoes from Crete and the dozens of Greeks buying them and other healthy fruits and vegetables.
Too many cars
Third, the infrastructure of the country is crumbling.
The country was rebuilt in a hurry after World War II. Most of its roads are inadequate for the influx of huge numbers of cars. Add this hazard to bad village and city narrow roads without sidewalks and you have a crisis of medieval proportions.
I like to walk and bike. I had a great deal of difficulty in walking in very narrow, broken-up right and left strips of streets flooded with parked and moving cars. As for biking, I did not even try it.
Pollution is unregulated. Greece is a dream country for polluters. The country’s huge fleet of imported cars is damaging human health and the natural world. I felt that pollution.
Then comes the crown of human stupidity and greed: heavy taxation in a country collapsing from luck of funds and jobs. The Troika knows you cannot tax an unemployed person. Yet, taxation in Greece in 2018 is very broad and brutal. I was sick and tired of listening to my relatives and friends talking in terror about all the special taxes on food, homes, land, inheritance etc.
So why did the troika impose policies that impoverish Greeks, making the repayment of the loans nearly impossible? Is it possible the troika sees Greece simply as a vacation spot for rich non-Greeks? Converting the country to lots for second vacation homes for anyone with lots of cash?
This is not entirely speculative. Thousands of Germans own houses in Crete and Peloponnesos. Close to two thousand British own houses in Cephalonia. The economic collapse of Greece, and the drastic decline of home prices, is a “golden opportunity” for foreigners to buy their vacation home in Greece. And then there are thousands upon thousands of Muslim refugees in Greece.
Greeks think about this reality in their country. They probably blame the troika and its Greek collaborators, hence the genesis of the slogan: “Poor people to arms.”
Protests don’t seem to matter that much. The Greek government is a product of post-World War II inequalities and foreign ideologies. Government officials, theoretically representing the extreme left, even communist wing of the political spectrum, are just as capitalist as Wall Street bankers. Not only that, but they are, like the early Christians, internationalists to the point they are harming the national interests of Greece. They just sold the Greek name and legacy of Greek Macedonia to a bunch of Albanians and Bulgarians pretending to be “Macedonians.”
Moreover, these Greek politicians don’t think Greece has borders or that Greek borders matter.
These bad policies, encouraged by NATO and the troika, also fuel Turkey’s hostility towards Greece. Turkey, fully cognizant of the incompetence, cowardliness, or idiocy of Greek political leadership, is pushing illegal migrants to the Greek islands of the Aegean, almost daily. Those who take care of the increasing numbers of Muslim migrants to Greece told me “Greece is becoming a warehouse of souls.”
Thus, “Arming the Have-Nots” may be more than a slogan. Limits control everything. Humans can put up with a lot of abuse until their limits break down. Some Greeks have already passed through that threshold.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.