When the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) government along with the IMF imposed a provisional property tax known initially as the “haratsi” and later ENFIA (“unified property tax”) so as to then reduce pensions, wages, and welfare services anywhere between 40-50 percent, these taxes were collected via electric bills which traditionally also included the television license fee. Failure to pay the tax or the license fee implied being cut off from electricity.
The electric utilities employed private security guards to go around and cut electricity from vulnerable people, sending Greeks back the to the 1940s-era dark ages when the country wasn’t electrified to any large extent. Vulnerable citizens such as diabetics would have their fridges cut out in the summer heat, ensuring they met their maker early. Committees of citizens were created which attempted to block the electricity cutoffs and which would illegally reconnect those whose electricity was cut. When the electric workers’ union got involved and stated they would re-connect all vulnerable citizens, the pro-IMF governments were obliged to retreat and were forced to transfer the burden of the IMF taxes onto the tax offices.
After this, the public would receive their tax bills electronically via the tax office, and then their wages and pensions would be targeted for debts. SYRIZA initially was against all the above but then magically adopted the logic of austerity and its so-called “leftist” MP Nantia Valavani stated “it’s a patriotic duty to pay the ENFIA.”
This tax allegedly raises €2.7 billion annually, but this being Greece such claims can be taken with a grain of salt. What actually happens is anyone’s guess. Why does one assert that? For one thing, legislation was later passed stating that if one owes more than €500 to the tax office, they are then subject to immediate withdrawal of funds and the freezing of their bank accounts. SYRIZA then instructed citizens to declare an account to not be touched by inland revenue, but SYRIZA then targeted citizens’ accounts anyway. Now, having adopted the third memorandum of permanent austerity, house repossessions can take place for outstanding debts as low as €500. This is SYRIZA’s crowning achievement in social policy: issuing threats for repossession.
There was a famous case last summer on the island of Crete where one woman’s accounts were frozen and money seized for the tax debts of her husband, even after she had informed the bank that her account should not be bothered. She went to the bank to inquire why it was frozen and was told by the bank that the issue was out of their hands. She then went to the local tax office, which blamed the bank. Sensing this was not right, she started hurling computers around the tax office and shut it down after police was called. For the next three days the employees went on a strike claiming their life was constantly threatened.
Another news report stated a disgruntled 70-year old who was being threatened with electricity cut off turned up at the local electricity offices with petrol and threatened to burn the building down. No day passes when some type of incident occurs. Despite the lack of organised political responses, life in Greece goes on, and the struggle always continues in one form or another.
The incident to crown them all is the recent burning down of the second tax office of the city of Larissa on March 3. It burnt down fully and no explanation was given as to why, just pictures and images. This was apparently followed by a similar case in the city of Ierapetra, on the island of Crete, where the tax office was taken out of commission due to “strong winds.”
News of course is never news, just politics. The politics of austerity supersedes all, which is why just one week later it was announced that all is well and that the Larissa and Ierapetra tax offices have reopened somewhere else. But even though all is well, apparently citizens have to resubmit files which were lost in the …fires!
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