The wry laughter of the blameless

By Pantelis Boukalas

“Come and get it, folks! It’s cheaper than at Postbank!” The trader at an Athens open-air street market yesterday morning was touting the fruit and vegetables arrayed on his stand.

It seemed that he was in a humoros, albeit rather sarcastic mood, or that he had decided to resort to the same tactics of the advertisements we see on our televisions every day, where, for example, a mobile telephone promises to realize all of our dreams of a utopian existence.

And so, in order to advertise the favorable prices of his tomatoes, cauliflowers and other produce, the savvy trader used the scandal of Hellenic Postbank, the lender that has been making headlines these past few days, as his sales gimmick.

It reminded me of the days of the stock market bubble, when stocks and their prices were on everyone’s lips. “Come and get your stocks” was a catchphrase that was all too familiar back then, especially to those who lost a pile of money. They have been brushed off as victims of their own avarice, meaning basically that no fault can be brought against the ministers and businessmen-cronies who lauded the stock exchange as being the safest place for our savings.

The sales pitch “Come and get it, folks! Its cheaper than at Postbank!” is not as simple as it may seem at first because it summarizes multiple messages and feelings in just a few words. The people at the market had no trouble deciphering it, of course. They knew all about the scandal, about the half a billion euros of public money that went into private pockets because our banks had not yet become – like the stock market – the safest place in the world to put your savings. Customers walking past the grocer’s stall laughed at his gimmick – the wry kind of laugh we have for when we know we have been taken for a ride. A slightly angry laugh. They knew that there is something not quite above-board about a situation whereby seven-figure loans with no strings attached were quietly funneled in one direction – the usual direction – at the same time as the “masses,” the “people” had to submit a whole pile of paperwork and sign all sorts of binding agreements in order to borrow a few thousand euros of much-needed cash – and then have to suffer the anxiety of losing their home if circumstances meant they were struggling to pay the loan off.

Most people who get themselves into debt know that when it comes down to it, they will be blamed for biting off more than they can chew. Of course so-called investors, benefactors and others among the privileged few never have to face such scrutiny. They wanted money, they got money.