OPINION

On tourism, illegal pedlers, Kenteris/Thanou ruling, a return to the drachma, a race track for Athens, Greece’s lost soul

Greeks, what are you waiting for?

I am an avid reader of your on-line English edition of Kathimerini. I am a Greek Canadian born in Canada, but I travel to Greece on average every 18 months. I am very proud of my roots. This pride has pushed me to educate my two young children in private Greek immersion schools so they may learn the language, culture and make their ethnic roots part of their lives.

In reading your paper and other on-line Greek newspapers and speaking to friends and relatives back in Greece what strikes me most is this ideology that everybody is waiting for somebody else to correct the financial, cultural and emotional problems Greece is enduring today. The problems that Greece is facing today are not problems that began two, five or even ten years ago. They are problems that began a generation ago, and it seems thata Greeks are quick to criticize the current Prime Minister or his cabinet, or any other entity that is trying to implement systems or procedures that will correct prior wrongs. 

I agree that Mr. Papandreou is not the most charismatic individual, and yes he might not be the best at implementing the tough adjustments that are needed to set Greece on a path of revival, but reality is (if Greek citizens haven’t noticed) there is no one else within your political framework, at the moment, that is any better. Mr. Papandreou is trying to correct a lot of the past ills in a very short time, and obviously he is up against a ideological dogma that has its own special interests to defend, but at the same time how many Greeks are willing to give of themselves to solve the current problems? In an environment where tax evasion runs rampant, and the country’s economic survival is at risk, how many good Greek citizens are stepping up to pay their fair share? How many people are willing to make a positive example of themselves? Where are the grass-root movements that are willing to put pressure on the politicians to make the changes that are needed. It would seem to me that the only movements present are the one’s that do not want to change things.

The Greek culture and mentality is today what it was five years ago. The only difference is that the money has run out. The band has stopped playing music, no one wants to pay the musicians, and no one wants to clean the mess (and the few that are making the effort are being criticized because they are not doing it quickly enough). The reality is that if each individual doesn’t look to change himself and put his or her immediate needs on the side for the good of the whole, no leader will fix the current problems that Greece is facing.

I am completely aware of the fact that most Greeks, who have been born in Greece, loathe the fact that foreign-born Greeks come back to their ancestral country and begin to criticize and give advice about how things should be done, and, yes, you might see us as ?Hazo Americanakia,? but reality is Greeks have forgotten how much blood was shed to claim that small piece of earth that all we Greeks take pride in.  Unfortunately the price that needs to be paid to preserve it is too much for present-day Greeks to pay. They seem to be more concerned about all the material things that they may need to sacrifice, totally forgetting that while they no longer can enjoy the sun’s rays the way they used to — the boat is sinking.

In conclusion, if Greece is going to turn around, it is up to you as Greeks to do it.

 

Regards

 

Tony Papapanos, M.B.A.

Branch Manager

Canaccord Wealth Management

Illegal peddlers, petty criminals at the Ancient Agora

I have lived on Adrianou Street directly across from the Ancient Agora for nearly 20 years. Those who live and have businesses in the area have repeatedly pressed both the Citizens? Protection Ministry and the Municipality of Athens to clean up our neighborhood, which is infested with illegal peddlers and petty criminals. Last year I wrote a letter to Nikitas Kaklamanis, Pavlos Geroulanos and Michalis Chrysochoidis which was signed by over 60 people enumerating the problems.

 

Only Mr. Chrysochoidis replied and invited me to join a meeting of other neighborhood organizations regarding the situation in the center of the city. I must give credit where credit is due: Several months later a cleanup took place and the worst of these elements were either arrested or chased off. Since that time they have slowly returned.

 

Tour buses bring tourists and students to visit the Ancient Agora and on the way they have to pass individuals who look and behave like the crew in «Pirates of the Caribbean.» These guys carry knives and keep their belongings in grocery carts that are tethered to the fence of the Ancient Agora. Opposite the Agora are six filthy garbage bins which are usually overflowing.

The tourists then have to wend their way around groups of «papagithes,» petty criminals who fleece idiots out of their money and most probably pick their pockets as well.

 

Between Assomaton and 7 Adrianou where the cafes and restaurants begin, illegal peddlers set up tables every morning to sell their «goods.» Oh, and for those bleeding hearts out there who protest that these poor people need to make a living, I can tell you that one of them has the audacity to arrive every morning in a big, black compresser Mercedes and unloads his «goods.» The «papagithes» and the peddlers stash their tables and chairs at the «periptero? across from Adrianou 7-9. They gather there, get drunk and annoy people passing by.

 

Adrianou is not a side street in a dodgy neighborhood, it is one of the most popular destinations for tourists and Greeks alike in the entire city. The Ancient Agora is one of the most important archaological sites on the planet and the grounds are filled with syringes (I was told this by a man cleaning the area) and the northern fence of the Agora which faces the Square of Theseus has become an open latrine.

 

Last spring, before we had the Chrysochoidis cleanup, there was a nasty knife fight and the street was covered with blood. The tourist season is upon us and I can only hope that the powers that be will finally get their act together and prevent another tragedy such as the one that happened yesterday. I have photographs of all of the above.

 

Sincerely, Renee Pappas

Re: ?Greece’s lost soul?

Nick Maltouzis wrote: ?Greece has reached the point when it must also look within itself and discover a new morality, a new purpose, a new narrative. It needs to rediscover its soul, because the one it had was once strong and vibrant.?

So true, dear Nick, so true.

We all, around the globe, need to recall all that has been great about Hellenism from the dawn of time until today and, yes, the ancestors who gave us so much were not the only Ellines of whom we should be proud.

There were the heroes who took the Nazi flag down from the Acropolis. There were the heroes who fought off the best military machine in the world so well that to this day their «children» refuse to pay reparations to Ellada because they both hate and fear Ellines.

There are the musicians and the artists, the actors and the educators. There are doctors such as my uncle Bill, one of the best in the world in his specialist field.

There are businesspeople who are worth billions due to their talents in the business world and in pioneering with innovative ideas.

There are those who honestly retain the culture to which we were all born, who preserve our language, our dances, our cooking and all that makes us who we are.

Yes, Ellada has economic problems but these are not new and Ellada can and will rise again. We only have to believe in ourselves as a people and respect who we are.

Is that too much to ask?

ZHTO ELLAS

Angelos Kenos

Australia

Re: ?Greece’s lost soul?

I read your article and reread it. Finally someone has put to words what I have been thinking for so long. Your essay should be read to all students from elementary school to university and for a discussion to follow. Keep up the good work. Kai panta kala.

George Garris

Re: ?Greece’s lost soul?

The article «Greece’s lost soul,» by Nick Malkoutzis, to me is an example of some of the finest commentary that exists in any newspapers around the world.

Thought provoking and refreshingly frank without being simplistic, this article is one of many that has come out of your paper that gives me hope that whatever the current social and economic situation in Greece, it will be overcome.

The necessity of “a new morality, a new purpose, a new narrative» is something understood by many, because, to quote Alcibiades (via Thucydides), «the man who really loves his country… desires for it so strong, that he will shrink from nothing in his efforts to get back there again.”

George Petrakis

Re: ?Meanwhile, what are we doing??

Your article «Meanwhile, what are we doing?» closes with a critical view of a return to the drachma (would effectively be a catastrophe for Greece). I beg to differ as the current financial problems we are facing are not uniqe to Greece, which you compare unfavourably with Portugal, but are also faced by the United States (or the «Economic Superpower”) and UK, whose economic situation is as bad if not significantly worse than that of Greece. The only difference is that as issuer of the world?s reserve currency, the dollar, they can basically print as many dollars as they need (see QE1, QE2…) and inflate their way out of the debt. Greece has given up its right to inflate its economy out of any financial problems by joining the euro (without meeting the criteria for joining in the first place) and our politicians have offered up our political independence and all our assets as well with the European Central Bank and IMF dictating our taxation and social services standards and rules (in blatant violation of the Constitution of the Hellenic Republic, I may add).

Just because our current politicians are void of solutions or corrupted by the banking interests to adopt current policy does not mean that a return to the drachma and departure from the EU does not have its merits. Greece was the birthplace of democracy and could also be the birthplace of a new economic paradigm to replace the Central Bank/Fractional Reserve financial system, which is obviously broken.

My proposal for an alternative for Greece, which would limit the pain and suffering to a significantly shorter period of time and restore our independence, would follow the following lines:

1) Greece issues a new currency (drachma) backed by the significant gold (110 tons) reserves it has (rather than sell it to cover bad loans as is the German proposal) in the ratio required to have an exchange rate of 1 new drachma = 1 euro. All bank accounts convert to new drachmas and the currency runs in parallel with the euro in the market, replacing euros as they are removed from circulation. This obviously means we leave the EU.

2) Greece devalues the new drachma and pays all its bond debts in new drachmas, wiping the slate clean.

2) The government changes the constitution to restore the power of the state to issue interest-free money, taking this right away from the interest-charging Bank of Greece (a private bank with unknown shareholders) and ECB. Also, the constitution will forbid future borrowing by the state and demand that additional drachmas in circulation will be limited to the gold/silver reserves of the country at the new fixed rate. Debt is slavery, so all government services will be paid for by the revenues collected on VAT, taxes etc. No revenues, no services, period.

3) All civil servants? salaries will be reduced to the minimum legal wage immediately. It is totally absurd that civil servants should have higher salaries than those in the private sector (i.e. the people they are supposed to serve). The military purchasing budget will be cut and obligatory military service will be suspended to cut expenditure.

4) Politicians are useless in a society that permits us to pay securely via credit cards over the internet. How about real democracy where citizens can log in and solicit or issue votes on all proposals for changes in laws, sales of government property, etc. directly? Why pay the huge expenses for our political class when each citizen can actively participate in their democracy directly?

Now, if Iceland could do it and get out of the brutal recession just two years after the crisis hit, why not Greece? Should we remain terrorised by the ECB, the rating agencies and the bankers forever? I prefer the motto displayed on our national flag «Liberty or Death!”

Michael Michaeilides

Kenteris, Thanou get suspended terms

On January 11, 2008, Olympic track star Marion Jones was sentenced in a federal court Friday to six months in prison, two years of probation and community service for lying to federal prosecutors investigating the use of performance-enhancing substances. Kenteris and Thanou got suspended sentences. So much for Greek «justice.”

Renee Pappas

Some constructive criticism on tourism

My wife and I set up a small holiday business in Crete several years ago. I would like to suggest one or two ideas to help boost tourism in Greece.

The EOT license system that is compulsory at present should be changed to a voluntary system (with the same standards applied) that is viewed as a «Gold Standard» and advertised as such. This would then allow other villa owners, without EOT, to advertise their properties for rent, hopefully bringing more people to Greece.

I understand that present EOT license holders may feel aggrieved at having paid for their license, we were charged 12,000 euros by our architect, but change is needed to take Greece forward out of its current difficulties.

A change is needed to the current shop opening laws, as many tourists coming from northern Europe are used to all-day opening. Closing town centres in the middle of the day reduces the opportunities of shoppers to spend their money.

Constructive ideas are needed, not name calling and shouting as seems to be happening with so many of the current letter writers.

Tom Mein

Horafakia Hania, Crete

How horrible, but we need to learn a lesson

Upon reading the story of the expectant father-to-be getting mugged/killed at 5 a.m. over a video camera, I realized Greece has finally come full circle.

No longer can Greeks refer to Chicago to describe crime. Chicago has become Athens.

But, more importantly, in Athens, Greeks must realize that bravado or resisting criminals intent on taking your possessions is not very smart. In the USA, we learned long ago not to resist criminals and in most cases, you’ll survive.

In this young man’s defense, he grew up in a Greece where, in years gone by, you could probably yell at a criminal and threaten to tell his «yia-yia» and he’d most likely run away.

But, no more. Greeks please listen. When criminals demand your belongings, give ?em up. Don’t resist or you risk becoming a stat like this poor man.

Bravado, machismo and brinkmanship is not worth your life.

Eleni Koures

Re: ?Meanwhile, what are we doing??

Management – Responsibility – Control – Fines

If the above are instigated or initiated in every government body and individual, results would be seen. Analyse the above in great detail and you see how these words are lacking in the current Greek system.

You see, there is no management, there is no responsibility by any individual, there is no control since many can do as they like (many — if not all — have life signed work contracts), and there are no fines or penalties applied to any matter when something goes wrong, or if they are applied then they are simply revoked.

So, how and where does this lead us? Do you/we see the current Greek changing his/her behaviour in order to have a better system? and therefore a better tomorrow?

Sorry, I don’t see it happening. Not by borrowing money, and not in the next year or two, or three.

Panos Mavromytis

Strikes and violent protests are irresponsible. The «same-old» isn’t an option!

And even non-violent demonstrations don’t make any sense, as long as the unions and their supporters don’t have a reasonable, working plan about how the cuts can be avoided. They need to answer the question: Where shall the money come from in the short run? Without the EU as virtually the last lender willing to give Greece any money at rates below 25%, the nation would be bankrupt tomorrow and the cuts would have to be much, much harder! Instead of about 10% deficit, it would have to be 0%. Imagine that!

Other Europeans see the need to help the Greeks in this time of misery, but almost nobody is willing to subsidize a whole nation in the long term. The credits can only finance the transition period, to soothe the painful consequences of the necessary reforms. It will take some years to repair the damage of decades of bad policies; we in the rest of Europe understand that. And we appreciate the impressive efforts of the Papandreou government to move the country towards financial independence and responsibility. The current administration certainly isn’t perfect, stronger efforts to increase the tax returns and to fight corruption would be welcome, but the direction is the right one and there is obvious progress.

What’s shocking is the almost total failure of the opposition and the unions to come up with any realistic ideas to improve the dire situation. Instead of proposals for better reforms, there seems to be a widespread movement shouting «No» and stomping for the same-old. As if that is an option at all! The money simply isn’t there, and nobody will give Greece credits for a continuation of the failed policies of the past. To the outside observer, it looks as if large parts of the Greek population live in a fantasy land created by wishful thinking. They act totally irresponsible. Strikes against unavoidable cuts will only result in more damage to the economy, and push the nation deeper into misery. That’s almost criminal behaviour, and it’s high time the Papandreou government, with the support of all reasonable people in Greece, stopped the disastrous sabotage of the nation’s efforts to create a better, sustainable life for all!

Gray

?Chronicle of a deadlock foretold?? It’s the chronicle of cluelessness!

Stavros Lygeros can’t hide the fact that he and actually all the opposition, plus the unions, didn’t have a better plan to get the nation’s finances on solid ground, and still don’t have one. All the finger-pointing can’t change the fact that nobody, really nobody, ever said the reforms would be easy, and that they wouldn’t bring severe hardships. But more of the same simply wasn’t an option, the money wasn’t there, and no creditor, not even other EU nations, were willing to subsidize the failed policies of the past any longer. So, what was the alternative?

And what is the alternative now? Stavros Lygeros and all the other naysayers don’t offer any better plans. Their criticism is shallow and phony, and it would be in the best interest of the Greek people if those political snipers would put up or shut up. What’s needed now are responsible, intelligent ideas for reforms and not surreallistic wishful thinking!

Gray

Close to 100 million to build a race track? Now?

The news about the plans to build a Formula 1 racetrack in Greece are shocking. This may be a nice PR move at a time when the nation’s coffers are full, but in these dire times of severe financial shortcomings, this can only be seen as irresponsible. After all, Greece doesn’t have 100 millions to spare right now, that would be borrowed money! The supporters point to the creation of 500 jobs, but let’s be serious, with a lot of luck, there will be one F1 race in any given year (really with a lot of luck, because the international competition regarding these events is huge). So, these would be temporary jobs, costing the taxpayer 200,000 euros each (actually even more, with the huge interests on credit)! Does this look like a reasonable investment now?

That money should rather go into the creation of jobs that bring immediate returns, like a specialized police unit to rein in the corruption, and a taskforce to fight tax evasion. Imagine what 500 officials could do in those fields! That would be the right move to make Greece more attractive for businesses, to improve the life of its citizen, to increase fairness of the tax system, and to stabilize the nation’s finances.

Gray

General strike

As an outsider (but frequent visitor to Greece), striking constantly will do no good for Greece. The Greek unions have far too much power, are ruining the economy and must share the blame for the current troubles. What they hope to achieve is beyond me! They, along with other workers, must swallow the medicine, harsh though it may be, and get on with working.

People outside Greece are amazed that civil servants have been spoilt rotten for years with all the benefits, bonuses, short working hours and long holidays. No other country has such a system and it?s about time it was changed.

Private individuals and companies must stop avoiding paying tax. Government tax inspectors should be monitiored themselves by an independent organisation to make sure there is no bribery, collusion etc.

State assets which are non-essential state assets should be sold off to ease the national debt.

Lastly, Greece needs a strong prime minister who will introduce laws to curb union powers, just like Margaret Thatcher did here; she took on the unions and won. The UK has been far better since with less union powers.

Greece is a wonderful country with lovely people. It?s so sad seeing these troubles.

Tim Hawkins