OPINION

On the Olympia Museum robbery, Greece and the euro, reporting, solutions

I read that the museum had only one night-time guard because of the economic crisis. Greece has often benefited from the public contributions of private persons, such as the Averoff and Goulandris families. I suggest, on a smaller scale, that the tourism businesses at sites such as Olympia and Delphi put their funds together to pay for additional security for the museums and archaeological sites to pay for some of the guards that the State can no longer afford to employ.

Eugene Pagano

New York

Re: Alexis Papachelas? commentary

I would like your paper to know that I deeply appreciate Alexis Papachelas’s reporting on the financial situation in Greece. Although I am a lifelong subscriber to the Economist, I feel that too much detail is lost in their reporting of an event that is changing the face of Europe. Alexis’s reporting style is even-handed, real, and displays a passion for Greece and its future. He seems to insist that Greeks face the reality that past poor management has placed them in. I stumbled upon his writing in the New York Times and have been hooked since.

Do not think that all Americans ignore what’s happening in Europe — although a minority, we are just as passionate to see our Greek brothers and sisters ‘walk through the fire’ and come out stronger and better on the other side.

Eric Petersen

California

K. Polychonopoulos’s fight to feed the hungry

Bless you sir and your fellow volunteers who are bringing a lot (but nowhere near enough) of tummy comfort to the needy, who certainly don’t deserve to be in this terrible condition. How can tax evaders and crooked politicians sleep at night? It’s so very sad.

A well-educated friend of mine, hardworking designer is now badly handicapped, ill and without work He is trying to live on a pension of 400 euros per month in Vyronas. His pension, which he paid into until he was 64, is 300 euros.

We must pray for him and the thousands of other Greeks who now find themselves in similar situations.

Nancy

USA

Eurocrats and elites

The Eurocrats are short-sighted. This is obvious because they inhabit the same system and have the same general way of thinking about things, despite some diversity of history. When they started developing an elite political class, their thought processes converged. At this point their elites think much more like each other than differently.

As an outsider (an American) I can see that. But bias can get trickier. As an American I am still part of the Western (developed countries) groupthink. An economic system that the European debt crisis threatens at this point. As someone who is young I am also part of the expat intellectual thought convergence that is developing as money gets spread around parts of the world which used to be (and still are majority) poor, and rich people from poor countries are welcomed everywhere.

So who is right? The Western elites, the Eurocrats or the more exotic international expat classes that are emerging? The West, Brazil, Africa, Iran, Arab Spring States, Commodity States, Oil Regimes or China? I don’t think we know. Everyone is cooking their books so statistics are likely to lie to us. The world is all so damned complicated and I don’t think anyone is able to do the math, which in the real world is non-linear, messy, and typically not even solvable. It doesn’t follow neat theoretical patterns and it can change as rapidly as assumptions are knocked down.

We live in interesting times.

Elizabeth Smith

Virginia, USA

Diaspora Greeks

Many of my fellow diaspora Greek compatriots seem to have an answer as to the cause of Greece?s problems. Sometimes they proffer possible solutions of which there appears to be no shortage especially, from Hellas?s Teutonic cousins.

What there is little doubt is that Greece is in a mess. But not all of it is of her making. Much of the problem lies in the easily extended credit that became available following the entry into the European economic union. There is a sclerotic tax collection system that encouraged avoidance, and an inefficient, bloated and corrupt public sector. But are these factors uniquely Greek?

The Germans haven?t always been the frugal or thrifty practitioners of sound economic management. A recent episode of ?Foreign Correspondent? showed gloating Bavarians extolling the virtues of hard work and living within one?s means as a reason for their economic success. Perhaps they need to be gently reminded that in the 1930s their national government was running up huge unsustainable debts to finance its social engineering and war machine that it then turned to stealing the assets of its Jewish citizens and then invaded one country after another to pay these debts. Among them was Greece, whose punishment for resisting the Axis was to have its financial reserves plundered in the form of interest-free loans, most of which was never repaid, and its population forced to starve or become servants of the Master Race.

But don?t mention the war.

The lessons of Versailles taught the Allied powers not to force debilitating reparations on the Germans. Instead they received generous assistance to rebuild their industries and not bother with matters military. Greece on the other was encouraged to build up its armed forces and join in the West?s challenge to Soviet Communism. That and the paranoid obsession with the neighbouring Turks meant Greece was less interested in channelling its scarce resources in creating a modern economy.

My late father used to say that Greece had an overabundance of public servants, entertainers and ?horofilakas? (village policemen). The lack of any meaningful job opportunities caused many like him to emigrate to Australia.

Greece doesn?t have a sophisticated manufacturing industry like Germany. Nor is it blessed with natural resources like Australia. If you take these away you might find that both countries might struggle to pay their way as well. There are plenty of tax avoiders around and it?s only lately that local individuals and businesses have become reluctant to borrow after nearly two decades of credit splurging.

It is much easier to cast stones at sinners than reflect on one?s own shortcomings and transgressions.

So what is the answer for my other compatriots? The enforced austerity is not the solution. Northern Europe seems to think it is an appropriate punishment for decades-old profligacy. A high school Economics student will tell you that only makes the problem worse. And it forces Greece in a generation long depression and the consequences are too awful to contemplate.

An orderly default is the best among a bad set of solutions. Greece needs to rebuild its economy and that alone means sacrifices. It can start developing industries that can utilize and sell renewable energy. Just like Australia, it can continue to be a services-driven economy, but it needs to toss the euro. Instead of going alone perhaps convince Portugal, Spain, Ireland, and maybe even Italy to adopt a separate currency.

The end result means that Greece?s creditors, especially Germany, will pay for their own errors of judgement — recent and past. There is plenty of blame to share around.

Con Kominos

Australia

Elgin Marbles? return in jeopardy now?

As a supporter of the Elgin Marbles? return to Greece, I now worry that this probably will never happen. I’m sure most in Britain are viewing this [robbery at the Ancient Olympia Museum] and wondering how Greece can protect the Marbles should they be returned.

These thefts have highlighted flaws in Greek security and until things change, I fear that the Brits will never give the Marbles back, and under the current crisis and non-existent security at sites like Olympia and other museums, I have to agree with them for the time being.

Ralph Landry

Argyroupoli

Re: ?We are all Greeks now? protests

Err, nothing interesting about these rallies. Just more spoiled, privileged, work-shy socialists whining and crying that they are not allowed to get into the pockets of the hardworking people with hard earned cash. That is their interpretation of what solidarity is — namely theft of the other’s people money.

Time to move on and go back to work now.

Teodora Ivanova Chasse

Maine, USA

Theft of artefacts

When I opened the article I expected some words of wisdom, direction, thoughtfulness etc. What I got was a reactive suggestion that someone should be employed to guard the nation’s treasures. For heaven’s sake, what are a few old bits of stuff in comparison with the abject poverty and misery the Greek people are living with daily? OK, treasures are important, but your report smacks a bit of ‘Fiddling while Rome burns»!

Bob Scott

A fish rots from the head

The historical source of problems lies firmly with the Ottoman suppression of Greece. The characteristics of that bloated, cruel and corrupt system had to be adopted by the poor oppressed Greeks; thus deviousness and cheating characteristics were welded to natural charm and generosity. This together with the oppression of logic and humanist ideals by the Church made a fine soil in which the current shambles and disorientation of society has grown. The present governing cliques are saturated in this vile mixture; the ordinary folk see the way their ‘betters’ behave and feel obliged to emulate them in order to survive. The solution is to cut the heads from the rotten fish — all of them large and small, so that the general population can begin to understand how it may be possible to stand erect, fearless, honest and proud. Once the poor, stupid and scared populace refuses to give doctors their brown envelopes and refuses to be cowed by the plethora of bureaucratic nincompoops, then and only then might be seen a faint distant light of hope for Greece.

Harry Bell

Re: ?What was lost in the fires?

Nikos Konstandaras comments are the reality on the ground.

What?s behind it?

In one hundred years of the present modern Greek state the background of the multitudes that landed in the new Greek state have never really saw themselves as one people.

It becomes very apparent when hundreds of thousands of Greeks have landed in Melbourne, more than three hundred organisations were created to represent them in one form or another. The oldest mother organisaton that came into existence in the early 1900s struggles to have more than a few thousand members.

Despite very few Greeks being Christians they do flock to churches more than most ethnic groups of Melbourne. They are in reality «Souvlaki Christians.» When the the priest promises a celebration with souvlaki and wine after the church service, thousands arrive.

Desbite its many problems the church does unite in part, but ostracises Greeks of other Christian religions and Muslims. Yes there are Greek Muslims; many stay Greek and not become «Turks» but its difficult to mix when every organsation is called the Greek Orthodox Community of a region.

The sad disunity and even animosity between the different «Greeks» becomes very noticeable at large gatherings in Northern Greece itself where in display of dancing and theater sees whole groups leave as soon as their group have finished performing. There is no respect or courtesy shown even in the simplest form to the different performers.

Regional Greek government even pretends that certain cultural groups do not exist, and, the degrading way Greek government officials treat the minority groups is startling even to someone like myself who has personally not been immune from being shot and beaten to a pulp on a number of occasions merely because I used to spend too much time surfing the Australian coastline and developing a real Mediterranean tan.

The main problem of Greece is not economic but rather the lack of democracy and a respectful legal system based on logic. The «close enough is good enough» logic applies to everything.

One large town in Northern Greece will not go the small expense of connecting to a government-provided sewerage treatment plant, but will continue to pump untreated sewerage into a lake used by other towns for their drinking water. The mayor has the opinion of «we do not have a problem, the other towns do.”

The real way to judge the problem on the ground is the way Greece as a whole throws sewerage into every waterway and somebody else?s backyard.

Charilaos Lithoxopoulos

Frightening

I have great sympathy for the suffering of the Greek people.

However, I believe that the author sees what he wants to see, not what really is happening: The ones that have to pay for this party are truly weary, but not in the selfish way that the author wants the audience to believe.

The rest of Europe is afraid that:

— the Greek people will vote for the ones that promise the most, without regard to who is going to pay for the excesses.

— the Greek people will not educate themselves regarding what they can and cannot have (based on their productivity). For example they seem to believe that they can retire 10 years earlier than the average European citizen. On what grounds do they base such a belief? Because the Greeks believe they work harder than the rest of Europe? Because they believe that their productivity and export is superior to the rest of Europe?

– when the Greek people can’t get everything they want they will smash up their own city or go on strike, instead of working harder.

– the Greek worker does not believe in paying taxes to fund public spending; he only believes in public jobs, publicly funded pensions and public spending that benefits him.

We, the rest of Europe, do not have the same fears regarding many of the other troubled countries. The reason for that is the reactions and reforms that have been implemented (and implemented without the political theatre that we have seen the Greeks putting up for the last couple of years).

Look at the Baltic states for example: Voluntary cuts in salaries to increase competitiveness, voluntary reduction in public spending in order to avoid fatal dept burdens, deregulation in order to break old monopolies and anticompetitive behaviour.

Greece has failed to adjust as needed. The only time that parliament considers reform is when it is tempted with more money.

Old ElPaso

All the pain money can buy

I am a Greek Australian born in Chios. My wife Joan is Australian, we have 5 boys and all hold dual nationality. We recently purchased land and built a seaside villa in Rhodes where we usually visit 2-3 times each year and mostly spend 5 months there.

Thanks to Ekathimerini online I keep updated with the events as they unfold. No doubt there have been many comments and opinions sent to your newspaper, and fair enough, after all we are Greek!

Unfortunately those who have caused the problem will not be those who will suffer and the next generation (those who remain) will be simply a generation lost with the taxman’s both hands in their pockets. But let’s not forget what caused this in the first place and ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

As we know, Britain, Germany, France and others in an attempt to grow their markets in developing countries like Greece, conceived the idea of a united Europe. However, the failure was simply the introduction of one currency, the Euro. To attempt to dismantle it in these unstable times would be catastrophic and I imagine this is their (troika’s) ultimate aim — when it best suits them. After all the supposed income from loans has been included in the Banks Profit and given the spectacular locations (all over Greece) you will have a good chance of success.

No reason why safeguards cannot be put in place for archaeological site,s in advance, and some of the money used to pay for additional services such as security, catering etc.

Current impression is that doing business with officialdom is fraught with difficulty and you, as a country need to overcome that.

I wish you success.

Alex MacGillivray

Onward Grecian soldiers

A correspondent recently gave a breakdown of the per capita cost of the Greek parliamentary deputies, and it worked out at approximately 2,000,000 euros per member. There are 300 members so that is 600,000,000 in salaries and expenses to your representatives, annually. Perhaps the ordinary people of Greece — workers, teachers, doctors and so on would like to think about this. Greece has a population of 11,000,000. This is a ratio of 1 MP to approximately 7,000 people. Maybe you regard this as a justifiable expense. Or you may consider it to be an astronomical drain on a small country’s resources.

This is in addition to the vast public service with its inefficiencies and attitudes which hold back Greece’s potential both at home and in the world market. Greece needs to say ?yes? to reforms which will streamline decision-making processes and get people back to work, make Greece a viable economic entity and a major trading centre. Plans need to be properly thought out before being hastily implemented, and then followed through. Much of Greece’s problems lie in this failure to see through the actions which need to be taken, like reduce the Parliamentary numbers by half, saving 300,000,000 euros a year and a similar culling of waste in the ?Dimossio? [civil service]. I would suggest employing an internationally reputable firm such as Deloitte’s to go through the Greek accounts with a fine-toothed comb and put forward a plan for revitalising Greece’s economy.

I feel sorry for Mr Papoulias. He feels insulted. He is an old man and respected in Greece. But he has been badly let down by his colleagues who have, by their greed, dishonesty and incompetence allowed Greece to descend to this level which makes the country and its people a target for insults. I live in Greece and I have many Greek friends. They are, as a whole, decent people. They are somewhat ethnocentric, and have a tendency to regard Greece as perfect, which blinds their vision to its faults. This is unfortunate, for if they were a little more self criticism the country would never have got into this state.

But the British have stood by Greece in its present predicament — if you read today’s British press you will find it aware of Greece’s economic failings, but not condemnatory. We have a saying in England re: women (it dates back to the beginning of the 18th century so the writer’s views might be regarded as politically incorrect today!) And the woman here is Hellas!

Be to her virtues very kind;

Be to her faults a little blind;

Let all her ways be unconfined;

And clap your padlock — on her mind!

?An English Padlock? (1707)

I discussed the contents of this letter with a Greek friend of mine and asked him how he would view the return of a dictatorship. He thought this unlikely as it’s not so long ago that Greece had one, and the members of the military government ended up in Korydallos. He doubted whether things would change until there was blood on the streets. Many Deputies are already afraid to walk alone in their constituencies.

John Foss

Athens

Greece — Not a Scapegoat

The Greeks are guilty. Corruption and tax evasion are widespread and vastly exceed what is found in countries such as the United States or developed European countries such as France, Germany or Scandinavia. Virtually anyone who can evade taxes does so. Doctors routinely demand bribes. The Greek standard of living was artificially raised by excessive social benefits financed by borrowing, much of it from foreigners.

There is no alternative to austerity because the Greeks can no longer live beyond their means by borrowing unlimited amounts of money at low interest rates.

Roderick Beck

Views from Estonia

While Estonians are sympathetic to the economic problems of Greece, it has to be remembered that our own Estonian parliament has to vote on the subject of sending our own hard-earned money to support your cause.

The minimum Estonian wage is about 290 euros per month, our average pension is 304 euros. Therefore you might not be surprised that we have some skeptism about why we should give you this money to support a Greek salaries that are four times higher than we can afford.

Since 2008, Estonia has seen our GDP drop by 16% and the population quietly devalued their salaries without burning their cities or rioting and we are now working hard putting savings away for the future, paying our taxes so the state can continue to be a solid and reliable institution and that can continue to attract foreign investment to support the economic growth that will ensure the future pensions of our small country.

So before you start lambasting the people for the hard terms they are requesting to financially support you, give a thought to say thank you, especially to poorer Eastern European countries that are also being asked for help.

Martin Dungay

Benign protest dos not work

I have read with interest from those who see violent protest as a disgrace and the wrong way to assert ones stance. I would find it extraordinary if violence was the norm. But there is a real living void between passive protesting and violent protest. This vacuum occurs when the people feel their views have not and will never be listened to. Furthermore when the same inept, corrupt politicians are the responders then the people are not only ignored but they are totally dismissed. This is the ultimate nose in the dirt scenario.

The fact is violent protest is the last act of a suppressed people or at the very least a people dismissed by its leaders. How on earth can a politician with a Swiss bank account, gold plated pension — alleged, through corrupt practices — direct his people to work for no pay! Even in the soup kitchens are volunteers scraping it all together. Why don?t the politicians dip into their Swiss bank account and give money to this deserving cause? They could do it anonymously.

I am not a supporter of violent protest. I hold Dr Martin Luther King and Ghandi as my heroes. However it was the violence against the aforesaid and the people they represented which catapulted their cause to the world headlines.

I live in Crete and cannot afford, on my pension, to pay for a flight to Athens to join the protesters. I wholeheartedly support their fight against corruption and self-interest coveted by a number of the current batch of politicians.

I also say to Greek people: grasp this opportunity for real change. Dump the closed shop working practices and support, strive for a transition towards free enterprise, market philosophy. Create a playing field for growth, a manufacturing base. I say to the politicians — in Greece and in Europe — you push the people too far. There is no more money we can give. We are not to blame for the selfish millionaire bankers gambling away our money.

Put the brakes on now! Commit to policies for growth and if this means a return to the drachma then so be it. Iceland and USA show this can be done in ways other than austerity measures.

We want integrity in politics. You would have to be in a coma to accept millionaires dishing out a medicine or surgery when its effect is to pull the plug and finish you off.

John Bennett-Collins

Crete