OPINION

On Greece’s political system, Olympic medals, crisis, eurozone exit

Maybe the end of the Greece we all knew…

Half a century ago I set foot on my mother’s land for the first time… It then took 18 hours to reach Patmos by boats called the Despina or the Agamemnon. When dolphins appeared on the right the boat leaned to the right, as all the passengers were there watching… On Patmos there was not a single kaiki with an engine capable of reaching Samos in case of emergency. But though at that time there may have been less than ten trees surrounding the Grotto of St John of the Apocalypse (now a forest), one taxi, and only donkeys, an old town still mostly empty and looking like ruins… it was of course more than Paradise to many. These last five years I have spent many, many months in Greece, and it is absolutely impossible for me still now to believe that in such a short span of time Greece has changed as much backwards as it had changed in 45 years with the times… The clock not only seems to have turned back, but it has turned back in another direction: Now it points straight to the Apocalypse! I am not at all a nostalgic soul! I have always accepted to live in the present, in reality when we all fall ill, a best friend, or your father or son dies.

Somehow, I’ll be mentally leaving Greece tomorrow. For it is my heart’s deepfelt view that if the Radical Left wins or even comes a very close second, salaries will fall to the equivalent of 250 euros at most written, but my heart’s Greece it is a lot worse.

Marc Sursock

Debt crisis

I want to apologize for my president, Obama (who himself likes to apologize often) for his part in steering Greece, and Europe in general, away from the hard decisions and toward so-called «pro-growth» policies. I’m afraid that he’s trying to lead you down the same path he’s leading us, where nothing is done about long-term problems or debt. It hasn’t worked here and it won’t work for you either. All it does is keep you from doing what needs to be done. Meanwhile, some blame Germany for requiring austerity before getting a «bailout». That is pathetic. Either take the money and the conditions, or don’t, but don’t blame them. That also keeps you from looking at yourselves and what needs to be done. I’m sure you’ve contemplated things like later retirement, etc. So are we, but some of our politicians cast those who consider anything like that as heartless. It gets them elected, but nothing gets done and the problem worsens. However, it will all all come to a head eventually. The question is, are we going to deal with it now so it’s not a calamity, or wait until it’s too late? Follow Obama’s lead and the answer will be the latter.

David Pooley

New Hope, Minnesota, USA

Thessaloniki rubbish

When one has few skills in the workforce, it can be very uncomfortable if your job is threatened.

The sad truth is the people employed in Thessaloniki to remove rubbish are doing it in a old way at a great cost, and they have made themselves hated by most citizens, as they take advantage of the vulnerability of the city to strikes.

The 19th century approach to rubbish removal in Thessaloniki is also about corruption and bad town planning. Parts of the city are a joke, but heartbreaking at the same time, as the parts done by the Turks are more logical.

If the rubbish collectors were not the most hated people in Thessaloniki, the average citizen would not mind spending twice as much to get their rubbish removed.

The reality of life is that a private company will do the job for half the price, and with a fixed contract.

The contract for the rubbish removal would go out to tender every three years, so the competition should bring down prices further.

No one is doing anyone any favours long term by creating jobs that do not have an economic base. Greece has too many industries that are not competitive.

The reason the present system has to go is illustrated by the very actions the workers took in their protests.

If they are so good at their jobs, they can band together and make a bid for the contract.

If I am not particularly sympathetic to the rubbish collectors, it’s because on the two occasions I asked someone to look at Thessaloniki they found the city a stinking mess.

If a city cannot do the basic job of removing rubbish, how are they going to handle something really difficult? When you also have water or power cuts, it’s really the stone age.

There is no logical reason why the city should not function.

If the basics are not there, the jobs Thessaloniki needs will not come.

Undermining job creation and giving pain to the unemployed should be a criminal offence.

Charilaos Lithoxopoulos

In response to Mr Philip Andrews

Thank you for your comment about my letter.

I do not wish that the Greeks should be like Norwegians or that Greece should be like other European countries. But I wonder why they accept the tax avoiding, the cheating and corruption.

They are obviously religious, the churches here are much visited, people kiss the pictures of holy men, but do they read the Bible? You shall not steal? You shall not lie? They have laws, but they obviously do not follow them, when none wants to pay taxes. In my opinion, that is stealing from one’s country. Do they know the difference between right and wrong? Even a child knows.

Ragnhild Irene Meijer

Paros

A new currency

Why is the question always posed: ‘Greece must leave the Euro and return the drachma’ or ‘Greece must accept austerity to keep the Euro’? Perhaps it is time for a Mediterranean currency, the med. Portugal, Italy and Spain are also victims of Germany’s intransigence, which has existed even during the negotiations leading to the Maastricht Treaty. «Europe After the Crisis» by Andrew Moravcsik in the May/June 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs demonstrates eloquently how Germany’s inflexibility concerning international agreements has favored its export-dominated economy. Internally it has kept wages low, favoring its export sector over its consumer sector.

Clearly the euro is out of equilibrium. But instead of looking for solutions within the euro framwork, as Professor Moravcsik discusses, the Mediterranean countries should develop a currency of their own with the common financial governance that the euro lacks. There would be med bonds for the region as well as international financial controls that the euro does not have.

The med countries could then compete with the euro countries without being held back by the disequilibrium. The med could be allowed to inflate with respect to the euro in a controlled manner.

Katherine J. Harine

Kingman, Arizona USA

Political structure compared to Denmark or Sweden

Debt is a political problem, not just an economical one.

In Greece the political problem may be found in the 50-seat bonus in the 300-member Parliament. It created a two political party system competing for votes. It created small majority governments.

Any attempt to cut spending or reform the economy would be met with strikes and demonstrations. It weakened the government’s capacity to govern and strengthen the opposition.

In this political structure nothing was done for fear of losing the next election.

Now it is the reason for political civil war with no winners and that civil war will continue after the next election.

It is your duty to get the Greek people to face the facts. The best way may be to compare Greece’s political structure, public sector and economical competitiveness to countries like Denmark or Sweden.

Niels Peder Gabrielsen (a Danish citizen with a Greek wife)

Kypseli

Financial crisis

Wouldn’t it be better if the Church and State separated in Greece? The Church could pay all its salaries and pensions. The Church could be taxed too, couldn’t it? Also I read the other day that all the super-rich here — eg shipowners — aren’t taxed. Why not tax them a few % of their wealth instead of destroying the have-nots? I find this whole situation very puzzling. The Church could pay off the debt interest-free and not even feel it.

Maudie Meyer

Olympic medals

An anonymous «John» is demonstrating his insecurity in public by bewailing the British use of English English on the Olympic gold medals. No one disputes the Greek origins of the Olympic Games, nor the fact that they have become an international event. The founder of the Modern Olympic Games was Baron de Coubertin, who believed physical fitness would benefit the youth of his country, and he pursued this dream on an international scale, so maybe the medals should be inscribed in French.

At the first of the modern Olympic Games, «the total number of athletes who received crowns was forty-four, of whom eleven were Americans, ten Greeks, seven Germans, five French, three English, two Hungarians, two Australians, two Austrians, one Dane and one Swiss.» The story was headlined, «Americans Won Most Crowns.» Perhaps the problem could be resolved by awarding the victors a crown of laurel leaves.

I imagine the committee who decided on the provenance of the medals just took the view that the medals would be stamped in the language of the host country, which on this occasion is Great Britain. Perhaps, as you initiated this discussion, you might like to research what language was used on other recent Olympic medals. Australia, America, Greece in 1896, Paris in 1900, no doubt influenced by Coubertin’s role in reviving the Games. Most of the winners in 1900 did not receive medals, but were given cups or trophies. Professionals competed in fencing and Albert Robert Ayat (France), who won the ?©p?©e for amateurs and masters, was awarded a prize of 3,000 francs.

I agree that stamping the medals with a Greek inscription on the obverse and the language and symbol of the host country on the reverse would be a good solution, but the use of English was not intended as an insult to Greeks, some of whom are somewhat thin-skinned and take offense far too easily, but an acknowledgement that the majority of the participants will in many cases have English as their native language. They are more likely to use English for day-to-day communication than Greek, which is at best a minority language whose difficulty makes it inaccessible for many.

Were the Greek language — which is an essential part of Greek culture — to be in daily use worldwide by native speakers of other languages such as Swahili, Chinese, Norwegian, etc., then «John» Doe might have a point, but then the cause of his discontent would not arise. Britain is hosting the Games this year and so English is the language in official use on this occasion. And perhaps «John» might try a little courtesy in his communications if he wishes to win friends to his cause.

John Foss

Athens