Memories melted down

Memories melted down

The revelations on the activities of two gangs accused of smuggling gold out of Greece have thrown light on a hidden aspect of the human tragedy of the past few years. In addition to undermining the present and the future, with the sudden drop in living standards and incomes, the flight of young people and more deaths than births, the crisis is also robbing us of the past. Bank deposits have gone toward paying debts and taxes, social security payments are spent on today’s needs and many of us are forced to give up personal and family treasures for a little money to get by.

The two gangs moved gold worth about 400,000 euros daily, the police say. This gold came “from the melting down of jewelry and other precious items which had come into their possession through purchase or pawning, but there are also indications that some of them were stolen,” said the head of Attica’s Security Police, Brig. Giorgos Kanellos. The gold was from dowries and heirlooms, rings and bangles loaded with promises of love and devotion, gifts made at times of birth, baptism and graduation, gold coins that represented life savings, works by unknown artists worn in moments of love and loss. Watches, crosses and wedding bands, measures of life and time, all lost, melted down and recast as ingots that found their way to Turkey.

Eternal symbol of desire and wealth, safe haven and loot in unsettled times, gold has always presented its own, simple version of history. So, too, in the years of our crisis. Before the police investigation made clear the magnitude of loss, we had the Bank of Greece’s statistics. In 2010, the BoG bought 195,383 gold coins and sold 194,475. As the crisis deepened, fewer people had the money to invest in gold, while more were forced to sell; last year, the BoG bought 44,563 gold coins and sold just 22,822. (The only – and notable – exception to this trend was the fourth quarter of 2011, a time of intense economic and political uncertainty but before later losses of income: The BoG bought 28,430 gold coins and sold 68,405.)

Before the crisis, in 2009, private sector deposits were at 237.8 billion euros, while last month they were down to 131.8 billion; private debt to banks, the tax office and social security funds exceeds 200 billion; the public debt is at about 180 percent of GDP; growth is weak and long-delayed.

Greece is hemorrhaging. It is losing money, memories, hope.

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