OPINION

What do foreigners know?

Without doubt, Greek citizens share a large part of the blame for the crisis that threatens us: We all conspired with the political parties and unions to trap ourselves in a fake world in which we believed that no laws apply, whether they be ethical, economic, logical, EU regulations and so on. But the punishment that is coming is doubly unjust: On the one hand, the majority of Greeks did not get to share in the benefits that their mindless tolerance granted various groups; on the other, our sullen EU partners are highly critical of us and cannot understand that the Greeks are the primary victims of the sorry state of their economy and society rather than the perpetrators of some monumental scam. In statements by their politicians but mainly through their own comments on newspaper websites, European citizens clearly have the worst possible opinion of Greeks. Germans, who work hard like Aesop’s proverbial ant, do not want to foot the bill for the Greek grasshopper. Greece’s image has suffered a terrible blow and it is unclear when and how this will be repaired. So what do foreigners see when they look at Greece? A budget deficit equal to 12.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and a public debt at 112 percent. But it’s not just the numbers that drive them crazy – there are also the demonstrations demanding the continuance of unbelievably early retirement and various «bonuses» that increase monthly wages. What foreigners do not see is that while 40-50 percent of each salary goes to taxes and social security contributions, the benefits are paltry in relation to what they cost each citizen; the shortcomings of public education force parents to spend a fortune on private tuition for their children; anyone needing serious medical treatment is obliged to pay more in order to be treated humanely; drivers pay exorbitant tolls for terrible roads that they’ve already paid for with their taxes; we live among garbage dumps, pollution and general disorganization; we are frightened by increasingly organized crime. We accept the existence of privileged minorities (a comparison of some health and pension funds with the Social Security Foundation, which covers most Greeks, shows this apartheid in all its glory); everyone works to maintain a public sector, which, along with pensions, swallows 50 percent of the economy and does nothing but smother every development effort, while workers in the private sector are hostage to insecurity and arbitrary actions by employers and the authorities. In short, in many critical spheres, the Greeks pay more than other Europeans and get less in return. And yet, in their private lives, the Greeks are far more «ant-like» than their critics: Greek household debt is at 48.6 percent of GDP, while in the United States it is 96 percent. The combined debt of Greek households and private businesses is at 87 percent of GDP, whereas in Britain it is 228 percent and the EU average is 157 percent. In other words, with less disposable income, Greeks are forced to pay for things that other people take for granted and still they are less in debt. Low productivity and the lack of competitiveness is owed mainly to the hostile state apparatus, the lack of coordination in every endeavor and at every level, the selfishness of each group that works for its own interests against those of the common good and the general indifference and venality of a political system that is based on selfish arbitrariness and the bribing of interest groups. If foreigners knew what the Greek citizen is up against, they would see Greeks differently – perhaps with a combination of awe and pity. But if the Greeks themselves cared more about their future, things would not have come to this point – where their own country keeps cheating them and at the same time makes the whole world see them as cheats.