Thursday, August 30, 2012

Through my eyes

When I came to Greece, I knew what I was giving up, and why I was giving it up.  I never imagined that I would regret my decision, nor have I done so, until now.  I know you may all be aware of what is happening in Greece, but I would like you to see Greece, if I may, through the eyes of someone  living through the crisis, and dealing with people who are living through the crisis.
Since January of this year, the lives of people in Greece have changed dramatically.  Undoubtedly, something, somewhere was deeply wrong, but the whole nation had been feeling the strain of Greece's deficit for a long time.  The late nineties and the beginning of the millenium were scarred by the stock market "bubbles", money laundering and bribery between the German Siemens company and the greek government.   2004, the year Greece held the Olympic Games, marked the true beginning of the end in Greece.  The whole country watched in awe as the Athens was transformed, with new buildings, stadiums, roads and pavements in order to be able to endure the influx of visitors to the Greek capital. Euros upon euros were spent on changing the look of the city, and lining the pockets of those already rich enough to afford ringside seats at each of the events.  As in every country, the only people who reaped the benefits were those who were able to get in on the game, while the rest of Greece crowded around TVs to watch the splendor of the opening and closing ceremonies - proud of their roots.  Once all this was over, and the cents were being counted, it was already too late.  Too much damage in too short a time.

Greece's main economy, tourism, has actually never been given the boost it should have been given,. Now, many people will say that Greece is an expensive country to holiday in.  Yes, it is, however, although the tourism industry supports the country and its economy, the country does not support this industry, and in 2012 the warning bells rang as negative advertising, rises in fuel prices, cuts in transport to and from the country and general propaganda gave tourism a sharp slap on the cheek.  Some may say this is an unfortunate order of circumstances, others may shout out conspiracy theories, but whatever the reason, Greece's main industry was hit from every angle and in every way possible.

The second main income, agriculture, has been going downhill for the last 20 years.  The reasons for the decline in this sector  varies, depending on who you talk to.  Some people blame the size of farms, others the poor education of farmers, and many say that it is due to the "stiff" competition from other countries.  The reality is quite different.  Taking, for example, the production of olive oil.  Greece is a main producer of, not only olive oil, but extra virgin olive oil.  The cost of farming, producing and exporting this oil can be immense, but the actual money that is given to the farmer is extremely small in comparison.  This year oil producers are selling extra virgin oil at around 2 euros per litre.  Considering all the costs of the middle men, the packaging and exporting of Greek Oil, it reaches foreign shelves at around 6 times that price.  No initiatives have been put into place to expand the olive oil industry - to make it an industry instead of just a raw material producer.  No incentives are given to farmers to motivate them into producing more, experimenting more, or even learning more about this product.  Some produce and export oil illegally, and by illegally I mean with no quality control, no standard packaging, no hygiene rules.  To be able to export legally, the costs are just too high, and with the price of oil being as it is,  farmers do not see it as a worthy business.

Greece is now paying for its over expenditure in the public sector, which is still bleeding the country dry, even after so many measures.  But, yet again it is the uncalculable mistakes in the state system that has led to the downfall of a nation.  Wasted money on faulty military equipment, well bribed public officials, overpaid underqualified civil servants, unsupervised school systems and parallel private after school systems, legal illegal immigrants, taxes upon taxes upon more taxes for the unpaid taxes, politician's off shore anonymous bank accounts - all these things have led to the Greece we know today. The Greece that works on a "who you know basis" even today, even now, even after the strain.

Despite all this, the pressure is being felt by all. The European leaders and European banks are succeeding in bringing a nation to its knees, not by battling corruption or reaching the core of the problem to find the solution, but by "hitting while the iron is hot".  In all wars there is a strategy.  There is a strategy in this war too. We, the pawns in this chess game, are not yet aware of what is going on.  We may never know what is going on, but neither can we be expected to just sit back and watch.  The foreign media has succeeded in doing what it has been told to do - sabotage.  However, it is uncertain if the results are those that they have been expecting.  It is thanks to foreign travellers that Greece can say that its tourist industry did not collapse, although much was done to steer things in that direction. 

Who knows why we have reached this point of depravation and humiliation.  It may be the energy resources in the Greek Seas, or perhaps its close proximity to the Balkans and Turkey.  It may just be that we are, as everyone says, a nation of lazy couch potatoes.  Maybe some of you have the answers, but somewhere deep inside I have that gut feeling that something else is going on.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Not even my name"

In my true search for an identity in this ever increasing multicultural society, I tend to read many books.  I am a true fan of self discovery, and I am a great believer in the human mind.  It intrigues me, it inspires me and it leads me.

My parent's stories are quite different, but also quite similar and sometimes even quite connected.  My father's past is hidden within the depths of Pontus.  His parent's were lucky enough to have escaped the mass genocide of whole races within Turkey in the early 1900's.  My mother's story is again one of anguish.  Born in Cyprus, she has survived the dissolution of her country - her home, again by the Turks.

In my quest to find me, as I said, I look for signs of my family's history in books, on the web, but mostly in other people's eyes.  I enjoy meeting people who have stories to tell, and lessons to give which can connect me to me.  Life is sometimes about connecting the dots, or piecing together a puzzle, and I am always surprised by the amount of times the pieces of my puzzle seem to fit perfectly, although at first glance you feel that they will not connect at all.

On a hot day, much like today, a new friend and I were discussing my parent's backgrounds, and she suggested I read a book called "Not even my name".  Without hesitation, I ordered a copy of the book, and waited for days for it to come.  Now, when it arrived, I was so eager to read it, but having so much work at this time of year and the phone's ringing constantly, I put it aside and decided to wait for a good time. Then the strangest thing happened.  The telephone lines went dead - no phones, no internet, no fax.  After my initial rage - the hospitality business needs its communication - I realised that I had free time.  For at least 24 hours, I was able to spend some time reading.  So I started to read late in the evening.  The book was mesmerising.  Thea Halo describes and narrates her mother's, Sano's,  life - the life of a Greek Christian born and living in Pontus ( the area of turkey along the Black Sea).  Her mother's journey involves losing her family, losing her home and losing her identity but also finding a new home, a new identity and creating her own family.  The more I read, the more I could not put the book down.  For the few hours I dedicated to Sano's journey, my imagination became my leader, as my mind filled with pictures of how my grandmother must have also lived through the same terrifiying and sad situations, the same grief, the same loss and the same new beginnings.  Living in the UK, we were never taught about this part of the first World War.  We never heard about the torment and suffering that was forced upon the Christians then.  Reading the book, you will gain insight into why we were never taught these things.

Thea Halo has helped me to find myself more.  I am sure she has also helped hundreds of other people, in hundreds of other parts of the world.  There are people around the world who do not know their roots, some because they were never told, some because their parents or grandparents just wanted to forget and some because there was no-one left to tell them about their past.  Thank you Thea for your enlightenment and for filling in a small part of my past.

 Not Even My Name Website

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Giant Rat

There are some wonderful Greek entrepeneurs, scientists, teachers and normal every day folk around the world, getting on with their lives, living their dreams, existing and surviving.  Living in Greece has become a very difficult fact of life, and a true struggle is now developing as to whether we should allow our future and the future of our children to be determined by events and decisions beyond our control.  In view of the new austerity measures and the poor quality of life, people are now desperately searching for new avenues to explore.  With the financial crisis looming over our dreams and determining our destiny, it is, to say the least, most worrying to have disturbing messages conveyed from other countries within the Eurozone. 

The German Newspaper, The Bild,  is so concerned about the Greek crisis that during May and June, months when people are still mulling over their holiday destinations, it warned all German's that if they travel to Greece they will be welcomed by angry mobs, empty banks and racism.  I am certain that no German faced these problems while holidaying here.  On the other hand, I am quite certain that if the entire staff of the Bild newspaper were to choose Greece as their destination for this year's holiday, it would be a good idea to keep their occupation a secret.

The British Prime minister seems to be agonizing over the crisis so much, and is so determined to help resolve the problems that his empathy towards Greece has been ringing in the Greek nation's ears all day.  His solution to the problem is to close all doors to Greeks if their country should leave the Eurozone.  A reality too  harsh to believe, because obviously the first thing that the Greek citizens will do is pack their bags, close up house, emigrate to another country and start from scratch.  Of course their first port of call would be the UK, as it is so close to home.  Mr Cameron does not seem to mind the already established Greek High Society of London,  who have invested their secret fortunes on England's green and pleasant lands, though.  I wonder why ?

This great interest in the Greek crisis and the willingness of all these people in all these great nations to "help", is actually leading many people to ask questions as to why all this is happening.  The fact is that there is actually very little hostility towards any other nation in Greece.  Any bad feelings are towards the government, its ministers and the more obvious than ever corrupt political system.  Furthermore, if anyone were to ask if Greeks would be willing to leave their country, their homes, their families, their businesses I think that, for the most, people would be very reluctant. Difficult times lead to complex circumstances and, sadly, emigration may be mandatory in some cases - but Mr Cameron, I really don't think that the whole of Greece is going to come knocking, and if they do, you will be getting the best of the best.

All in all, yes there is a crisis.  The middle and lower classes are facing taxes on top of taxes, wage reductions, a poor health and education system.   The weakest link in the Greek System is its politicians and the "turn-a-blind-eye" attitude they have adopted over the years.  Its strengths, though, are immense and if I were looking at the situation here from an outsider's point of view,  the propaganda, panic mongering and economic warfare that continues to burden our society  would lead me to believe that something is not quite as it should be.  I smell a giant rat, but unfortunately I am too small a cat ...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Looking forward ?

Over the years I have written about the strange feelings that I have had living in Greece. Today, having been bombarded by the news over the last 24 hours, I have come to realise that I was never wrong about Greece. I have posted about the incompetence of the governing bodies, I have posted about the corruption, I have posted about the inadequacy of the whole system and today I realised that now, after so many years, some people have opened their eyes and see the problems. This changes nothing, of course, because the reason that people have opened their eyes is not because of the great concern about the country's people or its future, but because of the fear of the consequences on the other European countries. The past has been a case of "looking the other way" and "filling our pockets" as far as the rest of the world and Greece's politicians are concerned. As Europe now judges Greece's political system and its incompetency at dealing with its debt problems, it does not judge its own disregard of the country and its own "use" of the country in the past. Going into details is a long and tedious road, but as today's leaders "tire" themselves out behind closed doors looking for answers, nobody can see a future. The people of Greece are really not stupid. Many have been shouting and screaming about the problems for years, but unfortunately nobody listened. At the moment, most of the nation is just sitting and watching its politicians putting on a tragic theatre performance, which, by the way, is not even entertaining. Greece does have problems but it also has many attributes. I agree with the fact that Greece has a lot of negative points, but I also know that if the Greek people are willing to change and create their future, this country's prospects can be limitless. The European Union has "put up with" Greece, as they put it, but Greece must find the right leaders, use its strengths, work on its weaknesses, and find its true identity within a correct and just system. Only then will it flourish.