Greece – With Its Toes Over a Cliff

Dispatches from Greece (June 29, 2015)

(I have been following the Greek situation with interest since 2009 and have travelled here several times over the past 5 years. Coincidentally, I landed in Athens on June 28th for summer holidays, just in time for the announcement of the closure of the banks. What follows are my thoughts and reactions to what I am witnessing. In time, history will render its verdict as to what has happened here. I am trying to capture the mood of the moment.)

It’s June 29 and I am writing this from a hotel in the Peloponnese. My family landed in Athens on the 28th, and the first thing I saw at the airport was a line up down the hallway on the Arrivals level. The line-up was for the sole ATM because the government had announced, in the wake of the collapsed negotiations, that the banks would be closed on Monday morning. Leaving Toronto we knew this would be an interesting time to be in Greece thanks to the announcement of the July 5 referendum. The banks are closed? Very interesting indeed

Tonight, along with the rest of Greece, we watched a live interview with Prime Minister Tsipras on national TV. PM Tsipras is clearly playing a dangerous, high-stakes games, invoking FDR rhetorical flourishes, telling Greeks they have nothing to fear but fear itself. Well, there is a long history of Athenian politicians, stretching back to Ancient times, relying on rhetoric. This time the Greeks need something more concrete.

PM Tsipras is backed into a corner. A corner largely thanks to the actions of the Greek kleptocratic oligarchy in power for the past 40 years and partly as a result of his inability to follow through on his electoral promises of only a few months. But in saying this, let us not forget the role of the European creditors, as well as the IMF, the EU and the ECB – the Troika – in creating the underlying circumstances that have lead to today.

In relying on rhetoric, PM Tsipras is no longer speaking to Europe. His message is aimed straight at the Greeks, his constituency, his voters and his people. And in speaking to the Greeks, he is doing the right thing. The time for theGreeks to continue as supplicants to their creditors is past. Europe might not like to hear this message, but the time has come for an adult conversation, including on the part of the Troika.

The Troika’s economic conditions have lead to an economic depression unseen since the US Great Depression of the 1930's and all of this was avoidable. The past 5 years of austerity have seen the Greeks suffer a crushing economic blow. Unemployment hovers around 28% and youth unemployment is over 50%.

In the past 24 hours I have conducted an unscientific survey of the average Greek on the street – at the airport, in the hotel, at the gas station, at the coffee shop. While unscientific, these people have been living this reality (while those of us out of the country have been reading about it) and the view is pessimism, resignation and humiliation.

Humiliated at the position in which they have been placed by the Europeans and several different stripes of Greek political leadership.

Resigned after 5 years of crushing economic austerity measures that have strangled the Greek economy and has lead to this situation.

Pessimistic because after 5 years, this “crisis” has not been resolved. The situation is chronic, ongoing, persistent and critical.

WHAT’S NEXT?

There will be a referendum on Sunday, July 5.

What is the question, specifically? How will this referendum be organized in a week?

Non-Greeks might not know that it is mandatory, by law, for all voting aged citizens to vote in elections. You vote where you are registered, which is typically your home-town, and not where you live. Next Saturday all of Greece will be on the road driving to their home-towns to vote on Sunday. The country will stop

Will there be a debate this week? Ex-PM Samaras challenged PM Tsipras to a debate.On tv tonight he accepted the challenge. Will it actually happen?

A NO vote and then what? Do the banks stay closed? A NEW Drachma? We need a lot more detail on this.

I hope to be able to continue with daily updates, especially with a focus on local reactions.