Postcards From Greece – A Nation Lurches While Europe Watches
Quick! How much cash do you have in your pocket right now?
What would do if all the banks in your country suddenly closed on a Sunday and you were forbidden, by law, from removing more than $60/day from the bank? How would you feed your family? Buy gas? Pay the electricity bill? What would you do?
Ask a Greek. All Greeks are living this nightmare right now.
In a move that caught most off-guard, PM Tsipras of Greece ended negotiations with Europe (or was forced to end them because of European demands, depending on who you believe) and called a referendum to be held on Sunday, July 5th.
In the meantime, the banks have closed and capital controls are in place. Greek account holders are limited to withdrawing €60 per day and the banks will stay closed until “after the referendum” although the precise day on which the banks will open is a mystery.
I’ve been following the ongoing EU-Greece debacle from Canada for the past 5 years, including multiple visits to Greece during the same time. Today I am writing from Greece because we started day 1 of our summer holidays on the day the Greek economy ground to a halt.
Politicians will talk of politics. Economists will talk of the economy. Historians are busy writing their first draft.
Here’s what I learned today:
Cash – every bank machine on every street corner had a line up of a dozen or more people. Every. Single. One. Some had line-ups around the block. When was the last time you saw 5 people in front of a bank machine?
Gasoline – I drove 300kms today. The roads were empty. Half the gas stations were closed. It was Monday between 2 pm and 5 pm. Under normal circumstances, the roads would have been busy and every gas station in the country would have been open. How much gas is in your tank right now? How far could you drive if you had to leave town?
Out of the country? Uh oh. A Greek in Austria called in to a tv talk show to say his Greek bank card was refused in an Austrian bank. How will he get home?
Are you on a pension? Pensions are paid by direct deposit. Seniors and people on fixed incomes have no choice but to use the banking system. Where will they get cash? How will they buy their medicines?
And yet, the situation somehow was not as dire as it might sound. There was no panic. Fear of the unknown, perhaps yes, but no fear of the Europeans.
We stopped to eat along the way and made small talk with locals. They are dealing with the punishing morally judgemental Europeans and the seemingly inept Greek political leadership with a grace and courage we should admire and respect. They have been beaten and humiliated by Europe for years. Their character and institutions the subject of scorn and derision. And yet, they remain a stoically proud people with the inner strength to persevere.
Pericles of Ancient Athens might not recognize the political leaders today, but he would recognize the average Greek.