Via Facebook, I made contact with an old penpal in Greece a few years ago. The other day, we messaged each other about her country’s crisis. She said there is real fear there of civil war if things keep deteriorating. She wrote:
The situation is impossible and it can only get worse. I am so confused about the whole situation. During the past few days, I felt proud, happy, concerned and humiliated. At the moment I am so uncertain. I don’t think that leaving the euro would be a good idea, as no one of our politicians has a plan to do so. Which means that exiting the euro right now would be the beginning of unprecedented social turmoil and eventually a civil war. Let’s keep in mind that our government is left-wing, and we shouldn’t forget that Greece suffered a severe civil war right after the WWII between the right-wing government and the communist party. And these memories have not faded after so many years.
On the other hand, exiting the euro might mean that we exit the EU too, and I don’t want to imagine what that would mean. This small country is situated at the meeting point of three continents, two of them far from being safe or peaceful.
The Greek people will suffer once again, there is no real hope, but I believe that Tsipras did the best he could for the moment. As for the money that Germany and the rest of the EU is pouring into Greece, they are used to pay loans and interests to the banks, at least most of that money. So, people suffer austerity measures so that the money can move around from bank to bank. And this is absurd and unfair. What is even more devastating is that a left-wing government, that was elected while promising prosperity to the people, five months later is bringing an aggreement which is the opposite of the promises. (I didn’t vote for Tsipras, didn’t believe that anything could change, but I think he is the most honest Prime Minister we had in a long time). What is certain, to my opinion, is that Germany will dominate Europe and that Greece’s political situation will be uncertain for a long time.
I had not thought about the possibility of civil war in Greece. It turns out that the Greeks have been talking about it. Business Insider writes:
Viewed from either side of the political spectrum, the EU looks like a disaster right now:
- The conservatives are proved correct about the way the EU takes away national sovereignty: The Greeks voted in a referendum to reject the bailout … but were forced to accept it anyway.
- And the leftists are proved correct about the way the banks control everything and everyone else gets screwed: The Greek economy has been brought to its knees by debt, provided first by private investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and then by Europe’s ruling German-French elite in the IMF and the EU. The entire bailout is structured to benefit the lending banks the most, not the people of Greece.
Writing on the Telegraph‘s site, Christopher Booker laments what the EU has done to a country he loves:
Then when I returned in 1995, as I reported here at the time, I asked people all over Greece how they enjoyed being part of the European Union, when it was giving them £6 back for every pound they contributed. With one accord, they all said: “We never see any of that money – it all goes to bankers, businessmen and corrupt politicians.”
This prompted a remarkable letter from an Englishwoman who had long lived in Arcadia. She vividly described how, in just 14 years, joining the EU had done more to destroy the traditional way of life formerly enjoyed by her neighbours than had been achieved over centuries by “successive invasions of Franks, Slavs, Venetians and Turks”.
My last visit was in 2000, when Nigel Farage and I explained to a roomful of intelligent Athenians why it would be disastrous for Greece to join the euro; which, the following year, thanks to some insane fiddling of the figures by the Greek government, with the well-documented aid of Goldman Sachs, it did. The results have been even more horrifying than we could have dreamed of.
That was the good news. The long-term picture was far bleaker. In addition to its roughly $400 billion (and growing) of outstanding government debt, the Greek number crunchers had just figured out that their government owed another $800 billion or more in pensions. Add it all up and you got about $1.2 trillion, or more than a quarter-million dollars for every working Greek. Against $1.2 trillion in debts, a $145 billion bailout was clearly more of a gesture than a solution. And those were just the official numbers; the truth is surely worse. “Our people went in and couldn’t believe what they found,” a senior I.M.F. official told me, not long after he’d returned from the I.M.F.’s first Greek mission. “The way they were keeping track of their finances—they knew how much they had agreed to spend, but no one was keeping track of what he had actually spent. It wasn’t even what you would call an emerging economy. It was a Third World country.”
As it turned out, what the Greeks wanted to do, once the lights went out and they were alone in the dark with a pile of borrowed money, was turn their government into a piñata stuffed with fantastic sums and give as many citizens as possible a whack at it. In just the past decade the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms—and that number doesn’t take into account the bribes collected by public officials. The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million euros in other expenses. The average state railroad employee earns 65,000 euros a year. Twenty years ago a successful businessman turned minister of finance named Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece’s rail passengers into taxicabs: it’s still true. “We have a railroad company which is bankrupt beyond comprehension,” Manos put it to me. “And yet there isn’t a single private company in Greece with that kind of average pay.” The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland’s. Greeks who send their children to public schools simply assume that they will need to hire private tutors to make sure they actually learn something. There are three government-owned defense companies: together they have billions of euros in debts, and mounting losses. The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as “arduous” is as early as 55 for men and 50 for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than 600 Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on. The Greek public health-care system spends far more on supplies than the European average—and it is not uncommon, several Greeks tell me, to see nurses and doctors leaving the job with their arms filled with paper towels and diapers and whatever else they can plunder from the supply closets.
Where waste ends and theft begins almost doesn’t matter; the one masks and thus enables the other. It’s simply assumed, for instance, that anyone who is working for the government is meant to be bribed. People who go to public health clinics assume they will need to bribe doctors to actually take care of them. Government ministers who have spent their lives in public service emerge from office able to afford multi-million-dollar mansions and two or three country homes.
Oddly enough, the financiers in Greece remain more or less beyond reproach. They never ceased to be anything but sleepy old commercial bankers. Virtually alone among Europe’s bankers, they did not buy U.S. subprime-backed bonds, or leverage themselves to the hilt, or pay themselves huge sums of money. The biggest problem the banks had was that they had lent roughly 30 billion euros to the Greek government—where it was stolen or squandered. In Greece the banks didn’t sink the country. The country sank the banks.
Whatever the real reason, or reasons, for Greece’s agony, it is horrifying to imagine what Greeks will do when they no longer believe there is hope through normal channels (and honestly, if you were a Greek, where on earth would you find hope for a reasonable resolution of this crisis?). A civil war between Golden Dawn and Syriza — who could have imagined such a thing in Europe of 2015? True, the Balkans erupted in war in the 1990s, but as shocking as that brutality was, at least that was comprehensible through ancient ethnic hatreds. But Greeks fighting Greeks, in 2015? Who would arm either side? Russia and the US?
God help Greece, because nobody else can, or will. It’s hard to know what helping, truly helping, Greece means anymore.