Fire next time - Thessaloniki, Greece
With the summer finally here it would be nice just to enjoy the sun and forget our worries with some time at the beach. However, no matter good the weather is the fact still remains that the Greek economy is in serious trouble with signs of economic decline appearing everywhere from the sight of pensioners dumpster diving to the fact that consumers are cutting back even on staples such as milk and other diary products.
Even with the help that people have been so generous in giving me after the break - in I am still wondering how I'm going to get through the next three months, traditionally a period when people are not interested in doing English lessons. On the other hand I see people especially those who live in the poorer neighbourhoods on the west side of the city for whom the coming summer is going to be a fight for survival. Contrary to what you may have read in the foreign press about profligate Greeks living high on the hog there are millions of ordinary people who are worried over how they are going to pay household bills and feed their families.
These are Greeks on lower incomes (some of the lowest in the EU) who do not have a steady income, jobs in the public sector and who saw little or nothing of the massive state expenditure racked up by previous governments. These are the Greeks who are obliged to send their kids to dire state schools, live in areas with lousy roads, high crime and virtually non-existent public services. They are the Greeks who take their risks in a public health service which is running out of basic medical supplies and in many cases do not have the staff to offer proper emergency care.
To add to their burdens Greece is currently in the grip of an inflationary cycle with prices rising by 5.4% , three times the Eurozone average. Much of this increase is fuelled by rises in VAT and indirect taxes on petrol and much due to ever present price cartels which make sure that competition is in name only.
With shrinking incomes comes rising unemployment, especially for the young and women who were already disadvantaged in the job market wages have fallen still further leading to a slow death dive in which less and less money is available which in turn results in demand shrinking and so yet more job losses. It's very hard to see how the economy is going to avoid this. Despite talk of PM Giorgos Papandreou's talk of stimulating development the reality is that the government has little to offer other than words.
What seems likely is that whatever promises the present socialist PASOK government has given to the IMF/ECB in return for further bailout money are going to be harder to keep. Not simply because the austerity measures they demand are causing massive social upheaval but also because with the Greek economy tanking sources of tax revenue are drying up faster than a puddle in Death Valley. Those who made their billions through their political and personal connections with the two major parties have long since made sure that their wealth is beyond the reach of the taxman, leaving Athens to grab what it can from those citizens who do not have access to Swiss bank accounts or off-shore companies.
As the Greek parliament once again goes through the annual charade of investigating itself for corruption and once again manages to avoid bringing even one of their ranks to justice the rest of Greece looks on disgusted with this particular puppet theatre, convinced that whatever political capital PASOK and New Democracy had has long since vanished.