Greece's Tragic Predicament

Within possibly just hours the fate of Greece could be known. Either way - in or out of the EU - the population of this crippled country faces only more hardship. Some players are more to blame than others, but none is exempt.    

Will she go or will she stay?

She, being Greece. Her travel plans being a ‘staycation’ within the EU, or a ‘Grexit’ back(wards) to the drachma.

Either way citizens of Greece will suffer more, and after more than five years of that suffering there’s a risk of a domestic backlash to the reality of people not being able to access their own funds because the banks have gone belly up, and social services have disintegrated.

As Brian Easton rightly points out the situation is moving at such a pace it is difficult to comment on any of the debt plans Greece is supposed to offer, or the changing mood in Brussels - except to say to date there is no concrete plan and the mood is darkening by the hour.

European leaders have seen nothing tangible from Greek PM Alexis Tsipras that would indicate they could even begin to consider new bailout funding. Tsipras has been given till Thursday midnight to file a detailed plan which will be decided on by Sunday. 

Politics are well and truly in play, and the extremes are now being aired.

Initially the big fear expressed by Germany’s Angela Merkel (the de facto leader of Europe) was of exit contagion should Greece leave the EU - countries such as Spain, Italy and Portugal which are also in deep debt and unemployment strife - would follow Greece through the exit door.

Merkel would then be left as presiding over a breakup of the EU. Not something she wishes for on her largely unblemished C.V.

Now the fear has rightly shifted to the rise of extremist political parties in countries which are no doubt following closely the actions of the Syriza administration - the referendum in particular.

Tsipras has used this as his mandate to tell his exasperated creditors that their demands are not acceptable to the majority of Greek people. His grandstanding has not impressed those he owes.

Hardliners have become openly hostile (as the Greek leadership has also been) calling time on Greece’s membership.

There’s talk that any more talk is just a waste of time.   

Die Zeit’s Political Editor Jochen Bittner has echoed the case against democracy trumping debt.

In short, loans, whether they be personal or international can not be written off or substantially changed because the debtor/debtors vote against the terms.

Bittner adds to a growing body of argument that if Greece is given special treatment and its debt obligations softened, the contagion will lie in the motivation for other anti-austerity movements such as Spain’s Podemos, to flip the bird at their hardline creditors.

The natural conclusion from this line of argument is Greece staying will cause more damage than Greece going its own way.

Greece’s former Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis, while blaming the IMF for upsetting the economic growth that was starting to show in 2014,(and which then contributed to the popularity of the leftist Syriza party), still seems to hope that Tsipras will see he has overplayed his hand and needs to rebuild some of the consensus his bravado has destroyed...before it is all too late.

Meanwhile back in the real world, the Greek banks are running dry, tourism is plagued by cancellations, hospitals are short of medicine, supermarkets of imported foodstuffs.

Cash talks - but then it always has in a society that does a very good deal for you if you are paying cash.

Such tax evasion 101, coupled with irresponsible borrowing by Greece and imprudent EU lending to Greece have come to boiling point.

I have been going to Greece every year since (and including) the financially disastrous 2004 Olympics.

At that time it was known that every Greek alive during those Games would be paying off the Olympic debt for the rest of their lives. There were precedents such as Montreal taking more than 30 years to pay off its 1976 Games. But the debt for Greeks is much, much worse.

Many of the venues built for 2004 lie in ruins - wastelands that were never actually finished in time for the Games anyway.

Tax audits of the Greek Islands defy belief. Some Islands are recorded as furnishing zero tax. As the saying goes it doesn’t take Einstein...

Of course amidst this inevitable roller coaster to disaster are some wonderful, very hardworking people who have, quite frankly, been bullied to exhaustion and beyond by the Troika (IMF, European Central Bank and the EU).

Like their ATM’s they have been bled dry by demands that were always, and now blindingly obviously impossible, to meet.

Their case has proven that austerity without absolute restructuring shrinks economies and its the ‘little people’ who pay. Who can blame them for then seeing Tsipras as a modern day Robin Hood?

I head for Greece in two weeks, firmly believing that the worst thing for a country so heavily dependent on tourists is for the tourists to stay away.

Who knows what it will be like on the ground then, but if the last five or more years are anything to go by, more and more family members will now be dependent on a single household income, including too often a much reduced pension of a grandparent now supporting the next two generations.

The Island I visit is predominantly rural. Restaurants grow their own produce, make their own cheese, trade with fishermen as they have done for generations.

It is a paradise, but the almost guaranteed sunshine and the view alone can not pick up the slack.

The technocrats in Brussels, the corrupt local politicians, the grandstanding national politicians, the wealthy oligarchs who bailed years ago and yes, the Greek people themselves, have to sort this out one way or the other.

Regrettably, even with the compromises that are required, any outcome is going to hurt.

The Collins English dictionary explains the Greek Tragedy as a play in which the protagonist (usually a man of importance and outstanding personal qualities), falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing and circumstances with which he cannot deal.

Greek tragedies are supposed to be based on myths.

Circa 2015, this one is very, very real.