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Friday, 6 February 2015

In or out? (Μέσα ή έξω;)

Last night, many Greeks attended peaceful rallies staged at their local town squares, protesting the measures that the European Central Bank (ECB) has enforced against Greek banks (it won't lend them money to cover their needs, so Greek banks will need to borrow from an emergency fund, which will work out more expensively for the banks). We are hearing the "Unfair!" and "It's not our fault!" cries from the Greeks, which seem to be falling on deaf ears at the moment.

Athens, Syntagma Square, "No cage wiring and special police forces. Pro-government. A first!"

The uncertainty and distrust of Greece's position is to blame for this move. After five years, Greece still hasn't settled the question of whether she is 'in' or 'out'. On top of that, the new government simply overturned what the previous government had enacted, and is 'promising' to break past promises. It's understandable that we are not being trusted.
Matt cartoon, February 6
The global media does in fact seem to be supporting Greece but we aren't getting support from the places where we need it. The ECB just turned off the tap, a number of eurozone governments are being non-committal, and the German government tells us that, actually, they will only support us if we show that we can support ourselves. Our cockiness with the newly found support the freshly elected Greek government has found might be preventing us from taking a more practical approach to our problem which is based on increased uncertainty and lack of trust:
"The foreign press is full of inspired articles that feed our narcissism as we again become the center of attention – this time for good. But this barely does us any good for it cultivates our immaturity as a nation. We see ourselves reflected in the distorting mirror of the foreign media and we derive pleasure from this. Because in that mirror, we look like tragic victims or beautiful heroes. But we hardly look like the average European nation."
I'm really hoping that the new faces in the Greek parliament will deliver on one thing, and that is reform. After all, their faces are a welcome relief after those 'old-school' corruption agents that we had before. But don't think they don't come from 'important' Greek families themselves - their names are not necessarily new players in the who's who of Greece. For example:

- Tsipras (Prime Minister): his dad made a mint from construction projects
- Konstantopoulou (Parliamentary Speaker): her dad was the head of the Coalition Party of Greece (before it joined up with other parties and evolved into SYRIZA)
- Varoufakis (Minster of Finance): his dad was not only a university professor, but also the president of the Greek steel industry
- Tsakalotos (Alternative Minister of Finance): his grandfather was Chief of the Hellenic Army General Staff
... and so on. I fully believe that the above-mentioned politicians all started off their political careers quite humbly... but they were not unknowns to start with, and they certainly weren't ordinary members of the public. 

If these newbies can simply reform the state, that will be enough for me. Once you no longer fear the euro/drachma dilemma, you realise that this Greek problem was never really about staying in the euro or not (and I firmly believe that we are going to stay in the euro, as both sides have too much to lose). It's all about reforms, and the reforms have to show, and that's when people will trust us again. That won't happen overnight, and if our recent experience is anything to go by, we don't have much to show for our last 5 years if we bloat the public sector again (the new government has decided to rehire 3,500 fired public employees) and start dishing out more forever-jobs:
One question European policy makers are asking is whether Mr. Tsipras represents a break to [Greece’s] clientelistic tradition, or whether he will be guided by the business-as-usual principle that “it’s our turn now.” If the former, Greece’s eurozone partners may be more inclined to accommodate its requests provided the government signs up to meaningful reform. If the latter, they may eventually be inclined to take the risk of casting it adrift
It's still all quite unstable to make predictions at this stage. One thing for sure is that Greece is being talked about a lot by everyone - by the good: 300 scholars urge Greece's European partners to accept the mandate of the Greek people; by the bad (see above) and by the ugly: apparently our beloved and charming Minister of Finance, Mr Varoufakis, was refused entry to a Club because... he wasn't wearing a tie, despite the fact that he
"... certainly impressed the hedgies and City types he addressed on Monday night. His two-hour speech received a standing ovation; his flawless English, “more eloquent than practically the entire British Cabinet”, said one person who met him. “Not the dogmatic Marxist he’s portrayed as.”
Maybe we still stand a chance. But all this instability is really getting on my nerves. I haven't yet dug a hole in the garden, or lifted some of the bathroom tiles to hide my euro. If Grexit could ever be classified as a genuine threat, then the whole euro thing will be jeopardised. Surely 'Europe', above all, doesn't want that, does she? But at this stage, we Greeks don't really know whether we are in or out. Then again, perhaps we're bi:

And if we do go 'out' and Greece returns to the drachma, as a friend of mine noted, "this time next year we'll all be millionaires" (thanks @ChrisMurphy).

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