Across the sparkling Aegean, the forecast is gloomy. (Rachael Brown)
Greece is seeking to dilute the austerity measures that have condemned it to a fifth year of recession.
The opposition party, tuttavia, says the country is simply ‘chasing its tail’; that persisting with bailout conditions will push Greece to voluntarily withdraw from the eurozone.
Che cosa isn’t getting as much airtime is the effect this limbo is having on what were once some of Greece’s most valuable commodities … its islands.
Away from the mainland, across the sparkling Aegean, the forecast is gloomy. The Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises puts reservations for this summer’s tourist season down by 15 per cento rispetto allo scorso anno.
Workers are holding their breaths, counting on last-minute reservations. One in five Greeks work in the tourism sector, and work hard. Those I meet work seven days a week. I ask when their next break is and they reply, “winter”.
Normally I’d cringe empathetically, but this time I hope they’re right. Given the sector accounts for 20 per cent of the Greek economy – its single biggest industry – a tourism slump this summer will have major implications as the country tries to grow out of its worst financial crisis in modern history.
In Mykonos, the locals are putting on a brave face. There’s a colourful procession of cocktails from beach bars to deckchairs, and music pumps from clubs until dawn.
I’m miles from the mainland, and on the surface, you wouldn’t know there was a problem. I meet restaurateur Jim Gikas, a big personality with a laugh to match.
He roars when I ask him if he voted, like it’s the best joke he’s heard in ages. “Why bother,” he hoots, “governments make their decisions alone, they never ask us.” For others, voting is too costly; citizens have to vote where they’re registered, and most won’t give up a day’s work to travel to Athens.
“You Australians,” Jim laughs, “you are planners, you plan for five years. We Greeks, we don’t care about tomorrow, we don’t make plans, we live every day like it’s the last, we live like crazy, we eat the life, sai?”
Locals outside cafe in Mykonos (Rachael Brown)
I silently wonder whether the Greeks’ aversion to planning is part of their problem. Allora, this man who lives for today tells me he wants to revert to yesterday’s valuta. The drachma.
It’s the great divider. The rhetoric from countless economists being paraded through Europe’s 24-hour news channels equates a return to this historical currency with suicide.
‘Drachmageddon’, it’s been dubbed. A vortex that would see a 65 per cent fall in the new currency’s nominal value. Food and gasoline would be near unaffordable. Yet many locals think the risk would be worth it, in the long run.
Many cling stubbornly to their old way of life. A mate I’m travelling with likens the Greek economy with the islands’ antiquated sewerage system. To protect the pipes, visitors are asked not to flush paper; piuttosto, they are to put it in a bin.
“It’s a lot of smelly stuffing around,” lei dice, “when it’d make more sense just to fix the infrastructure.” But the Greeks press on, tinkering with weak systems.
“If we went back to the drachma,” says Jim Gikas, “one dollar Australian would buy 300 Drachmas. It’s better for tourists, it’s better for us, because now we have 15-20 million tourists every summer; we could have 40 milioni di euro, 50 million people.”
Santorini waiter Stavros Gikas agrees. He thinks Greece will go back to the drachma in the next two or three years anyway, così, he figures, why not just get it over and done with.
He left his career on the mainland to work on the islands. And for this former engineer, the math is simple. “Ora, è 450 the basic (monthly wage) and will go to 300 euro (circa $360), so you cannot live. Gasoline is two euros per litre, so how can you live?”
Boats moored in Oia port (Rachael Brown)
At his restaurant in Oia, takings are down on last year by about 30-35 percento. Around the cliff-face, I hear delighted squeals as tourists jump into the clear water and swim towards a tiny rocky island, on which stands a little chapel with a bell.
Swimmers send chimes out over the sea. Stavros Gikas will have to say a little prayer. His summertime job, and the jobs of 100,000 altrui, will depend on last-minute bookings to salvage this tourist season. Greece’s political and economic limbo has prompted many tourists to instead choose the shores of Spain and Turkey for their holidays.
There’s also tourist fear, however irrational, of violence in the streets. Protests in Athens and other cities have hurt the country’s image. “Don’t believe what you hear from the news,” says Panos, a hotel receptionist in Mykonos, “guests expect to see rebels in the street burning down parliament – i mezzi di comunicazione continua a giocare ancora e ancora la stessa cosa.”
A differenza di alcuni degli altri operatori turistici Ho parlato con, Panos dice di tornare alla dracma sarà un disastro, a causa di stipendi. Ma poi aggiunge, “Non me ne importa circa la valuta. Voglio solo che i miei amici e la famiglia, gente semplice, per essere felici.”
Due anni fa, il suo albergo era al completo per l'estate europea. Ora, molte date sono vuote. “Questo è il terzo (deludente) stagione,” mi dice, “e il popolo greco non può permetterselo, per week-end lunghi o vacanze di Pasqua. Questa estate maggior parte degli alberghi offrono altre offerte e riduzioni dei prezzi, non solo per il popolo greco, anche per le persone all'estero.”
Panos mi dice che era depresso il giorno delle elezioni. Voleva cambiamento radicale. Ha ottenuto lo stesso vecchio compromesso. “Essi furono presi dal panico,” mi dice, “le stesse persone che erano fuori per le strade, and the same people voted again, for the same things. They were scared about things they heard on TV, about having to vote according to Europe’s guidelines.”
Atlantis Books in Oia (Rachael Brown)
In Oia, up the hill from Chapel Rock, past the procession of donkeys (the death defying alternative to a cable-car), sits Atlantis Books. Imagine your favourite bookshop, then nestle it in the meandering lanes of an ancient town, and you’re close.
American Craig Walzer has run the store for the past eight years. On his first visit, he found Oia had no bookshop, so he and his friends built one. “We salvaged wood from beaches and junkyards, got some books in, and here we are.”
Makeshift beds are tucked between, and behind, creaking bookshelves for friends passing though. Not a bad deal: a pillow in exchange for holding the fort. Names of the novel guardians are scrawled in a twirl on the store’s roof.
Mr Walzer isn’t surprised by the austere realities facing Greece. “The problems we’re finally beginning to confront were there in 2004,” dice. “It was easy money for everyone. There was no cappuccino too expensive, no sunset view too expensive. You could put anything out there on the streets and people were lapping it up.
“We got lazy; now we have to work harder to earn patronage. Maybe get back to what the Greek experience should be. Think of new ways to encourage people to come in and pull stuff off shelves. Don’t believe anyone who says they didn’t see this coming. And now it’s time for comeuppance, and I hope everyone comes out better on the other side.”
He also blames the slide in tourism revenue on the different razza of traveller coming through. A postcard traveller. Seeking instant gratification, however hollow.
“The government is doing deals with boats in different ways,” he laments. “Fewer people are here for a week, staying in villas and taking their time. It’s a lot more cruise boats that are being scheduled to bring people in and drop them off and give them an hour to shuffle around in herds like sheep, and they don’t have time to really take a look even, let alone come downstairs into a little cave like we have. And they’re just looking at their watch, wanting to get a quick magnet for their refrigerator before they get back to the bus station.”
Craig Walzer says it’s an era of quick, cheap money. “To see this town become a town of airbrushed T-shirts and photo-shopped postcards is kind of scary. Deep down it’s a beautiful place. The bits of decay and unkempt edges of it give it character. But far fewer people are coming for the character, and far more are coming to take the photo that looks like the postcard that they saw at home.”
Along with the country’s more pressing problems, reversing this trend of ‘quick-fix tourism’ could help stop the Greek Islands from becoming a tragedy destined for this bookshop’s history shelf.
Sun sets over the Aegean (Rachael Brown)
Rachael Brown is a journalist for the ABC based in London. View her full profile here.
R. Ambrose Raven:
10 Luglio 2012 4:26:04pm
There’s lots of discussion of what NOT to do, but how about something positive?
Greece deserves something better than the Eurozone’s catalogue of 18th Century remedies from the dismal science. If medicine was as ideologically constipated as economic fundamentalism wed still be using bleeding and leeches. Obviously a culture of efficiency within business and government, and political support, is as important as any such plan. Many good schemes are destroyed by mal-administration, or administrative and political sabotage.
A socialist Hellenic Bank (not run by a bankster) would provide capital to:
(1) fund enterprises whenever the profit-seeking banks withhold capital,
(2) ease the pain of leaving the Eurozone, e
(3) build Greek industry in its own right through selective and monitored lending to promising Government Business Enterprises and profit-seeking enterprises. Greece seems to have long lacked investment.
Debt incurred repairing and improving public assets is productive debt – it yields a real, proportionate and sustainable socio/economic return.
Other options include:
— ending the tax exemption of the Church and shipping,
— taxing large capital transfers.
— enforcing tax collection, which would collect 15-20 billion very greatly reducing the budget deficit.
— providing better and cheaper public services through strategic GBEs by selective nationalisations.
— firm enforcement of fair wages and comparative wage justice is an extremely important but much underrated public policy.
— Reducing unemployment and the consequent poverty by reducing Greeks’ superiore alla media dell'orario di lavoro, aumentando il tasso di partecipazione è propensi a condividere reddito meno diseguale, riducendo lo stress superlavoro.
Anche se la pratica negazionista standard è quello di dare la colpa alla vittima (Greci, in questo caso) in modo da evitare incentrata sulle cause reali, alcune delle cause reali sono la corruzione, inerzia politica, e il problema associato di scarsi standard di riscossione delle imposte.
Si noti anche il costo per un piccolo, economia aperta, di non avere una strategia socio-economica nazionale efficace e vigoroso. Che regolano le azioni di classe A in mancanza della Grecia con molti altri, cui Australia.
10 Luglio 2012 5:02:41pm
Greece will need to sort out its own problems.
Perhaps Tony Abbott could help by moving there with his right-wing mates and their money. That should make some contribution to the Greek economy.
And Mr Abbott likes elections. Greece has had two of them in the last couple of months. I don’t know if he could help Greece out of its troubles, but at least Australia would be better off.
Tony is the man:
10 Luglio 2012 6:08:11pm
Tony could definitely help Greece with their illegal immigrant problem. In fact if Tony had been their Prime Minister over the last five years they wouldn’t have the same problem with illegal immigration now. And he wouldn’t take any BS from either Brussels or from Turkey in relation to turning people back at the borders.
10 Luglio 2012 7:08:22pm
Domestic Australian politics has no place in this discussion and its an insult to the author and readers to bring it up. Tuttavia…
The only place that the Greek ‘problem’ with illegal immigrants exists is in the same place as it does in Australia. The small minds of xenophobes.
11 Luglio 2012 8:51:24alla
I think you will have trouble supporting that argument. Greece has a population under 11 milioni di euro. The number of illegal immigrants in the country is often quoted as 1 milioni di euro, although the Research Institute for European and American Studies puts the number at 2.5 milioni di euro. I think that it is fair to call this a problem.
10 Luglio 2012 6:31:28pm
Or sent Gillard. She did so well telling the world how they need to copy oz if they want to save their economy. She can take the world’s best treasurer with her to see how he goes China out china
10 Luglio 2012 6:34:28pm
rabbie, what has Tony Abbott got to do with this discussion?
Maybe you should acknowledge what large government debt does to a country, its economy and its people.
10 Luglio 2012 7:18:53pm
It is just a phobia with Labor sock- burattini. Abbott has them so rattled, they just can’t stop thinking about him.
10 Luglio 2012 7:24:37pm
mike, you ask what Tony Abbott has got to do with this discussion.
He came to my mind for two reasons.
In primo luogo, he claims to have all the answers to economic issues (no details, mind you) and I thought that Greece would give him more of a challenge than Australia’s strong economy.
In secondo luogo, he screams for an election at every opportunity. Australian Governments (compreso questo) are elected for four year terms. Grecia, in recent months, has had a couple. I just thought that he would be more comfortable there and give the rest of us a break.
10 Luglio 2012 9:58:10pm
Yes mike, it is time to think about how government debt is designed to assist a country, its economy and its people but given the current transnational financial system, government debt enriches a few already very rich people and has the power to destroy countries. It is not the debt per se that it a problem but the rigged and corrupt international financial system.
10 Luglio 2012 8:36:42pm
I had no doubt that someone was going to introduce Abbott into this but I had no idea it was going to happen so fast. That is it! This does it for me! I cannot be bothered to read any further….
10 Luglio 2012 7:37:13pm
Germany lost the war but won the peace.The EU is only a continuation of dominance over the whole continent.Drachmagedden,sounds good,so does Liragedden etc.Opt out and let the Germans play with themselves.
11 Luglio 2012 6:25:21alla
Another facet of the problem – unpaid and in pain employees: