After three weeks in Greece, and after the previous posts of the refugee crisis, I feel the need to write down what I’ve seen and heard in that country. The media in Germany are what I am exposed to the most, and while it is doubtless that they have had a certain amount of influence on me, I still think that I have done my best to view things critically, and to not swallow every bit of slander that the infamous BILD has attempted to spread about the Greeks. Anger at those false portrayals of a lazy people and at the reckless lies that worsen the crisis are what got this blog started in the first place, so let’s get back to that, and talk about what Greece was like through the eyes of a guest from Leipzig.
While German media was consensually identified laziness, foul play and corruption as the ultimate origin of the Greek tragedy, the Greek media have on their part seemingly pointed out the true roots the mess. Anger at past and present Greek governments is only matched and possibly surpassed by anger at Germany and its politicians. For reasons that are quite unclear to me, both Greek TV stations and newspapers see Germany as the chief villain of Europe, and thus also as a main cause of the current impoverishment of the population, ignoring that the demands of the conservative government are not very different from those of the Commission. I was often asked where I was from, and every time my stomach started twisting before I said ‘Germany’, knowing what would go through people’s minds as soon as they heard the answer. One taxi driver hit the nail on its head, when he (albeit jokingly) responded, “Ah, so you are the enemy!”
|Abandoned shops in the old city of Nafplio|
Another thing that struck me was a nationalist sentiment that I, as a German, am probably particularly sensitive to. The national flag hanging from every lamp post, every kiosk, and lots of balconies was something that Europeans found so disturbing when the US suffered its own wave of ultra-patriotism after 9/11. I was under the impression that Greece is experiencing the same syndrome, a country where the presence of a Greek flag on a product is a marketing mechanism. Of course, I understand that in times of crisis people want to buy products made in their own country, probably I would do the same, but is it really a good idea to put a sticker on your shop that proudly proclaims, ‘We only sell Greek products’? Apart from the nationalism there is something else that bothers me about the idea that a slightly altered shopping behaviour can make a difference. This idea delivers the message that responsibility for the crisis ultimately lies with the ordinary people who go to the bakery to buy tiropites. Responsibility lies with people who have brought 4 billion euros outside the country every month since 2009 – the people who did that hate their country, and their money could have done so much to help the situation. Responsibility lies with the banks who have given Greece cheap credit in the first place, and responsibility lies with corrupt governments.
The crisis in Greece is certainly visible to the naked eye, particularly in the tourist destinations. We spoke with the owner of a restaurant in the main city of Naxos, who told us that since 2009 there has been a steady decline in tourists, and that in 2012 their income has plummeted particularly. I saw the once-crowded city centre of Piraeus derelict and abandoned, stickers reading ‘ΕΝΟΙΚΙΑΖΕΤΑΙ’(which means ‘for rent’) everywhere, nearly empty cafés and the boarded windows and doors of closed shops. Last time I went to beautiful Nafplio in 2008, I found a small town bustling with life, while this year’s visit showed Nafplio as a depressingly empty place. With petrol prizes competing with Scandinavia, and with incomes having plunged, things that used to be normal have become luxuries in a matter of a few years.
So, I want to end this post with an appeal: if you are reading this planning to go on a last-minute holiday in September, I urge you to go to Greece (I can confirm that Naxos as an amazing island, with golden beaches and great, hospitable people), and to help people who have become victims of financial speculators. Tourism is one of the main sources of income for Greece, and there is absolutely no reason not to visit its hundreds of beautiful islands.
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