Monday, February 20, 2012

The "lazy" Greeks myth.

From the start of this crisis, the global media started a smear campaign against Greece, calling the Greeks lazy and corrupt. The saddest thing about it is that even Mr. Papandreou the former elected Prime Minister of the country, was one of the most vocal critics of the people who gave him, his father and his grand-father so much power over this nation!

Talking about ungratefulness! It is up to the leaders that are being voted by the people to lead the country, to change the system and reform, modernize and above all lead by example. If the Greeks are unproductive, then perhaps it is because their leaders are the lazy and corrupt ones! The fish stinks from its head, a Greek saying tells us! Perhaps the Greek elite needs to keep that in mind.

Lets examine a few facts about the working conditions in Greece now, shall we? The Greeks as the following statistics map by EIRO (The European Industrial Relations Observatory) shows, work among the longest hours in the EU! On average 40 hours per week, while on the bottom of the map we see the richest nations of Europe, like Germany, France, Holland, Norway, Belgium and so on.

 Figure 1: Average collectively agreed normal weekly hours, 2009 Figure 1: Average collectively agreed normal weekly hours, 2009
Source: EIRO.

The Greeks do not get an hour long lunch breaks as they do here in Ireland and the U.K. For lunch you get about 20 minutes break, just enough to eat your meal. Never mind the morning coffee break and the evening tea break, that the Irish and Brits are so used to. And of course nothing like the siesta time of Spain, when banks and public services are closed for an hour for lunch and "siesta!"

There is no life long Social Welfare in Greece as it exists in many richer states. In Belgium they provide social welfare to their youths as soon as they leave college, until they find a job. Then if you become unemployed you are able to be on social welfare for the rest of your life and then receive your pension too! Of course the benefits are being cut the longer you stay on the dole, but that is not the issue.

 In Greece after one or two years maximum you receive nothing from the state. You got to keep working in Greece, even if it is on-off to receive social assistance! What makes Belgium, many Scandinavian and other northern European states so rich to be able to provide social welfare for life to their citizens?

In Ireland they give families social welfare for life too. There are people who have been on social welfare all their lives. There are sections of the Irish society that live off benefits without ever having to contribute. They are being given social welfare to keep the crime down: instead of stealing to get money to buy their drink and drugs, the state provides them with an amount to prevent them from committing crime! According all the above, who are the most lazy in Europe, the Greeks, the Irish, the Belgians or their other fellow Europeans?

My sister's ex-husband lived and worked in Germany for a while. The Germans during the '80s and the early '90s were turning down jobs, that according to my brother-in-law they were required to do "by wearing a suit!" By that he meant that they had so many rights and benefits as workers, everything was so standardized that you needn't sweat too hard in order to do your work.

Yet the Germans were turning down those jobs and wanted better paid ones, leaving those jobs for the immigrants. I am not so sure about the current working conditions in Germany, but I mentioned the above as another example of the working ethos of the Greeks. We are hard working people, and everywhere we set foot we prosper! 

But why can't we achieve this in our own country? Simply because it is the Greek system's fault. "Greece devours its own children" says a Greek saying, and my God this is so true! To begin with, the only blame I will put on the Greek public's shoulders is their tolerance of the current political elites. Since the Greek Civil War they have been divided in two major camps and they vote according to family traditions rather proposed policies!

Instead of going to their MPs, grab them by the neck and demand hospitals, schools, universities, roads and development they go and beg for a position for their sons and daughters in the ever growing Greek public sector!

But what can you expect from them, since there aren't many other industries set in Greece? If you do not work in the tourism industry, farming or construction there aren't many other industries flourishing in the country. All industrial activity in Europe is absorbed by the rich European nations and what was left in Greece, has either left for China, Bulgaria and other countries with cheaper workforce.

Or even worse, they were bought by other European/Western multinational companies and were sold off or broken piece by piece, destroying many jobs in Greece. So the only secure career prospects you have in Greece is to join and work in the (ever growing) public sector. 

And that is a pity. Because Greece has en educated and multilingual youth. Most of my friends speak at least English and many of them more than one foreign languages. Yet after finishing college they have no chance in finding a job in their field of studies, simply because there are no investments, no development and no positions to absorb this vibrant workforce into employment. So they either have to migrate or join the tourism industry, working as waiters.

One of the reforms that Europe demands now in order Greece to secure the next loan, is to catch the tax evaders and make them pay. Yet so far only 1% of the taxes have been collected and these were from the ordinary people. Because the tax evaders are the rich fat cats of Greece, including the political elite and their accolades. How can you tax the ones who support your political campaign and they were providing you with millions in order for you to stay in power?

And how can you convince the Greeks to swallow such measures when they see the rich getting away with it. A popular singer of the 50s and 60s, Mr Voskopoulos has refused to pay up the millions of euros he owes to the Greek state. His wife of course is a former MP and he has good connections withing the Greek political elite. So if he can refuse to pay and get away with it, why should the poorer Greeks bare the heavy weight of this austerity? In any other country he would be jailed and his property confiscated, but not in Greece!

Not everybody tax evades in Greece. There is a popular notion among Europeans, that comes from their experiences as tourists in Greece, that the Greeks leave unfinished their homes to evade taxes. If the state gives you the option in its laws to be able to pay less tax if you do not finish your house properly, that is not tax evading. I am sure the Germans would do the same if this loophole existed in their laws. 

Besides, not all regions of Greece have the same laws. In the region of Northern Greece where I come from, all houses are finished. It seems that this exception exists in the islands, so the rumor was generalized. Perhaps the Greek islands have other tax exemptions than the mainland Greece.

The German company that has built the new Eleftherios Venizelos airport in Athens, has not paid a penny of taxes to the Greek state. They prefer to give money to the corrupt Greek elite to turn the blind eye. That is why the Europeans love to do business with us, because they are able to avoid taxation. Why then we are called "tax-evaders" by them?

This crisis is a huge fiasco! The Greeks are being forced to pay up and save the European banks and the toxic debt they have accumulated over the years due to their exposure on American toxic debt. How Europe decided to deal with this situation? Make the weaker states pay. We are being called to pay and cover this debt out of our taxes for decades to come, while northern Europe will be able to recover and keep developing.

My generation that has studied abroad, traveled and has dreams and a new vision for our country, the generation of mid 30s is the worst hit. The generation that is during its most creative years, that have new ideas and are more actively involved in Greek and European politics are having their wings clipped and are forced into a new financial junta imposed by Europe!

How can you expect Greece ever to recover when generation after generation is being crippled and forced into poverty and deprivation? Before it was the wars, now it is the economic crisis. I wonder, does Europe really want to have a rich and prosperous Greece in its club?

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