Friday, December 21, 2012

What is wrong with the Greeks and Europeans in general?

I often try to explain to many fellow Europeans how on Earth the Greeks have allowed their country to reach this point. How a country with so many resources and a great geopolitical strategic position can not achieve stability and become like many other developed European nations. One would of course ask; is this country meant to? 

Besides the Greek "condition" in my opinion is not just Greek, but European overall and in fact it affects all developed countries. It's been around 60 years since the '50s where the world started recovering from WW2 and there was a post war boom in every aspect of life. The economy, population, discoveries, industrialization, innovation, all driven by the rebuilding of Europe and other regions badly affected by WW2.

In my opinion that generation, the generation of post WW2 baby boomers is the main driving force of this crisis. They are all in their 50s or 60s, middle aged and it is the generation that dominates the political and economic life of Greece and Europe. And since they are during their middle life crisis years, they pull our continent with them. Old ideologies, attitudes, political ideas, social stereotypes and way of life, that is what they represent. 

And it shows in our political and economic life of today. Yes they do have experience and knowledge, but they suffer from lack of new ideas and vision. That I am afraid will come from us, the younger generation if only we get seriously involved in our country's and Europe's politics. 

In Greece the generation of over '50s inherited a country in tatters after an era of numerous Balkan wars that lead to the expansion of Greece's borders but also the Asia Minor disaster. A situation that forced Turkey and Greece to exchange their populations. Many impoverished Greeks arrived in today's Greece with nothing but their own clothes and whatever they could fit in their pockets from their livelihoods.

More than a million people were displaced like this and all efforts of the newly formed Greek state went into providing these people with housing and integrating them. But peace was not meant to last. The great European powers had other plans for the continent of Europe and the region of the Balkans. Two World wars broke out in the space of a few decades and Greece was dragged into both of them.

After those wars the country had to endure a bloody civil war that wrecked and devastated the country, economically, socially, morally and politically. It divided the nation and its scars have not fully healed until today. A few decades later and the country had to endure a military junta with the backing of USA. Another black page in the country's history that caused even further damage in Greece's politics and economy. 

Foreign powers always meddled with Greek affairs and politics. They helped to establish kings, democracy and  junta all in the space of half a century. But the Greek public was left with deep wounds and negative influences by all this instability. 

First of all corruption was established in all levels of the society. When the country was so poor and its people deprived, it is only natural. But it was also established by the state itself, in order to help keep control of the population and oppress them. Greece always had a strong socialist or communist population and in order to control them and keep the country under Western control, Greece became a police state.

If you were suspected of being a communist you were under surveillance by the police and if found guilty you were deported from the country and your fortunes seized by the state. Many children of communist families were given up for adoption in Greece, former communist countries of even in the USA and other western countries. 

Such cruel decades of poverty and deprivation, taught the Greek people to seize every opportunity they could to make a living. The state corruption soon became a way of life for everybody, as it was the only way to prosper. Very few people attended school and even fewer managed to go to college or university and get a degree. Emigration was widespread and a lot of the islands and parts of the mainland were abandoned. 

For example none from my family finished school. Neither my parents, nor my aunts, uncles never mind my grand parents who did not even go to school. They were all forced to leave studying and receiving any education to go and work at an early age. My father started working at the age of 13. My mother at 15. That was the social norm. Almost none of their cousins or friends ever finished school.

And it was not only the lack of education. They had to deal with a oppressive state that used a strong corrupt police force to oppress them. That is the reason that it is not in the Greek psyche to write to their mayors or ministers to complain about something, but only to court them for favors in return for their vote. You could not freely protest in Greece during the 50s. 

The police had too much power, and it kept this power until the '70s and the "Metapolitefsi" years. But even today the police has kept its old mind frame when dealing with its citizens. Authoritarian, corrupt and violent, especially when it comes to Greece's latest citizens, the immigrant communities.

When living under these conditions, in poverty, deprivation, social injustice and inequality, under an oppressive state and police system, with no education or a chance for a better life, generation after generation of Greeks learned to have a very limited and narrow minded perception of their political and social life. First of all they were not encouraged to be political creatures, rather to obey with no questioning. 

Similar situations existed in most countries of Europe after WW2 and that is correct for most of the Eastern part of the Continent that fell under the Communist rule. But countries like Ireland also had to endure their own oppressive institutions, this  time coming from the Catholic Church and not the police. One can really see this in the older Irish population, that also grew in poverty, deprivation, oppression and a brutal Catholic regime.

People like that can not protest or express any political opinion. They are ignorant and easy to manipulate as they accept the country's status quo without question. And even if they did have the ideas, they would keep them to themselves and do not protest in fear of losing the little that they had and be deported like in the Greek case. How can you have active citizenship under those conditions? 

So a whole generation of Greeks, Irish and many other European nationalities learned not to question and just follow what was happening in their countries. And when the boom times came, they just went mad and were spending like never before. Well it is natural, don't you think? Once you live in poverty for decades, you will of course try to make the most of it while you can and use any method to accumulate more and enjoy the good times to the maximum. 

But they only fell into a trap, that was set up by the those who control the global economy. They knew what would happen to a poor country that accumulated wealth so fast and they gambled on them. Now that Europe is changing, we see a greater citizen involvement in European affairs, even if in many cases that happens with a negative way. 

European youths that have access to the internet, have studied, traveled abroad and even worked for some years in another country than their own, they are becoming more aware of politics especially European. There are various EU funded forums and portals on-line that one can receive information and even come in contact with various EU officials and politicians. 

And from my experience they are far more willing to respond and get engaged with the citizens, than the national politicians.They usually tour a country only to gather support and gain votes from the people, by making promises that most likely won't keep. 

The future looks brighter for citizen involvement in European politics. But we still ignore the generation of over '50s, in trying to educate them or show them the benefits of EU membership or what are their rights as EU citizens. 
What we need is to reach out to them through the media they use and trust the most, the television. We should promote more awareness and information through television programs for people of an older age and encourage them to get involved too. Help them understand how the EU and politics in Europe work, and offer them unbiased information detached from any national interests and propaganda. 

Imagine for example if the British public that are the most "euro-skeptic" of all EU nations, found out the real benefits of their country's EU membership. If they were offered another point view, apart from the obviously and openly "euro-skeptic"  media, especially the press. It is again the British populace over 50, the pensioners and others near that age that are most conservative and vocal of their anti-EU sentiments. 

It is also true that the German people over '50s are far more inclined on being conservative and oppose any major change in their country's politics, any bail outs or transfer of funds to poorer EU countries. It is them that control the country's economic and political reigns and influence of course European politics as the largest member of the EU. 

In Greece too, it is that age group that rules and has an outdated, conservative idea on how to run the country. They do not like change or modernization simply because they will lose all their power and influence in the country, by bringing a new way of doing business or reforming the country's economy. How can anything change with such conservative approach?
Yes in the future Europe will be more "European", but if we do not focus on the older generation, that development will only take place decades later, when they pass. Until then, they may do permanent damage with a rise of nationalism, xenophobia, conservatism and protectionism. The younger generation that has studied abroad and speaks foreign languages, it is natural that they will feel more "European" as I am. 

What about people in my parents' age group, will we let them be indifferent? They do have the right to vote and they use it. And the more we leave them uninvolved or ignorant in many European issues, the more we will be delaying any real progress in Europe.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Defining corruption.

I often wonder what makes a country corrupt, what are the reasons that some countries riffed with it and how we are defining which countries are more corrupt than others. In the recent list published last Wednesday by the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI), we saw this year's worse offenders and the "shining examples" of the least corrupt countries.

But I often wonder who and why decide to place certain countries in such place. And under what criteria? The list showed that Afghanistan for example is right at the bottom of this list, while the USA in the top 20. That is a thing that I find hilarious. Afghanistan, a country is still under foreign military occupation is being placed at the bottom. 

Could the country have done any better? Can a country better its system when under an occupation? And what about America being at the top 20? Is this country really "transparent?" Well it depends how you see things, and how you define "corruption!"

Perhaps you think of corruption as only when it happens in a poor country with other traditions than the dominant "Western" and "Anglo-Saxon," but when it happens in a developed country it is just "lobbying." Or is it perhaps only when it happens between bribes and financial transactions of certain parties of the public with certain parties of the national or local government? 

Then how can we explain the fact that America is in a state or perpetuate war with the excuse of providing certain "unfortunate" countries that lack "democracy" with "freedom," when the real reason is to make their arms and oil industries richer, thus helping their economy?

What is the difference between me going to a civil servant in the country I am living in, paying him/her with a lump sum in order to gain a favor for my business or me, with when an arms company is lobbying a country's government to engage in a war that is not justified, for profit? And of course this is a profit shared, as this company in return will support that government in its future political campaigns or even worse will share some of the profits with that government. 

Please do not be surprised this is not a scenario, this is happening as we speak. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan was all about oil and profit, nothing more. And some companies made huge profit, helping in return some lobbies or political parties in their country of establishment. 

Because despite the public outrage or lack of support, Britain, Spain and Portugal for example went on and joined the Americans in their campaign in those countries right away. Isn't this a show of lack of democracy, when despite the public disapproval, the government enters a war that will have no benefit for the nation whatsoever, rather for the global oil companies?

And why the "corruptor" that is corrupting a country with money or other means in order to serve his interests is never listed as being corrupt, like in the case of Afghanistan/USA? The first country is being invaded and has its resources exploited and not only that, is being forced to a regime change that will only serve the invaders, then this country finds itself at the bottom. While the second country is considered less corrupt, simply by judging its GDP or wealth, even though that it uses this wealth to corrupt other countries.

Do you want another example? The case of the Greek government and many German multinationals like Siemens. The German multinational was bribing the Greek government for years in order to be appointed the main constructor of many public works before the Athens Olympics. 

When they got it they made a huge profit out of the Greek public wealth, they avoided taxes and overcharged the Greek state. This is the so called "Siemens scandal" that rocked Greece a few years ago. Yet it was the Greeks who were branded as a "corrupt" nation and not the "corruptors" the Germans. I think it should work both ways shouldn't it? They were both part of the equation.

I have also always wondered how a tax haven make it towards the top of the list. Like the "corruptor" states, they are a part of the global corruption plague, simply by having secretive banking policies and lower their taxes for the rich or the multinationals. In this way they offer the ground for corruption to exist elsewhere. Without them, corruption would be difficult to hide as those who tax evade would have no place to hide their money that they stole from the state or other decent tax payers. 

So why exactly most tax havens also make it to the top of the list, like Luxembourg, Switzerland, many Caribbean and Pacific islands, Monaco, etc. If they could not act as tax havens, if we imposed sanctions against them if they did not comply with international laws, the corrupt fat cats would have no playground to stash their money. You will think that it would be outrageous to place sanctions against tax havens? Why? We place sanctions against any country that does not play with our rules, like Iran or Cuba for example. 

Is it perhaps that "the West" is corrupt as a economic and political block? In my opinion yes. Wherever there is a lot of money and power involved, there you can find the worse corruption of all. In that way, the USA, Britain and yes even the EU can be the most corrupt states or organizations that exist. For example whenever a banker's wife steals money in Switzerland it is not breaking news. 

Or when a French President is involved in a scandal (and my God almost all of them have) that is something  natural. When there is a scandal of pedophilia, a scandal of police corruption or tax evasion in Belgium there is not an outrage across Europe, or whenever there are problems in Holland with some failings in the legalization of prostitution and cannabis.

When British MPs are involved in a scandal, stealing money from the tax payers to build a much needed duck house in their pond, or a large establishment of the British press is involved in one of the worse cases of corruption that is not something shameful. If the same happens in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria or Greece of course there are plenty of fingers pointing. 

And isn't it more natural, wherever there is poverty and decades of human deprivation to have more severe cases of corruption? Poverty urges people to find a corrupt way to make a better living. It seems though that wealth has the same effect, but only when rich nations or people do it then it becomes more "glamorous."

Eastern European states for example, had to suffer decades of communism and poverty while the Western part of the Continent was progressing fast. Why are some western European countries so critical of Bulgaria or Romania and instead of helping them, they point the finger towards them? As if everything is crystal clear in their affairs. 

And very few countries in Europe had more turbulent past in their modern history than Greece. Decades of a war after another, foreign meddling and intervention left whole generations of Greeks in poverty and absolute deprivation. These are the "ways" that they learned to survive and make a living. Why instead of helping to find a solution on a European level, correct the mistakes of the past and reach a reconciliation, the rich western states prefer to throw all the mud against other states instead of cooperating to eradicate corruption from Europe, or at least minimize it?

Is it because it is nice to have a scapegoat, and divert their public opinion towards the misfortunes and faults of others, rather on letting them focus on what is wrong in their own backyards? And since in most cases they are partially responsible on what is going on in the poorer countries is it ethical to criticize them? European states especially have a lot to answer for their colonial and post colonial influences in the poorer regions of the world. Likewise America is practicing unethical policies that force many poorer regions into deprivation and of course corruption.

Or is it because if any action is to be taken to deal with corruption in the poorer European countries, the same will have to apply in the rich ones and that can cause a lot of trouble to the corrupt political elites of Europe and America? They are all interconnected anyway.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Privatising European healthcare to make it more innovative? I do not think so!

Recently many leaders in Europe are discussing ways on making Europe and its economy more competitive and promote innovation. Of course  one of the things they love doing in situations like these is to cut the much hated by the capitalists social security funds. And privatize everything.

So with those two in mind, many leaders and policy makers in Europe are debating on if we should privatize healthcare, to make it more "innovative!" They want to make us all pay for our health services and allow some people make money out of our health issues.

I strongly disagree. Health must be free and available for all. Health and education are the only two things that I believe they should not be privatized. Private companies may do a good job but they charge a whole lot of money. Why should better health be the privilege of the rich only?

It is the state that must invest in health and education. That is why we are paying all those taxes, aren’t we? Let them privatize everything else but provide their citizens with good health and education. Those two are an investment. If you have a healthy and educated population, it is the best investment you could make as a statesman or woman.

Good health means less social welfare for the sick and good education means a capable workforce that can attract investments.Why on earth would you give that on private hands, so that any multinational can manipulate the health and education of your population? Thus owning the fate of the young and the old or weak.

A private company cares only for money. Little does it care for assisting citizens in need. And the worse example of a bad health service is the USA. They have privatized their social security services and they have one of the worse systems in the world. While Cuba that has kept them in public hands, has one of the best health services in the world.

I am not saying that we all should become like Cuba, but on the health care debate I am absolutely against privatization.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My experiences as a young Greek immigrant in Europe.

For the past 8 years, I live permanently in Dublin, Ireland. My decision to leave the country I was born proved to be the wisest decision of my life. Not that there are no problems and everything is rosy. Βut migration gave me an advantage over others who have not lived in a country other than their own, or have traveled to other countries.

When I first moved to Dublin, I did not know anyone here. So I started hanging out with people of many different nationalities. I learned new customs and to think in a new way, to see things from another perspective.

And in many cases I've learned how to improve or change my way of thinking, how to start thinking like the Irish and the other people that I came in contact with. At first my attention was focused on other things. It was difficult to consolidate friendships, find work that satisfies me and not fall victim to manipulation.

But all these lessons were valuable life lessons that forced me to use my head to survive. Once I learned the mentality of the locals I began to understand where we are going wrong in Greece in labor, political, social, cultural and other issues. And of course where we have advantages.

Over the years I began to lose my narrow and limited perception of most Greeks and Irish locals. Like someone gave me a magic mirror that every time you make a mistake and you wonder where do you go wrong, it shows it to you.

My mindset changed, my beliefs changed. Then began another battle: to find out where I belong. When I'm in Ireland and speak with Irish friends, there are times that inevitably I criticize all they are doing wrong and give them a different solution to their problem.

Many times they perceived it the wrong way and think I'm a snob. And yes, there is jealousy and xenophobia between the Irish and especially in whatever is foreign and different or better.

The same happens with some Greeks when I am visiting Greece. In some of our friend gatherings, we discuss social and political issues, but they do not understand some arguments that I use in our discussions. Although they show certainly some interest. Some people show admiration others envy. Just because I think about things without the small "national" state of mind, a thing that they can not do.

The difference is that now I am and feel cosmopolitan. I am not only Greek, but also European and world citizen. Some characteristics of the "typical" Greek I've left behind. And some of these features I often use to get an advantage against the Irish and other colleagues of other nationalities.

For me, being a Greek is no longer being stuck in the "tradition," but to use some traditions to enrich your life. The hospitality, food, pride, diligence and "open heart" of the Greek I carry always with me and use them regularly when dealing with other people, to win arguments.

But the narrow-mindedness, fear of anything foreign or progressive, the blind acceptance of the ideology of our parents, the sometimes suffocating relationship between parent and child or between two lovers, all those I have left behind. And my relationship with religion and "Orthodoxy" has inevitably changed.

There is a Greek-Orthodox church in Dublin, and we have an Orthodox priest who is of Irish descent. He converted during his stay in Cyprus, while serving in the Irish Army and the United Nations following the Turkish invasion of the island.

So I can keep some of my favorite traditions like those of Easter, but without being a hardliner on doctrine.Christmas for example I celebrate in an "Irish" or "European" way. I just may go to a Catholic or a Protestant church with friends. I do not necessarily need to follow all the Greek customs, only the ones I like. 

The cutting of the St Basil Pie for example (a traditional New Year's Day brioche type of bread, that my mother sends it to me every year by post)! I generally accept many customs from Ireland and their national holidays. Like the St. Patrick's Day and the famous "Halloween." While I have abandoned completely other Greek festivals such as the "Assumption of Our Lady," that is celebrated in Greece on August 15th.National and religious customs are just one example of the new way of thinking and culture that I have acquired. A hybrid culture which often brings me advantages, while other times just make my life more colorful, interesting and different.

I feel incredibly lucky to be able to have this experience. Because despite the problems of racism and sometimes all the difficulties, I would not want to ever go back to what I was. Now I see things differently and if I ever move back to Greece, I will not allow myself to lose anything I gained from my life in Ireland.