Friday, May 31, 2013

Greeks shake off pessimism despite economic woes


By Denise Roland 3:19PM BST 30 May 2013

Economic morale in Greece surged close to a five-year high in May despite mounting signs that the nation is set to enter a seventh year of recession.

Greece tries to crack down on fraud mayor of Zakynthos faces revolt

The Greek economy entered deflationary territory earlier this year, which, if sustained could drive up Athens' debt burden and force the government to further restructure its debt, forcing losses on lenders. Photo: AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

The debt-gripped nation registered a 93.8 reading on the European Commission's economic sentiment index, putting it above northern European peers Austria, Finland and Denmark, and well above the eurozone average of 89.4.
Greece was among the steepest risers in the survey, which gauges consumer and business confidence, suggesting that pessimism is waning fast as the population pegs hopes on recovery.
But economists warned that the upward trend in Greek sentiment could be fragile amid growing signs the economy is still far from shaking off recession.
"It seems pretty encouraging, but I would treat these figures with a degree of caution," said Ben May, Europe economist at Capital Economics.
"Despite a pick-up in sentiment which began last year when the bail-out was resurrected, first quarter GDP has not registered an improvement."

Economic sentiment in Greece, Spain, France and Italy. Data: Reuters/European Commission

He suggested that Greeks could be anticipating an easing in credit conditions as banks get recapitalised, or that lower borrowing costs on the government could be lifting sentiment.

Earlier this month the European Central Bank cut its key interest rate to a record low of 0.5pc in a bid to boost lending in the eurozone. However, Greek banks have largely failed to pass on the benefits of rate cuts to their customers.


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The OECD yesterday forecast that Greece will enter its seventh year of recession in 2014, meaning it could need further bail-out assistance. This runs counter the government's own claims that "the worst is over" and eurozone forecasts which see the country returning to growth next year and exiting its bail-out.

Greece has the highest youth unemployment on the continent at 64pc, and overall joblessness stands at 27pc.

The Greek economy entered deflationary territory earlier this year, which, if sustained could drive up Athens' debt burden and force the government to further restructure its debt, forcing losses on lenders.

Nonetheless, the pick up in Greek confidence was reflected across its crisis-ridden counterparts. Morale in bailed-out Portugal rose 1.8 to 84.2 and in Italy gained 1.5 to 84.9, though Spain inched up just 0.1 to 89.8.

"For the crisis countries, (this data offers) yet more signs that the worst is over. Southern Europe saw some of the strongest improvements," Christian Schulz, senior economist at Berenberg Bank, wrote in a note.

Sentiment rose in all five of the largest eurozone countries - Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands - while the 17-nation eurozone registered an overall pick-up of 0.8 points to 89.4, after falling in April.

Greeks shake off pessimism despite economic woes - Telegraph

Sale of Onassis island in doubt

 Nick Squires

By Nick Squires, Rome and Matthew Day 4:40PM BST 30 May 2013

The sale of an idyllic Greek island owned for decades by the Onassis family has been thrown into doubt amid concerns that it contravenes the wishes of the late shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis.

Aristotle Onassis' Greek island 'sold for £100 million'

Skorpios was sold last month by the Aristotle Onassis's granddaughter Photo: Rex Features

Skorpios, a forested island surrounded by the crystal clear waters of the Ionian Sea, was sold last month by the magnate's granddaughter, 28-year-old Athina Onassis Roussel, to a Russian oligarch, Dmitry Rybolovlev, for a reported $100 million (£66 million).

Mr Rybolovlev, 47, the multi-billionaire owner of the AS Monaco Football Club and co-founder of Uralkali, a Russian potash producer, bought it as an extravagant gift for his 24-year-old socialite daughter, Ekaterina.

But the deal is now in question amid claims that Onassis, who is buried on the island, stipulated in his will that it should remain in his family's hands as long as they could afford to maintain it.

Failing that, the island was to be bequeathed either to the nation, to be used as a holiday retreat by the head of state, or to Olympic Airways, the country's national airline, to be used as a summer camp for the children of employees.

There is little doubt that Miss Onassis Roussel, the only surviving descendant of the shipping tycoon, can afford the upkeep of the island – the Swiss-educated heiress was once described as "the richest girl in the world."


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The Greek government said the sale is now being reviewed after questions were asked in parliament.

Yiannis Stournaras, the Greek finance minister, said his ministry had asked government lawyers to check the legality of the transaction and whether it was in the "public interest" of the Greek state.

Yiannis Milios, chief economist for Syriza, the opposition party, told The Daily Telegraph recently: "In Aristotle Onassis's will there was a clause saying that if the island was not kept in the family, it should be returned to the state.

"But obviously the lawyers thought they had found a formula by which it could be sold."

Although the Greek press has said that the Rybolovlev family has already started work on restoring buildings on Skorpios and tidying up the island, it remains unclear if the sale process has been concluded.

When it was first reported in April, a prominent broker of private islands told The Daily Telegraph that the fact that Mr Onassis's grave was on the island could present an obstacle to the deal.

Farhad Vladi, whose company, Vladi Private Islands, sells islands around the world to the super-rich, was hired by Ms Onassis Roussel to carry out an evaluation of the island eight years ago.

If the sale is found to be illegal, a compromise might be reached by which the island would be given to the Rybolovlevs on a long lease.

Aristotle Onassis bought Skorpios, off the west coast of Greece, in 1962 and turned the barren island into a luxury resort by planting thousands of trees and importing sand.

In 1968 the island hosted his wedding to Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of the assassinated US President John F Kennedy.

After Mr Onassis's death in 1975, Skorpios passed to his daughter Christina, who died of a heart attack at 37 in the late 1980s after a history of drug abuse, weight issues and four failed marriages.

Onassis, his son Alexander, who was killed in an airplane crash aged 25, and Christina are buried on Skorpios.

Athina Onassis Roussel was just three years old when her mother died.

Miss Onassis Roussel, who lives in Brazil, is said to have shown scant interest in spending time on the island.

Sale of Onassis island in doubt - Telegraph

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Greek coalition in crisis talks over anti-racism bill

Helena Smith in Athens, Tuesday 28 May 2013 02.05 AEST

Proposed law to curb the rise of the far-right Golden Dawn party has highlighted rifts between conservatives and their partners

Antonis Samaras

The Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras,will hold emergency talks with his coalition partners over the proposed anti-racism law. Photograph: Photonews/Getty Images

The Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, has held emergency talks with his coalition partners over implementing anti-racism legislation seen as a crucial step to reining in the increasingly popular neo-fascist Golden Dawn party.

The law, which has whipped up a storm of controversy among traditional conservatives in Samaras's New Democracy party, comes amid mounting official concern over how to curb the organisation's meteoric ascent.

"We have an international obligation to enforce measures to combat racism – measures to answer the charges that have been made against our country," the socialist Pasok leader, Evangelos Venizelos, told the Guardian before the talks. He added that the Australian government had banned Golden Dawn officials from visiting the country.

In successive polls the extremists have been shown to have entrenched themselves firmly as Greece's third-biggest political force.

On the back of disaffection over hard-hitting austerity measures, support for the far rightists is in double figures, in sharp contrast to the 5-6% poll ratings for the once-mighty Pasok, a junior partner in Samaras's tripartite alliance.

Emboldened by its soaring popularity, Golden Dawn has assumed a more aggressive stance, threatening migrants, lambasting minority groups and hurling abuse at politicians in the Athens parliament.

Last week, the parliament's speaker implemented a blanket ban on weapons being carried into the chamber after a Golden Dawn MP was caught with a pistol after a particularly lively debate. Greece is also under unprecedented pressure from Europe to impose tougher punishments on the perpetrators of racially motivated crimes following a surge in violence against immigrants.

The rise in racist assaults – 220 attacks were reported between October 2011 and December 2012 – has been blamed on the neo-Nazi party, whose manifesto includes a pledge to rid Greece of "immigrant scum". Earlier this month, the EU human rights commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, said the violence amounted to an "early form of far-right terror" and called on Greek authorities to pass legislation that would curb the party's influence.

"It worries me deeply that the European community and national political leaders appear not to be fully aware of the serious threat that these organisations pose to the rule of law and human rights," he said, referring to the rise of the far right in Greece and Hungary.

Last week, the country's Muslim Association was warned its members would be "slaughtered like chickens" if they failed to leave. The threat followed the party's pledge that it would put 100,000 people on the streets of Athens if the government pressed ahead with a long-delayed plan to build a mosque in the capital.

The anti-racism law, which aims to criminalise incitement to commit acts of racial violence and denial of Nazi war crimes, was seen as the best way of confronting such thuggery. Instead, it appears only to have highlighted the rifts between the majority conservatives and their leftwing and centre-left partners, with the deputy interior minister on Monday saying he believed existing legislation was more than adequate to combat racism. "I think [it] covers the needs set out by the EU directive," he told state-run TV.

Conservative reluctance to endorse the bill has prompted criticism that its members are colluding with Golden Dawn in combating immigration in Greece.

Greek coalition in crisis talks over anti-racism bill | World news |

Greece becomes trade battleground as foreign investors swoop


Helena Smith in Athens The Guardian, Tuesday 28 May 2013 00.47 AEST

Three years after Greek bailout, Russian, Chinese and Qatari investors jostle for access into new trade gateway to Europe

The old fishing harbour in Gytheio, Peloponnes, Greece

Gytheio harbour, Greece. The country can become a gateway for investment and trade flows between China and Europe, says its prime minister. Photograph: Alamy

The Chinese are interested in airports, harbours and railways. The Russians are determined to infiltrate the energy market. The Qataris have made clear they want to invest in property.

Three years to the month after becoming the first eurozone country to be bailed out by the European Union (EU), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), Greece has finally got its long-delayed privatisation campaign off the ground, and the programme has turned the debt-choked country into a battleground for nations seeking access to the EU trading bloc.

"We have to transmit the message that this is a different Greece," the development minister, Kostis Hadzidakis, said in an interview. "We have to surprise in a positive way. Privatisations will send the message that we are a business-friendly country."

The prime minister, Antonis Samaras, took that message to Beijing this month, urging China to participate in what he described as Athens' success story. He was buoyed by a raft of unusually good news: international creditors had agreed to prop up the economy with another €8.8bn (£7.5bn) in rescue funds, Fitch had upgraded Greece's credit rating, while borrowing costs on 10-year bonds in May fell to their lowest level since the outbreak of the debt crisis.

If ever there was a time, it was now, for the Asian tiger to pursue its desire to make Greece a gateway to Europe by investing in infrastructure projects beyond Piraeus port. As Europe's biggest passenger harbour and one of its top 10 container terminals, the docks at Piraeus have become an operational base for the Chinese since Cosco, its state-run shipping company, paid €500m to lease half of them in 2010.

"Greece can become a real gateway for investment and trade flows between China and Europe, " said Samaras, whose conservative-dominated coalition has been credited with bringing political stability to the crisis-hit country since it assumed office last June. During his visit, 11 bilateral agreements were signed with Chinese officials, who have also signalled their interest in taking over Athens' international airport.

Last week, it was Moscow's turn, with Alexey Miller, the powerful head of Gazprom, Russia's biggest gas producer, flying into Athens for the third time in as many months to discuss buying Depa, Greece's natural gas corporation. Gazprom, which supplies 90% of Greece's natural gas through a pipeline from Bulgaria, made a preliminary €900m bid for Depa last year, although insiders say the deal will probably be closed for €750m.

As the country's sole retail gas distributor, Depa is one of two companies viewed as the jewel in the crown of a privatisation programme that, though wildly off target, is among the most ambitious undertaken on the continent of Europe. The other is the state gambling monopoly Opap, a third of which was sold to Greek-Czech investors this month.

In private talks with Samaras, Miller made clear that Moscow not only wanted to take over the corporation, but would brook no interference in the deal. The US and EU have raised objections to Russia exerting further influence over the energy sector in what has become an increasingly delicate geopolitical balancing act for Greece.

Cosco terminal at the port of Piraeus in Greece Cosco terminal at the port of Piraeus. The docks have become an operational base for the Chinese. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/EPA

Over the weekend, Greek officials said plans were afoot to sell Desfa, the natural gas network's operator, to Azerbaijan's state oil company, Socar, which is believed to be backed by US interests "for the sake of equilibrium".

A deadline for bids for Depa, originally set for 29 May, has been scheduled for early June.

In his office overlooking Syntagma square, Hadzidakis claims that what Greece has experienced is more than just an economic crisis. "It is an historic moment, a turning point for our country, the fight of our generation that we are condemned to win," he said. "If we are successful in selling both Opap and Depa, then we win a central battle and the privatisations to follow will be easier," adding that the government would work on the principle of selling to the highest bidder. "The whole process is fully transparent."

In its sixth consecutive year of recession, Greece, the recipient of €240bn in rescue funds, the biggest bailout in western history, is under immense pressure to push ahead with privatisations to cut a debt load that is projected to reach 185% of GDP this year. Samaras's tripartite coalition has similarly announced plans for the gradual denationalisation of the country's biggest electricity generator, DEH.

The breakneck speed at which the privatisations are taking place – regional airports, industrial real estate, sporting facilities, beaches, state-run hotels and even thermal baths were recently handed over to the state privatisation fund, Taiped – follows earlier criticism from the EU that the sell-offs have been painfully slow.

The programme, initially aimed at raising €50bn by 2019, has been repeatedly scaled back, with the government now intending to raise €11.1bn by 2016 and €25bn by 2020. A goal of €2.6bn has been set for 2013.

"Privatisations are never going to solve this country's financial problems," said Prof Theodore Pelagidis, head of economic analysis at Piraeus University. "But it is hoped they will eliminate state-linked corruption and increase production efficiency."

Hadzidakis said the privatisations would be the best proof yet that Athens is not only determined to revitalise investor confidence, but committed to pushing ahead with unpopular reforms.

Highly sensitive, the sale of prized state assets, or "the family silver", has long been perceived as the ultimate humiliation for a nation hobbled, more than any other on the periphery of Europe, by the punishing effects of relentless austerity.

"Even those who were against privatisations can accept them now," said the politician who had first-hand experience of public resistance to the sell-offs when he oversaw the sale of the nation's official carrier, Olympic Airways, in 2009. "They understand that privatising state-owned organisations is a prerequisite to tackling the problem of unemployment," he added, referring to Greece's record jobless rate of 27%. "People can see that the public sector is unable to create new jobs."

Chief executive of Russian energy company Gazprom, Alexey Miller (L), leaves the Maximos mansion after a meeting with Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras. Photograph: EPA/Alexandros Vlachos Gazprom chief Alexey Miller, left, leaves the Maximos mansion after a meeting with the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras. Photograph: EPA/Alexandros Vlachos

To this end, he added, it was vital that potential investors were given the "red-carpet treatment" rather than the "red-tape nightmare" widely blamed for the country's notorious lack of competitiveness.

"Our objective," said Hadzidakis, "is to make Greece a transit hub in the broader region, which is why we are also working with the World Bank to see how we can develop a logistics sector as well."

Such is the desire to lure investors that the Greek parliament recently passed legislation offering five-year residence permits to non-EU citizens purchasing property worth more than €250,000.

The move was widely seen as a sop to the Chinese, who are keen to be able to travel freely in the 27-nation EU bloc. Although the Qataris have also expressed interest in developing Athens' former airport at Hellenikon, pouring €100bn into a joint investment fund, few, if any, EU member states have exhibited any desire to invest in Greece.

For all the official euphoria, the sell-offs have been the focus of widespread criticism, with opponents pointing out that at a time of depressed market rates, Opap, once the nation's most profitable state enterprise, received only two bids for the 33% stake in the company.

The winning bidder, the Emma Delta fund, will pay €652m for the stake plus management rights in the company, nearly €100m less than its market value based on the company's share price on the day the offer was submitted. However, Athens' total receipts from the sale will rise to €712m after dividends under the terms of the deal.

The reduced price tags have prompted political opponents to pledge to take to the streets once again and also to describe the programme as more of a "sell-out" than "sell-off".

"They are trying to convince us that the climate is changing because they are forging ahead with the programme of pillaging national wealth, which they call the privatisation programme," said Alexis Tsipras, head of the main opposition party, the radical-left Syriza. "What they don't say is that the sales, the change of ownership of profit-making organisations, are not about [to bring] investment. They won't bring growth or jobs."


What is up for grabs

Athens' old international Airport Hellenikon, which at almost 70m sq ft, is three times the size of Monaco. It is also Europe's biggest development project

Natural gas corporation Public power corporation

Ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki

Regional airports

Island marinas

Rail network

Water companies in Athens and Thessaloniki

Formerly exclusive state-owned Xenia hotel chain

Real estate for tourism development

Beach plots

Thermal baths

Greece becomes trade battleground as foreign investors swoop | World news | The Guardian

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Recognising genocide

Dean Kalimniou 22 May 2013

Genocide is the responsibility of the entire world - Ann Clwyd

Recognising genocide

A few weeks ago, an article penned by John Williams appeared in Quadrant entitled, "The Ethnic Cleansing of Greeks from Gallipoli, April 1915." This marks a rare moment where a mainstream publication has attempted to draw attention to an aspect of the Gallipoli myth that the organised Greek community itself knows little about and as a result has done nothing to ensure that it enters the public discourse. This aspect is that the hallowed turf upon which the Anzacs lost their lives was, for at least 3,000 years, the home of Greek people, who as a result of the First World War and the Allied landing on the peninsula, fell victim to a persecution whereby: "all the hallmarks of later 20th-century ethnic cleansing - rape, pillage, murder and the seizing and destruction of property - were present in full measure." As far as I know, only Dr Panayiotis Diamandis and Stavros Stavridis - both committed genocide scholars, have attempted effectively to place crimes of this nature in an Australian context. Both, of course, do not represent nor are affiliated to any Greek community organization and indeed for some of these aforementioned organisations, Dr Diamandis is a figure of controversy.

Some time later, I attended the annual Armenian Genocide Commemoration. At that moving event, which was notable in how fervently it was attended by passionate members of the Armenian youth and also by its marked absence of Greek community representatives, a member of the Liberal Party read out a letter by Liberal leader Tony Abbott. In that letter, Tony Abbott referred to what happened to the Armenian people at the hands of the Ottomans as a "genocide." Also present at this sombre ceremony as a keynote speaker, was Deakin University academic Liana Papoutsis, who has a special interest in genocide. In her nuanced address, Liana Papoutsis stressed the need, along with the political aspects of the crime of genocide, to also focus on facets pertaining to gender and in particular crimes against women. In June she will be travelling to Rome to attend an international conference, wherein she will speak about the Armenian genocide. Liana Papoutsis is Greek and she too does not represent and is not affiliated with any Greek organization. In fact, the multitude of Pontian organisations that are supposedly charged with the responsibility of raising awareness of the genocide of the Greeks of Asia Minor are blissfully unaware of her existence, and I harbor grave reservations as to whether they have followed the lead of their Armenian cousins and written to the leaders of the political parties, requesting that they outline their stance regarding genocide recognition.

A little less than a week later, on 1 May 2013, the NSW Legislative Council passed a motion recognising the genocide of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks by the Ottomans around the time of the First World War. The Armenian genocide has already been recognised by the NSW Lower House in 1996, and the "Armenian, Assyrian and Pontic Greek" genocides were recognised by South Australian Parliament in 2009. On 8 May 2013, the NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell in the Lower House also moved for the recognition of the genocide against Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks.

This year's recognition thus marks the first time that an Australian parliament has recognised that the genocide was perpetrated against Greeks, rather than Pontians, who are not an ethnicity. This may, of course come as some surprise to some Pontians, for in our community, whose ethnic consciousness comprises a loose confederation of regional tribes all sharing the common suspicion that Socrates and Kolokotronis may have been our ancestors, each regional group tends to abrogate to itself the right to deal with issues pertaining to its own narrow history, with the result that Greeks from other regions treat such events with indifference. In our blinkered communal world, commemorative events centre around bringing scholars of middling reputation from Greece to Australia in order to re-hash the same old narrative year after year to a specifically Pontian, ever-ageing and ever-dwindling Greek speaking audience. Some aspirational Pontians also hold a Pontian Genocide Workshop, again for internal consumption but invaluable at least in that it ensures that knowledge of the crime is passed down through the English speaking generations. This year, the Pontiaki Estia workshop of "Pontian Continuity" laudably features genocide scholars Racho Donef and Stavros Stavridis and deserves complete community support. It is there that genocide related activities come to an end and there seem, (save in South Australia where the Pontians, through their local groups and their Federation, were at the forefront of the ultimately successful campaign for genocide recognition) to be scant attempts to engage firstly with the broader Greek community, (as is evidenced by the pitifully attended genocide protest held outside the Turkish consulate every year), secondly with the other peoples who were also victims of this unspeakable crime (in the 2007 Return to Anatolia conference, the Armenian contingent withdrew in disgust as the various Pontian clubs could not agree upon joint participation) and thirdly, with the broader Australian community, though this is slowly changing.

The hitherto named 'Pontian' and now properly termed Greek genocide is a case in point. The most recent 'bout' of recognition seems to have come about primarily through the efforts of the Assyrian community in Sydney, not by the exertions of the Greeks. Furthermore, in his moving speech, the revered Fred Nile thanked Dr Panayiotis Diamandis for enlightening him about the genocide over the course of many years, exemplifying both what the dedication of one individual can achieve but also, how ineffectual, indolent and complacent our community institutions can be. It is hoped that by re-branding the genocide as Greek, this will stir the rest of the community from the sloth of their disinterest enough to realise that anything that happens to any part of the Greek people also affects them, and become a clarion call for concerted and united action upon this issue but this is highly unlikely. Instead, it appears that little known figures such as Diamandis, Papoutsis and Stavridis are destined to maintain a shadowy existence, away from the vertiginous strobe lights of the Greek community stage, achieving many and great things, in spite of the rest of us and our local organisations.

At the abovementioned Armenian genocide commemoration, the guest of honour - National Political Editor of US-based publication POLITICO, Charles Mahtesian, offered this example of just how committed his compatriots are to achieving genocide recognition: An Armenian living in a state where Armenians were few contrived to gain his congressman's ear in a novel way. Learning that said congressman had his hair cut at the same barber, he arranged an appointment for himself at the same time, so that while being shorn of his curly locks, he was able to introduce the said politician to this most heinous crime and the necessity of its recognition. This type of dedication is lacking in our community, where such activism has kudos and micro politics as its primary motivation.

That is not to say that the recognition by state governments of matters that the Department of Foreign Affairs can easily distance themselves from should be viewed out of context. Yet it is hoped that as a symbol of the growing appreciation of this crime by the broader community, official recognition in each state can present a compelling case to the Federal Government for a change in its policy on this issue. To this effect, Armenian bishop Najarian's message to the politicians attending the Armenian genocide commemoration is telling: "Do not promise what you cannot deliver. Instead, deliver on your promise not because you will derive a benefit from it, but rather because you believe that it is right." We would all do well to emulate such forthrightness when dealing with our elected representatives. They do not exist merely to provide us with photo opportunities.

In his book «Μικρασία Χαίρε» Ilias Venezis, genocide survivor and captive of the Turkish army, states that remembering catastrophes such as the genocide and putting these into context constitutes a source of strength for our people, to be drawn upon in times of crisis. In such times, as now, the Greek people can consider their past and take courage stating: "this is nothing compared to the suffering of our fathers." It is incumbent upon us not only to remember that suffering but also to make others recognise it in order that the perpetrators and the denialists can finally understand the extent of the pain that their actions have caused and reconciliation can be achieved. After all, as Philip Gourevitch aptly points out in: "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda," "Genocide, is an exercise in community building."

*Dean Kaliminou is a Melbourne solicitor and freelance journalist.

Recognising genocide | Neos Kosmos

A personal observation

Dora Kitinas-Gogos 2 May 2013

Neos Kosmos writer Dora Kitinas-Gogos is in Greece, and gives us her perspective of what's going on in our mother country

A personal observation

Pensioners shout slogans as they march during a demonstration outside the Greek Parliament. Photo: EPA/SIMELA PANTZARTZI.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched an old Greek film released in 1980 made by Theodoro Marangos called Sfixe Thanasi to Zonari. It's a film about a working class family and the trials and tribulations of making a living while bringing up two children. The film included the mandatory union bosses and organisations, strikes, low wages and most of all, the bureaucracy one must overcome to get things done. Even though the film was released over 30 years ago, it felt like it was set in the Greece of today.
Having lived in Greece for many years in the '80s and '90s, I don't feel as though much has changed, even under the conditions of the crisis. I wasn't living in Greece in the 2000s when there was a glut of money, borrowing, excessive use of credit cards and Greeks living way beyond their means, however, I did visit during those years and the rise in the cost of living was astronomical. People were living way beyond their means and had no idea what the cost would be for everyone.
I spent 13 years in Athens; working, sending my son to school, buying a house, getting a mortgage, trying to set up a business, and unfortunately, getting sick and having to endure the Greek medical system. These experiences all gave me first-hand knowledge of conditions of the daily living culture. I must also mention the antiquated rule/law that has a woman encumbered by either her father's or husband's first name.
Now I am in Greece and plan to stay for a lengthy time - as I did last year and the year before, and so I feel I am qualified to give my perspective on everyday living and the way this crisis has affected the average person. I will not delve into world economics, which have brought Greece to its knees, along with other EU countries and the USA. I will not make excuses for Greeks not paying taxes, but I would like to mention what I have seen and observed through my conversations with people from different walks of life and through first hand experience in the workforce.
First of all, let's clear something up. In all the years I was living in Greece, there were always strikes and hooligans destroying Syntagma Square and other public and private property. There were always masked youths, there were always Molotov cocktails and the police were always throwing tear gas - I have been caught in tear gas trying to get home. So what has changed? What I think has changed is that this is a situation where other members of the EU are trying to set rules. Greece is getting international exposure, so the whole world knows about the terrible Greeks that strike and destroy. Greece has not had this much international attention since the junta years 1967 - 1974. People do have a right to strike but, at the same time, they don't have the right to destroy public and private property.
What has also happened is that all the borrowing of money and credit card use has been taken away; there has been a serious attempt to collect taxes and a serious effort to deal with corruption. But what is really getting people worked up is the lowering of wages and lowering of pensions. The cuts to pensions have created a new type of poor. One must take into consideration that a pension is not offered freely to all Greek citizens - a pension comes from money that a person has contributed all their working life, and if you have never worked, as in the case of stay at home mothers, there is no pension. These cuts have crushed the dreams of people entering retirement.
We see figures of great unemployment in Greece, which are some of the highest in the EU (about 25 per cent, and over 50 per cent for youth unemployment). Here is my opinion on some of that unemployment. In days gone by, for instance, in our parents' times, no type of work was shameful. Today we have a population of over-educated youth that refuse to work at anything except what they studied. Subsequently, workers in the building trade, home help and farm hands are all migrants. I know for a fact that building, architectural and engineering firms hire foreign workers as they work hard, don't take smoking breaks, turn up on time and are prepared to work hard at anything that will give them a better standard of living than what they grew up with.
Let me point out some examples. Young Greeks will not pick fruit and will not work on building sites. They use the excuse of being separated from their families. We're talking about today's country, not the old days when a young man would leave his village and country and his mother might never see him again. It seems to be a better option to be unemployed and let family suffer than going that step further to secure one's self and family by working as a labourer.
We hear on the news of children going to school without breakfast. I find it difficult to get my head around a child being left without a piece of bread, while parents can afford to smoke. Yes, people still smoke like chimneys, something that two-odd years ago seemed to be waning but seems to have backtracked somehow.
I was in a taxi with a young man as the driver and overheard a conversation he was having on his mobile. Judging from my end, someone was asking him what he was doing and the taxi driver seemed disgusted with himself, having lowered himself to such an occupation. Later I could not resist asking him why, even though I felt I already knew in my heart.
"I have a degree from the Polytechnic ... "
I asked him what was preferable, to be unemployed and live on handouts or to earn a living in a honourable way till he found the job of his dreams. I ask you, how many of us find the job of our dreams?

My friends and acquaintances are middle to upper middle class or in the arts, and no one is unemployed, although as a lawyer friend tells me, for people working independently, things have slowed down and it takes longer to get paid. My friends in the arts take months, maybe even a year or two to get paid. I remember the delay of payment being part of the Greek culture from the years I lived here and it often comes up in old black and white Greek films. So it's endemic in the culture and not necessarily characteristic of the current climate, though now they seem to have an excuse at hand.
What I find disturbing in this crisis is the lowering of pensions, pensions that have been paid into funds over the working years of the individual. No, it does not work like Australia's superannuation, because you only get a pension in the end and not the bulk amount of money you have contributed, and what you pay in is already set by the state and you have no choice in the matter. For example, running your own business you pay TEVE 420 euros per month throughout your working life, and when you retire your pension would be about 1,000 euros. An employee in the private sector contributes via the employer 400 euros per month to receive an 800 euro pension.
An hourly wage in the private sector was 40 euros an hour, today it's 30 or 20 euros an hour. Pensions have been cut in some cases by more than half - trying to live on 400 euros a month, a Herculean feat.
A retiree who was getting 3,000 euros is now receiving just over 1,000 euros and someone who had a pension of 1,000 euros to begin with is now getting 800. These are approximate figures and vary depending on the business or profession.
Having said all the above, the truly disturbing sight is seeing elderly homeless men sleeping on beds made from cardboard with makeshift covers. These men are Greek, not illegal migrants, and I ask the question; what has happened to the institution of the Greek family? Having coffee with a new friend in a fancy hotel in Athens, I asked this question and the reply was: "You see, they have taken that from us too."
My reply was the stunned look on my face. The need to blame others for what is going on in our own home is ongoing in Greece, it is never our fault but a conspiracy by foreign powers, and those powers have even dissolved the Greek family.
Then there is the big thorn; the public sector, where Greeks are now blaming Andrea Papandreou for the expansions of the public sector. There is total denial that being a public servant has always been a Greek's ideal job, as all public servants have a guaranteed job for life. Lots of connections were used over the years for a public servant position. Andrea Papandreou expanded the public sector to about 40,000 and today it is estimated that there are 100,000. So what have all the subsequent governments done since the Papandreou years?
The taverns are full, the theatres are full, and the bars are full - with all the unemployed youth. Personally, I have not been somewhere where all the seats are not covered with someone's bum. Life goes on in Greece, with lots of complaining, but it is not the average professional who is suffering this lowering of standards - it is the elderly and some of the lower paid workers who are paying for the excesses practised by previous governments and society at large.
Despite the crisis, the sun still shines, the Aegean is still blue and this year 17 million tourists are expected

A personal observation | Neos Kosmos

Monday, May 13, 2013

Greek youth unemployment hits 64 per cent

By Reuters 6:16PM BST 09 May 2013

Greek youth unemployment shot to a record 64 per cent in February, underscoring the dire state of the recession-hit economy despite signs of improving business sentiment.

Greek youth unemployment hits 64 per cent

Several thousand Greek workers took to the streets to protest the government's austerity measures on May Day Photo: EPA

Repeated doses of austerity under international bailouts have almost tripled Greece's jobless rate since its debt crisis began in 2009, weighing on an economy in its sixth year of recession.

Overall unemployment has risen to an all-time high of 27 per cent, data showed on Thursday, while joblessness in the 15-to-24 age group jumped to 64.2 per cent in February from 59.3 per cent in January.

"I've been looking for a job since 2010 and it has been extremely tough," said Angeliki Zerva, 24, a physiotherapy graduate. "Most employers do the job with interns and don't need to hire anyone."

Greek unemployment is more than twice the average rate in the euro zone, which reached 12.1 per cent in March.

Athens has cut the minimum monthly wage for those under 25 years by 32 per cent to about 500 euros to boost hiring, but the jobless rate among young people has kept rising, even as some indicators suggest the worst of Athens' debt crisis is over.


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The IOBE think-tank's overall economic sentiment gauge hit a 3.5-year high in April, it said on Thursday, the same day that the Athens bourse benchmark index hit its highest level since August 2011.

The IOBE mood index based on consumer confidence and business outlook gauges covering industry, construction, services and retail trade rose to 89.2 points in April from 88.1 in March.

However, the survey showed consumer pessimism worsened slightly in the face of the economic slump aggravated by tax rises and spending cuts demanded by Greece's international lenders, all of which have an impact on jobs.

"I once dreamt that I could work in my field but after three years of searching, I have very little hope that I will get a job, any job. It looks almost impossible," said 23-year old Evanthia Bouza, who has studied English literature.

The country's economic outlook remains uncertain, despite the progress it has made in recent months to cut its budget deficit and push privatisations, ratings agency Moody's said in a note on Thursday.

"Consumption will continue to decline, led by rising unemployment, wage and pension cuts and weak domestic confidence, resulting in a deferral of spending," said Moody's analyst Alpona Banerji, who expects the economy to contract by 5.3 per cent this year.

Edited for by Barney Henderson

Greek youth unemployment hits 64 per cent - Telegraph

Greece not tough enough on rich tax evaders, IMF says

Jill Treanor The Guardian, Monday 6 May 2013 19.37 BST

Tax evasion by the wealthy and self-employed is leaving those on salaries and pensions to bear brunt of austerity measures

Anti-austerity protesters hold Greek flags in front of parliament in Athens last year

Anti-austerity protesters hold Greek flags in front of parliament in Athens last year. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

Greece has not done enough to clamp down on "notorious tax evasion" by the rich and self-employed, leaving those on salaries and pensions to take most of the pain from the austerity measures imposed as part of the country's €240bn (£202bn) bailout, according to a much-anticipated verdict on its economic measures published on Monday.

The International Monetary Fund, one of the contributors to the Greek bailout, also said – at the conclusion of its mission to the debt-laden, recession-hit country – that a "taboo against dismissals" in the overstaffed public sector had led to a surge in unemployment in the private sector.

Greece has pledged to cut about 20% of the public sector – or 150,000 jobs – between 2010 and 2015 to help reduce spending, but progress has been slow, while unemployment has topped 27%. A bill has been passed recently to allow 15,000 public-sector posts to be axed.

However, the IMF said Greece had made progress in a socially painful recession. It had made "exceptional" improvements on its fiscal position, its competitiveness and preserving stability in the financial sector. "The achievements to date are evidence of a very strong and persistent determination on the part of Greece and its European partners to do whatever it takes to restore Greece to a sustainable situation inside the euro area," the IMF said.

The debt-to-GDP ratio for Greece is around 160%, but the IMF has called for this to be cut to 120% by 2020, resulting in the imposition of tough conditions.

But restoring growth to the country is "the overarching precondition of whether Greece succeeds", according to the IMF. In the face of criticism that some of the problems were caused by austerity measures, the Washington-based fund said that the deeper-than-expected recession was caused by a loss of confidence, concerns about a euro exit and political uncertainty.

The IMF is concerned about the lack of structural reforms, which has left the rich relatively untouched in an economy where 70% of the income is declared by wage earners and pensioners. "Very little progress has been made in tackling Greece's notorious tax evasion. The rich and self-employed are simply not paying their fair share, which has forced an excessive reliance on across-the-board expenditure cuts and higher taxes on those earning a salary or a pension," the IMF said.

The government's medium-term reform programme assumes an improvement in tax collection of 1.5% of GDP, but the IMF regards this as "very ambitious", given progress so far. It said that, as well as improving tax collection, reform of the labour market was needed to open up competition, and more should be done to pare back the public sector. "Decisive corrective actions are needed in each of these areas to promote an early supply response and achieve a more balanced distribution of the burden of adjustment," the IMF said. "The mission welcomes that the government is refocusing its programme in recognition of these problems."

Greece not tough enough on rich tax evaders, IMF says | World news | The Guardian

Greece's people show the politicians how to fight Golden Dawn

 Daniel Trilling

Daniel Trilling, Monday 6 May 2013 17.12 BST

Greeks are becoming increasingly vocal in their disgust at the presence of fascists on their political scene

Golden Dawn distribute food in Athens

Golden Dawn members carry out a Greeks-only food distribution outside their party HQ, after being prevented from holding it in Syntagma square, central Athens. Photograph: Panayiotis Tzamaros/Demotix/Corbis

For many Greeks, Orthodox Easter is a chance to see friends and family, to eat good food or to worship. But for the neo-Nazis in Golden Dawn, who only recently made the switch from "Hellenic" paganism to a professed love for Christianity, it has been an opportunity for propaganda. Last Thursday, the party made headlines with its attempt to stage a "Greeks-only" food distribution in Athens's Syntagma square. The next day, when Athenians were driving back to home towns and villages, Golden Dawn members held open motorway toll booths – which have become a symbolic point of resistance against the rising cost of living in the wake of austerity – so cars could pass for free.

Such stunts have become common for a party that seeks to exploit anger at Greece's social crisis, along with the undercurrent of racism that has accompanied it. As one Golden Dawn voter in the Athens suburb of Petropolis put it to me when I visited Greece last month, she saw them as the only party who would make politicians take responsibility for their "lying and cheating" against the people. She's not alone: almost a year after the elections that saw Golden Dawn shoot from obscurity to the third-largest party in Greece's parliament, it maintains a steady 10-12% in the opinion polls.

What is new, however, is that in the case of Syntagma, the event was prevented from going ahead in the square. A truck carrying food intended for distribution was blocked from entering the square by riot police, who then used teargas – a treatment usually reserved for leftwing demonstrators – to disperse about 50 Golden Dawn members who had assembled for the handout. Later, a Golden Dawn MP, Giorgos Germenis, tried to punch the Athens mayor, Giorgos Kaminis, who had requested the police intervention, as he moved to shut down a Golden Dawn stall selling Orthodox Easter candles to children. Germenis also reportedly reached for a gun – something he has since denied doing.

If the incident revealed something of the true face of Golden Dawn – cheap populist tricks, backed up by violent threats – it stands in sharp contrast to the general pattern. Its members frequently stage "Greeks-only" food handouts and blood donation drives, and they are rarely challenged by the authorities, despite the blatant racism of such initiatives, in a country where violence against ethnic minorities is on the rise.

This fits with a wider atmosphere of impunity. Klio Papapantoleon, a lawyer who has represented victims of assaults committed by Golden Dawn members, told me that the Greek justice system had been "unusually lenient" in judging them, while clients and witnesses had often been "obstructed and encumbered by police officers" when trying to pursue a complaint.

Encouraged by this treatment, Golden Dawn has been doing its best to sink roots into Greece's institutions, building networks of support inside the police force, entering hospitals and, perhaps most worryingly, trying to win teenage recruits by spreading its ideas in schools.

A recent Council of Europe report concluded that Golden Dawn's well-documented role in perpetrating racist violence meant it could be banned under existing laws, yet for now the Greek government seems unable or unwilling to act, preferring to mimic its rhetoric: in February, 85 MPs from New Democracy, the largest party in the coalition, signed a motion that called for anybody not of the "Greek race" to be barred from joining the country's police and armed forces. This contrasts with a recent crackdown on leftwing groups, which has included raids on squats, the closing of Athens Indymedia and the ongoing terrorising of villagers in the north of Greece opposed to a gold mining project.

Yet while journalists understandably want to draw attention to the threat Golden Dawn poses, every piece of sensationalist media coverage reinforces the party's deliberately crafted image. The violence it inspires is real enough, but Golden Dawn is far from being in a position of power. Its activist base remains small; it can not mobilise supporters in large numbers; and its rallies often take place unannounced, so that anti-fascist activists do not have time to gather and chase its members off the streets. The food handouts, staged mainly for the benefit of the media, pale in comparison with the network of solidarity initiatives like the "potato movement" – markets that allow farmers to sell their produce directly to customers, at around 30% less than supermarket prices – or volunteer-run medical clinics, or free after-school tuition for children, that are helping Greek people cope with the impact of mass unemployment and falling salaries. By contrast, as a member of Solidarity4All, a national network that co-ordinates such initiatives, described it to me, Golden Dawn's handouts are a grim affair: "They buy the food, they make everyone listen to 30 minutes of political speeches, then they make everyone wait in line. There's no co-operation."

What's more, many Greeks are simply disgusted by the presence of fascists on their political scene. They are becoming increasingly vocal about this, in public displays of solidarity with immigrants, as they did in a anti-fascist protest in Athens on 19 January, backed up by demonstrations outside Greek embassies around the world. Elsewhere, the expression has been more blunt: last month in Chania in Crete, angry residents threw the party's parliamentary candidate into the sea. International pressure has even forced the Greek government into making noises about tackling the problem, but it is at grassroots level where Golden Dawn is being opposed most effectively, and where it will ultimately be defeated.

One Golden Dawn member I interviewed last year, on condition of anonymity, put the party's appeal to me succinctly: "We do what others don't dare." This is posturing, and it can be broken. But it has to be broken now, before it's too late.

Greece's people show the politicians how to fight Golden Dawn | Daniel Trilling | Comment is free |

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Golden Dawn's 'Greeks only' soup kitchen ends in chaos

 Nick Squires

By Nick Squires 6:00PM BST 02 May 2013

An attempt by members of Greece's far-Right, anti-immigrant Golden Dawn political party to hand out emergency food rations to Greeks only was broken up by police firing tear gas on Thursday.

The party, which has attracted widespread condemnation for its xenophobic, racist policies, attempted to distribute bread, eggs and lamb to Greeks outside parliament in Athens' Syntagma Square, ahead of the start of the Greek Orthodox Easter on Sunday.

But the stunt ended in chaos, with Golden Dawn members in black T-shirts hitting riot police over the head with rolled up Greek flags and the police firing a volley of tear gas.

The party had tried to push ahead with the food handout in defiance of a ban imposed by the mayor of Athens, George Kaminis.

He had called the plan a "soup kitchen of hatred" because only people able to prove their nationality by showing a Greek identity card were eligible to receive food. It was "arbitrary, racist and illegal", he said.

Golden Dawn held a similar event in Syntagma Square last year, after which the mayor vowed that he would not allow a repeat performance.

During a day of acute tension, Mr Kaminis alleged that a Golden Dawn MP, Giorgos Germenis, tried to punch him and that he drew a hand gun.

Police said Mr Germenis had moved "menacingly" against the mayor and that they would investigate the firearm allegations.

He was led away by security officers. His punch reportedly landed on a 12-year-old girl instead, injuring her.

Around 200 party members turned up in the square more than two hours earlier than announced and began handing out bags of food after checking recipients' identity cards.

"Golden Dawn will stand beside Greeks, it will stand by the suffering Greeks whatever decisions the immigrant-loving Mr Kaminis takes. Greeks, keep your heads high, happy holidays! We will take our country back," said Christos Pappas, the head of the Golden Dawn parliamentary group.

Scuffles broke out between party members and riot police as authorities tried to prevent the party's truck from unloading its cargo of meat and other goods.

Police used pepper spray to force back party officials holding Greek flags on thick wooden sticks, and the truck was eventually forced to move on.

"Today the logic of violence, of thuggery, of 'having my way' was beaten," said the mayor.

"Syntagma Square will never be used again by anyone to hand out goods. Thuggery will not prevail in this city as long as I am mayor."

The party transferred the handout to its offices in another part of the capital, giving out free potatoes and Easter eggs to hundreds of supporters.

Golden Dawn rose from obscurity last year, tapping into resentment among ordinary Greeks over the growing number of immigrants in the country, and feeding on the desperation caused by six years of recession.

In elections last year, the party won nearly seven per cent of the vote and took 18 of Parliament's 300 seats.

Polls suggest the party is now Greece's third biggest political force.

Party members display Nazi symbols and have been seen giving Nazi-style salutes but deny having neo-Nazi sympathies.

But many of its members have been implicated in vicious attacks on immigrants.

Greece is an entry point for large numbers of illegal immigrants trying to reach other parts of the European Union.

In October, the parliament stripped two Golden Dawn MPs of their parliamentary immunities after they were charged with destroying property belonging to immigrants at a market near Athens.

Greeks are buckling under harsh austerity measures imposed by the troika of international lenders which engineered a massive 270 billion euro bail-out to save the country from economic meltdown.

Last month Athens announced that it will fire 4,000 civil servants this year as part of the austerity measures agreed with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

The redundancies will begin a savage round of job cuts in the Greek public sector, with another 11,000 officials due to be sacked by the end of next year.

Golden Dawn's 'Greeks only' soup kitchen ends in chaos - Telegraph