Only a Fortnight to Salvation or Damnation

by Andrew Leech, ELT Newsletter


So Greece is voting once again. Probably the most important election we will ever have to face in our lives. Dependen on results we are either going to continue using the euro and feel some austerity for a while, or return to a much devalued drachma, watch all our savings go up in smoke and learn what real austerity means!

Over the past few months you will have read many experts advising what should be done, but the crux of the matter is that nobody really knows the truth. Journalists analyze from their point of view, politicians seek advice from others then dole it out to us, cunningly sandwiched between their speeches (perhaps without really understanding what they have been told), and, finally, bankers and economists give us their side of affairs–the side they are probably currently betting a lot of money on.

But the truth, itself?


Greek Parliament (HCS collection)

Unfortunately, nobody really knows it. And that is the real problem! We are facing a crucial election that will determine how this country will fare over the next decade and, generally speaking, only voting on belief and hope. An election rather like a mediaeval crusade (consider the title of this article!) where the various armies are striving by any means to win the citadel. But whose beliefs are only the result of philosophies built upon an extrapolation–or understanding–of various pieces of circumstantial evidence that have been spun into hypotheses and presented to their followers as ‘faiths’ that must be blindly accepted without an iota of proof.

However, there is one difference in this crusade. If we judge wrongly and fail to give our support wisely, this crusade, like a scorpion, is going to sting us so hard we will feel the economic effects for the rest of our live--and might even risk passing it on to our children. So, let us try to gain some understanding of what we are facing.

If we vote for those parties that want to renounce the Memorandum and start afresh with new bargaining conditions and dialogue, we are likely to find ourselves in very deep water, without any friends or trust from any serious organisation.

Consider the matter from a different perspective. Imagine you had gone to a bank, borrowed a sum of money for a business deal at an agreed rate, and then spent the money. Then imagine you had returned to the bank saying: “I don’t agree with the terms attached to the money you lent me. I’m not repaying it.” Do you think the bank would continue having you as a client? Furthermore, do you think that any other bank, or even a service and supply business, would risk having you as a client? No way. You would be a pariah and an outcast. Still wavering? What if it were not you who had gone to the bank, but a friend who had come and borrowed your money? How would you feel then?

“But,” you might say, having heard that Argentina defaulted in 2002 and then slowly clawed its way back to economic viability over the next 8 years, “they did it, didn’t they.”

For the answer look at the standard of living of Argentineans throughout the country (not just the fancy suburbs of Buenos Aires), which, in many cases, is about the same as the poorest migrants in Greece; where over 50% of the children still grow up in utmost poverty; and where really violent crime is rife everywhere! Would you like to live like that? In addition, Argentina has vast areas of land for development and mineral deposits that we don’t have. You cannot compare the two countries, as the possibilities open to them are totally different to those of Greece.

The closest comparison would be Germany in the early 1920s, where inflation caused a devaluation of many million % and people were paid twice a day so they could buy food before their wages lost value. You might also want to compare what happened in Greece 1941-44, Hungary 1922-24, 1945-46 and, more recently, Mexico 1982 to understand what we might face if we returned to the drachma without any strong infrastructure of productivity to support the currency and keep it from tumbling into a bottomless pit.

What do these examples mean in real terms? Well, think about all the food Greece imports. Currently, supermarkets pay for the goods they sell in euros. If these Greek supermarkets have to start using new drachmas to pay for bananas, meat, corn (whatever is imported) which wholesalers will still price in euros or US dollars to them, then--as the drachma starts to slide--basic imported food commodity prices will steadily increase. They will go from 1 drachma/1 Euro to 2 drachmas/1 Euro to 5 drachmas/1 Euro to 10 drachmas/1 Euro...and beyond. The same applies to another basic commodity: fuel oil. Take your latest ‘koinochrista’ and multiply that by 2. How does that look? Then try multiplying by 3, 5, and even higher numbers.

Do the same with the prices at the petrol pump because they will also change. Fancy some new clothes? Pick your multiplying number again. New mobile phone, stereo, fridge or car? Sure – but you can’t buy a Greek brand, can you? Holiday abroad? How about hitchhiking to Bulgaria, as you won’t be able to afford the fuel to drive there! And if you do decide to travel abroad–and feel you can afford the flight - a night in a London hotel might cost more than an average monthly salary!

What all serious teachers have to consider, this month, is what government is more likely to support the real interests of the country and its people. What party approaches that goal? On the one side you have a party that has already, metaphorically speaking, slapped EU financial institutions (and several major EU members) across the face with a wet fish and embarrassed and scared them so much that they are already drafting legislation (Britain is one) to prevent hordes of bankrupt Greeks from entering that country without visas - despite being EU members.

Furthermore, you must consider that this party has also had no experience of governing a country at an international level though, to be honest, it has shown some good work at a local community level, and in organising demonstration marches.

On analysing Mr Tsipras’ speeches you will have noted that what he says is generally true. He describes what has happened perfectly. He is a very correct and honest historian, but is he a politician with a track record? Does he have any real policy based on existing facts? What he would like to do is laudable, in many ways, but is it possible? We can’t live in pipe dreams, much as we might like to. Reality is, unfortunately, a rude awakener, and you have to consider the future of your country and your children, not just the gambles and dreams of an ambitious, though probably honest, politician. On the other side you have a possible coalition of parties who agree we owe the money, uphold the Memorandum, but also firmly point out: “we want to pay, but we don’t have the money. Help us to recover, help us achieve productivity and we will pay when we are able to. But please don’t tax us to death with extreme austerity when we are down and out as a hungry worker can’t do a decent day’s work!” And some EU leaders, Hollande for one, as well as some German parties, have indicated sympathy and the wish to help so long as Greece acknowledges its debts.

Which of the two do you think the EU institutions are likely to want to help and work with? Who would you support if you were not Greek? Who would you feel sympathy for: the party who insults you, or the party who asks you for help? This is what you must decide on 17 June.

Mainly you must consider the relatively unspoken second question (raised by George Katsibokis, University of Cambridge, recently) that underlies any serious choice: which party provides a more viable/realistic option and are there any non-demagogic ‘next day’ plans? And here I’m afraid to say that Greece is suffering from a severe lack of real leaders. We need a Churchill, but we seem to be stuck between a pastiche Goosestepper and an energetic Pied Piper of Hamelin!

A final point to consider is whether you would still have a job if the next government repudiates the Memorandum. Even if that party wished to stay in the Eurozone, it would not be allowed to do so. So we would return to the drachma, face unemployment on a previously unimaginable scale, and then spend all day just trying to find some way of obtaining our next meal. Teaching would be dead, as there would be no pupils able to afford it, nor even a government able to pay for State Schools. In fact, the only schools operating would be those few catering to Embassy children and students coming from families paid from outside Greece. And what about medicines, or if you needed to go to hospital, or have an operation. Just hope it isn’t serious or urgent!!!

Opinions expressed by contributors do not necessarily represent the views of ELT NEWS.



(Posting date 12 June 2012. Reprinted with permission ELT Newsletter.)

Andrew Leech (aleech@ath.forthnet.gr) is a former contributing editor of the Greek-American Review of New York. He was born in Cairo, Egypt, of a British father (Lt Colonel British Army) and Greek mother (Marika Calogeropoulou: ballerina, teacher & choreographer). Educated in Britain, he moved to Greece in 1971 while conducting research into the language learning strategies of young children. He returned to Britain in 1977 for postgraduate study. In 1981, he worked in Greece for the Cararigas Schools as Director of Studies before starting his own school in 1984. He also became Director of Studies and Deputy Headmaster of the prestigious St Lawrence College for an interim period. Developing a keen interest in journalism in 1990, Leech became first an internationally known educational correspondent for ELT News and, later, a diplomatic correspondent for Athens News, focusing on visiting dignitaries and heads of state. He is a longstanding member of the Society of Authors and is also a lecturer in Journalism and Communications at Deree College, Athens. For more information about Andrew Leech or to read more of his fine articles, see his brief biography at http://www.helleniccomserve.com/andrewleechbio.html or visit the archival section of HCS devoted to his works at http://www.helleniccomserve.com/archiveleech.html


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