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The Greek Tragicomedy 2012 PDF Printable Version E-mail


Barry and Margaret Williamson
March 2012

The following illuminations of the ongoing Greek Tragicomedy have been extracted from current press articles in Greece. The tragedy grows worse by the day; the Greeks grow sadder but perhaps not wiser; the players in this drama display more anger and it is only the foreign audience that sees the comedy.

For an earlier article which foresaw this crisis, this comedy of errors and lies, click: Greece Behind the Headlines 2007

For an insightful article showing how the Greeks might use comedy to overcome their fear of authority, see the article Laughter, Fear and the Former Minister in the online version of the newspaper Ekathimerini. Among much else, Nikos Konstandaras quotes the works of Aristophanes and Shakespeare's Hamlet where comedy faces tragedy. From the trenches of the First World War to the years of Eastern Europe's oppression under the Soviet Union, laughter faces danger: mockery reduces threat.

Money in Flight: Greeks transferred over 2 billion euros out of the country in 2010-2011, including a significant number of MPs who had moved sums in excess of 100,000 euros. One unnamed MP had transferred one million euros. Not least, some people wondered where they got the money from in the first place.

German Task Force Ready to Land in Greece: 160 volunteers from the German financial authorities are ready to fly to Greece to assist with the operation of the Greek tax collection mechanism. The Der Spiegel magazine writes that the volunteers must have good knowledge of English, while there are several who speak Greek. At the time of writing, we do not know what sort of reception might be waiting for them.

Less Need for Car Insurance: Major Greek insurance companies are cutting the cost of car insurance following a drop in turnover and intense competition in the sector. Some car owners can no longer afford to run the car; others just cannot afford the insurance.

Civil Servants Home Loan Squeeze: About 80,000 civil servants were paying home loans by fixed instalments withheld from their monthly salary. But with the deep salary cuts, thousands were getting only a small fraction of their salary (say 200 euros), on which they could not survive. A new measure states that no more than one third of the monthly salary can be withheld.

Help for the Homeless now Homeless: Now abolished, the Workers' Housing Organization (OEK) was in charge of state-subsidized housing for the poor and for large families. It did have around 1 billion euros of available capital for the development of housing units across Greece, provided rent subsidies to 120,000 beneficiaries, issued 10,000 subsidized housing loans a year and built more than 1,500 homes annually. In 2011 alone, 128,000 people benefited from the program, while this year's abolition of the organization means that the construction of 20 villages of workers' housing around the country, consisting of a total of 1,300 homes, has come to a halt. In most cases a draw has already been conducted to find the beneficiaries, who were expecting to move into their new homes at some point this year.

Also in limbo is a total of 1.2 billion euros from loans issued by banks, thanks to OEK's capital, and in direct payments to the now-defunct organization. The most recent batch of mortgages was issued in 2010 for 25 years, so it remains to be seen whether beneficiaries will be able to meet the banks' terms of payments without the OEK subsidy of the interest.

Real Estate Transaction Tax Fraud: The difference between the so-called “objective value” of a property sold and its commercial price means lost revenues for the state, as buyers pay a reduced transaction tax, while a considerable amount remains undeclared and therefore untaxed.

For example, for a property worth 200,000 euros, a bank would issue a mortgage based on the commercial value, but the price stated in the contract would be as little as 60,000 euros. The rest of the loan above the objective value would be issued as a construction loan instead. This reduced the tax that the buyer paid, while if this concerned his main house, he would likely be exempt from the real estate transaction tax altogether.

Life on the Farm: Tens of billions of euros in EU subsidies to Greece over the last few decades reduced the competitiveness of agriculture, since little of the money was ploughed back into the farms. Now the country imports agricultural products worth 4 billion euros.

Cheating the Army: The Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) is investigating what appears to be the widespread use of adulterated fuel amid a wave of fuel smuggling and tax evasion. For example, regular diesel is being adulterated with cheaper fuel before being supplied to the armed forces. Some market experts claim that up to half of the gas stations in Attica are selling adulterated fuel. Further aggravating the situation is the fact that Greece has a disproportionately large number of gas stations: 743 per one million residents, as compared with a European Union average of 260.

Bring out Your Dead: Some 2,500 case files are under scrutiny on the Island of Corfu, where between 30,000 to 70,000 euros in benefits were illegally paid out to bogus beneficiaries over the past decade. One case involved a blind person who died five years ago, where a relative illegally pocketed 38,000 euros. In another instance, an individual with a power-of-attorney document collected a sum of 70,000 euros for a blind person who died a decade ago.

Promoting Greek Contemporary Culture: The Tourism Minister proposed new ways of improving the management and promotion of Greek contemporary culture by creating an 11-member Council for Contemporary Culture whose members will be appointed by the minister, along the lines of the Central Archaeological Council but having an advisory role. Other proposed changes include the splitting of the ministry's current General Directorate for Contemporary Culture into five separate directorates.

Socialist Party Workers Strike: A crowd of angry PASOK employees blocked the entrance to the party headquarters in central Athens to demand four months in unpaid wages. PASOK is one of the two parties who have alternated power in Greece ever since World War Two (except for the years of military rule). The debts of this socialist party are estimated at 120 million euros and it has also borrowed against its future state funding

The conservative New Democracy party is some 132 million euros in debt, and its employees have lodged similar complaints about outstanding wages. Sources said, however, that progress has been made in paying staff their dues.

Both parties are said to be pressing the Finance Ministry for funding as their debts grow and their camps gear up for early elections, expected in late April 2012.

Greeks on the Web: More than 1.2 million taxpayers will have to learn how to fill and submit their tax statements through the internet by June 2012. As a result, even pensioners and farmers across the country will be forced to discover the World Wide Web, as their handwritten forms will no longer be acceptable. The aim is to have those earning over 1,100 euros per month pay their tax as early as possible. Already tax receipts for 2012 have been delayed as the ministry has put back the deadlines for the submission of statements.

Calling in a tax experts may cost between 30 and 100 euros, although this could be counted as a non-taxable expense.

Going Overboard: Seven people were arrested on the Island of Kefalonia after the discovery of 7,560 cartons of contraband cigarettes aboard a ship that had earlier put out a distress call when a crew member (the second engineer) fell overboard. The seaman was lost, as were a further 16,000 cartons which had been thrown overboard before 'help' arrived.

Name and Shame the Tax Evaders: The government published a list of 4,152 people who each owe over 150,000 euros in unpaid taxes and fines: a total debt of 14.9 billion euros. The largest single debt was 952 million euros. One of the dodgers was the legendary singer Tolis Voskopoulos, still performing in his 8th decade, who owes 515,000 euros. He has been given a suspended sentence of 3 years imprisonment, which he may buy off at the rate of €5 per day!!

Pipped at the Post: The managing director of the Horse Racing Organization of Greece (ODIE) was arrested for allegedly owing 83 million euros in unpaid taxes. This is the first time that the head of a state-backed entity has been arrested for debts to the state.

Blame the Banks: A 68-year old man was shot dead by burglars in Evia, in front of his wife and friends. He'd gone outside to check on a neighbouring house after its security light came on and was shot by three burglars as they left. Robberies at private homes have increased sharply in recent years, partly due to improved security at banks.

Olive Oil: Greece needs to respect and market its products. The Turkish Prime Minister recently prohibited the export of Turkish oil in bulk, with only branded olive oil allowed to leave the country. In contrast, Italian tankers are busy loading Greek olive oil in Kalamata harbour – oil that the Italians package and sell as their own on the international market.

Athens on Fire: While 5,000 police were busy tear-gassing many tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators trying to gather at the parliament building, a small number of firebrands ran riot in the city centre. On that Sunday, 12 February, 153 businesses were damaged with 45 of them destroyed, including cinemas, banks and cafes, adding up to tens of millions of euros in damage to property and public infrastructure. The vandals reportedly stripped an amazing 40 tonnes of marble from building facades, which they smashed to hurl at police. See the excellent reflective article: What is Lost in the Fire.

Political Parties Fall Apart: Dozens of MPs have been expelled from their parties for not following the official line on the Eurozone-imposed austerity measures. The resulting army of independent MPs may add to the existing 10 political parties who will contest the election proposed for April.

Police Protest: The Federation of Police Employees (POESY) held a march in Athens to protest austerity measures that will affect their pay and pensions, as well as what they called 'institutional issues'. They made a stop along the way at the Hilton Hotel where a team of inspectors from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund were staying.

Priests Lose their Surplus: Orthodox priests marry, have children and live in the community, a very different life to that of the monks in the many monasteries. Priests receive a full civil servant's salary and pension plus a basic salary and pension for their priestly positions; all this is paid by the Greek government and is equivalent to a teacher's salary and pension. Their new salary scale means that they continue to receive their full civil servant's salary but receive only 30 per cent of the priestly wages. No doubt they are praying that the government relents.

Going Down: The number of units in state agencies will be reduced from 5,427 to 3,567, simplifying transactions and cutting down on bureaucracy. However, by itself this does not mean a reduction in the number of jobs, although the government must fire 15,000 public-sector employees by the end of 2012 and a further 150,000 by the end of 2015. Ministries to be exempted from the process of drawing up new organisational charts include those of foreign affairs, defence, citizen protection and finance.

Not Half Bad: 11 billion euros in social security contributions are owed by some 802,000 businesses and individuals, endangering the viability of the pension system and paving the way for new cuts to pensions. For example, in the first half of 2011 only 434,000 persons out of 874,000 paid contributions into the social security fund for self-employed professionals, and the farmers' pension fund got only 155 million euros out of the 350 million euros it was supposed to receive.

A Letter to the Editor: “If it were easy to dis-invest from Greece, we'd have done it yesterday! The constant bureaucracy, constant changes in these pathetic tax laws, constant lack of policies by local island mayors who are utterly useless, the never-ending corruption, the small-minded and jealous locals. Greece as an invest locale? Zimbabwe is a better choice. It is feasible to talk of 'social cohesion' in many countries, but definitely not in Greece. Greece is hamstrung by several millstones - the present Constitution, politicians, civil servants, media, police, military, justice system, unionists, protected professions, and not least the Greek Orthodox Church. Lip service is regularly paid to the 'majority' of hardworking and honest Greeks, but can it really be a 'majority'?

Amazing how in a few months of this coalition government so many stones have been turned, and so much rot has been found beneath them - scam after scam after scam - after scam. Tax dodgers, illegal pensioners, corrupt civil servants, and so on - all of whom must have been protected from above until the present government took office, and will continue to be protected by the hopeless judicial system. Many have sheltered under the totally hopeless systems, such as the absence of a land registry, the proliferation of pension funds (with records still in manilla folders - in 2012!), the appalling administration of the health service and other payments, and the list should go on and on. Whenever a scam is uncovered, no action can be taken because it is 'not clear' who was responsible.”

Oh Where Oh Where Have they Gone? Between 30,000 and 40,000 of the estimated 240,000 recipients of welfare benefits in Greece have failed to register in a census carried out at Citizen Service Centres.

In the Land of the Blind: Of the 700 people drawing a disability benefit for blindness on the island of Zakynthos, only 100 appeared before health inspection committees, of which 60 were discovered not to be blind after all. One of these was a taxi driver!

Sharing the Load: High ranking members of the two main political parties, PASOK (Socialist) and New Democracy (Conservative), receive between 4,000 and 8,000 euros a month. These wages are also given to advisors, no doubt advising them to give themselves between 4,000 and 8,000 euros a month. Low level employees are left unpaid for months.

Self-Approval: The head of the Housing & Building Department on the island of Mykonos ran a check on two illegally built villas on the island and cleared them both. Not surprising, given that the villas were both his.

Supporters versus Who? The Greek Super League football game at the Olympic Stadium between leader Olympiakos and Panathinaikos was abandoned with eight minutes to go and Olympiakos in the lead 1-0. Despite the presence of several thousand personnel to police the match, clashes between police and fans started before the game, when hundreds of youths without tickets tried to enter the stadium. The conflict continued throughout, forcing the second half to start 35 minutes late.

About 200 hooded individuals carrying clubs and iron bars, seated in a VIP section, attacked riot police at half-time. At one stage they isolated and attacked two policemen until another detachment of riot police came to their rescue.

In the second half, Panathinaikos fans set fire to seats in the upper and lower decks. Referee Tassos Kakos abandoned the game when firebombs (water bottles filled with gasoline, liquid ammonia and little sticks of dynamite) were added to the mix of projectiles thrown at police and photographers. The noise was so much that the players could not concentrate.

The stadium's electronic scoreboard caught fire and was damaged. Fire trucks entered the stadium's track to put out the fires but were attacked by fans, so trucks with water cannons were used instead. The fires were eventually put out.

57 people were detained and a further 20 arrested, while nine police officers were injured, two of them seriously

However, no Olympiakos fans had attended the game in accordance with a league policy not to allow visiting fans due to fears of violence!

Booming Exports: Goods looted from shops by rioters during the anti-austerity protests in Athens on 12 February 2012 have turned up for sale in neighbouring Albania. Other goods, mainly clothes and electronic products, have been found on sale at various locations across Athens.

The Hilton becomes a Prison: Members of the Communist union PAME blocked the entrance of the Athens Hilton Hotel, where a team of inspectors from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (known as the troika) were staying. The inspectors were in Greece to assess the country's reform progress.

Suspicious Prescribing: Health Minister Andreas Loverdos reported one case where a doctor had written prescriptions for drugs worth 400,000 euros in just three months. There are doctors who issue 100 or more prescriptions a day, with more than 10 different drugs in each prescription. His aim is to reduce the drugs bill by about 1 billion euros to 2.8 billion. He also said some 3.5 million CAT scans are carried out in Greece each year, which is double the EU average.

Citizen Services on Strike: Employees of the Citizen Service Center (KEP) struck to demand that their previous years of service be recognised and taken into account in wage scales. KEP operates throughout Greece to assist the public in their transactions with state services.

Former Defence Minister Restrained: 72-year-old Akis Tsochatzopoulos was banned from leaving the country and his property seized when he was indicted for taking bribes for the purchase of submarines and making false income declarations.

Pointless Fence: A Greek proposal to build a 12.5 km fence along the border with Turkey at a cost of 5.5 million euro has been turned down for funding by the EU. The border with Turkey is roughly 200 km long and many thousands of illegal immigrants cross each year (in addition to the many more coming into Greece by sea).

Death on the Motorway: The bodies of three young Afghans were found on the Preveza-Igoumenitsa motorway in northeastern Greece by a passing motorist. It is thought that the young men died of suffocation in a truck and were then dumped on the roadside.

Parade Halted: 17 people disrupted an annual military parade in Thessaloniki, forcing the President of the Republic, Karolos Papoulias, and other dignitaries to depart and the parade to be cancelled. Among the 17 was a police officer who was charged with failing to take appropriate action to stop those responsible for the incidents, even though he was present at the time and failed to make any arrests.

Sport in Freefall I: For the country's athletes, the big-spend 2004 Olympics is a distant memory. These days they must be satisfied with a trickle of money as they prepare for the London Olympics, the debt crisis having dried up almost every source of revenue for sports, public or private. 30 million euros were provided for Olympic preparation in 2005-8, with the same figure agreed for 2009-2012. However, in 2010 and 2011 the sum provided was zero.

Sport in Freefall II: Paint peels and flakes from Athens' Olympic park; its entrances are locked and this former monument to sporting greatness lies rotting and largely unused. Back in 2004 the country was full of optimism, pride and activity, as it rushed to deliver the twelve-billion dollar Games that organizers hoped would boost the country's growth and its modern image abroad. But the games turned into a noose, as the billions of euros they cost only weighed on the country's subsequent debt crisis. Even the city's entire southern coastline to the port Piraeus, which had been sprinkled with Olympic venues, remains fenced off: prime real estate in a state of limbo for eight years.

In London in 2012 the Greeks will march into the Olympic stadium first, as tradition dictates, with a team numbering around 75, or half the size of the team it sent to the Beijing in 2008.

Olympic Stadium finds a Purpose: Facilities at the main venue used for the 2004 Olympics were used to help the city cope with a homeless crisis during the cold spell. The charity 'Doctors of the World' assisted, while other charities distributed food and sleeping bags.

Finding a Home from Home: A standoff took place between riot police, homeless people and activists who had broken open a door leading to the canteen of the Athens Municipality's Cultural Centre in Academias Street. The activists aimed to find homeless people shelter from the extreme cold weather.

No Room at the Warehouse: The Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) is in many cases unable to go ahead with the confiscation of illegal fuel or cigarettes. With state warehouses and customs facilities full, SDOE cannot afford to lease the space required to store the goods or proceed with their destruction. As a result of this and the fact that the economic crisis has led to increased black market activities, smuggling has been thriving in the last few months.

Property Tax on Top of the Electricity Bill: At one time around 500,000 homeowners had not paid the new Property Tax, which is included in electricity bills, when the 80-day grace period was about to expire. The union representing electricity workers has sought to disrupt the collection of the tax and the Finance Ministry considered extending the period of payment to 120 days. It had been extended to 80 days from the original 40!

Making an Illegal Home Legal: Environment Minister, Giorgos Papaconstantinou, approved an increase from 24 to 36 months in the time allowed for owners of illegal homes to pay the penalty to protect their properties from further fines or demolition. Some 225,000 people had so far declared their homes, bringing in 283 million euros, mostly from application fees rather than penalty payments, which have not begun yet for many applicants.

Queue at the Court: Justice Minister, Miltiadis Papaioannou, told a parliamentary committee that of last June there were just over 466,000 administrative court cases, including 165,000 tax and customs cases, outstanding. The minister added that almost 200,000 civil law suits were submitted last year and there were more than 30,000 cases waiting to be heard by the Court of Audit. The Athens Prosecutor's office has yet to process some 5,500 criminal cases, the parliamentary committee heard.

16 Months in a Year: Unlike other Greek workers, whose Christmas, Easter and summer bonuses add up to a 13th and 14th monthly salary each year, over 2,000 people working in the parliament also get a 15th and 16th tax-free payment as 'bonus'.

Ancient Lake is a Dump: Pamvotida, at 5 million years, is one of Europe's oldest lakes. Next to the northern university city of Ioannina, it is now treated as little more than a dumping ground for much of the waste from the city and the surrounding villages, many of which are still not connected to a sewerage system.
Some 700 livestock farms produce twice as much solid waste than that of Ioannina and more than 40 tons of phosphorus are dumped into the lake every year. Streams feeding the lake have been choked by rubble and because of uncontrolled irrigation Pamvotida has become stagnant.

The specialities of Ioannina's restaurants were once the frogs, eels, trout and crayfish from the lake but now the frogs' legs are from France.

Paying for the Party: Greece's political parties received more than 550 million euros in state funding over the past decade, plus another 42 million in special funding for election campaigns. It is also thought that the parties owe a combined total of 245 million euros to the banks.

Students Expel Professors: Selections for the governing boards of the universities of Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Thessaly and the Peloponnese were prevented in February by protesting students, in what was seen as a blow to the educational reform bill passed by parliament last August. In one case, groups of students actually occupied the rooms where ballot boxes were set up and blocked professors from entering.

Government Bills Unpaid: Ministries owe the Public Power Corporation (PPC) some 180 million euros in unpaid bills. It is claimed that the government owe 58 million euros for traffic lights alone.

Suspicious Tax Return: A team of tax investigators knew they were on to something when they found that a humble farmer on the island of Thasos owned a red Ferrari and a Porsche. Intrigued by how a farmer who had declared just €100,000 in income over the past decade (about £8,500 per year) could afford such luxuries, an undercover tax agent was dispatched to the northern Aegean island.

Go Greek for a Week: This UK Channel 4 progamme allowed 3 Britons to live for a week as Greeks would, trying out their taxes, pensions, salaries and work practices. The 3 were shocked by early retirement, tax evasion, bribes and ridiculous civil servant bonuses and agreed that it's no wonder the country is in such trouble if these are the practices its citizens follow.

Greek Thinking: The average Greek thinks in a way that would shock a Western European. He or she has learned that there is an easy way to get things done and it usually involves corrupt, illegal or immoral practices. This way of thinking has been spreading in the country for several decades and is promoted by the 'clientelistic' relationship between voters and politicians and the inefficiency of the public services. Greece's public sector is overgrown, inefficient and underworked and has always been viewed as an endless source of money from which anyone can steal without remorse or consequence.

Police Robbed of Illegal Immigrants: Two gunmen overpowered police and stole a truck carrying 50 illegal immigrants as officers drove it towards a holding facility after finding the migrants during a roadblock check. The driver had escaped and police were driving the truck, with the immigrants still inside, to Athens when they were stopped by two gunmen in a car. The gunmen overpowered police and took over the truck, with one driving it away and the other following in the car. Police caught the second gunman, identified only as being of Iraqi origin.

The Attraction of Athens I: Riot police used teargas on protesting workers barricading the entrance to the ancient Acropolis. Up to 100 Culture Ministry workers complained that they were owed up to 22 months' back pay. The protesters barricaded themselves inside, padlocked the entrance gates and refused to allow any tourists in until their demands were met. But police used a side entrance to break into the site, then used pepper spray to clear the protesters and journalists covering the standoff from the main gate. Dozens of bemused tourists looked on as the standoff unfolded, occasionally snapping pictures of the riot police.

The Attraction of Athens II: But , speaking at the annual general assembly of the Association of Athens-Attica Hoteliers, Tourism Minister Pavlos Yeroulanos announced plans to attract tourists from around the world through a new programme called 'Athens Every Week'. This programme aims at making Athens a “special city, a lively city”. He also said that all it requires is “some imagination, a little effort and some money”.

Arresting News: Police made 20,991 arrests in October 2011, a rise of 5,000 on September's figures. About 14,000 of those arrested were illegal immigrants. The incidence of violent crime, previously uncommon in Greece, has increased considerably in the past two years, while the rate of armed robberies has roughly doubled in the past year.

Helping Hand for Aldi: The EU is providing a 4.4 million euro aid package for 642 former staff of German discount supermarket chain Aldi, who were left without work after the company shut down its 38 Greek outlets. The Spanish supermarket chain, Dia, has been submerged within the French Carrefour chain.

'Informal Employment': rose from 23% in 2010 to 29% by late 2011. The majority of the businesses involved are in the hospitality (restaurants, taverns, bars, cafes and clubs) and construction sectors, as well as security companies, factories and petrol stations. And while most of the uninsured workers are immigrants, a growing number of Greeks are willing to work off the books and get paid in cash.

Some are More Equal than Others: Former government minister Kimon Koulouris was flagged down in his black Mercedes at dawn by Athens police for driving through four red lights, but he did not stop immediately. His response was to pull rank, shouting furiously: “Do you know who I am?”, then he refused to present his driver's licence - which had expired - and sped off, running over an officer's foot. The policeman was rushed to hospital, while Koulouris was taken to a local police station where he made an initial statement before being released.

Citizens Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis congratulated the police officers involved and stressed that all citizens are equal before the law.

Thirty Two Thousand Pensioners Missing: When 900,000 Senior Greek Citizens were asked to re-apply for their pensions by appearing personally, about 32,000 of them failed to turn up. Where are they?

Missing Ink: The new Poperty Tax is based on the total area of a person's house. The tax itself is to be added to the property's electricitiy bill and a note to that effect was added to the bills. However, after a while the printing machine ran out of ink. No problem? Well, there wasn't enough money available to order more ink!

Greek Taxes, or the Lack of Them: It's estimated that 40% of all taxes finish up shared between the back pockets of tax inspectors and the clients they have done deals with.

Greek Riot Police: The riot police also have their pay frozen and their pensions cut and are thinking of going on strike.

The Greek Left: Much of the fighting in the streets of Athens is between rival groups – for example, the extremes of right and left. The left is split into 3 separate Marxist groups, who could form a government on present voting trends if only they could get together.

Greek Loans to Germany: A French economist estimates that Germany owes Greece about €575 billion from 'forcibly obtained loans' during WW2!

Largest Family in Greece: The largest family in Greece had 19 children and the father collected over €150,000 in benefits in 15 years. Someone became suspicious when he turned up recently to collect €8,000 from an Athens office. A quick check showed that this ex-policeman was divorced and had no children: he had made them all up!

Greek Ministries: There are about 20 ministries in the Greek government. On average, each has 5 general secretariats, each of which has 2 general directorates, each of which has 6 directorates, each of which has 4 departments. On average, this adds up to at least 240 departments per ministry, or 4,800 departments in total. Again on average, 1 out of 3 departments has only one employee or less (other than the head of department). 1 in 5 departments has no employees, other than the head of department. (Source is the latest OECD Economic Survey of Greece, which also states that each ministry has on average a total of 439 'internal structures' with no built-in mechanisms for co-ordination.)

Illegal Immigrants on the Way: It is estimated that there are about one million illegal immigrants in Greece, many coming in via Turkey. They are given a one-month visa to stay in Greece, if they promise to leave after that! Most want to get to Italy and then to England, which explains the mobbing we and other motorhomers have experienced while waiting for a ferry to Italy from the ports of Patras or Igoumenitsa.

We Want our Money Back! The European Commission is demanding the return of what it terms “illegal” state subsidies worth €435 million (including interest) paid to protesting Greek farmers in 2008-2009. This money was given to them in early 2009 by the then agriculture minister, Sotiris Hatzigakis, in a deal struck to get the farmers to lift road blocks they had placed around the country with their tractors. The Greek government called it “disaster relief”.

Prescription for Disaster: Pharmacists were on strike for two days in early January 2011, in protest at cost-cutting measures and liberalisation reforms. Promising more action, the President of the Piraeus Pharmaceutical Association, Konstantinos Kouvaris, said it was “not befitting for us to feel guilty or restrained; we have to fight to protect our lives, our families and the employees in our sector.” The government, in accordance with the EU/IMF 'recommendations', want to save at least €2 billion in the pharmaceutical sector.

Votive Offerings don't always Work: Burglars broke into a monastery in Irakleio, Crete, on New Year's Eve and stole votive offerings valued at some €300,000. The monks were attending a fundraising event in support of the nursing home they run. The perpetrators took down the icon of the monastery's patron saint in the abbot's cell, broke its glass covering and took about 10 kg of gold jewellery – all votive offerings – that it contained.

Arrested for not Collecting Fines: A top finance ministry official has been charged with failing to collect fines for smuggling imposed on fuel and heating oil suppliers. The loss is estimated at €15 million. Accomplices are being sought.

Doctor needs a Backhander: A 66-year-old doctor has been accused of demanding a €250 bribe from a man who had brought his wife to a public hospital for surgery. The man contacted police, who arranged the transaction using marked banknotes that were later used in evidence.

Cultural Scam: The former chairman of the multi-purpose Athens municipal cultural complex is to be charged with embezzling significant sums from the institution's coffers in the period from 2007 to 2010. Tampered cash registers recorded only a fraction of the actual revenues.

It's an own Goal! More than 80 people have been named in connection with alleged football match-fixing. They included two Super League club presidents, club owners, players, referees and a chief of police, who were charged with a variety of offences including illegal gambling, fraud, extortion, money laundering and unlawful possession of firearms.

Culture Minister, Pavlos Yeroulanos, told parliament: “There will be no more state funding for football, no access for teams to state-owned stadiums and no coverage of matches by state television unless the game is cleaned up.” Six months later, the Super League is running as if nothing happened, teams are using state-owned stadiums, Makis Psomiadis (one of the accused club presidents) has fled to Macedonia and - needless to say - there is no clean-up in sight.     

Monky Business on the Mount: Abbot Ephraim, head monk of Vatopedi monastery, the largest on Mount Athos, was arrested on Christmas Day for involvement in the 2008 land swap scandal. Charges include fraud and embezzlement, which cost the State about €100 million. So far, no government officials or ministers have even been interviewed.

Not Everything May be as it Seems: 2011 Christmas retail sales are said to have fallen by 30% compared with 2010 – not including undeclared transactions.

Selling the Family Silver: The Greek government agreed to generate €50 billion by 2015 through land sales and privatisation of state-owned businesses and utilities. The aim for 2011 was €5 billion but in fact only €392 million was made - and this was by selling part of OTE (Greek Telecommunications) to Deutsche Telecoms. At this rate, it will take a long time for Germany to buy the rest of Greece.