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What's Different in Greece in 2012? PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

What's Different in Greece in 2012?

Barry and Margaret Williamson
March 2012

We have been asked a number of questions during our winter in Greece. What's it like? Is it safe? What are the effects of the crisis? Has it affected motorhomers and other travellers? Etc. Here is a summary of what we have actually observed and experienced over the last months. It is different here and none of that difference is an advantage to us as visitors, to the British who live here or to the Greeks themselves. Indeed, far too many Greeks are really suffering and they don't know why. If they blame anyone, it is the Germans and the corrupt ruling elites in Athens.

These are the sort of things we have noticed and experienced:
  • A steep rise in retail prices including petrol, although diesel is still about the European average. Overall, Greek supermarket prices are nearly 20% above the European average.
  • A sadness among the people and a greater willingness to talk and discuss what they call the 'crisis'.
  • An increase in anti-German feeling in the media, particularly the newspapers and their cartoons. Parodies on the television recall images from the 1930's and 1940's. MP Panos Kammenos, launching a new political party (see below) with a policy very much against all the recent German-imposed austerity measures, gave his inaugural speech in Distomo, a town where 200 Greeks were murdered by Germans in 1944.
  • A smile and a warm welcome when Greeks learn that we are from England. They identify with us from our mutual history, from geography (they see themselves as a maritime nation living on an island) and because we are no part of the current Eurozone debacle.
  • More immigrants wandering about (many of them illegal), even in remote villages and on quiet country roads. The Greeks are increasingly worried about them and security has become an issue for the first time in modern history. The campsite gates are now locked at night following an increase in reported crime, mainly by economic migrants whose hope of work fades by the day.
  • Soup kitchens, once set up for immigrants, are increasingly used by unemployed Greeks. Sleeping in the street is increasingly necessary for homeless Greeks, especially in the capital. The distribution of free food, including potatoes direct from farmers, once provided for immigrants, is increasingly necessary for Greeks whose income no longer covers basic needs.
  • Many fewer motorhomes and caravans were seen here throughout the winter. Good campsites in the Peloponnese, such as Thines, Koroni, Ionion Beach and Aginara Beach, have been empty all winter. The one we use (Finikes) has averaged about 9 outfits through the winter; now there are 5 outfits 4 English, 1 German making 8 adults in total.
  • Fewer cars on the road. Indeed many country roads are spookily empty: this is fine for cycling but not Greeks who can no longer afford the petrol or indeed the car itself. Cars that are no longer in use, not taxed and not insured, no longer have their number plates which have to be handed in to Government offices.
  • Overall tourist numbers are down, particularly those from Germany, normally the major customer for Greek holidays. Bookings for 2012 are also well down, causing a reduction in flights, etc.
  • The media (TV, the 'Athens News' and other online sources) have their coverage dominated by the 'Crisis' as Greeks call it.
  • More and more existing and former corrupt practices, fraud, swindles, scams, embezzlement and financial malpractice (including massive tax avoidance, smuggling, bribery, etc) are being exposed. See our Greek Tragicomedy! However, the legal system and the police are also politicised and corrupted so it is uncertain what is or can be done to bring the perpetrators to 'justice'.
  • Strikes are frequent, including a current one of all seamen, including ferries. Even professionals are striking lawyers, doctors, pharmacists all in protest at reduced pay, reduced pensions and reduced resources.
  • Politics is fragmenting. Ever since 1949, with the exception of the 7 years of the military junta, politics has swung between PASOK (Socialist) and ND (Tory), rather as in the UK. But their support has dropped away since they are both blamed for causing the crisis and for agreeing to the German terms for massive austerity measures. Now there are about 10 parties, some made of defections from the two main parties. The three parties of the extreme left could hold a majority of the vote, if only they could stop fighting each other! Elections are due at the end of April/beginning of May and that should be interesting. We'll be gone by then!

It seems that yet again there is history in the making, here in Greece. Perhaps Greece is rediscovering ancient role as the source and inspiration of European development.