I have spent plenty of time in Greece and her islands in my life. I have seen post Junta days. I have witnessed small or large economical woes. Heck, my family history is a good proof to how Greeks can put themselves into trouble.
In modern times, I have seen many strikes and public demonstrations that are a simple fact of Greek life. But my experiences today, June 29th, 2010 and last few days I spent in Greece are in total contrast to how I felt during my visits of the last few decades.
First of all when on earth us Greeks started to talk low-key? When did we learn to shut up and mourn for ourselves? When our eyes started to gaze at our toes instead of blue skies? When did we become the most muted animals in Europe? As in many other events, of course there is a cacophony in the press and among Greeks in general about what is happening and what to do with that. But the tone is hushed. Everybody basically whispers in Greek standards.
Yes, the situation is dire. After the recent increases in utility prices and the VAT, all prices are increasing everyday. Last night we ate at a restaurant we frequent in Mikrolimani. From the last visit a few months ago prices have gone up at least 20%. And that was too much for an already expensive restaurant especially in Greek standards. (In my humble opinion Greek dining has the best value on price in Europe)
Also this high season, some surprises are awaiting the usual tourist bunch. Popular places like Mykonos have outrageous bed prices set out for July and August. Everybody is getting in line to benefit from the expected hikes in prices. (A pension in Mykonos town in which you can bed for 40 Euros tonight is asking for 150 Euros after July 15th.) And domestic flight prices don’t help either.
The problem with the perception of Greeks is that, they can hardly change their daily habits. For most of them daily work is something they have to do to survive, but its better if they can do less without anyone noticing it. To give credit to where it’s due we need to exclude tourism and entertainment industries from this generalization, which in itself gives us clues for the situation. But now they earn less comparatively, they either will revert to secondary jobs or will have to give up the lush lifestyles (which means not changing their BMW’s every two years, selling some of their abundant number of real estate or not spending every non-workday evening spending 150 Euros on third class bottle of whiskey at a third class bouzoukia, and even reducing number of mistresses by a substantial number).
Many fiscal ‘authorities’ are giving advice to Greece to extend the age of retirement and reform the pension system to balance her foreign debt. The contrasting reality which these speakeasy people don’t seem to realize is the fact that Greece is a very deeply uprooted social state. And her economical problems lay elsewhere. Corruption on the utilization of resources especially coming from EU and overtaxation of its work force to rehabilitate the state expenditures are the real foes irking against the bsalvation.
As new strikes and protests are scheduled for every ten days now, the public in general seem not to be aware of the imminent fate. They are concentrated on making their summer plans.
The key factor in 2010 for Greek economy will be the fate of tourism season. Next strike on July 8th will once more include the harbor workers at Peireas which in turn will stop sea traffic in Greece for another day. Which in turn will render another 48 hours useless in most of the Greek islands where everybody will be stuck to spend another unplanned day wandering around and cursing the establishment. Large cruise companies have already sent their ultimatum that they will cut their visits to Athens if that happens again after the previous June 29 strike.
So, if the recent fiscal data is correct and if Greece has already lost 8% of her tourism income this year already, she might end the year in a worse situation as far as the fiscal numbers go, than these were reflecting in past May.
Global economic crisis lowering the appetite of prospective visitors, coupled with the greediness of Greek establishment owners to charge more might finally kill one chicken who still lays golden eggs for Greece. And then, there would be none…