Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Inner Insights on Greece [nerd alert]

  • There is a new Facist party rising in Greece-it's essentially a Nazi-party. Comprised of a small group of thug men in their 20s, they buzz their heads and proudly wear nazi symbols on their hands. To me they sound like goony villain characters from a cartoon show, which is why hearing Eleni explain their rise to power is so unbelievably terrifying. They operate like gangs and go around the city beating up immigrants, or individuals they do not deem "greek" (they are known to beat up darker skinned individuals even if they are greek). Terrorizing the immigrants has become a "scapegoat" for the economic crises in Greece, and despite their very negative image (it is not unknown to the population of Greece), this party has seats in Parliament and had a 7% voting bloc in the last election.  The police do not arrest these individuals because they threaten to attack their homes. Scary times... (here is a nyt article about it)
  • Greece has huge tax corruption. Essentially, the wealthiest class will illegally move their fortunes to places like Switzerland so that their income cannot be taxed. In a recent scandal, someone discovered that there is a list of all the wealthiest individuals who committed such acts. The list was hidden in the office of high-up government officials. With the public eye now wide open, investigations are being conducted on the government officials who are alleged to have kept the list in secret. The amount of tax evasion in total from the list alone amounts to approximately 1 billion dollars. It is gasoline being dumped into an economic crises already in flames. 
  • For the first time, Greece is on the brink of having its government fail. Basically, the ruling majority in Parliament is about to lose its majority as more individuals revoke their support for the party. If the over-all majority is lost (only 2 individuals are left from keeping the majority intact), then the government fails. There is no precedent for this situation and no one knows what will happen. 
  • I liked how Julie described the general sentiment of the people of Athens-the crises has made them sad (based on people we have met and asked). And it is true, there is a general hopelessness, like people have given up on the situation. But at the same time, as my host Eleni explained to us, it is an oscillating reaction. There is anger...and then sadness. As protests are met with no changes time and time again, it is easy to see where that hopelessness stems from. Yet as the news continues to report the negative trajectory Greece is continuing to take, can you not feel frustration? 
  • The unemployment rate here is approximately 26%. I remember how ballistic the media scene was when the US had a 12% unemployment rate. This seems almost unreal to me. When my parents were laid off for the first time, I was in middle school. Even then, the stress was a tangible sore that remained in my family until the day my dad finally got a job. I can never fully relate or understand the hardships that so many families here must be facing. 
  • Eleni tells us that there is a rising population of homeless people. Coming from Berkeley, homeless people are inherently part of the scenery. But there is a difference between the stupid, hipster, "oh my god me against the man" hobos you there and the people on the streets here who represent the image of what it means to have no more options left. 
  • So much of Greece's political and economic situation reminds me of the US. From the corruption of the wealthiest (1%), to the government refusing to hold them accountable. Greece also had a housing crash, almost perfectly mirroring that in the US. Constructers built way too many new buildings that are now unsellable, and drive the value of all preexisting property. And the protest culture here hits so close to home back in Berkeley.
  • Greece has a healthcare system that sort of mirrors that of Chile. There are different "associations" of health insurance plans based on what job you have. For instance, the blue-collar workers all have their own insurance plans that their employers pay into. Lawyers will have a specific insurance plan...etc. etc. Insurance plans have specific providers that people can go to for care when needed, and people originally will pay a small sum to the employer for their health plan. Even though there are private (For the richer / government sector people) and public hospitals, and public hospitals are known for long wait times and inefficiency, there is a general sentiment of trust amongst the population for public hospitals. Thought that was REALLY interesting. Once you have your health insurance plan, the care you receive will be "free." There has been recent controversy over public hospitals now implementing new fees for screening services in the emergency room that used to be free regardless of whether you had insurance or not. Now they are charging 3 - 5 euros. The Greek health system fascinates me because I can easily identify characteristics that are/were within our system. As I travel, I think I'll find that every country has different systems that kind of collage into one another with unique bits and pieces. While Greece has healthcare issues, and Eleni said that the public health status has been deteriorating along with the general crises, that it is not the concurrent issue that it is in the States. It isn't being prioritized at all, and it'll be interesting to see if that will manifest in an even more negative way later on. But given all the problems Greece is facing, it is easy to see why other problems like the health care system inevitably take a backseat. 
  • Didn't know that Greek was mandatorily orthodox until 1982 (to put that into mom was born in 1960. That is how recent that is). Children all had to be baptized in order to be officially registered with the government. Before 1982 women didn't have equal salaries either. to say gay marriage isn't quite a thing yet in Athens. 
This may be a really chunky and nerdy post, but after conversing with Eleni tonight, I feel that there are some things she taught us that I never want to forget. I figured if I saved what I could here, I can always come back and do more elaborate research later. Everything we talked about really fascinated and struck me. There are just some things you can never learn from anywhere else, and when you get the chance to absorb that kind of knowledge you dont' want to take it for granted. 

No comments:

Post a Comment