Greece: Bloggers respond fiercely to financial crisis

Bloggers reacted with uncommon drama, spirit and gravitas to the financial crisis facing Greece – and by extension, the eurozone – which came to a head this month. The socialist government elected last October has fought bitter battles both at home and abroad to weather an alleged assault on the currency and country by speculators (since admitted by the eurozone chairman), and also to avoid defaulting on the country's debt.

After the announcement of tough austerity measures by the government in late January, followed by a renewed wave of strikes and a vague statement of support by EU leaders, involving “technical support” by the IMF, EU finance ministers met last week to thrust a narrow deadline on Greece before imposing further strict measures.

Citizen photojournalist Craig Wherlock, who has been closely following the wave of demonstrations erupting in recent years in Greece, somberly summarized the internal challenges faced by the Papandreou government after the faint, non-fiscal support secured in Brussels:

Doubts remain though over Athens ability to implement such radical changes given the massive public resentment they have created with the country's civil service trade unions. Already proposed changes to police and armed services pension contribution schemes have been postponed in the face of opposition.

Also the ability of Greece notoriously corrupt tax authorities to get tough on tax evasion has been questioned by Greeks long accustomed to such calls by political parties on both the left and right. As one Thessaloniki taxi driver dryly put it, getting Greece out its present fix by raising taxes is like bailing out the Titanic with a sieve.

As well as strikes and public demonstrations there is also the fear that growing social unrest will spark off a repeat of the month long revolt which swept the country in December 2009 following the death of a teenager, allegedly shot by the police in central Athens.

Immigrant workers on general strike in Athens on February 10 – photo by Left~Lens on flickr

Political blogger Panos Zervas placed the blame squarely on politicians and their cronies and shared Wherlock's concerns about the possible social repercussions of the crisis:

Ειλικρινά ΔΕΝ νομίζω ότι αυτή ήταν η μοναδική μας εναλλακτική. Την έκανε μοναδική εναλλακτική η απίστευτη ανεπάρκεια του ηγετικού πολιτικού μας προσωπικού. Δυο κόμματα εξουσίας με επικεφαλής δυο κραυγαλέα ανεπαρκείς πριγκιπικούς κληρονόμους, οι οποίοι κουβαλάνε μαζί τους ένα απίστευτο σκυλολόι «ιδεολόγων» της αρπαχτής. Ένας ολόκληρος στρατός από γλύφτες, μετριότητες και απατεώνες του κοινού ποινικού δικαίου. Με τους ικανούς και ανιδιοτελείς ανθρώπους να έχουν εξοριστεί, δεκαετίες τώρα, από την πολιτική – γιατί πολύ απλά δεν υπάρχει χώρος γι’ αυτούς.

Τα θλιβερά κοράκια της εξουσίας δεν ήταν και δεν είναι σε θέση να σχεδιάσουν και να υλοποιήσουν πολιτικές εξόδου από την κρίση, χωρίς να γίνει ο τόπος μας Γης Μαδιάμ. Έντρομοι, ανίκανοι – και στο τέλος αδιάντροποι, θα κάνουν ό,τι τους υπαγορεύουν οι «απέξω».

Μόνο που αυτό που μας υπαγορεύουν / υποχρεώνουν οι «απέξω» θα οδηγήσει την Ελλάδα ολοταχώς στη δεκαετία του ’50. Και όταν οι εργαζόμενοι και η νεολαία αρχίσουν να το συνειδητοποιούν αυτό, μέσα από το αδιέξοδο και τη μαυρίλα που θα οδηγηθούν, τότε τα Δεκεμβριανά του 2008 θα μοιάζουν πια με χαρούμενες εκδρομές των προσκόπων, σε σύγκριση με αυτά που, αναπόφευκτα, θα συμβούν στις συνειδήσεις των ανθρώπων και στους δρόμους των πόλεων.

I really don't think this was our only alternative. What made it the only alternative was the incredible inadequacy of our civilian leadership. Two parties swapping power, headed by two blatantly inadequate princely heirs, burdened by an incredible gang of graft “ideologues”. An entire army of bootlickers, mediocrities and common crooks. With the capable and selfless having been exiled from politics decades ago, because there simply isn't any room for them.
The wretched vultures of power weren't and aren't capable of plotting and executing policies to steer the country out of the crisis without turning it into shambles. Fearful, incompetent, and finally shameless, they will do what the “outsiders” dictate.
Only, what the outsiders dictate will thrust Greece full speed astern back to the 50's. And when the workers and the youth begin to realize that, through the dead end and the bleakness they'll be driven to, they'll make the December 2008 riots look like a merry boyscout picnic, compared to what will happen in the minds of people and the streets of cities.

Envisioning a way out of the bleakness, veteran journalist – blogger Andreas Panagopoulos, raised a fighting cry for solidarity and collective action across Europe:

Αρκετά με την άμυνα… Αλλάζουμε και τους βουλιάζουμε! Κι αλλάζουμε μαζί με τους άλλους λαούς της Ευρώπης. Μέσα από Νέα, κοινά συνδικάτα και οργανώσεις. Με πρωτοβουλίες (και) μέσα από τα blogs, το twitter, το Facebook. Με κοινή, πανευρωπαϊκή αντίσταση απέναντι στους τραπεζίτες και τα φαντ. Ο μοναχικός δρόμος μας πάει στο γκρεμό. Αλλο δρόμο δεν έχουμε από τους κοινούς αγώνες!

resistencia – resistência – Résistance – resistenza

Enough with the defense… We're changing and sinking them! And we're changing along with the other European peoples. Through the media, common unions and organizations. With initiatives (and) through the blogs, Twitter and Facebook. With a common, pan-european resistance against bankers and funds. Our lonely road leads us to the precipice. There's no other road but that of common struggles!
resistencia – resistência – Résistance – resistenza

Architect and blogger C. Alexacos, in his blog titled “Citizen”, envisioned a different challenge and solution, calling on citizens to rise above the pettiness and make an effort to help the government steer the country through the crisis,

Μήπως αντί για τα συντεχνιακά και εγωιστικά μας θέλω, πρέπει να δούμε το “εμείς”; Μήπως ήρθε η ώρα για ένα νέο εθελοντισμό; Στα πρότυπα των Ολυμπιακών; Μήπως έτσι δείξουμε έμπρακτα στους εαυτούς μας και στους γύρω μας ποιοι είμαστε και τι θέλουμε.
Δεν προτείνω σε καμία περίπτωση την ακύρωση της όποιας αντιπολίτευσης ή κριτικής. Κάθε άλλο. Ο Παπανδρέου, καλώς ή κακώς, ηγείται μίας Εθνικής προσπάθειας. Μπορούμε να το αντιμετωπίσουμε με όρους Παναθηναϊκού-Ολυμπιακού, ή μπορούμε να βοηθήσουμε. Για 2, 3, 6 μήνες. Έχουν δίκιο όσοι λένε ότι πρόκειται για πόλεμο. Μένει να αποδειχθεί αν είμαστε εγωπαθείς μαυραγορίτες ή πολίτες με προοπτική.

Should we, perhaps, put aside the interests of our guilds and our selfish wants, and focus on the “we”? As we did for the Olympics? Can we, perhaps, show ourselves and others around us who we are and what we want that way? In no way do I propose to nullify any opposition or criticism; on the contrary. Papandreou, for better or worse, is heading a National effort. We can deal with it in football terms, or we can help. For 2, 3, 6 months. Those who say we're at war are right. It remains to be seen whether we're egopathic black marketeers or citizens with perspectives.

Blogger Chris supported the need to impose strict measures -even predicting the additional measures imposed by ECOFIN- but railed against impunity, demanding justice before innocents are called to shoulder the burden, in a theme also promoted by the Greek vice president:

Σκληρά αλλά απαραίτητα τα μέτρα που εξαγγέλθηκαν απόψε από τον πρωθυπουργό. Δυστυχώς, ίσως να χρειαστούν και άλλα στο σημείο που φθάσανε τη χώρα ανίκανοι και κλέφτες, πολιτικοί κοι λαμόγια. Όσο όμως αυτοί οι ανίκανοι και κλέφτες δε πάνε φυλακή και δεν κατάσχονται τα κλεμένα τότε οποιοδήποτε μέτρο που απαιτεί έστω και ένα ευρό από αυτούς που δεν έφαγαν και δεν ψήφισαν ανίκανους θα είναι άδικο.

The measures announced tonight by the prime minister are tough and cruel. Unfortunately, additional measures may be needed, at the point where incompetents and thieves, politicians and crooks have brought the country. As long as those incompetents and thieves aren't going to prison and their loot confiscated, any measure that demands even a Euro from those who didn't swindle or vote for incompetents will be unfair.

One of the oldest Greek bloggers, graphic designer Arkoudos produces a semi-regular pseudo-magazine cover that serves as visual commentary on current events. The latest “Point of View” featured a half-shorn sheep with the blurb: “Hey, voters; we said you weren't going to pay for it and you believed us?”

Blog posts about the crisis have been few and far between overall, as Greek bloggers are reeling with the possible dire implications of staggered developments and heavy media spin, but Twitter has been abuzz for the better part of the new year with frantic discourse, analysis, speculation, anger, frustration and wild humor over the “Greek crisis”. Some choice tweets:

After a widely republished story by the New York Times reported that Karamanlis’ conservative government had clandestinely pawned off future infrastructure proceeds in order to service the debt, aided by a Wall Street firm notorious for its involvement in the subprime meltdown, user @Cyberela arrived at an uncomfortable realization:

Στα διόδια πληρώνω την Γκολντμαν Σακς!;!

Am I paying road tolls to Goldman-Sachs!?!

Arkoudos mused bitterly on a deal struck with France to buy frigates amidst the crisis, reportedly in return for diplomatic support:

Μην πείτε τίποτα κακό για το ότι αγοράσαμε φρεγάτες σε καιρώ οικ κρίσης γιατί κάποιος θα βρεθεί να πείσει τους γείτονες να μας δείξουν γιατί

Don't badmouth the frigate deal in a time of financial crisis, or somebody is bound to convince our neighbors to show us why we need them.

Twitter user @JoBlack sardonically compared recent moments of Greece's triumph and fall,

Στα διεθνή πρωτοσέλιδα ζούμε ιστορικές στιγμές! Σαν το 2004. Απο την ανάποδη. Ωρα είναι να μας κατηγορήσουν οτι εμπλουτίζουμε και ουράνιο.

We're making history in international frontpages! Like in 2004. Only backwards. They'll be accusing us of enriching uranium next.

While user @trianta poked some fun at the narrow focus of contemporary Greek economy on the services sector and faux-innovation technobabble, while making a pun on the ruling party's signature color and “green economy” campaign pledges:

θα παράγουμε: πράσινες augmented reality πολιτισμικές, διατροφικές και τουριστικές υπηρεσίες :)

we'll be producing: green augmented reality cultural, culinary and tourist services :)

Blogger Tom Tziros (@Argos_t) disagreed with C. Alexacos on who exactly is responsible for the crisis, given that socialist governments ruled Greece for nearly 20 years,

@constantnos δεν συμφωνώ στο ότι η σημερινή κυβέρνηση δεν έχει καμία ευθύνη ενώ η σημερινή αντιπολίτευση ευθύνεται για όλα.

@constantnos I don't agree that the current government is blameless and that the current opposition is to blame for anything

and compared prime ministers, offering some reluctant praise for the incumbent:

Πάντως οφείλω να παραδεχτώ οτι ο ΓΑΠ τουλάχιστον κινείται και προσπαθεί, δεν παίζει FIFA σπίτι του

At least I have to admit that Papandreou is on the move and making efforts, not at home playing

(Semi-reclusive former prime minister Karmanlis was reputed to be an avid console game player.)

Recently married, Tom berated the government, not as much for lack of trying, but for failing to inspire hope in people that the crisis can be overcome. In a post titled “Oh, what a happy life“, after a Theorodakis song favored by George Papandreou's father and historical statesman Andreas, he recounted a chance meeting in the street:

Περιμένοντας να ανάψει πράσινο παρατήρησα έναν συνταξιούχο που έστριβε από την Μπότσαρη στην Παπάφη τραγουδώντας φωναχτά το παρακάτω τραγούδι. Δεν ξέρω γιατί αλλά όλη την μέρα έβλεπα τα πάντα με αισιοδοξία. Αυτό χρειάζομαι. Μια μικρή ελπίδα. Όχι να μου κρύβουν την αλήθεια, αλλά να έχω κάτι να ελπίζω. Ώσπου να καταφέρουν να με κάνουν να αισθανθώ, έστω και προσωρινά, όπως το τραγούδι του Θεοδωράκη που τραγουδούσε ο συνταξιούχος, θα τους έχω γραμμένους.

Waiting for the light to turn green, I noticed a pensioner singing the following song out loud. I don't know why, but all day long I saw everything optimistically. That's what I need. A small hope. Not to have the truth hidden from me, but to have something to hope for. Until they manage to make me feel like that, even temporarily, as Theodorakis’ song that the pensioner sang did, I won't be giving a damn’ about them.


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