Yesterday was a double big day here in Greece: Father’s Day and national elections.
We hiked up to a restaurant on top of the hill overlooking town for a celebratory Father’s Day dinner.
After the sun set, we headed back to the hotel. As we walked down the street, the Greek national election returns were playing on the televisions of the tavernas we passed, so when we got back to the hotel, I went down to the bar to find out what had happened.
You might recall that yesterday morning we had driven to the ruins at Knossos, only to find out that they were closed. While we were there, Dale asked a shopkeeper across the street if he knew when the ruins would be open again. He told her they were only closed for the election and would reopen Monday, then he went on to give her his version of what the elections were all about. He kept calling the election a “revolution.”
I was curious to get other Greeks’ views on the election and the bartender at our hotel here in Rethymnon was glad to oblige last night as he explained the election returns to me.
Yesterday’s election was to send representatives to the Greek parliament, a unicameral legislature with a total of 300 members, normally elected every four years. The New Democracy party won last night by a very slight margin over the Syriza party; Syriza was opposed to following through on promises made by the previous government to the European Union in connection with loans made by the EU to the Greek government. Consequently, this election was viewed in the US and UK media as a vote of the Greek people to either stay in, or get out of, the European Union.
At least the three Greeks I spoke with, however, all said that no matter who was elected, Greece would remain in the EU and continue to use the Euro as its currency. Too bad it’s not that simple; positive thinking does not make it so.
The problem for the Greeks, and they seem to be ignorant of it here (or, I should say, willingly blind to it), is that they have too many unproductive government employees and overly generous public pensions, but they refuse to pay the necessary taxes to support those expenditures. When the Greeks had their own currency, the Drachma, they could just print money to pay for these things (which led to terrible inflation), but now that they’re in the EU and using the Euro as their currency, if they don’t raise the required revenue through taxes, they have to borrow the money from somebody else in the EU to pay their government employees and pensioners.
But the rest of Europe doesn’t want to lend to the Greek government any more, at least not on a permanent basis, because the country is broke, having borrowed too much over the years without having any real capacity to pay the money back (I love the olives, but you can’t really run a country by just exporting olive oil).
I thought it especially odd to hear the bartender say last night that the rest of europe has been taking advantage of Greece and shouldn’t expect to get paid back. But that seems to be the attitude here now.
And, so, they elect politicians here that say to the EU, “Loan us a couple billion more Euros, we’ll change our policies and raise taxes and cut services and pay you back.” But everyone here knows they won’t, because if they do, they’ll get voted out of office. And one day soon, even the bureaucrats at the EU won’t lend to them anymore. And that will be the end.
Why do I say this? Because New Democracy was the very party that put into place the system that led directly to the mess Greece now has. Yet, somehow we’re to believe that they will now dismantle the very system they created when they were in office just a couple years ago. Right.
This election didn’t change anything. And it certainly wasn’t a revolution.
Today, satisfied that the whole mess has now been dealt with, everybody went back to the beach.
And it is a lovely beach. Too bad they can’t export it.