Monday, February 20, 2012

The "lazy" Greeks myth.

From the start of this crisis, the global media started a smear campaign against Greece, calling the Greeks lazy and corrupt. The saddest thing about it is that even Mr. Papandreou the former elected Prime Minister of the country, was one of the most vocal critics of the people who gave him, his father and his grand-father so much power over this nation!

Talking about ungratefulness! It is up to the leaders that are being voted by the people to lead the country, to change the system and reform, modernize and above all lead by example. If the Greeks are unproductive, then perhaps it is because their leaders are the lazy and corrupt ones! The fish stinks from its head, a Greek saying tells us! Perhaps the Greek elite needs to keep that in mind.

Lets examine a few facts about the working conditions in Greece now, shall we? The Greeks as the following statistics map by EIRO (The European Industrial Relations Observatory) shows, work among the longest hours in the EU! On average 40 hours per week, while on the bottom of the map we see the richest nations of Europe, like Germany, France, Holland, Norway, Belgium and so on.

 Figure 1: Average collectively agreed normal weekly hours, 2009 Figure 1: Average collectively agreed normal weekly hours, 2009
Source: EIRO.

The Greeks do not get an hour long lunch breaks as they do here in Ireland and the U.K. For lunch you get about 20 minutes break, just enough to eat your meal. Never mind the morning coffee break and the evening tea break, that the Irish and Brits are so used to. And of course nothing like the siesta time of Spain, when banks and public services are closed for an hour for lunch and "siesta!"

There is no life long Social Welfare in Greece as it exists in many richer states. In Belgium they provide social welfare to their youths as soon as they leave college, until they find a job. Then if you become unemployed you are able to be on social welfare for the rest of your life and then receive your pension too! Of course the benefits are being cut the longer you stay on the dole, but that is not the issue.

 In Greece after one or two years maximum you receive nothing from the state. You got to keep working in Greece, even if it is on-off to receive social assistance! What makes Belgium, many Scandinavian and other northern European states so rich to be able to provide social welfare for life to their citizens?

In Ireland they give families social welfare for life too. There are people who have been on social welfare all their lives. There are sections of the Irish society that live off benefits without ever having to contribute. They are being given social welfare to keep the crime down: instead of stealing to get money to buy their drink and drugs, the state provides them with an amount to prevent them from committing crime! According all the above, who are the most lazy in Europe, the Greeks, the Irish, the Belgians or their other fellow Europeans?

My sister's ex-husband lived and worked in Germany for a while. The Germans during the '80s and the early '90s were turning down jobs, that according to my brother-in-law they were required to do "by wearing a suit!" By that he meant that they had so many rights and benefits as workers, everything was so standardized that you needn't sweat too hard in order to do your work.

Yet the Germans were turning down those jobs and wanted better paid ones, leaving those jobs for the immigrants. I am not so sure about the current working conditions in Germany, but I mentioned the above as another example of the working ethos of the Greeks. We are hard working people, and everywhere we set foot we prosper! 

But why can't we achieve this in our own country? Simply because it is the Greek system's fault. "Greece devours its own children" says a Greek saying, and my God this is so true! To begin with, the only blame I will put on the Greek public's shoulders is their tolerance of the current political elites. Since the Greek Civil War they have been divided in two major camps and they vote according to family traditions rather proposed policies!

Instead of going to their MPs, grab them by the neck and demand hospitals, schools, universities, roads and development they go and beg for a position for their sons and daughters in the ever growing Greek public sector!

But what can you expect from them, since there aren't many other industries set in Greece? If you do not work in the tourism industry, farming or construction there aren't many other industries flourishing in the country. All industrial activity in Europe is absorbed by the rich European nations and what was left in Greece, has either left for China, Bulgaria and other countries with cheaper workforce.

Or even worse, they were bought by other European/Western multinational companies and were sold off or broken piece by piece, destroying many jobs in Greece. So the only secure career prospects you have in Greece is to join and work in the (ever growing) public sector. 

And that is a pity. Because Greece has en educated and multilingual youth. Most of my friends speak at least English and many of them more than one foreign languages. Yet after finishing college they have no chance in finding a job in their field of studies, simply because there are no investments, no development and no positions to absorb this vibrant workforce into employment. So they either have to migrate or join the tourism industry, working as waiters.

One of the reforms that Europe demands now in order Greece to secure the next loan, is to catch the tax evaders and make them pay. Yet so far only 1% of the taxes have been collected and these were from the ordinary people. Because the tax evaders are the rich fat cats of Greece, including the political elite and their accolades. How can you tax the ones who support your political campaign and they were providing you with millions in order for you to stay in power?

And how can you convince the Greeks to swallow such measures when they see the rich getting away with it. A popular singer of the 50s and 60s, Mr Voskopoulos has refused to pay up the millions of euros he owes to the Greek state. His wife of course is a former MP and he has good connections withing the Greek political elite. So if he can refuse to pay and get away with it, why should the poorer Greeks bare the heavy weight of this austerity? In any other country he would be jailed and his property confiscated, but not in Greece!

Not everybody tax evades in Greece. There is a popular notion among Europeans, that comes from their experiences as tourists in Greece, that the Greeks leave unfinished their homes to evade taxes. If the state gives you the option in its laws to be able to pay less tax if you do not finish your house properly, that is not tax evading. I am sure the Germans would do the same if this loophole existed in their laws. 

Besides, not all regions of Greece have the same laws. In the region of Northern Greece where I come from, all houses are finished. It seems that this exception exists in the islands, so the rumor was generalized. Perhaps the Greek islands have other tax exemptions than the mainland Greece.

The German company that has built the new Eleftherios Venizelos airport in Athens, has not paid a penny of taxes to the Greek state. They prefer to give money to the corrupt Greek elite to turn the blind eye. That is why the Europeans love to do business with us, because they are able to avoid taxation. Why then we are called "tax-evaders" by them?

This crisis is a huge fiasco! The Greeks are being forced to pay up and save the European banks and the toxic debt they have accumulated over the years due to their exposure on American toxic debt. How Europe decided to deal with this situation? Make the weaker states pay. We are being called to pay and cover this debt out of our taxes for decades to come, while northern Europe will be able to recover and keep developing.

My generation that has studied abroad, traveled and has dreams and a new vision for our country, the generation of mid 30s is the worst hit. The generation that is during its most creative years, that have new ideas and are more actively involved in Greek and European politics are having their wings clipped and are forced into a new financial junta imposed by Europe!

How can you expect Greece ever to recover when generation after generation is being crippled and forced into poverty and deprivation? Before it was the wars, now it is the economic crisis. I wonder, does Europe really want to have a rich and prosperous Greece in its club?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Who are the real "Presidents" of Europe?

President Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament. President Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU Commission. President Herman Van Rompuy, president of the EU Council. Three Presidents, but who leads the EU and Europe? What are all those presidents doing and why it is necessary for us to have them? How much do we know about their work and how it affects our lives? And finally, are they really the true "rulers" of Europe, or just EU officials?

When we are talking about the "EU elites" you do realize that we are talking about our national elites, our leaders. All our national governments put together. Mr Hollande, Mrs Merkel and Mr.Cameron, together with the rest of our leaders, their accolades, the people and lobbies who support them, finance their campaigns and so on. 

There is no separate "EU elite." The EU officials are mainly appointed and influenced by our governments and only the MEPs are directly elected by us. The problem is that we do not know what is being discussed behind closed doors in all those EU Council summits that our leaders attend. What deals are being made between them, what do they compromise without our permission of our national interests and sensitivities. Personally I want a stronger EU Parliament to take control. I say no to "inter-governmentalism" in EU and those agreements that we have no say at all. What I want is a transparent democratic union that listens to its people and serves their interests.

But that I am afraid is only going to happen through the EP. The Council that represents our governments is, as it stands right now, more powerful than the EP. Just look at how Merkel speaks about Europe and its future as if she represents us all. But no, she represents only the Germans that elected her surely, why she is taking the lead in Europe? Because Germany has invested so much in the euro project, more than others some will say. Yes, but they benefited the most as well, don't forget that. 

I would want an elected representative, or one of the already appointed officials preferably Mr.Schulz, the E.P.'s President to speak for me and represent me, not Merkel or Holande.  At least he represents the only elected by the citizens body of EU. Our national leaders like Mrs Merkel have no legitimate authority to speak on behalf of all Europeans, never mind shaping their lives and dictating their future. So you see the problem lies with our national governments and the long ago established European elites that do not want to let go of their interests and influence on the continent and on other nations and regions of Europe.
We do not want any Merkel, Cameron or Hollande to promote their country's interests, we need someone who can understand the issues and problems of all EU states and speaks for them, promote solutions that are benefiting all. Not of the rich elites or the rich nations only. We have too many "Presidents" in EU and Europe and we pay them fat salaries, but none of them seem to be allowed to do their job without interference from our national "Presidents."

When the EU and Europe is a battlefield of national interests, with the leading European powers wanting to take the reigns of the continent, how can we ever move forward? When all they do is manipulating and ordering smaller and poorer states how it is best to govern themselves and follow their rules. And not just that but still lingering in post WW2 attitudes, engaging in intrigues on who is gonna gather more supporters to have it his way, I do not see much European solidarity going on out there!

"Where there are too many roosters clucking, it is slow to dawn," says a Greek saying! And that is exactly true for EU and Europe right now! And that is why the European project is failing and we are going around in circles. Can we ever make Europe speak with one voice and assert itself globally, when too many roosters are calling from its ruling posts?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

ACTA, SOPA,PIPA...A threat or not?

As a blogger, I can not support the mentioned laws (ACTA,SOPA,PIPA). And while I understand the arguments that support this idea, the property rights and loss of revenue of the creators, I fear the way it could transform the internet and how we use it.

The reality is that once we set those new rules up, inevitably there will be many loopholes that we haven’t explored. Then there will be always people that will find a way around them,or ways to break the rules. Then we will have to apply new laws, to regulate the regulations. Then more regulations to regulate the regulations of the regulations…

So can we eventually find ourselves having a total censorship on what goes on line, published, shared or even said? Can those laws and regulations be the first step of internet censorship, starting from the obvious and righteous and then moving further?

The Americans want to protect their intellectual properties, but then why are we developing technology that can copy and share music, videos  either privately or on-line? What is the difference of someone buying a CD of an artist or a film DVD, then make a copy of it and share it with his/her friends, than someone downloading legally a tune on-line and then share it with his/her friends?

What if this law is expanded further, to include magazines and articles from the press, what is being published on-line and how it is shared? Freedom of information and freedom of expression is one of the advantages of the internet revolution. Why halt it? Besides, if you do not want people to copy your work, do not upload it on-line!

We have invested and we continue to invest hugely on technology associated with the internet. I-Pods, I-Pads, I-Phones and so on. Why allow people to have all those, if you do not allow them to freely buy, share, comment, copy and write stuff on-line? And if they can not do that freely, then why invest in a technology that must be used in a limited way? Never mind the limitless websites that will have no purpose of existing anymore, or the companies that provide fast speed internet services; why have it if you can't up-load or down-load stuff freely?

So what if these laws continue to evolve and include not only what is being copied and up-loaded, but what will be written on-line too? As a blogger I dread the fact that one day I won't be able to reach people in all corners of the earth and stimulate their brains with an alternative point of view, that is not being given on the mainstream media. That one day there will be so many regulations that my blog or my articles will be found unsuitable for the general public to read or copy.

We criticize Hungary for the recent legislation (I do not agree with most of them either) or China for having an internet policy and censorship, but are they trying to set up a legislation to control what is being said on-line in the West too?

If we think that our national media are not national at all ( there are about 6 multinational companies that own and control the bulk of newspapers, magazines and TV channels in the whole world) then how free our media are anyway? We did have the scandal in the UK with Rupert Murdoch’s tactics, then who tells us that our media are accurately giving us the news as they happen?

Why not allow everyone to write, read and share news and articles of whatever they want on-line, free and without borders, as an alternative source of information that is banned or classified by our mainstream media, that God knows to whom they answer to? Perhaps people like Murdoch or our Governments? Will we have only the Murdochs of this world shaping our reality?

It is double standards. We criticize Hungary and China only because they put their hand to the main stream media and those people with money that own them are annoyed. Yet we do not seem to be as bothered about the other media (blogs) that have something to say but get no recognition simply because they are challenging the status quo of this system we live in.

Yet Europe was not reacting in such way about Italy and Berlusconi all those years, not "until the knife hit the bone" as we say in Greece. He was corrupt, everybody knew that, and he owned nearly all media in his country. That puts in question on how free was Italy's media all those years. But when in comes to Hungary everybody is pontificating about the "freedom of the press."

To conclude, I totally understand that American artists want their work safeguarded and raise more revenue. They put pressure on the American Government to pass those laws and pressure their allies in Europe to do the same. But aren't they making enough money already? They dominate the music charts and the blockbuster movies. The biggest celebrities and stars are from America.

So I wonder if the American Government is taking the rest of the world in ransom, in order to secure their dominance in the entertainment industry? And for that, they are happy to limit even more what we can and we can't do online? I do not care if I won't be able to download stuff from the internet, I never had and I never will.

But if one day a law is passed that stops people from visiting this blog, or any blog or website that allows people to share ideas, information, news, things they love and their creativity, then I will have a problem with that and I believe everyone should.

So what safeguards our right to have a free internet, if we allow some governments to limit what we do online bit by bit? What will come next then? Think about it.