. . . the anger was palpable; the body language unmistakable; our driver was one very pissed-off guy.
We were on a short visit from our home in Turkey to Athens in neighbouring Greece; our son was working there for a few days from his home in the US and it was a rare chance to share some time together. It was also the day after a general strike protesting the EU/IMF bail-out terms that would adversely impact everybody except the wealthy ruling elite whose greed had bled the country dry. We had picked up a taxi at the airport; our driver spoke pretty good English and asking him about the economic and political situation seemed the natural thing to do.
‘Listen, lady . . . Greece is a small country, only 11 million people; six million live here in Athens because there is nowhere else to get work. I came from Crete because it’s hard to make enough for my family on the islands.
‘We thought, when we got rid of the military in 1974, that we would have democracy and accountability. What we got was a bunch of corrupt political families and their cronies who have made themselves rich and immune from prosecution for their crimes.
‘They pay themselves multiple salaries for having their names on various committees and they also pay themselves for more working days than there are days in the year! But that’s not enough so they milk the system with government contracts and ‘commissions’ for their families and friends.’
Our driver pointed to two stadia as we drove by, ‘You see those? They were built for the 2004 Olympic Games; we were already bankrupt and still they borrowed more money to pay for constructions that were profiting them and their business partners. Now they are empty and falling to pieces – no one uses them.’
As we drove further into the city the piles of rubbish multiplied everywhere; building skips overflowing with days of stinking household and business refuse. Our driver’s anger continued to mount . . .
‘Do you realise how much these bastards are spending on weapons – guns, aircraft even ships and submarines? Billions of euros.’ (the actual figure was 14 billion euros or 6% of GDP in 2007 and 2009; Eric Reguly & Brian Milner ‘Globe & Mail’ May 1st 2010. ie half of the annual deficit problem, 13-14% of GDP, is caused by inflated spending on war preparation. Greece’s overall debt is greater than its annual GDP and ‘public’ spending accounts for 50% of GDP) ‘Our neighbours in Turkey have one of the largest militaries in the world, what could this little country do? Yet our politicians continue to make problems so they can put money in their own pockets from weapon sales.
‘After independence in 1827 the Greek people never had a problem with the Turks – before that bastard Venizelos (Prime Minister 1910-1915 and instigator of numerous internal and external conflicts) went to war Greeks and Turks lived together and worked together; villages and towns were mixed.
‘Living is a struggle; we have pensioners protesting on the streets with us because their pensions are being cut. Not just frozen – cut. It’s the same for most government workers. We even have policemen joining the protesters. The politicians are not cutting their own wages – no – it’s us, the ordinary people who are paying for their corruption.
‘Taxi licenses have gone up a huge amount and fares have been increased by 45% so now I get fewer customers. Restaurants are closing – even the up-market ones have fewer people in them. Look over there, (pointing) we have many more people begging on the streets – homeless – there are even women with kids, but the politicians still have their fancy houses and their black Mercedes cars.’
During our short stay in Athens we spoke with several people from different economic backgrounds; bitterness was a uniting factor. Will the ‘unprecedented’ bail-out of Greece by the EU/IMF quieten the protests and shore up the euro? We doubt that very much – after all, it is not the people who are being salvaged but the corrupt elite and their corrupt system. The Greek people have a long history of defiance and rebellion against corrupt authority.
As yet another ‘socialist’ government prepares to protect what it and its cronies have stashed into their bank accounts and property developments, by once again doing the bidding of the financial ‘Masters of the Universe’ and stuffing the workers, we asked our angry taxi driver why he continued to put up with them. ‘What’s the alternative?’ he queried. We could have told him, but he had a living to make and the taxi meter was running!
Alan Fenn & Janet Surman