Foreign press are increasingly saying less and less about what is happening in Greece. Perhaps they do not want to panic the markets this week or maybe everyone is just sick of reading about the unfolding crisis. Either way the day was filled with its usual moments of crisis panic.
This morning we were treated to local media reactions to Merkel threatening Greece with the European Court of Justice if it does not comply with the bailouts conditions. Mid-morning German Finance Minister Schaeuble announced that it may not be fair to the Greek people but unfortunately the crisis was caused by the mistakes of the Greek elite. Within the hour, the Radical Left Syriza, proved not to be so radical and began to soften its stance on unilaterally rejecting the bailout conditions, something that leftist factions across Europe have been expecting to happen (although they predicted it would happen a week and a half after the elections). Then the KKE (Greek Communist Party) issued a statement that Syriza would do nothing about renegotiating the bailout conditions if elected and, surprise, surprise…reiterated for the umpteenth time that they would not form a coalition government with Syriza if it is given the mandate in the coming elections. This was of course followed by lots of ‘will they? or won’t they?’ discussion about the two possible upcoming televised debates between firstly the two main parties in the elections (Nea Demokratia and Syriza) and secondly between all parties except for Xrysi Avgi (no one wants to debate the neo-nazi Golden Dawn). Accompanied by the endless press releases from each party accusing other parties of not wanting to participate and undermining the process. Tiresome…especially considering that most channels have damn election programmes during prime time this evening so there won’t even be any mind-numbing escape from the rhetoric and posturing.
Later in the day the G7 pledged to ‘tackle’ Greece and Spain in an attempt to calm investor concerns and stop hampering growth in the run-up to the US Presidential elections. Now I do not know what ‘tackle’ entails but it reminded me for a moment about the speculation on the streets and in leftist circles about a military take-over if an acceptable government is not formed. Although this may well be just paranoia and tackling Greece may not refer to any external intelligence interference. ‘Tackling Greece’ could just be more empty words and futile attempts such as the G7 made (back when IMF’s Lagarde was the French finance minister) in October 2008 after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Actions which led directly to where we stand today…Regardless of what it means there is a certain ominous quality about today’s pledge that inspires no optimism in me.
Late afternoon news showed empty tourist shops and the empty chairs at coffee houses and restaurants in the Plaka in Athens. They spoke to depressed shop owners whose sales have decreased dramatically over the past few years as we sank into the middle class death spiral into the maws of austerity. The city of Thessaloniki has decided to have 50% off sales to boost their dying retail businesses so we got to see a few people browsing in fully stocked shops. Again not a very hopeful or optimistic sight.
At home, here in Mytilene, business was a little better today (for some) although still down by about half of what it was a month ago. No one likes answering their phones because it is just creditors. I hear all this and I worry, but most of all I am grateful. Today was a day that I dreaded. The day when my husband got to find out how much personal tax we owed for the last year. This years tax includes the one of the two new property taxes. We paid the first property tax that was attached to our electricity bill earlier in the year. It taxed us per square metre of whatever formal structures we own and doubled our family’s tax. This tax year we are told that it will be due in July and increased although it will not be attached to our electricity bills any longer because the inability of people to pay caused the near collapse of the electricity company (which needed millions to keep it solvent a month or so ago). We still have no idea how much this tax will be but the second tax is what I was dreading today. It taxes the land one owns and we were afraid that it would tax us on undeveloped seaside property that we have been unable to sell due to the decrease in the property prices over the past few years. Its value according to the tax office is about 10 times more than we could actually sell it for and I was worried that we could end up in arrears with our taxes. So today my husband found out what we owed after a long run around from office to office. And thankfully…it is manageable. It is more than double what we usually pay and combined with the other new property tax has increased our tax by 200% but still it is a manageable amount.
I can breathe easily again. It is twilight outside. The Aegean sea is dark blue without as much as a ripple to mar its mirrored surface. The mountains are black against the darkening azure of the sky. It is so breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful that it is hard to believe that people are struggling here. It does not seem to be the same country that is written of and spoken about with such hostility and contempt all over the world. What could the G7 possibly have to tackle in such a paradise? Who knows? And perhaps I should not care. The sounds of popular Greek music drift in the still air. Children are laughing. People are talking. Life goes on even though sometimes we doubt it will. And our tax is manageable, what better way could I end my day?