What a week! I have been trying to finish this post for days, and I am still battling to.
At first I tried to blame the heat. And it is hot…so hot that sweat pours as freely from the body as it would in a sauna. It is great for the skin but the constant stickiness and discomfort of clothing makes one want to swim naked in a crystal clear cool stream somewhere way up in the mountains.
But in truth the heat is not the problem. Nor are the ton of things I have had to do this week. It is just the anti-climax of the elections that has left me somewhat disorientated. For the past month I have hung suspended in a state of limbo. The possibility of an anti-austerity government coming in made me feel somehow as if the lowest point of the economy’s death spiral was in sight.
Now hitting rock bottom proved too terrible a thought for most people, but past experience has taught me that it only gets better after the worst is past. It is not knowing how bad things will get that kind of robs me of my breath at inopportune moments. It is not being able to see how far we are going to drop that makes me worry. And logically speaking…the contraction of the economy has to stop at some point, and begin to expand again. Right? This is what the EU keeps assuring us will happen if we just bear on and co-operate with the austerity measures.
If only I could believe them…unfortunately I have read enough articles by prominent Nobel laureates and respected economists to know that austerity is not working. The contraction of the gross domestic product (GDP) combined with the new loans negates any reduction (imposed by austerity measures) to the budget deficit. And the bailout money only goes to prop up the banks while the reduced salaries and mass retrenchments only serve to contract the GDP more. Which, in turn, leads to more loans and the inevitable new austerity measures that are a condition of bailout funds.
It is a vicious circle that has made us into a bottomless pit.
The surprise ascension of the anti-austerity parties during the May elections, and the inability of the pro-bailout parties to form a government back then offered a glimmer of hope that the end of the pit was in sight.
As we headed to the June elections it felt like something was going to break…finally. And then we would know what was going to happen. There would be some chaos, some food shortages, inflation, maybe a new currency…and then slowly things would settle and we could begin to recover. I, along with some others, had braced myself for the sudden crash. It seemed more desirable than the slow motion free fall into the bottomless pit. But others felt differently, and as a result the new prime minister and his cabinet were sworn into office.
I barely noticed. I have been too busy taking note of how badly local businesses are doing, and trying to calculate how much longer they can possibly hold on with few to no customers. All I hear is stories about how many people are not getting paid for working any more. How no one can afford to pay for their taxes or staff benefits such as the state pension fund or medical insurance.
And this in turn starts a new vicious cycle. The lack of benefits paid into the state cause a further budget deficit. Worse still…between the growing deficit and the austerity measures imposed to curb Greek State spending on healthcare a massive new problem has been created.
A few days ago I heard of a local woman with stage 3 cancer whose chemotherapy has been cancelled due to a down-grading of her medical insurance. She is but one of a growing number of those affected by restriction of medical services and drugs. Hospitals are now running on empty; being forced to cut off vital medicine to critically ill people, limiting operations to only those absolutely necessary, and doling out even the most basic medicines with extreme care. And the problem does not end there.
Medical insurance companies are broke. They cannot afford to pay the pharmacists for the subsidised medicine that has already been given out to patients. The pharmacists and the hospitals cannot pay the pharmaceutical companies and the patients must now pay the full price in cash for medicine or walk away empty handed.
Now this would be all well and good except that austerity-reduced pensions and salaries plus 22% unemployment makes paying cash for anything really difficult. Some patients have been allowed to order their medicine and pick it up at a later stage. Others have been reimbursed months later for MRI’s and other medical services paid for directly by patients but these are the luckier ones. For most it means doing without or borrowing money to buy…
And even when there is money often the medicine is not available because pharmaceutical companies have stopped supplying due to non-payment. Aid agencies who usually send to places like Burkino Faso and the Gaza Strip are re-directing medical supplies to Greece. Three of the five offices of the Athens branch of Doctors of the World are closing in Africa to assist with the growing humanitarian crisis at home.
People queue for food at the soup kitchens. They queue at hospitals, clinics and pharmacies for medicine and treatment. No one can believe how bad it is becoming. And the end is still not in sight. The pit still appears bottomless. The vicious circle bites deeper and deeper.
It was a bright sunny afternoon when the new prime minister arrived in a convoy of sleek black Mercedes Benzs at the Presidential Palace in Athens.
He wore a custom tailored suit. He was clean shaven with neatly groomed hair. He stood in his leather shoes upon a hand woven persian rug and swore his oath on a bible of gold. Then he and his elegant wife made their way to the Maximus Mansion that is now their official residence.
How much he and his cabinet of successful and wealthy people will relate to the plight of the ordinary men and women is something that only time will reveal. All I noticed was how calm and cool they seemed to be in their dark suits, even in the midsummer heat. Their air-conditioned splendour saved them from the sweat of the common man in the street.