I knew I was back with my friends the Greeks when I was boarding a plane for Athens in Munich. In U.S. airports and (most) European airports, people line up in a semblance of a row when called to board a plane. They donâ€™t like it, but they do it.
Not my friends the Greeks. They line up orderly for NOTHING! Thus, in Munich, when the call for the Athens flight came, everyone rushed in a big mob to the front, forming a jostling circle around the single harried Aegean Air employee taking tickets. Of course, three male Aegean employees stood behind the counter, laughing and talking, not helping the harried female employee taking tickets. Yep, Iâ€™m back with the Greeks.
Without question, Greece is on the global hot seat these days, circa Spring/Summer, 2010. The unmitigated assault on Greece and their public debt by global financial interests, and the international media coverage of the events and (mostly) spectacle has situated them in the public imagination as everything from extravagant and corrupt hedonists living way beyond their means, to the culprits leading to the demise of all that is holy and good in our â€œproductive and efficientâ€ globalized world. Whether subject to wizened headshakes or open mockery, Greece and the Greeks are under assault.
My aim is to explore sides and roots of the Greece situation that arenâ€™t considered so much elsewhere. I have a decent perspective, spending the summer in Greece teaching in a Study Abroad program for a major Mid-Western U.S. university (can you say â€œMoo?â€). I know the Greeks and Greece, and I know the mercenary forces of corporate globalization that are driving this spectacle. So what follows is one totally unbiased (ha!) account of Greeceâ€™s summer of discontent, dispatched in relative real time, as events unfold.
To start with, some necessary background: I myself was bit in the ass by these events right out of the gate (literally). My tidy and pre-scheduled flight to an island in Greece (total duration: 17 hours) was canceled because of a national strike in Greece shutting down the entire country on my scheduled arrival date. Because our program was starting right away, I had to reschedule ASAP and was stuck with another connection and layovers that ended up making my flight duration 36 hours.
Needless to say, I was fresh as a daisy when I hit the ground slumping. While the timing of the Greece general strike couldnâ€™t have been worse for me, the truly inept handling of the situation by my travel agent/agency made things far worse (contact me for info on the culprit), and Lufthansaâ€™s bizarre rescheduling policies sucked bigtime.
Some quick background on Greece: The country has a long-established social class system, and there is a strong sense of solidarity among the classes, especially so among the working classes. This solidarity has been manifested in three general strikes that have shut down the country, including last Wednesday, May 5, 2010. This is hard for US folks to fathom, given that we havenâ€™t seen a general strike in almost 100 years. Greece has very strong labor unions, also something from the dim and distant past in the US. When faced with the demands made for change in Greece from outside, such as the current restructuring mandates from European bankers and politicians, and the IMF, the Greeks are fighting back with everything theyâ€™ve got. It remains to be seen whether it is effective or notâ€¦
Greece also has a notoriously inefficient and sclerotic bureaucratic structure deeply embedded in its state, which is also currently subject to attack and mockery. How the reforms being attempted unfold will be a key part of the picture as to who bears the responsibility and burden for Greeceâ€™s current problems. Some of these inefficiencies will be explored, as well as attempted reforms. And finally, the Greek political parties, Socialist and New Democracy (in name, at least), are playing major roles in the unfolding dramas. So we shall see what we shall see.
Up Next: Catching up on events thus far.