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Greece. The lesson of the sirtaki dance, “the crisis can be overcome only if are united, moving forth in unison, following the same direction”

The crisis is not over, nor are the sacrifices. The forthcoming termination of the bailout programme for Greece set out by the Troika, due to take place next August 20, will not only put an end to 8 years of recession, it will also usher in a new season of cuts and sacrifices. It is the opinion of economic expert Giorgio Konstantes and of Levantis Dimitrios, attorney. They underlined the open wounds caused by the crisis in the Hellenic Country. The two experts highlighted the need to mend the torn fabric of society, for “the crisis can be overcome only if we are united”

Ending the crisis with the steps of the Sirtaki dance, made famous worldwide by Antony Quinn in “Zorba the Greek”, which at Stavros beach, in Crete – where film from the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis is set – increased the rhythm step after step, at the sound of the bouzouki, a typical Greek lute, inviting John, the English writer, his employer, to join him in the dance. That dance became a symbol of the Greek people, a music to be danced embraced, holding on to each other, moving in unison, following a combination of slow and fast music. An equally slow and fast pace has characterised the crisis that has been afflicting the Hellenic Country for the past eight years. On August 20, the Troika (ECB, EU and IMF) will give the green light to the termination of Greece’s bailout program, amounting to a staggering 288.7 billion Euros in loans, in exchange for demanding social spending cuts packages. Those years were marked by long and slow-paced negotiations with creditors and by speedy and urgent reforms that not even street protests, strikes and demonstrations were able to stop. Today it is widely acknowledged that the slow return on the markets will not bring about an end to the crisis. In fact it entails hastening the pace along the long path of sacrifices. For many years to come Greek people will be forced to “dance” while trying to remain united, as required in the Sirtaki dance.

“We can overcome the crisis only if we are united”, declared Giorgio Konstantes, chartered accountant, Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy, an award conferred by the Italian Republic in recognition of his commitment for the promotion of friendly relations and of cooperation between Greece and Italy. He has a longstanding professional experience in the public and private sectors, along with consultancy activity for various bodies, including Caritas Greece.

“The truth is that they deceived us. The crisis is not over and nor are the sacrifices”,

Konstantes pointed out. “I’m saying this to those who claim that we received money for free”, he underlined. “That’s not true: we received loans from the Troika that we are paying back with sweat and blood, honouring our commitments.

With a burden of approximately 300 billion Euros in loans, Greek sovereignty practically no longer exists.”

Little matters if in the meeting of June 21-22 the EU, has decided, inter alia, to extend the payment of interests to another 10 years, thereby relieving the Greek debt. In fact “further pension cuts are planned for next January 1st, , for the 17th time since the outbreak of the crisis. How will we make ends meet?” Konstantes passionately added: “We have sold everything that was owned by the State. The same is happening in the private sector: Europeans – mostly Italians and French – are buying our homes at rock-bottom prices, especially on the islands. Young people, the best of Greek youths, the most learned, doctors, engineers, are emigrating for good. I know many of them. They completed their education in Greek schools, with Greek funds, and they will make a career abroad. The Country grows poorer and thwarts its growth. Those who remain and look for a job have no other option than settling for an average monthly salary of under 500 Euros even if they have a university degree.”

Unreported employment. “The most zealous manage to handle even two or three jobs at once, but off-the-books. The money that is still circulating in Greece – the expert bluntly pointed out – is the result of unreported employment, a veritable underground economy.” A concrete example: “In some families everyone has undeclared jobs. In the eyes of the State they have no income, and for this reason each family member receives a monthly subsidy of 200 Euros. This harms all those who count on an official salary, although they are subjected to tax cuts, and thus are not eligible for unemployment benefits. Today in Greece a part of the population pays the taxes of those with unreported jobs.” It’s not a good way to dance the Sirtaki of recovery together.

Amidst red-tape and nepotism. After an 8-year crisis the Country is suffering for “the lack of investments, tangled in the knots of a complex, excessively bureaucratic tax system”, where the tax burden “rapidly escalated to over 60%.” For Konstantes the State is responsible for having made the “wrong steps” of recovery, for “it failed to implement an efficient simplification of the system. It can take up to two or three years to open a business. The economic measures enacted to date failed to promote hoped-for development. Who wants to open a business knowing that 60% of the turnover will go in taxes? The hole in the Greek budget was caused by the public sector. Greek people have lost all faith in their political representatives, they feel abandoned to themselves. The scourge of nepotism is a weapon in the hands of political parties.” This summer’s record-breaking inflow of tourists (32 million) won’t be sufficient to revitalize the economy, nor will the “tens of millions of Euros allocated from the EU budget to deal with migrant inflows, which did however produce employment among the Greek population (psychologists, doctors, interpreters, social workers).”

“We are confronted with a national rage expressed via widespread contentiousness”,

remarked Levantis Dimitrios, attorney. He provides legal counsel also to needy families in coordination with Caritas Greece. The crisis and the subsequent cuts imposed by the government have decreased individual rights and all forms of protection of workers, families,  and vulnerable persons including sick people, senior citizens and people with disabilities, and this does not bode well for the future.

“Labour law doesn’t exist anymore”, the lawyer said. “If a worker files a lawsuit against his employer because he was fired he will obtain nothing because the latter has no money to pay him. In the years of the crisis thousands of entrepreneurs were found guilty of breaches in tax laws and contracts. The companies went bankrupt and people lost their jobs.”

“The economic downturn also led to increased lawsuits against banks for the missed payment of loans and mortgages, against tax authorities for unpaid taxes, while a growing number of families can’t afford to pay the rent”, the lawyer added. The lack of money also impacted public health services. “Those who can afford it can turn to private healthcare, those without money resort to public hospitals which do their utmost, but owing to the shortage in medicines, doctors, and medical equipment, appropriate treatment cannot be guaranteed.”

Broken families. The economic crisis also affected Greek families. “Divorces and separations are increasing, but not all are due to disagreements – the attorney said – many married couples file a divorce only to relieve the tax burden on their respective salaries. Some families broke up as a result of economic difficulties.” Households with disabled family members are seriously penalized. “Many of them no longer receive benefits as a result of the cuts. In the past a person with a 67% degree of disability was eligible for a pension, while today only those with a disability of 80% are entitled to benefits.

Greece’s social fabric is in tatters and it needs to be mended as soon as possible

if we all want to move forth in the same direction, if we want to get back on our feet”, Dimitrios concluded. “We see widespread confusion – Konstantes added – but I am confident.

The Greek people are generous. We will recover even this time.

In this Country we still see a certain degree of humanity”, and perhaps also a spark of insanity, just enough to challenge this crisis and return to be “free.” That very insanity that Zorba asks of his boss in the final scene of the film: “I like you too much not to tell you. You, Mister, You’ve got everything except one thing. Madness. A man needs a little madness or else he never dares cut the rope and break free.”

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