HOW MY OLD SHOES MAY BE KEEPING GREECE AFLOAT

JOHN MCGURK

In Greece last year, it was time to get rid of a favourite pair of shoes which needed new soles and heels so I was persuaded to take them to the rubbish skip across the way.

But instead of tossing them inside, I left them sitting neatly by the side of the bin thinking that, although they were useless to me, they might just be what someone else was looking for.

Thirty minutes later my size 10s had vanished.

I like to think that, somewhere, they are still walking around adorning the feet of someone else whose need is far greater than mine and who is happy to literally step into my shoes.

Down the road from the bin towards the harbour, there’s a sailing club and on the way there you can pass a mass a cafes and bars where folk sit sipping coffee or, perhaps better still, frappe as the heat of the day intensifies.

The bars clearly continue to do big business while the 4x4s park up by the club.

Having ferried their yachts down to the water, owners can book sailing lessons for their children and have lunch in the shade as they watch their offspring working sails and lines in miniature boats, sometimes crashing into each other.

I expect to find these two faces of Greece when I arrive there in a couple of days as the latest deadline for the expiry of the bail-out money approaches on June 30.

Unless there is some compromise between the left-wing Syriza government and the Troika —the European Union, European Central Bank and the IMF — by July 1 Greece may well be in a state of emergency.

Fears over whether the airports and hospitals will be working, and even whether the lights will be on, are apparently keeping the tourist hordes away this year which, of course, is exactly the opposite of what the country needs as it wrestles to boost its bust economy.

Apparently, there are empty hotel bedrooms all over the place and those who depend on the tourists are getting worried that this summer is heading for a disaster.

Greece owes 180% of its GDP which, by all reckonings, must be impossible to pay back unless they find massive oil and gold reserves on an Aegean island which can pay all of the debts and then some.

At the heart of the mess is the stand-off between the Greeks and their major creditors, the Germans, whose insistence on austerity for the past seven years has led the country into desperation.

Unemployment among young Greeks is some 50%; public services have been wrecked while salaries and pensions have been halved.

Greece leaving the European Union now seems more likely than ever but it appears that the Germans want the Greeks to come to the decision themselves while the Greeks would far prefer the Germans to force them out.

On the world stage, perception is everything.

But the reality of a Grexit is surely not the solution because the consequences are unthinkable.

Where would the Greeks find the money to continue and who would make them a loan given the fact that they will never be able to pay it back?

The latest talks at the weekend to come up with a deal broke down after just 45 minutes because, frankly, it seems impossible.

Greek debt cannot be written off unless Europe is also prepared to dish the debt of Portugal, Italy and Spain.

But neither can Greece continue to live on financial hand-outs made up from contributions from even poorer countries like Slovakia which has paid over 1.1 billion euros to keep the country afloat.

The Slovaks have a point when they say that their poor people are bailing-out a country where so many remain rich such as the 4×4 crowd down at the sailing club.

The tragedy of modern Greece is that those who are suffering the most are the real people who are now surviving on not much more than thin air.

They don’t run businesses, tavernas or bars and restaurants, where they can transact in cash with tourists, and hide from the taxman.

Old people in particular are innocent victims of the corrupt and that includes previous Greek governments which were supposed to provide for them.

In the villages away from the resorts and the beaches, whole families are living off the meagre pensions of grandfathers which means surviving on a few hundred euros a month.

Yet this is Europe in the 21st century and life in a country which is one of its major players.

Personally, I like to think that my old shoes are still doing their bit for the Greek economy.

jcmcgurk@blueyonder.co.uk

 

 

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