From Andreas Lolis' series of marble sculptures, "Remnants of the 21st Century"
The Crisis

Crisis Dues

Today at work I learned my pay was being cut by 25%. The CEO had gathered the entire staff in the large conference hall and made the announcement. He said it was voluntary. He called it our investment in the organization’s future. But we all knew what it really was.  Logo krisis. “Due to the crisis.”

So many of our conversations in Greece these days seem to begin or end with this phrase. “We’ll probably just go to my father’s village in August this year, logo krisis.” “Logo krisis they decided they won’t heat the apartment building come fall. Half the tenants won’t or can’t pay the common charges.” “Oh, did you hear? Marina’s leaving for Australia. Logo krisis.” “Lentils, logo krisis.” It has become our Insha-Allah, a mantra of our helplessness. Along with chunks of our salaries, pensions and, yes, privileges, we are losing as well the illusion that we are in command of our lives. Things now happen to us. And they are usually bad things.

It is not that we have necessarily become pessimists. It is not that we see or interpret things more negatively. Rather, we have become more adept at reading what is likely to come next. We do not see a half-empty or half-full glass. Instead we see a glass that will have much less water next month or next year.

I wasn’t shocked by the announcement. All of us at work had seen it coming. The signs were there: fewer clients, budget cuts, personnel transfers. Staff who left or were fired weren’t replaced. Indeed, most of us wondered why it hadn’t happened earlier. Logo krisis.

I wasn’t angry, either. Who should I be angry at (first)? For better or worse, I don’t subscribe to the conspiracy theories popular on both the right and left, which attribute Greece’s woes to the machinations of a (mostly German) cabal of ministers, bankers and industrialists—often conveniently conflated into a demonized Merkel as the personification of the enemy—bent on stripping Greece bare of its assets, talent and autonomy. I am angry, of course, at this absurd insistence on the ‘save-till-you-die’ austerity program we have been obliged to implement. But I am just as angry at our government’s failure to implement the great majority of structural reforms which comprise the most important part of the bailout Memoranda and which, had they been implemented, would have obviated the need for the  crueler measures adopted later. But then I must also be angry with the trade unionists and the guilds of the closed professions that managed to throttle the few tentative efforts at reform. I can be angry with the political leadership of the country in the last 25 years and its particularly perverse and profligate policy of redistributing income, not from the rich to the poor (the rich got much richer during these years) but from future to current generations. I’m angry at them for fostering a bloated, inefficient, corrupt public sector that was used to provide countless jobs that didn’t need to be done. But then I must be angry, too, at our own complicity in this system (as I’ve written before, clientilism politics doesn’t make sense without clients). In the end, I wind up being angry at everyone, which is pretty much the same as being angry at no one.

I wasn’t indignant. The salary cuts were introduced fairly. No cuts for the lowest paid workers and then a sliding scale of progressive cuts. I couldn’t even feel sorry for myself, which is not something I ordinarily do anyway, but one could argue that losing a fourth of your salary is a time when you have the right to feel miserable. But doing so would have felt, I don’t know, so petty.

I once had surgery for hernia repair in a large public hospital. I was in a large ward with another four or five patients, and I remember how reluctant I was to call the nurse the night after the operation to bring me some water, even though I must have been severely dehydrated. But the man next to me had had his leg amputated, and the guy across from me had had a tumor removed. How could I complain of being thirsty?

As my friend Natalie, who’s also had to accept a cut in salary, says, “It’s not dire. Having to feed a family of four on €50 a week is dire.” And she’s right, of course. I still have a job, though for how long I’m not sure. I still get paid for doing my job, which is no longer a given in this country. I’ll now buy cheaper wine and take fewer taxis. I’ll travel less and more wisely. But these are minor deprivations, hardly sacrifices. They are not things like heat and homeland. I may be thirsty but I have not lost a leg.

Loss becomes relative, not only to what has befallen others but what is likely to befall you in the future. Now, logo krisis, we can’t console ourselves by believing that things can’t get any worse and if we just pull through this patch of misfortune we’ll be alright. Instead, logo krisis, we console ourselves, for the time being anyway, knowing that things will get worse and content ourselves with what we have now.

When Greeks exchange holiday or birthday wishes, they are quick to tuck in a little phrase: iyia pan’apola. Health above all. It tempers the hubris of wishing for a long life and everything else one could want. It, too, is a kind of Insha-Allah, but a counterweight to logo krisis, a reminder of our mortality and a call to focus on what is important in life. Health, yes,  and friends and family. Taking care of yourself and the people you love. Setting things right.

But I don’t see much will for reform in the country, much  less the infrastructure and mechanisms to implement it. Of the two, will is the more important; the rest can be acquired or learned or borrowed. I wonder how many of us have realized the extent of reform that must happen if we are to prosper. How much needs to be done to create a system of just taxation, in which all pay their due share, what changes need to happen to open up the economy and reduce waste and corruption in the public sector. The rise of the left- and right-wing anti-Memorandum parties, which  seem to promise a return to the way things were 10 or 15 years ago, suggests that many haven’t. But of course we can’t go back. At some point in the future, a future bleaker than what we are experiencing now or perhaps can even imagine, we will be obliged to change. If this is hope, it is one that is steeped in tragedy.

-/-

Image: From Andreas Lolis’ series in marble, “Remnants of the 21st Century”

Discussion

7 responses to ‘Crisis Dues

  1. Tragic – in the proper Greek sense rather than the misused sense of ‘very sad’. Tragic as in ‘pertaining to a goat’; tragic in the sense of being something that could be foretold, was a result of hubris, something that a particular combination of people and circumstances made inevitable. I cannot see the current crisis as a tragedy in this sense – unless it’s the final act of what AP began through his belief that he could heal the schisms of pre-and post-war Greece.

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  2. Interesting discussions above… those feel (my two cents) that while AP did indeed do bold & brave things for the country, his inflating of the public sector and whole sale loans from the EU have unraveled that not-very-well-built foundation for growth and sovereignity… in fact we have lost real opportunity for the first, and almost-entirely lost the later. He meant well, he had inspired idea, and guts, but did not protect the future from the greed & corruption that went rampant in teh 20 + years of Pasokdom… tragic.

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  3. Forgive me if this sounds detached. I don’t mean it to be. With the end of the city states, Greeks forced to fend for themselves outside the polis came up with philosophies for the individual that far surpass the shelves of self-help literature of today – Zeno, Posidonius, Diogenes, Epictetus, Crates,,,

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    • Thanks for the comment, though I’m not entirely sure how you meant it. On a personal or collective level? As advice to me (‘read the Stoics’) or a message of hope to the country as a whole (‘in times of great hardship the Greeks have produced great things’. ) Or maybe something else entirely?

      Seeing as you brought up the Stoics, I think one of the problems plaguing public discourse here on the crisis (and our way out of it) is that passion and instinct all too often edge out the *apatheia, *objectivity and equanimity which were the hallmarks of Stoicist askesis.

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      • I recall Lawrence Durrell’s on escaping the mainland for Crete, then Egypt in 1940, speaking of leaving Greece as like an amputation – for which all Epiceptus was insufficient. My observation was not for a moment personal nor indeed was it advice. Nor do I suggest that here lies solace for losing a quarter of your salary or worse, or indeed hope for a whole nation – at a time when that nation is in such crisis. I was noting as much for myself as anyone that amid a world in which the centre no longer holds it was Greek thought that gave enduring personal guidance on facing personal loss and desolation consequent upon a break-down of what had been an organic society; ways of continuing to face reality, whether of one’s own or other’s fate, without escaping into instinct, passion, scapegoating and superstition. I’m aware that Greek ‘apatheia’ was not the same as our modern understanding of apathy as a form of passivity. That the Stoics advocated engagement, involvement, striving as an individual to do good in the world. My experience of life in Ano Korakiana (where everyone has TVs – so it’s not in any way isolated or backward) is that the organic survives, and we – dare I use that pronoun – know its importance, its rituals and forms.

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      • Many thanks for the clarification and for the additional food for thought. You put it very eloquently when you say: “It was Greek thought that gave enduring personal guidance on facing personal loss and desolation… [and] ways of continuing to face reality… without escaping into instinct, passion, scapegoating and superstition [but instead] striving to do good in the world.” This was what I was trying to say, if somewhat elliptically and awkwardly, by my mention of askesis and apatheia. There are, of course, countless women and men in Greece today who are engaged and involved and strive to do good in the world. And, as you say, the organic does survive, though I think it is easier to find in the countryside than in Athens. Engagement and community certainly help one deal with loss. Perhaps, though, they are not enough to support the great work of reform that needs to be undertaken if our economy and society is again to thrive.

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      • Akrivos. But as many Greeks – inside and outside the Republic – have pointed out over many years, Greece has been actively encouraged into dependency through being used by larger powers. If I had a euro for each time I’ve heard the Ottoman excuse…! It’s not a bad one by the way since for 400 years nothing got done without a favour. What we now call corruption was – and in many cases – remains the normal channel; part of common sense. My friend on Corfu Richard Pine writes of this:

        http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2012/0214/1224311745850.html#.Tzowa3cG16Y.email

        My focus is on the active dependency created by being treated as a game piece in the hi-politics of Europe and America:

        http://democracystreet.blogspot.co.uk/2008/03/thanasis-sfikas-on-britain-and-greek.html

        Learning about this made me grasp more clearly why Ulysses is heroic for his cunning as well as his bravery. Half my family is Greek (diaspora but with many connections in Greece, and my father, John, married an Athenian, Maria, in 1949 in the church in Hermou St) and my eldest bro-in-law would tell me of dilemmas his father posed for him and his sisters, testing their guile in emerging creditably from seemingly impossible situations. Spiro was very very funny about it, but I realise now the seriousness of this paternal tutoring.

        I really liked your piece on crisis dues. You’re not worried about being ambivalent. admitting to perplexity and ignorance. Unopinionated but with views. This is what I strive to be but am fearful of sounding like a wimp. I think the dependency excuse is more understandable than the Ottoman excuse.

        One more thing, much of the current problem is blamed on PASOK’s policies under Andreas Papandreou when during the early 1980s he led a bold project of reconciliation; a mending of the great schism that underlay the hideousness of civil war, worse some say than the occupation. It was expensive work bringing back into the Hellenic fold people who’s papers described them as of Greek origin but who could not claim Greek citizenship. I think this was brave, possibly hubristic. I have no time for those who, ignorant of modern Greek history, blame Papandreou pater for doing what was necessary to make Greece whole after the pre-war disaster of the big idea, the exchange of populations, the Venizelist-Monarchist split, the Nazi occupation, the Civil War and the Stone Years…This was a seriously damaged land. That we have not seen tanks on the streets, wholesale political murder and worse is a sign that Greece is healthy but in terrible difficulty. I am optimistic.

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