Monthly Archives: February 2012

Clean Monday of crisis

Clean Monday (Greek: Καθαρά Δευτέρα), also known as Pure Monday, Ash Monday, Monday of Lent or Green Monday, is the first day of the Eastern Orthodox Christian and Eastern Catholic Great Lent.

It  is a public holiday in Greece and Cyprus, where it is celebrated with outdoor excursions, the consumption of shellfish and other fasting food, a special kind of azyme bread, baked only on that day, named “lagana” (Greek: λαγάνα) and the widespread custom of flying kites.

Illustrator Manos Symeonakis produced this  on the occasion.

The crisis kite by Manos Symeonakis

The papers used to compose the kite are ads from pawn shops, one of the booming industries in the crisis stricken Greece. A typical industry that trades in the unhappiness of others.

Speaking of Greek crisis-related illustrations, here’s one by Dutch freelance illustrator Jochem Coenen. A common friend, a Dutch journalist based in Athens, notified me of it.

-More power! ("Greek dilemma" by Jochem Coenen)

 

This is his blog.

I can’t take it anymore!

Here’s a graffiti I noticed in Athens’ north suburb of Halandri.

"I can't take it anymore!" (Halandri, Athens, 31/03/2011) by Klark Kent

And here’s a clip from the film “Network” (1976) directed by Sidney Lumet. Howard Beale (Peter Finch), the longtime anchor of the UBS Evening News, learns from news division president Max Schumacher (William Holden) that he has just two more weeks on the air because of declining ratings. The two old friends get roaring drunk and lament the state of their industry. The following night, Beale announces on live television that he will commit suicide on next Tuesday’s broadcast. UBS fires him after this incident, but Schumacher intervenes so that Beale can have a dignified farewell. Beale promises he will apologize for his outburst, but once on the air, he launches back into a rant claiming that life is “bullshit”. Beale’s outburst causes the newscast’s ratings to spike, and much to Schumacher’s dismay, the upper echelons of UBS decide to exploit Beale’s antics rather than pull him off the air. In one impassioned diatribe, Beale galvanizes the nation, persuading his viewers to shout “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” out of their windows.

I don’t know if Klark Kent was inspired by the movie but the situation in Greece nowadays make these two things relevant.

For more artwork by Klark Kent you can also visit this page.

Souvlaki is still king

Here’s an excerpt of “Souvlaki is still king despite crisis”, an article I read  recently at ekathimerini.com . Another example of an industry which turns this crisis into an opportunity (another example is the porn industry and Johnnie Walker whiskey). Anyway, here’s the excerpt.

Souvlaki with pitta bread

Souvlaki, the undisputed king of Greece’s street food, has yet to feel the bite of the debt-wracked nation’s financial crisis.

Despite a steady drop in the country’s fast-food business since 2009, when the debt crisis started to unfold, the number of souvlaki joints, known among locals as “souvlatzidika”, has actually grown, Kathimerini understands.

Greeks reportedly consume an estimated 3 billion souvlakia, comprising small pieces of meat grilled on a skewer, every year. Greeks reportedly spend a total 2.5 billion euros on souvlakia per year.

Between 1992 and 2008, the local fast-food industry grew at an average of 15.2 percent each year as souvlaki, pizza and snack/sandwich shops proliferated and armies of food delivery bikes roamed city streets.

You can read the full article here.

Alter(native) tv

Two weeks ago I had a coffee with a Dutch photographer who visited Athens for a photo workshop. We had a chat about what’s happening in Greece and he asked me about the story of Alter TV. I was surprised that he knew and he was surprised to find out that such things can happen are happening in a European country. A week later I visited the tv station with another Dutch journalist who is based here in Athens. Both thought that this was a story worth told and were puzzled that we Greeks don’t see it as “extremely interesting”, but rather as a normality. This is the story of Alter TV, one of the 6 private free-to-air channels in Greece.

Alter TV's offices (Photo: Kostas Kallergis)

The station is in a state that we call is “epischesi ergasias” (επίσχεση εργασίας), a phenomenon of the Greek job market I presume. So what is it? It’s something like a strike. When an employee owes several salaries to his employees, they have the right to proceed to an “epischesi ergasias”, which means that they still go to work, but are refusing to work because of the employer’s arrears. The difference with the strike is that they are not losing their wages while practicing it. They go to thei posts to show their readiness to work (though refusing to produce) and, in some cases, to protect the company’s personal (movable) property in case of bankruptcy. But let’s take the story from the beginning.

According to its employees, Alter TV got into financial trouble last year but managed to re-emerge as the second (and at times first) most popular news channel (based on the main news bulletins’ ratings). The channel is mainly owned by three men, the father and son Kouris and Kostas Giannikos who was also responsible for the day-to-day running of the place (the Kouris family had 51% of the shares, Giannikos had 25% and the rest was free floating on the market). In the past years he went on a borrowing spree, getting loans in the name of the Alter TV and then using them to create a network of sister companies which were totally depended  on Alter. A music company, Legend, which produced music CDs that were advertised solely on Alter. Modern Times was a publishing house whose books were also heavily advertised by Alter. At a time when publishing houses could not afford to advertise books on TV, Modern Times could advertise any piece of junk they wanted on prime time and see them easily in the Top-10 list. The employees of the channel were employed not only to produce the channel’s programs but a series of tv ad clips which were done for the sister companies at a dirt cheap cost. The station also sold great parts of its advertising time slots in advance without securing a constant cash flow. As a result, when the Greek financial crisis became a fact in this country the station went into trouble. The employers started owing a month’s salary at the beginning and were paying their employees at an increasingly unpredicted way. A salary after 1,5 month, another one after 2 and so on.

Right now the owners owe between 8 and 12 salaries to their employees who have been in a state of “epischesi ergasias” for more than 2 months. Kostas Giannikos left the company and focused on his other companies which also ran into financial troubles. The employees at his financial newspaper “Investor’s World” are also in a state of “epischesi ergasias” now. Alter TV’s new Board of Directors has told the employees that there is a possible investor who is willing to take over the channel but they can’t mention his name. According to their plan, out of 650 employees about one third (286 employees) will have to be laid off. They’ll get 70% of what is owed to them and will receive their compensations after 12-24 months. The ones who’ll stay will get 60% of what is owed to them, they’ll have to work for free for the coming months until the company officially enters the protection of Article 99 (Bankruptcy Law which protects about-to-bankrupt companies from creditors). Oh yes, there will also be a renegotiation (sic) of their salaries with 10%-30% cut according to their previous salaries.

The employees did not accept this proposal and are waiting for another solution. In the meantime they have been using the station’s frequency to broadcast messages against the owners, the Kouris family.

As they told us, it was their reply to a cheap and dirty propaganda war launched by the Kouris family against its own employees. This can best be depicted by a front page of Avriani newspaper (owned by the Kouris family) which, at an attempt to blame and shame the employees, gathered all salary expenses in the past two years, including the salaries of celebrity tv presenters, changed the amount to drachmas and published this:

Avriani (28-12-2011): The employees of Alter have pocketed 81.903.196.293 drachmas

Right now the employees of Alter TV are going to their offices every day. They are there to meet up with their colleagues and at the same time protect the facilities as there have been attempt by the employer and by creditors to extract part of the equipment (which, in case of bankruptcy, must be sold to fund their compensations). There has also been a widespread solidarity towards them by trade unions and single citizens, who are bringing foodstuff and other goods of need. The studio where they used to record the weather bulletins, the so-called Virtual Studio, is now turned to a warehouse where they gather all these goods.

Akrivi Kyrikou, one of Alter TV's camerawomen, shows the list of goods whic were donated to them (Photo: Kostas Kallergis)

Another studio, where cooking celebrity Vefa Alexiadou once produced her gastronomy show, is now used by the employees to cook for themselves.

Alter TV employees cook in the studio formerly used for a cooking show (Photo: Kostas Kallergis)

Apart from messages against the owner, the employees also produced a daily short news bulletin with news about their struggle, informing about other strikes (e.g. the strike at of the workers at Halyvourgia steel factory) and lately they included in their broadcasts documentaries (e.g. Aris Chatzistefanou’s Debtocracy) which have a critical point to the current Greek financial crisis, its causes and its possible solutions. Last week Alter TV’s transmitters were shut down. So all you can now see is this

Der Stürmer greek-style

Anti-German emotions are rising after yesterdays extra demands on the Greek political parties’ commitmment to the Memorandum No2 measures and Schauble’s comments. Here’s (just) three example of today’s Greek newspapers.

Dimokratia (16/02/2012)

Headline: Gas chamber

Eleftheros Tipos (16/02/2012)

Headline: Schauble’s junta

Ta Nea (16/02/2012)

Headline: What the Germans want

Der Stürmer (literally, “The Stormer;” or more accurately, “The Attacker”) was a weekly tabloid-format Nazi newspaper published by Julius Streicher from 1923 to the end of World War II in 1945. It was a significant part of the Nazi propaganda machinery and was vehemently anti-Semitic. It often ran obscene and tasteless materials such as anti-Semitic caricatures and propaganda-like accusations of blood libel, pornography, anti-Catholic, anti-capitalist and anti-“reactionary” propaganda too.

A message of Hope for the Greek People: the case for a basic income

I received this message to the Greek people by Stanislas Jourdan, an independent journalist who until recently was working for French newspaper La Tribune. The text was originally posted here and I am reposting it here.

Defaulting on its debt and exiting the eurozone is certainly the best thing to do for Greece now. However, this won’t fix all the damages Greece experienced these last years of economical dictatorship. Greece needs more than that. Greece needs a new hope. I think what Greece needs is a basic income.

Let’s face it: far from preserving Greece from bankruptcy, European leaders are denying the simple fact that Greece is already a bankrupt country. Yet the Greek State cannot pay its hospitals’ medicine providers, delays VAT reimbursement, and even the central bank of Greece is printing euros to bail out insolvent banks.

More than never, now is time for a realistic diagnostic: if something might help Greece preserve its economy, defaulting on its debt burden is certainly the first step. Leaving the eurozone would be the second. If necessary, temporarily printing money to fill the budgetary gap, would be another possibility.

These three simple things would relieve every greek citizen from the repayement of an odious debt, it would lead to devaluation of the new drachma thus reinforcing competitivity of the Greek economy. In the end, this would supposedly tackle the vicious circle of economical depression. Theoritically, at least.

Practically, I know things are not so easy, and that these three steps raise a lot of different issues, and will not magically solve all the problems. So, how can we do better than that ? How can we build a better future in Greece, beyond the default ? How can we make this decision progressive and desirable ?

I am not Greek nor i am living there, however, through a lot of readings and some talks with Greek people, i think i have an idea about what is happening there. And I have been thinking of some part of a solution…

A confidence deficit

I feel that what Greece needs the most is much beyond economical measures. The most precious thing Greece has lost these last years is confidence. Confidence in itself, confidence towards others citizens, neighbours, confidence in the future, not to mention confidence in politicians.

This has to be fixed, but deeply relies on economical issues. You cannot ask people to trust each others when they are suffering from hard economical pressures. When you’re too poor to feed yourself or your children, well, things like morality, common sense, or citizenship becomes all relative. This is no more than a human thing, right ?

Moreover, confidence cannot be reached when people feel totally unequal towards some of their fellow citizens. There are studies (notably French ones) that prove this point: the more social welfare is unequal, the more people feel jealous and aren’t willing to play by the rules. They would try to take advantage of the system as much as they can and/or feel others are doing.

What i am saying is that Greece cannot get back on its feets as long as a new social contract is written democratically. And such a contract as to be built upon equality.

The basic income scenario

I don’t have any magic wand, but there is an idea that has been emerging for some years now, here in France, but in many other countries as well : the basic income guarantee. What’s that ? Basically, this consists in giving every citizen a monthly grant. Let say a minimum of 300€ a month for every Greek (this amount should be debated democratically). More from wikipedia:

A basic income guarantee is a proposed system of social security, that regularly provides each citizen with a sum of money. (…) Except for citizenship, a basic income is entirely unconditional. Furthermore, there is no means test; the richest as well as the poorest citizens would receive it.

In others words, if you earn a salary, you also earn the basic income. This detail is important: it means more incentives to work than just receiving the basic income. Of course, the richer actually reimburse the basic income they earn through taxes.

The counterpart of this basic income would be a removal of most of the current social grants, and (at least) a reduction of pensions grants, and unemployment allowances, thus downsizing the government intervention in terms of administration weight and bureaucracy. Also, this would imply big reforms towards a simplification of the greek fiscal system, perhaps with something like a flat tax.

Greece is in debt crisis, and i suggest to spend more?

Humm, yes and no. On the one hand, yes Greece needs a stimulus, on the other hand, the basic income should be funded partially through the transfer of existing budgets, thus not increasing the total budget of the Greek government, but rather optimizing it.

Now that said, i am not a specialist in the Greek economy and have no idea about the figures we are talking about. Defaulting on the public debt will probably help, but might not be sufficient. In this case, the central bank would to the rest.

Indeed, let’s not forget that if Greece were to exit the eurozone, Greece could then ask its central bank to print money and provide the funds this measure requires. I know this is a sensible topic for many economists, but before throwing me some Weimar-like arguments, please mind that Greece has been suffering from a big bank run for two years now, therefore deflation is more a threat than inflation right now. Growth is being slashed down because of a lack of money, not because of a lack of production factors.

And even though inflation were to rise, let’s not forget that giving a basic income to everyone, you are actually compensating the poorest from an hypothetical loss of purchasing power. Furthermore, in a situation where the government doesn’t manage to collect taxes properly, monetary-driven inflation is actually another way to tax people (the richer, by the way) and fund public spendings. As long as everyone truly benefit from the money you print (and not only the civil servants for instance), i think we can agree this is fair.

And at least, once in History, a central bank in the world would actually behave in favor of People and not only for banks and governments…

Greece badly needs a new Hope

I know this sounds like just another utopia. But this is a very serious proposal i have been advocating for, here in France for several years now.

And I am not alone supporting the idea. For many years, economists have been working on and defending such an idea (some of them, like James Tobin, got Nobel prices). Some countries such as Canada and the United States even experimented such a system. At a wider scale, Brazil also implemented a basic-income like system, called the Bolsa Familia. If you are curious, I highly recommend you to read some papers about these experiments: researchers not only found great results about economical output, but also in terms of Education, health and security issues.

Still, people keep on telling me « people will stop working ! ». And i say : « Of course, the others would ! But you wouldn’t, right ? ». Only once for two year, one person admitted to me he would take some rest before going back to work, so i guess not so many people would actually stop working (as the experiments show, overall).

So what about you ? Would you really stop working ? Or would you simply look for a way to create wealth accordingly to your own values and beliefs ? And if you think so, then wouldn’t it be a good idea to allow such a move in everyone’s life ?

There are many reasons that makes the basic income a good solution, from the end of extreme poverty, better redistribution of wealth and productivity gains, the inversion of the bargaining power in the society (to the civil society), and recognition of the non-market economy. I suggest you to read this text (here in greek) if you want to understand a bit more the vision of the society behind this proposal.

Again, i know this sounds crazy, utopist, or whatever reaction this raises for you. But doesn’t Greece need a new hope now ? Don’t protesters, occupyers, indignados, all over the world need a dream ? At least mine is technically feasible.

Now it’s up to you to embrace it, and make it a reality.

The Greek financial crisis as an opportunity

While more and more people get unemployed every day in Greece, while another suicide of a desparate indebted man is joining the statistics, while democracy is being undone by tons of tear gas, some people see the financial crisis as an opportunity.

Rich Greeks who got their euros in Swiss banks and are now betting on the return to the drachma see it as an opportunity. Foreign companies who, after the voting of Memorandum No2, will be able to employ young Greeks for as low as 450 euros per month for a full time job see it as an opportunity. And some advertisers who exhausted their creativity into some happy footage from Greece, accompanied by Liverpool’s legendary anthem, saw the financial crisis (and the accompanied social misery not visible in the video) as an opportunity.  Here’s the result.

The campaign’s website by Johnnie Walker is here.