Tag Archives: greek economic crisis

Come back to reality

“I won’t commit suicide. I’m not crazy. I’m going to eliminate one of you” said a desperate middle-aged man to Greek Health Minister, Adonis Georgiades during the latter’s visit to the Thessaloniki International Fair.

The Minister is giving him an advise. “Calm down. Come back to reality. Problems do not get solved in one day”. And Rome wasn’t built in one but that’s irrelevant. The man had used his life savings to buy Greek bonds which have recently been severely cut because of the Greek “haircut”. Thousands like him are desperate, having trusted their life savings to a betraying State that is now calming them down and calls them back to reality. Blend despair with injustice and you have anger.

Some other thousands have been less angry, they have only been desperate. Extremely desperate. Fresh reports quantitatively show a dramatic rise in suicides. The Greek Statistical Authority announced that suicides have gone up in 2011 – 26,5% compared to 2010 and 43% compared to 2007, the year before the Greek crisis broke out. At the same time, NGO Klimaka, that deals with suicides and runs a 24-hour hotline, added that the actual number of suicides is much higher than this.

According to an EU-wide study researching data for the period 1970-2007, every 1% of rise in unemployment results in a 0,79% rise in suicides. The projection is geometric. If unemployment rises by 3%, suicides rise as a result by 4,45%.

Unemployment in Greece was below 10% before the crisis. It is now about to reach 30% without any visible prospect of recovery on the ground. Now do the math.

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

No budget graffiti

"Without money" (Themistokleous & Panepistimiou street, Athens)

PSI Athens

An illustration by Manos Symeonakis for ekathimerini and Inside Greece blog.

"CSI ... PSI Athens" by Manos Symeonakis

Did the trial of Papandreou begin?

It seems that the investigation on the alteration of Greek Statistics (in 2010) has bumped into some sort of political involvement. The case began last September after the complaint of Zoe Georganta, a professor of Econometry at the University of Macedonia (Thessaloniki) & a member of ELSTAT (the Greek Statistical Authority), who said that the 2009 deficit was artificially augmented. She underlined that in November 2010 ELSTAT accepted pressures from Eurostat and produced a higher number for the country’s 2009 deficit, at 15,4% instead of 12-13% which was the real number. The goal was to make it politically more feasible to pass further economic reforms (cuts in salaries & pensions as well as taxes).

Financial prosecutor Grigoris Peponis

Financial prosecutor Grigoris Peponis has collected testimonies from 17 people who were involved in the case. His conclusion was included in the letter accompanying the case file on its way to Greece’s Supreme Court (Areios Pagos, the descendant of ancient Areopagus). In this letter Peponis says that there is evidence concerning criminal offences (under the Law on Ministerial Responsibility) by members of the the Greek government. He also wrote that in the testimonies there is explicit reference to an augmentation and an arbitrary determination of the 2009 public debt. The blame for this, according to the testimonies submitted to Mr. Peponis, is targeting the then Prime Minister, members of his government and the respective Finance Ministers.

After the Supreme Court, the case file will be transferred to the Greek Parliament which will decide on possible political responsibilities. In other words, this could be the beginning of a Special Investigative Committee and, if responsibilities are found, a Special Court for George Papandreou and his administration.

The names of those who testified were also made publicly available. Mr. Peponis had also invited current ELSTAT chairman, Andreas Georgiou, to testify but the latter did not provide a sworn testimony. In addition, George Papaconstantinou, Finance Minister during the examined period, rejected any claims against himself. In a public statement, he concluded that “there is an attempt to penalize the truth about the grave situation Greece was in 2009“. Mr Papaconstantinou is now Greece’s Minister for the Environment.

Days of Strike

Here’s a short doc I produced with my colleague Giannis Vakrinos about the workers’ strike at Halyvourgia Ellados steel industry. The story goes like this.

In mid-October, the owner of the company called the workers to sign an alteration in their contracts. Due to the financial crisis and the company’s losses, he asked them to reduce what in the rest of the world is common sense. They wouldn’t work 8 hrs per day and for 5 days a week anymore. The new working hours plan was 5hrs per day, 5 days a week and a 40% cut in their salaries which would mean that they’d earn around 500 euros.

As you can also see in the doc, there is a widespread belief that if the company’s proposals are passed in this factory, they’ll then spread all around the heavy industry with consequences even in the retail sector. The immense solidarity that you can see is owed to this fact. Workers of nearby factories and people from all around Greece are sending food and money to the strikers who have managed to last for more almost 2,5 months. The story is continuing and I will update on any developments of future posts.

Credits:

Script – Interviews: Kostas Kallergis, Giannis Vakrinos
Director of Photography: Alexandros Theofylaktou
Editors: Theodora Katrimpouza, Ilias Tsiampouris
Music: Andreas Koulouris (from the soundtrack of “To Rodi” by Christos Karteris)