Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Situation in Greece after May election 2012

Man sleeping on Likavitosstairs


To come to terms with the Greek crisis would require a public debate with the problems clearly stated. Instead most of the analysis provided especially in the media has been over simplistic. But also the academic world and the artists have remained largely silent.

Ever since the extent of the Greek deficit became known in late 2009, the complexity of the problem was reduced to a set of problems which seem both obvious and still outstanding since they have never been resolved. They can be considered the typical ones evoked whenever the Greek crisis is being referred to. This includes such factors as inefficient administration, no efficient tax collection, closed shops etc. To this have been added over spending by both the state and private citizens as exemplified during the Olympic Games 2004 when its organization rented lavish spaces in New York and elsewhere. Also it was deemed a sign of over payment with regards to salaries in terms of what the railway company earned; the ratio between salaries paid and income earned amounted to a 10 to 1 relation. Clearly things were upheld despite not being sustainable under any circumstance. To this was added the general accusation of corruption prevailing everywhere, whether now in the case of doctors taking extra money without declaring this as income or how public works were made possible by a coalition of interest groups to make sure everyone was overpaid with no one bothering that in the end this would burden the entire society.

Left out in almost all analyses was altogether a cultural impact assessment of what it meant for Greece to have joined the European Union in the first place, and then the Euro-zone as of January 2001. Only hints were made that this entry into the Euro zone was done with cooked books and this with the help of foreign accounting firms. Yet creative accounting may account only for a portion of the scandal involved when fake reports mislead people. General deception is by far a greater problem, and one wonders why no one spoke up in time.

Entry into the European Union and Euro-zone requires quite another cultural adaptation than what Greeks were willing to accept. As long as Simitis was Prime Minister, he tried to introduce a methodology of rational decision making processes, but PASOK lost the election in May 2004, that is during this decisive year when the Olympic Games were held in August of that same year. It meant after years of being in opposition, Nea Democratia entered with many hungry for money and power. What became later very explicit in the Zachopoulos scandal, the General Secretary for the Ministry of Culture with PM Karamlis from 2004 until January 2006 as well Minister of Culture, was a typical financing scheme to buy support. Zachopoulos had recognized that Civil Society and the many NGOs like WWF would tend to support much more PASOK or even further left wing leaning parties than Neo Democratia. Consequently he used EU funds designated for culture and money from Lotto to start building up an entirely new NGO sector in the hope to solicit their support for Nea Democratie. And many artists seemed very happy with him as he presided over the Ministry of Culture by sidelining its various departments and issueing cheques directly to make things work. No wonder that such handing out of money was not questioned even though most treacherous.

Of interest is, however, the lack of response from the side of the European Commission. Despite attempting to draw attention to this squandering of EU funds with the Cultural Contact Point buried within the Ministry of Culture so that hardly anyone knew about these funding possibilities if not within that circle of privileged persons, and main flagships like the Lambraki foundation taking a main portion of these EU funds, officials within the European Commission did not respond directly. It has been a method by the European Commission to try to shame member states into compliance rather than confront them with immediate consequences if these bad practices would continue. One incidence underlines what is meant by the European Commission catering always to the interests of member states was Patras 2006. When Bob Palmer visited that city to become European Capital of Culture in 2004, he came to the conclusion that the title should be withdrawn as the city was no where close to being ready by 2006. Yet Venizelous, then Minister of Culture overturned that recommendation in the Council of Ministers in Brussels and Bob Palmer drew the conclusion that the Commission does not really listen to expert advise.

The one-sided dependency upon the European Union

Once Greece entered the European Union, its economy and public administration had to comply to a whole range of regulations as stipulated by the European Commission. Practically it meant becoming quite a different economic system not regulated necessarily by the Greek state, but by the European Commission as mediated at EU level through various forms, the European Parliament just one of these possibilities. Intergovernmental forms came more and more into their own cultural norm to determine institutional and bureaucratic practices. It meant sidelining mainly the citizens while within the state administration not all civil servants were involved, but only those who joined streamlined functional departments meant to demonstrate efficiency as understood as compliance to EU norms set in Brussels. The various implications of that have never been fully understood nor have they been anchored sufficiently within the Greek society.

Instead a kind of cultural schizophrenia practiced primarily by politicians who were completely European in Brussels,  but nationalists and local patriots once back home (Simon Mundy) became the practical model. It meant paying lip service to EU norms at official level while scant notice was paid at informal level despite EU Norms being constantly flagrantly abused or ignored. Out of this developed a kind of 'cleverness' by which it was thought to trick EU monitoring and evaluation efforts when in fact it was not realized how much of this cheating could back fire and make any substantial and honest effort to come to terms with issues and problems impossible. One case was the impossibility to install a land registration so that an overview of who owns what land could be known by all.

Repeatedly Greece was warned by the European Commission in several crucial areas, waste management just one example, insofar as many illegal landfills endangered both the environment and human settlements (in the form of forest fires and other forms of pollution of water systems). It is important to understand all of this as a lack of cultural adaptation to EU norms with the latter not understood as a given, for they can only be effective if the entire Greek population along with other Europeans participate in the setting of these norms. But because culture was excluded from prime processes at all levels, it never entered the mind of most that European integration cannot be based on the economy, especially not if a mere fake economic integration process.

The risk of over dependency upon EU funds misleading both projects and politicians as to what has a realistic chance to become sustainable in the long run marks explains why things went so badly wrong. For short term thinking prevailed insofar as everyone wanted to get rich in the fastest possible way. There prevailed a kind of panic sense as if this is the last chance to grab money, and in not knowing when such an opportunity comes again, all precautions were cast aside. Stupid was the one who did not do what everyone else did e.g. add illegally another part to an already semi legally build second home.

While the Greek administration is being constantly blamed for its inefficiency despite some good efforts having been made to rationalise services (the system of information for unemployed was well developed), overlooked in this one sided blaming game was that everyone wanted the bureaucracy to work exactly in that way, namely 'inefficiently'. By having no objective in terms of social and public interest, it became an exclusive service to get something done at private level. No wonder that the implementation process connected with the handling EU funds went astray.

Many kinds of irregularities became known in due course with available funds not being absorbed but one indicator that things were not as easy as was generally assumed to integrate economies. This was made most explicit in 2011 when the Troika and the European Commission decided to fund projects named on a priority list with co-funding altered from 75% to 95%, in order to speed up the absorption of EU funds made available especially through the Structural Fund.

Of interest is that Kathimerini on Jan.3, 2013 quotes Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis that the absorption of European Union subsidies through the National Strategic Reference Framework for 2012 has been satisfactory: "a total of 3.3 billion euros was matched to projects last year (compared to a target for 3.7 billion), taking the entire fund absorption from this funding period to 11.6 billion. This has also satisfied the requirements of the N+3 rule, which means that the funds agreed on any given year (N) should be absorded within the next three years. According to Hatzidakis, Greece will have to absorb some 3.9 billion euros in 2013."

The Newspaper continues to state in an editorial opinion that

"Economic stability and growth are based to a significant degree on the amount of money Greece receives from the EU in structural funds and on the use the country makes of these subsidies to bankroll revenue-boosting projects and entrepreneurship.

However, in several vital sectors, such as human resource development, digital convergence, environmental protection programs and administrative reforms, Greece is still lagging significantly in terms of the funds it absorbs. Yet these are sectors that are important in distinguishing advanced countries from developing ones and it is there that Greece really needs to focus if it wants to be considered among the former rather than the latter."

- Kathimerini, Thursday, January 3, 2013 (part of the English edition of the International Herald Tribune)

Here an entire different discussion is needed in order to ascertain on what basis (calculations) Greece receives these EU funds and for what purpose these funds have been used. Absorbing the funds successfully is, therefore, not the only concern. It is possible to construct endlessly more roads while ignoring the negative impact upon the environment. Still, at face value this development seems to indicate that things are improving due to the pressure having been put upon Greece to muster all its capacities to comply with EU norms.

What the crisis means for Greece and the European Union

The crisis did entail a positive message. Till then it was assumed Europe was coming together due to a single market. Suddenly even this was no longer something to be simply assumed. It put the need for economic goverance on the top of the agenda list of priorities in need to be resolved if the crisis in the making was to be resolved.

Economic integration means within the EU primarily overcoming regional disparities and finding a footage in the world economy or global market. Greece seemed to do well until the crisis hit. It achieved until 2009 some amazing growth rates with consumer spending quite high. But this indicated as well a worrying trend. More and more luxury items were sold in Athens as if a certain boom was taking place. However, a first warning was given by the ill fated collapse of the Athenian stock market. A lot of Greeks had turned to it in order to make a lot of money fast as if the stock market was a gambling talbe and consequently many people lost huge amounts of money.

When speaking about attitudes playing a role in all of this, interestingly enough Spyros Mercouris would admit readily that "we Greeks have a tendency to gamble as if something everyone likes, but it is taken likely for if you lose, then you simply get up, brush off the shock and walk away from the game table." Naturally walking simply away from obligations incurred due to the huge state deficit was made impossible by the Troika. The latter put Greece into quite another practical reference framework as made explicit by the two Memorandums of Understanding.

By May 2012, it become most evident that the economic crisis prompted as well a huge political crisis. The latter expresses itself fore mostly in loss of trust and confidence in the political parties. Since 1974 an established elite linked to families like Karamalis, Papandreou or Mitsotakis underlined a continuity of power. After 2008 and more so after 2009, it had become an increasing political outcry led especially by the Communist Party that it was no longer to be tolerated that this established elite would stay in power i.e. hand down power from grandfather to father to son as was the case with the Papandreou family. Any politician or party holding power by tradition or by virtue of family connections was mistrusted. Yet players like Samaras do uphold this traditional link even though he managed to dissociate himself from this a bit by playing the fierce opposition until he could assume himself power as was the case not after the May election but after its follow-up on June 17th when he finally could fulfill his dreams and lead a three party coalition government.

To understand the making of such an elite Gramsci's 'hegemony of interest' can be applied. This means a sharing of common values and interests. It is already cultivated insofar as the recruitment of such an elite starts with those who have been at Athens College and by extension included visits to foreign universities, if not Oxford and Cambridge or the London School of Economics, then Harvard, MIT or some other prestige university in the United States like Stanford. The irony has it that Samaras from Nea Democratia and Jorgios Papandreou from PASOK shared once the same student dormitory when they studied in the United States. This post-colonial influence – former Prime Minister Simitis was educated in Germany and taught there during the time when the Junta reigned in Greece – means educating the future decision makers of Greece still follows some prime aims, namely to keep Greece in the Western fold (Churchill after 1945 never wanted Greece to fall into the hands of the then very large Communist party and therefore become an ally of the Soviet Union). This goes hand in hand with the interest that Greeks do adopt a friendly attitude towards Western powers in general, and in particular to be on good terms with the respective country where they had spend their formative years. In return, it means lucrative contracts with businesses from these countries and even by extension tolerance as the case with SIEMENS which practiced seventeen years of bribery, in order to obtain state contracts.

All these vested interests (and literally it means huge investments over many years have been made to ensure political orientation within Greece would safeguard these interests, indeed safeguard them as if sacroscant) has one direct implication for ordinary Greeks, namely that there was no way to get anywhere if not well connected to someone in a position to help them out with a job or provide their children with a scholarship abroad. Countless examples can be given to what this clientel system ends up making possible for those who are well connected e.g. the daughter of Mitsotakis is director of the Greek Cultural Centre in Paris. And even Tina Birbili, the ex Minister for the Environment in the initial Jorgios Papandreou government for two and half years was given a lucrative post at OECD once she could no longer be kept in her ministerial office. Opposition to her had become insurmountable. Rumor had it that she opposed important investment opportunities for the sake of sticking to environmental considerations. But that is not even half of the truth.

The sovereign debt

Since the debt was termed as sovereign one, the full burden became a national matter. At the same time, international doubt prevailed whether Greece would be able to make a serious commitment to debt reduction, and then once things were agreed upon, that this commitment or promise would not be sufficient to avoid a complete default of the Greek state. Crisis was thus a kind of brinkmanship at the edge of a huge abyss.

What frustrated at first sight the Troika when it came to dealing with their Greek counter parts was an experience repeatedly made, namely that even after an agreement was reached, things would change in the next 48 hours so drastically, that no one was sure anymore as to what of the agreed plan would be implemented. From a Greek side it meant many more disagreements had been overlooked as new details emerged or were noticed for the first time. Likewise, the sovereign debt became actually larger as more and more detailed accounting practices and closer inspections stumbled upon countless hidden debts. It revealed increasingly how things had been managed until then.

Still, Greece did astonish its debtors with reducing the state deficit at such a rapid rate. If only the high interest rates for the debt loans and then the inability to raise money on the financial markets had not curtailed the Greek government, but this factor made the Greek state ever more dependent upon some form or another of a bail-out.

A key term used to judge the size of the debt is whether or not it is a sustainable one or not. That means uncertainty prevails if even after all the bail-outs finally agreed upon and made possible by a collective decision at European level, itself a miracle if various oppositions to a bail-out of Greece in different countries are taken into account, that Greece will ever get out of that debt. That difficulty to judge is augmented by the fact such vast sums are involved that any ordinary citizens wonders not only about the amounts being dealt with, but also where all the money finally ends up, since the impact at daily level is not felt. Rather here people have to cope with their abilities to pay mounting taxes and other obligations, while wages and pensions are not at all secure.

The election in May 2012

The question became in May 2012 how to overcome the delay caused by this election. Moreover as events turned out, the election results proved inclusive and necessitated a second election on June 17th. With no government in charge, the Troika could not continue its negotiation procedure linked to the Memorandum of Understanding.

The time between the November 2009 elections and the 6th of May 2012 had been most turbulent. The then elected Prime Minister Jorgios Papandreou had to depart in November 2011. He made room for an interim Prime Minister, the technocrat Papademos who headed a three party coalition to ensure the passage of all necessary legislations through the Greek parliament. This was demanded and made into a precondition by the Troika for Greece to receive the first and second bailout money.

Now, that elections were held on May 6th, no matter what government is going to be formed out of this fragmented political situation, the first task of a new government will be to detail some EUR 11.5 billion worth of further cutbacks, in order to deal with expected budget gaps in 2013 and 2014. In the weeks of May and June 2012, a troika of international inspectors--from the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank--is expected in Athens. They will want to hammer out the new austerity measures. If Greece fails to implement these measures as promised, it risks being cut off from badly needed European and IMF funds.

Failed efforts to explain the huge state deficit

The crisis expresses itself in various ways. One of them is the failure to explain how this huge state deficit was brought about. It would require an open and self critical approach to face the problem straight on. But this is not in the habit of many politicians who adopt the style of delaying any solution. That is underlined by the habit to try and to talk themselves out of difficulties and to re-negotiate what was already agreed upon. This led to huge frustration on the side of the Troika experts and politicians deciding at European level whether there was still sufficient trust in Greek politicians and its political system to administer what was agreed upon would be a solution to the crisis.

Generally speaking, when seeing how much money was alone given to Greece through the Structural Fund, a kind of disbelief prevails as to how so much money could have disappeared into that big hole called 'state deficits'.

When seeking to explain what brought about the crisis, then someone would point to a change in habits. Greeks used to follow one cultural habit, namely to buy only something if they had cash in the pocket and therefore purchased something only available in real time. After entry into the Euro-zone which facilitated easy credit, that cultural habit disappeared. Instead Greeks started to pile up huge loans. To explain how this was made possible by entry into the Euro zone, that would require a clearer focus on how the Greek banking sector adapted to the changed conditions. Also spending habits altered once there were a large proportion of people making a lot of money. Along with the Olympics, this meant huge amounts were spend by the public sector on construction and new infrastructure projects. All this was facilitated by the EU Structural Fund.

There is a saying that conspicuous consumption - overspending on luxury goods or large houses with swimming pools - reflects an increase in corruption at all levels. This consumption meant also eating up space and rare resources such as wetlands, fauna and forest land. A city like Athens began to expand into the Attiki region once it became accessible due to the new road system linking the city to the new International airport. Elsewhere it was possible to see a huge expansion of second homes on the islands or in remote areas but very often close to the coast line in order to have a view of the sea.

The kind of over development reflected in favourable growth rates was merely covered up by manipulated books and no honest reporting as to what took place in reality. Over consumption of space ruins the urban and rural environment. With no limitation to where someone could build, mayors at local level sought to alter the Master Plan's restrictions since they followed but one initiative, namely to grant permission to build more and more on the outskirts and ever closer to the unspoiled nature which was available in huge abundance as long as Greece had stayed modestly poor or rich. Either way it meant the local factor encountered poverty and backwardness while the highly centralized form of government had to face as well an influx of people from the islands to Athens. They sought jobs and used connections with aunts or other relatives who had already a secure job in the administration of the state. Only once PASOK came into power in 1981, there were made first attempts to reverse the trend of all heading towards Athens and to encourage resettlement in villages and peripheral towns. Still in 2012 60% of all business is conducted in Athens and wider area.

Models of explanation

Now that the crisis has come home to roast the chickens, a need for wise explanations became evident as well. A key term rarely used but named already by Louis Baeck as a cause for the collapse of the Soviet Union has been the lack of 'morality of payment'. It was not unusual for payments to be delayed by two years and then it was even more an astonishment if that payment was finally made. To this has to be added the term 'purchasing power' and how manipulative the Capitalist system can become in the phase of a crisis used to lower wages and cut in welfare services. For the aim is to maximize the flexibility firms need so that the key slogan of entrepreneurs becomes a cry for freedom from unions and workers' Rights, insofar as they want to be able "to hire and to fire" at any moment. This means adaptation to fluctuations in the market but does not take into account what prerequisites need to be fulfilled so that people can be confident enough that they can marry and create a family. What used to be a major criticism of Marxism by Feminists due to being focused only on the production side while neglecting the reproduction needs, had become the dire consequence of an entire political system giving in to financial interests in handling the economy solely according to their needs.

Immediately there come to mind some basic models of reflection:


Cultural factor

What is not recognized when faced by the dilemma between the need to reduce the state debt and the importance of state initiatives for growth and job creation is that these problems are in reality cultural ones. To be more precise, there is a failure of culture if these debts were not anticipated and wrong use of resources not corrected in time before the disaster struck. Equally, a failure to market products abroad with a competitive advantage means the cultural adaptation of products was not inscribed in the production process right from the start.

Marketing of products

Olive oil in the Pelopponesus is the purest to be found on the market, still the Greek producers were slow to catch on to that. However, it serves no purpose to let the Greek olive oil be bought by Italians who would mix it with their less pure oil and then sell it on the market as if an Italian produced olive oil. More importantly, Greece imports olive oil from Germany to the amount of 19 million Euros. This comes in the wake of having closed down many olive grooves which existed throughout Greece on both the mainland and on the islands. Here the EU Agricultural policy has failed to link reduction of over production with self sustaining abilities of the poorer regions in Europe.

If the case of wrong decisions having been made with regards to ensuring each member state can retain an adequate level of self sustainable production of basic goods, then the single market reinforces artificial circulation of goods and even services in order to capture merely the Extra European value in a reverse way. While companies gain in subsidies if their products cross borders many times, the prices for the consumers do not come down but continue to go up. Such market irregularity means there is too much artificial interference as to let the market itself function properly. In short, it would require quite another approach compared to what the EU Structural Fund stands for and advocates as prime solution to the open question of development.

It is decisive that people can reflect upon what model of existence they wish to pursue and implement rather than merely bow to the dictates of EU regulations. If they can only be adapted to within given constraints, then the lack of knowledge about their purpose leading to sheer opposition leaves all in the end without any real notice as to the stakes involved. The imperfect nature of the single market can be remedied but the problems have to be admitted and the reform will must be given. Unfortunately so far the expensive Agrar subsidies have not been rectified due to vested interests, and therefore the entire EU budget remains highly imbalanced and insensitive to special areas of needs. Like any big tanker it is most difficult to turn it around or to become more sensitive to smaller pockets of both opportunities and neglect. Many European cultural landscape have been destroyed without a new cultural landscape being created due to a meaningful interaction of man with nature and environment.

By including culture as factor, people would have a chance to mediate between proposed objectives and what they see as real needs. They can only articulate themselves if given the chance to develop out of their own resources. These include language, lived through experiences, memories, imaginations and empathies etc. To attain an understanding of what lies ahead and what it takes to get there, there needs to be preserved heritage not only of the past but 'memories of the future'.

The situation in Greece (May 2012)

In the present situation Greece finds itself in a most difficult situation. It means many people have become as uncertain about their future as they are uncertain about their past. Their fantastic past is also a mill stone around the neck.

Cultural heritage has been all along an asset for Greece given its link to Ancient Greece. But without contemporary forms of expression, any cultural adaptation to changing times shall not come about. For instance, Anna Kafetsi, director of the Museum for Contemporary Art, knows how difficult it is to articulate art free from this past.

At the same time, the only seeming power left to persuade people to do something extraordinary like parents used to if only to make sure their children have a good education, has been lost due to corruption. The youth felt this before anyone else and protest erupted after Alexandros was killed on Dec. 6th 2006. But by now the crisis has made the future become too 'abstract' to be grasped in human terms.

Everything else which seems concrete, appears as if not sufficient to offer any solution. There are many pressing problems from education for the children right through to securing a decent pension and linked to that is the need to sustain a good health care system.

As the trend continues to privatize all important functions and services, land and production possibilities, it will mean only those with money shall be able to afford these extra values. A vast majority of people will suffer instead the consequences of a deteriorating economic, social and health situation.

If culture means setting an agenda with a right mix of priorities, the failure to do so will leave many in despair. No wonder when many are considering or else have taken already the decision to move abroad instead. They write off Greece as having still a possibility to realize at least a part of one's dreams. Indeed, there is another Greek diaspora in the making with especially the youth deciding to leave. No wonder, given the fact that youth unemployment hovers around 57% while the normal unemployment figure was 25% around May 2012. And no one expects this situation to improve in near future but rather shall get still worse.

There is noted another problem of Greek society, namely its demographic composition. As this leads to quite a different set of attitudes and experiences of broken relations to work, family, friends and society in general, despair mixed with rage will fuel protest movements of various kinds. There should be examined in retrospect how Greece emerged out of this crisis with regards to what changes it brought about, and this in following terms:

Athens. The number of illegal immigrants crossing into Greece through at the border with Turkey has increased by 30% since the beginning of the year, the Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported, citing police sources.
According to the authorities between 100 and 300 immigrants enter the country illegally every day. On Friday a Greek coast guard patrol detained a boat carrying 40 immigrants off the Western Greek coast.


The negative trend in terms of real employment

Compared to the high point of international influx reached when the Olympic Games were held in Athens in 2004, the entire country has reached a massive down turn by 2012. While many new museums had opened up in anticipation of the Games, the famous Benaki museum had started to fire staff members even if highly trained and competent in communicating the contents of the museum to an ever growing and appreciative audience. The cut backs in staff members reflects in part only the cut backs of cultural funds given to the museum by the Ministry of Culture. Through operational regional programmes the Benaki museum does benefit from funds made available through the Structural Fund and has continued to open up new branches. Often this trend relates to donations but has meant as well sitting on property which has altered drastically in value once the crisis started to affect real estate values. In addition, the state has started to levy property taxes in an effort to bring in extra money into the state coffer so as to reduce the overall deficit and thus become convincing again to financial markets.

The loss of sense of life

Despite a new infrastructure having been put in place from the new Metro and international airport in Athens to the Riobridge in Patras, the first five months of 2012 have been experienced more like a downturn of almost everything. It is as if the cultural element, namely people enjoying life as it is and to be experienced by the senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing and seeing, has switched into crisis mode.

New attitudes prevail but it is a kind rage mixed with forms of definiance. Nervous tensions make themselves felt everywhere. Troublesome are numerous incidences when people in the metro suddenly gang up against one foreigner in their midst and only rarely does someone dare to speak up to protect that individual from this mobbing.

People know how hard everything has become. They seek alternatives even if it means emigrating to Australia but this takes a long time before the necessary papers can be attained. In Greece this means having to be in contact with the Australian embassy in Berlin. That involves then many phone calls and other forms of communication before the administrative side has been completed. In the meantime, they continue to work as waiters who serve the guests in the restaurant.

Perception of how things are in Greece - the loss of cultural landscape

Aside from numerous newspaper articles either distorting the real news or just reinforcing stereo typical images as if the Greeks are all corrupt, never pay their taxes etc. other forms of injustices are being accepted by not really taking care on how things are perceived and in what terms things are explained.

More importantly than what can be perceived externally, is what is felt with the senses and is being lived through, internally speaking.

By May 2012 the protest against all measures has evaporated like the water to leave behind dried out river beds. It makes visible the kind of development which took place over the past ten years leading up the crisis. For it has created besides many novelties like the new Acropolis museum as well a new kind of waste landscape. It is as if the worst predictions of Eliot's poem 'Wasteland' have become true. Such a landscape is ruled by a kind of silence or impossibility to name the problems in such a way that solutions can be found. In the meantime, things are endured or ignored while life continues under new conditions. For some that means added hardships while for others it does mean staying so far untouched by the general symtoms of the crisis. Still, the worrying trend towards more suicides or people becoming homeless is aggrevated by the fact that for the first time an extreme Right wing party named Chrysi Avgi could enter parliament after gaining sufficient votes in the May 6th election.

Speaking about loss of cultural landscape, it means the real wealth of nature and history is being constantly ignored as if the only language spoken is one of cement used for countless buildings constructed everywhere. Alone the road from Athens out to Cap Sounion and the Poseidon temple shows what this means, namely one building after another lines the coastline. Gone is the visibility of an untouched nature, lost the beauty of rocks beside the sea, and more forests are burned to make way for new settlement developments. Facts on the ground are created before any legal halt could be imposed.

The cultural landscape which entails the richness of Greece disappears behind a variety of ill conceived cement buildings. It is a driving force to have a house with view of the sea. It elongates itself along this coastline for 37 Kms till Cap Sounion is reached. It is a kind of ugliness in the landscape which leaves one in pain. This failure to uphold any kind of aesthetics means not cultural landscapes are being created in due process of development, but more and more natural environments are destroyed for the sake of some ill conceived spread of housing. It is alienating from both the past and from a promising future.

The ill conceived EU Structural Fund

In any regional development, a complexity of factors can affect the outcome of the EU spending program called Structural Fund. Meant to be public investments, they aim primarily to alleviate private business from what are negative factors or impediments to economic growth. Rarely does culture appear in further going considerations when it comes to the application of regional funds, and yet the relationship between culture and economy is not really taken into consideration. Consequently no cultural landscape is being created nor seem people capable to adopt to needs for sustainable development.

The situation of Greece is complicated in 2012 by numerous factors, recession of the economy but only one of them; another more intangible factor is the destruction of any positive legacy since the huge state deficit speaks its own, but clear language.

As a Greek mother of two children living and working in Belgium would put it, they have become ashamed to call themselves Greek abroad. No one respects the loser; everyone wishes to appear at the very least as being successful in a highly competitive world. The only problem with seeking success within such a system is that it necessarily requires making others into losers even though for a while there did exist the enticing win-win equation when it came to negotiation and seeking profitable contracts for both sides.

The legacy has it that SIEMENS bribed for 17 years to get contracts, and even then it was not enough. When the company build the security system for the Olympic Games, it never went into operation as it never worked or was not set up properly. It cost a huge amount of money but no one challenged this way of wasting money. No one spoke up at the time. Everyone wanted to gain something and rationalized it the problem away by claiming that everything was equal to an investment in the future! But what kind of future is this when loaded only with such an amount of debt that even the state could no longer repay it in time, and if not helped by outside forces shall default?

In turn, and after the Lehmann scandal had sent not only a big shock through the banking and financial circles, but set an example, the Greek deficit started to nurture the illusion of being too big to fail. Behind it is naturally the pressure of hedge fond holders who are willing to take higher risks than whatever the European Commission can afford in face of the pressure coming from all member states. And this has proven to be the key element in the entire crisis, namely that so far European leaders have come through in their effort to rescue Greece and with it the Euro-project. Even if under much difficulties and initial hesitations, a default has been averted so far.

The silence of the art and academic world

Dionysis Savvopoulos, a popular song writer, stated in an interview with the Conservative Newspaper Kathimerini that the arts world have stayed 'silent' when it would have been important to speak up before it is too late. It is as if the cultural sector had experienced a kind of 'mental ambush'. Indeed, “everyone has lost their bearings and artists are no exception. What kind of intellectual world are we talking about here? Why did the economic departments of our universities keep silent all these years? Just like the Athens Academy and the literary association. As for individual artistic voices, most of them adopted a vague, pseudo progressive style to earn applause. There were exceptions, but no one paid attention to them. We were nowhere near reaching the point of humiliation and forgiveness. We need to acknowledge the past and forgive each other. Only then can we speak honestly and turn the page.”

(Source: Iota Myrtsioti, “Ahead of elections and Thessaloniki shows, Dionysis Savvopoulos ponders Greek crisis”, Interview, Kathimerini, May 3, 2012, p. 2)

Crisis in the economy means as well a crisis in culture. Instead of providing and giving orientation, the bearing is lost. Moreover, the 'silence' referred to by Savvopoulos, underlines something more crucial and vital for any culture has been nearly lost, namely a vital search for truth. What especially the youth misses in the older generations who have brought the Greek society to the brink of disaster is one crucial element, namely honesty. The lack thereof is related to how stories are told, or what is used to explain away something, when in fact something else is hidden and the problems still in need to be faced.

If it is the task of those managing authorities responsible for the implementation of the new Structural Funding Programme 2014 - 2020 to make future regional development clearer, then something has to be done in terms of cultural orientation. It would not suffice to speak only about jobs  being created, but what has a cultural impact upon attitudes and motives. There is a need to create cultural landscapes, not waste lands. Taking care of things and people means to raise the level of sophistication when it comes to handle even ordinary things used daily. For self esteem goes with this aesthetical quality translateable into the tension and quality of space. Hence if the Structural Fund foresees operational programmes designed to select, fund and monitor projects aiming to fulfil such set out objectives, then something shall emerge out of the crisis.

The use of cultural indicators would be needed in order to know if the new funding period will evoke a change in the disposition towards nature. One sided economic development will not do in a society that has to learn 'good practice' needs to be based on forward looking elements and thereby can open up society to new ideas. That is the substantial difference between a closed and an open question of development. While the EU 2020 vision risks closing off perspectives, the open approach would allow people to give themselves further going answers.

How does the structural fund coincide with the Memorandum of Understanding?

The Memorandum of Understanding underlines that Greece has entered a serious commitment to rectify its dire situation with regards to the state deficit. In exchange for a bailout fund to save it from an absolute default, the Greek government had to agree to certain measures to be adopted in due course, so as to link reform with the ability to regain confidence of the market. The latter is needed if the government is to be able to raise bonds on the financial market on its own. By a deficit of 177% of the GNP, the capacity to raise the money is lower than what amounts to the risk of a default.

Since the Memorandum of Understanding entails a perception and analysis as to what has given rise to such a huge state deficit, while proposing a set of measures to remedy the situation, the linkage to the Structural Fund is given. A special task force set up by the European Commission is to make sure that the structural fund is used as a major instrument to further development (growth). At the same time, it outlines what shall be done to improve upon both conditions and efficiency of implementation. In that sense, two kinds of interventions are taking place during this phase of negotiations for the new funding period 2014 – 2020: the response of the Greek government and society to the Memorandum of Understanding and all subsequent commitments made on behalf of the Greek people as there has always been talk about the 'sovereign debt', and what the European Commission has advanced as EU 2020 vision to pre-set the negotiations within a certain framework of references about desirable objectives and intended strategies to ensure lessons have been learned ever since it became clear that the Lisbon target of putting Europe on the map as knowledge and information society has not been really met.

Memorandum of Understanding / Cultural self-understanding

While the Memorandum of Understanding set out prospects for the Greek government to receive the necessary bailout in order to avoid default, it is not based on a broad agreement with the Greek population. Rather it is the result of politicians negotiating with the Troika for a bailout under certain conditions.

A key driving force behind all negotiations was to reduce the state deficit for otherwise the Greek state would default. Little or not at all was taking into account how this would affect the self esteem of Greek citizens and more importantly their 'cultural well-being'. The purely fiscal and monetary approach overlooked one crucial fact. Full compliance and cooperation meant literally speaking not merely reducing the deficit, but in order to do so it demanded a change of character. But since this meant imposing a new set of rules and values to be followed without question, it meant ignoring the warning the Greek philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis had articulated. To him values cannot be discussed; they are set and any attempt to alter them will lead to conflict, if not to war!

Moreover there was imposed as well a model based on some assumptions and expectations as to what would work in a country aligned with the Atlantic tradition. It poses the question whether or not the way the problem was defined left any chance for a dignified exit from the crisis? Insofar as suicide rates are on the increase while people consciously infect themselves with the AIDS virus, so as to obtain state benefit, the situation has reached dramatic proportions in some parts of the Greek society. The basic feeling of anger underlines the fact that 'corruption' is the crucial issue aside from unemployment and in having no future perspective. That means the way things were handled reveals a tendency to punish the wrong people while those responsible for the crisis may even obtain further lifelines e.g. the bailout money being used for banks. In Greece, there is definitely the feeling that the solutions have been imposed and are unjust. That does not spell much hope for the future.

  • The model of Ireland was not used when all books were put on the table and all the people became involved in understanding the need for a new management of resources and this under improved conditions (higher education, lower labour costs, better investment opportunities)

  • the economic model which will work under modern conditions is not so easily defined as there are many more factors which confine any state in the ability to govern an over expensive infrastructure which is at times no longer sustainable

  • people need something reliable and not live under conditions one day this, the next day something else as they have nothing to plan with for the future having become as uncertain as the past (cultural heritage – source of value consensus and carrier of memories of the future)


Reference: Memorandum of Understanding on Specific Economic Policy Conditionality

Draft of 9 February 2012

"The disbursements of financial assistance to Greece, by the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), are subject to quarterly reviews of conditionality for the duration of the arrangement. The release of the tranches will be based on observance of quantitative performance criteria and a positive evaluation of progress made with respect to policy criteria in Council Decision 2011/734/EU of 12 July 2011 (as amended; hereinafter the Council Decision), the memorandum of economic and financial policies (MEFP) and in this Memorandum of Understanding."


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