What is your house worth?

ImageThe Golden Dawn story may have dominated the news lately, but life in Greece doesn’t pause – and that usually means more and more financial burdens on the backs of people who have already been struggling for years. Well, this time it’s homes, and the latest bill the Ministry of Finance has drafted that in effect advises home-owners to give up their properties in order to pay off their taxes.

One might say, this sounds pretty and quite like it is done elsewhere. Taxes are taxes and should be paid by everyone. And if you couldn’t afford it, you shouldn’t have bought it, and if you can’t afford it now, you should probably let go of it. Right?

Well, dear reader, in Greece there is a catch: the real estate business is really not working. There is close to zero chance of one being able to sell their house when in need – or even when not in need – and, especially, anywhere close to the price the house might actually get in a healthy market (mind you, by a healthy market, I mean in an economy working well: not overpricing properties and not downgrading them either).

In order to overcome this hurdle, the Ministry of Finance came up with this solution: sign the property over to the state. Your property will be assessed, based on a special methodology, and then, provided it is worth more than you owe, signed over to the state. And you will be done with that debt.

End of story.

Do you sense that something is missing?

*uh – huh*

As revealed by the newspaper To Vima, according to the bill, expected to be presented to the parliament “soon”, those who can’t pay off their debt in cash, will have the following options:

– Sign the property over to a third party, while at the same time assigning to said party the obligation to pay off the tax.

– Sign over to the Greek State the full ownership of an estate of at least equal value to the tax owed.

Did you catch what’s missing?

Let me help you: in case the estate is worth more than the tax owed, the tax payer does NOT get compensated for the difference.

That’s right. They can now take your house for any amount of money owed, and you will not be getting «your change» back.

Not only that, but the very same law predicts that, in case you do find someone to sell your house to, but have not paid the 2014 property tax (i.e. if you need to pay your property tax, don’t have the money to do so and have to sell your house), well, now you can’t. Lawyers and notaries are prohibited from drafting a contract if that tax is owed – otherwise they will be fined up to 5,000 euros, or have the obligation to pay the tax themselves within three days of drafting the contracts.

Lest we forget, property taxes have skyrocketed in the past 3 years, with home owners to have to pay at least four different taxes a year on the same property. That mounts up to an insane amount of money, on people who, at best, have seen their incomes drop by at least 50%, or have lost their jobs completely. And in a country where reforms are being implemented in the slowest rate possible while taxes are being passed by acts of legislative content.

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Looks like we’re the champions…

unemployment1Summer was still at home in Greece, when, on the first days of September, proverbial dark clouds filled the sky and our future. Or so it seemed to some of us, after the leak of the report on the Greek economy by the country’s main private sector union, GSEE.
According to GSEE’s Labor Institute and despite the government’s affirmations to the contrary, it will take two decades—or even longer—for unemployment (currently at 27%) to decline to pre-crisis levels.
As if this wasn’t shocking enough, the study suggested that by 2014 the purchasing power of the Greeks will be half of what it was before the crisis began, with wages declining by a combined 41 billion euros over the last three years.
What a great way to end the Greek summer. And let’s not forget that—according to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras—under his administration Greece has been living a success story. If what we’re going through is a success, then what would be considered a failure?
A few days ago, GSEE’s Labor Institute stroke back, with yet another depressing report about the country’s unemployment rate rising to 34% by 2016. According to the same report, about 1 million jobs have been lost in Greece since October 2008.
Meanwhile, the 27.4% unemployment rate announced in March by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) was the highest percentage to be recorded by a western country in the past 30 years, the study found.
To paraphrase Freddie Mercury “we are the champions of unemployment, my friend.”

Life goes on…

Image“We are neither Nazis, nor National Socialists. We are Greek nationalists”, (allegedly) said Ilias Kasidiaris, during his testimony before the interrogator. Nobody had informed fellow MP, Christos Pappas, of course, since the Nazi theme was running rampant in his house in Giannena. I am sure they will discuss it amongst themselves and let him in on the party theme (see what I did there?) now that they have all (but one, Giannis Lagos, excl. of course, Michaloliakos and Pappas, who have not yet testified) been released from jail on (a meagre) bail.

The ridicule of the greek judicial system came packaged with a name: that of the “secret informant” of the police in matters regarding the Golden Dawn, that was splashed all over the indictment, in plain sight, for all of them to see. Well, I guess he is not so secret anymore. Combined with the fact that the arrested have now been released (despite the graveness of the felonies they are accused of), this paints a grim picture of life in Greece – and that informant’s life in particular.

As noted by the newspaper Vima, their release on bail does not, of course, mean acquittal. According to a source from the DA’s offices, the fact that they were released on bail and restrictive terms means that there is solid evidence of their guilt at this point. Of course, it would be such a relief had others, before them, been treated the same way by the courts – say, Kostas Sakkas, an anarchist remanded and detained for more than 30 months, for being arrested at a warehouse where arms of a terrorist group were kept. Or others, like, say, the six Paok fans that were detained for a year, accused of belonging to a criminal organization (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). Or the Aris fan that was detained for a year for kicking a Molotov bomb away from him during clashes…

Upon leaving the interrogator’s office, Ilias Kasidiaris left the journalists a tiny gift to remember him by: insolent attacks against them, kicks and slaps, watched by the police that did absolutely nothing to stop him. The green light for such behavior was lit by Eleni Zaroulia, two days earlier, when she attacked a cameraman as if it was nothing for her to attack another human being – Greek, immigrant, who cares at this point?

Speaking of immigrants, during these past two weeks, the attacks against them in Athens never stopped. Two days after the Fyssas killing, three men, dressed in all black, blocked 22 year-old Fahat Mohammad Koubi’s way. “Hey, black guy, where do you think you’re going?” they yelled and hit him on the head with a beer bottle. Then they started kicking him on the head and the torso. Last night, a 21 year-old man from Bangladesh was knifed to death by two men speaking Greek, riding on a motorcycle. Who knows how many others, that we will never hear of.

And life goes on…

Golden crackdown

ImageYesterday Greeks woke up to a rather unusual surprise: the police had raided the homes of the leading team of the far-right Golden Dawn party, in the midst of the outrage that followed the killing of Killah P, and antifascist rapper, by a Golden Dawn supporter.

They all sat, mouths gaping, in front of their TV sets, as they watched the party leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, his lieutenant (and an MP), Ilias Kasidiaris, MPs Ilias Panagiotaros, Nikos Michos and Giannis Lagos, and a dozen other senior members be dragged, handcuffed and outraged to the prosecutors’ office.

In the most significant crackdown of a political party (it could even be the only one. Honestly, I don’t remember anything like this happening – although I could be wrong) since the fall of the military junta, in 1974, 18 people were arrested, including two police officers, while small arsenals were found in some of their residencies (including that of party leader, N. Michaloliakos). The police are still looking for MP Christos Pappas.

«Nothing scares us!», I. Kassidiaris boasted as he was being transferred to the prosecutors’ offices by the anti-terrorist police. The party members are accused of forming and participating in a criminal organization, a felony that will lead them to jail, even though, until they are found guilty, they will not be stripped of their parliamentary office. They are also linked to a string of what are said to be more than 100 attacks, including the murder of 34 year-old Killah P last week as well as an immigrant, earlier in 2013. In general, Golden Dawn members are accused of orchestrating attacks against immigrants and also political opponents, such as the attack against Communist Party members earlier in September, that led nine of them to the hospital – some gravely injured.

The arrests came as the greek society is boiling over the killing of Killah P – or Pavlos Fyssas – by a Golden Dawn sympathizer. Although the party denies any official ties with Giorgos Roupakias, the 45 year old confessed killer, photographs of him in party camps, events and with Golden Dawn MPs, as well as Roupakias’ confession, speak volumes.

Last week, two senior police officials resigned, citing personal reasons. Two more were suspended, along with seven other police officers.

“I came here to turn myself in”, MP Giorgos Germenis said, arriving at the police HQ in Athens. He had gone to determine whether a warrant for his arrest had been issued (there had not). “They had to strip down the police and the secret services in order to arrest us!” the MP proclaimed, effectively saying that members of the Golden Dawn had been protected by some police and secret services officials. Or, at least, that’s how this statement was received by a large percentage of the greek people – and made cafeteria talks all through the weekend.

After the crackdown, the party, on its website, called for a demonstration in support of those arrested. About 200 people gathered outside the police headquarters chanting “Blood, Honor, Golden Dawn” and held up a banner reading “Golden Dawn”.

N. Michaloliakos had threatened to pull out the party’s MPs from the parliament, causing new elections at the places where they had been voted.  That could give the opposition a great advantage, since polls indicate they may actually win the votes, and destabilize the government. But political analysts have suggested that the Constitution can actually be interpreted in a way that makes elections unnecessary.

In the meantime, as surprised as Greeks were to watch the crackdown on the Breaking News reports, that were on TV almost all day long, there is a widespread fear that it was merely a move to impress. In a country where fear and violence has ruled for over two years, skepticism over the move is running wild among citizens. But the wide population found themselves satisfied to even watch what seemed to be a cleansing start in a tormented country.

Bloodstained and limping on the right, Greece moves on

ImageGreece has been living in crisis for over three years now. One of its worst side effects has been the rise of the far-right —neo-Nazi, for many— party Golden Dawn. A party which has been operating in the margins of the Greek political scene for several years and which in the 2009 national elections received a negligible 0.29% of the vote.
In the years of severe austerity that followed the financial crisis, this percentage reached 6.92% (in the 2012 national elections). As of June 2012, Golden Dawn has 18 seats in the Greek parliament. The tagline of their election campaign was “We will clean up the country.” The Golden Dawn members’ version—and that of the party’s elected MPs—  of cleaning up has been to physically attack immigrants, homosexuals, leftist activists, and members of the Greek Communist Party. They have even attacked the mayor of Athens, a rather moderate political figure.
Nothing substantial has been done to fetter this violence. Instead of highlighting and denouncing the violence emerging from the far-right, the Greek media preferred to collectively equate Golden Dawn (despite their mafia-like tactics) with the left parties.
Lately, things seem to be slightly changing for the better. Unfortunately, it took a murder for anything to start happening, and serve as a wake-up call.
It has been over a week since Greek anti-fascist hip-hopper Killah P (Pavlos Fyssas) was stabbed to death by Golden Dawn member, George Roupakias. Roupakias has since been arrested and has admitted to the crime. He has also explicitly stated that he is a member of Golden Dawn. The organization claims that Roupakias isn’t their member, but there are too many pictures and videos of Roupakias attending Golden Dawn events and activities alongside Golden Dawn MPs. Testimonials have been provided to the press about how, in fact, Roupakias was on Golden Dawn’s payroll.
Initially, SKAI, a Greek TV station, made the outrageous and unfounded claim that Roupakias might be working for Golden Dawn, but he was only doing so to earn a living, while he was favorably disposed to the Communist Party of Greece. Since the evidence to the contrary has been overwhelming, SKAI’s story hasn’t been brought up again.
Last Sunday, Proto Thema (The First Issue), a Greek newspaper with one of the highest national circulations, published a front-page photograph of Pavlos Fyssas, lying in the street, dying in the arms of his girlfriend. The caption was “I don’t forget fascism”. While the photograph is of undeniable historical value, it is yet unknown who took it, and how and under which circumstances it reached the front page of Proto Thema.
Furthermore, said newspaper’s sensibilities regarding the anti-fascist movement are questionable, since it has been among the pioneers in printing fake stories about Golden Dawn’s charitable activities, such as helping and protecting the elderly from street criminals, or providing the ‘scoop’ about the latest love affairs of the organization’s MPs, or the organization’s taste in fashion and style. And all of a sudden, the newspaper made a U-turn linking Golden Dawn to fascism and crime.
Few were convinced about the newspaper’s good intentions. A call to boycott the newspaper started on social media under the hash tag #boycott_protothema.
Did it succeed? According to the first estimations, no, it didn’t. It seems that, apparently, the newspaper sold more copies—over 30,000—than the previous week.
Blood sells. And hypocrisy too.

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A final act of revolution

«It is tragic to see a fellow man end his life. In these tough times for our society, we must all – state and citizens – stand by the people next to us, who find themselves in despair».
With these words, the Greek appointed Prime Minister “bade farewell” to Dimitris Ch., who, at 77 years of age, was essentially driven by the government’s decisions to point a gun to himself and pull the trigger right at the center of Athens, in Syntagma square, in front of the building that houses the greek parliament. “I am killing myself, because I don’t want to burden my children with debt”, were, according to eye witnesses his last words, while a suicide note he left behind revealed a deeply political, learned and thinking man, desolated by the situation the country has been reduced to.
“The Tsolakoglou occupation government” he wrote “literally nullified my ability to survive, an ability based on a decent pension, for which for 35 years I alone (with no government aid) paid”. By “the Tsolakoglou government” he was referring to the first Greek PM of the government that collaborated with the german occupation forces, obviously connecting that time with this one, for obvious reasons. “Because I am of an age”, he went on, “which does not give me the capability of a powerful reaction (without, of course, rejecting the possibility, if one Greek took up a Kalashnikov, that I would be the second one), I find no other solution that a decent end, before I start searching the garbage for my food”.
The greek – and foreign, from what I understand – media were quick to exclude desperation caused by the austerity measures as the cause of his suicide, also not publishing the contents of the suicide note, saying merely that Dimitris Ch. killed himself “due to the much needed austerity measures”. On greek television, show after show tried to convince the public that the 77 year-old man had “more on his mind” than just the financial situation he was in.
But how can they ever manage that, when the vast majority of Greeks is living the same turmoil that led Dimitris to raise a gun against himself. The government has cut down on pensions and salaries so much that it is by now almost impossible for one person to live on his own, with no help from families. At the same time that salaries and pensions are dropping dramatically, the consumer prices are standing still and even going up, in a baffling mix-up of capitalism and economy laws. One salary or one pension can no longer sustain a home, even a home of one, and for that reason single people are moving back in with their parents (no matter how old), and pensioners are moving in with their children.
“I believe that the futureless youth will one day seize arms and, in Syntagma Square, will hang the national traitors upside down, like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945”, Dimitris Ch. wrote in his suicide note. These are not the words of a messed up man. These are the words of a man who was too proud to become a burden after years of honest work. The 77-year-old pharmacist was, as his co-workers said, an honest man, ever-fighting for justice, with left-leaning ideas. Shooting himself in front of the parliament early in the morning in front dozens of people going about their morning business, was his final act of revolution, and it caused a stir. In Greece, where desperation grows day by day, where suicide rates are growing rapidly and the only thing you hear walking down the streets is conversations about the economy and fear for the future, it didn’t take long for people to react. The site where he died soon became a shrine, with notes blaming the government, and candles. People gathered that evening at Syntagma Square to honor his memory, a demonstration that was quickly dispersed by the police. Beatings and brutality were once again reported, with one young journalist being badly beaten by a policeman, something that is being investigated.
I read somewhere that suicide is considered cowardice, while it is courageous to stay and fight. With this, I both agree and disagree. Yes, I believe that it takes guts to stay alive and try to change things and fight for a better future for yourself and your children. But I cannot deny a man who lived for 77 years and knows the value of life the right to be called courageous and dignified, and I will recognise him as a symbol of a fight that needs to be fought. I only wish that he is the last one.


Be a part of this

As I’m sure most of you know, there’s demonstrations and gatherings in many countries of the world today, under the general title “We Are All Greeks”. This is not a charitable title, in the sense that, in this situation, everyone is Greek, since no-one knows who will be next.
Having said that, we were wondering if any of you who happen to go to, or come across such a demonstration, or even hear about it on the news, might be so kind as to send us your reports or photos or whatever you think we might want to know.
We will post it credited – or anonymously if you wish – and will owe you our eternal gratitude – and a drink, should you ever decide to visit!
You can send stuff to greekreport1@gmail.com

Demonstrations now

I write this while at a peaceful demonstration in Thessaloniki against the new austerity measures, that go on top of previous austerity measures that went on top of previous austerity measures – you get the picture! From what I hear, there’s riots in Athens. People are scared but determined – and have nothing to lose.




Update: OK, so the march is not so peaceful anymore, there’s people attacking a couple of banks, teargas and molotof. It’s all in one place, nothing really major here… Athens is another story, from what I hear there’s major clashes and fires in cafes… Which makes me wonder, because people are not so different… I don’t know, I won’t use my head just yet!

Update2: There’s teargas, fires and scuffles at the center of the city. Photo is by panws_k. He reported that the police entered the city’s major cinema theater (a multicultural center, one of the city’s landmarks) where people had taken refuge. It had been occupied by “indignants” one day earlier.

From what I hear Athens is close to burning, at least the center of the city.

Update 3: Panws is reporting live from the scene of the clashes (how journalistic of him/me!), twitting photos. This one is the entrance of Olympion, you can see the smoke, but it seems like people are calm. He says there’s trouble but it’s ok, nothing really major… Hope the police can keep their calm…

Update LostCount: Demosthenis Spiridis published this photo of Aristotelous Square, the central square of Thessaloniki. This much police brings ugly memories and feelings to the minds of any Greek over 35, who either lived the junta or lived its aftermath. Many people speak of an unofficial-close_to_official junta today. This crisis is firstly political and secondly financial…

New update: This is what Aristotelous square has been reduced to, as photographed by panws. At the same time when former PM, Giorgos Papandreou has taken the stand in the Parliament, speaking like he has been watching things happen from afar the past 20 years, like he wasn’t at the helm of corruption, destroying this country. Shame on them.

Final update: So, it passed. 199 MPs voted “yes to everything”, turning a blind eye to the people’s reaction “for the good of the country”. Right now, the first party in the Parliament does not hold the majority (130 or 133 MPs, I can’t count, it’s 2am), which I believe is unprecedented in Greece. In a way that was severely questioned as unconstitutional (I still need to check on that) they passed a package of measures no-one really understands yet – and no-one has explained to the ones that will be immediately affected. What I know is that 15,000 people will lose their jobs, employers gain close to life and death powers over their employees, the already cut by about 20% minimum wage is cut by another 22%, lowering it to 480 euros monthly, the people who were already ridiculed, humiliated and brought to their knees are left numb, expecting nothing and hoping for nothing.

Goodnight Greece…

Nigel and Daniel…

My good friend and colleague, Giorgos, brought these to my attention. They are all posted on his blog which sadly is in Greek, but, hey, Google rules the world, and Google Translate can always help 🙂

Nigel Farage and Daniel Cohn-Bendit tell it almost as it is. They sort of tread lightly on the greek responsibility on the matter, and the crimes – yes, crimes, by now they are crimes, because they have been and are murdering a whole nation, condemning it to poverty and misery – committed by the greek governments. But what they say is: please, someone, some justice! Some thought! We are people who have been working their whole lives and watching their salaries and pensions disintegrate with one decision. Not numbers on a piece of paper, or buttons waiting to be pushed or cancelled.

Here are the videos.


Do I agree with their policies in general? Well… maybe with one more than the other. And, I agree, probably even they wouldn’t talk like that (well, more one than the other) if they weren’t serving their own political agenda. But, I assure you, what they are saying has crossed the minds of almost all Greeks at times. But none of our politicians has had the courage to go up there and tell it to their faces…

Kingdom of the mediocre

Many are the reasons this country has gone to the crapper. It is, probably, that a large percentage of the population –mainly those well-off – has evaded taxes. It also probably is, as the former Prime Minister, George Papandreou, once pointed out – conveniently “forgetting” to mention his own and his party’s huge responsibility in creating and cementing it – the deeply rooted corruption in the public sector.
That last one is probably what has brought a large number of ignorant and uneducated people to high places in almost all departments of the public sector. The ones that never really needed to learn a thing, read books or be informed, because “their father knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a member of the parliament and could squeeze them in the public sector through the back door”. The ones that never had to worry about being evaluated at work, because there really is no such thing, and if, God forbid, there was a hearing for something they did wrong, it’s all fine, “my uncle can fix that, no worries”.
According to recent numbers, almost one in three Greek educated young people are unemployed. And the majority of those employed are actually doing something not even remotely connected to what they studied. I had a friend who, while searching for a job for years, used to say that he will open a gyradiko (a place that sells gyro), photocopy his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and use the copies to wrap the sandwiches. That’s how useful knowledge has been in 21st century Greece.
Grand example: Anyone watching the news on the Greek state tv (NET) last night, knowing something about anything, was in for a shock. Big-shot sports reporters finally realized on Friday that something called “The Superbowl” was on, Sunday night. Probably only because Madonna is performing (OK, that’s my interpretation, but, really, wait till you hear what happened, and you’ll agree with me). They probably got together around a big table to discuss it and see what they could do about it and, I’m guessing, the conversation went something like this:
–    “So, does anyone really know what the hell this is all about?”
–    “It’s some sort of rugby game”
–    “And do we play it? Is it important?”
–    “Well… Madonna is performing, so it must be”
–    “OK, get me some good rugby images and we’ll run it”
So, yes, you guessed right. The story about the Superbowl was “adorned” with images from Australian rugby games. And a New Zealand team doing the Haka.
Sports fans around Greece enjoyed a good laugh watching the news. But ultimately, this will be – or already has been – this country’s doom. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that there is any shame in not knowing things. How could anyone know everything, after all? But I do believe that there is much shame in you not doing your job right. In being lazy and not bothering to even check things that are essential to your being, not great at your job, but satisfactory. You, the one that is occupying the working position of someone better than you, more educated and more eager to work than you will ever be. You, lazy in doing anything, even something as easy as a simple Google search, only because you know that no-one can ever move you from where you are. About one thousand people were fired from the state television last year, most of them people who were actually working – or at least trying to – but couldn’t hold on to their positions by using political pressure. Those layoffs were required by the troika, all within the memorandum demands for “rescuing the country”. So, there’s shame in unevaluated cutbacks purely for the sake of money.
And there is shame – and much blame – on a system that allows this to perpetuate. A system that protects the mediocre and well-connected over the capable. A system that holds a whole country captive to practices that have kept it inert and sick for decades. That favors the mediocre at the expense of the excellent. The same system that, sadly, is obviously here to stay.

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